(Xbox 360 Review) Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall

Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: First-Person Shooter / Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: Nick Stewart

Overall: 8 = Excellent

As one of the standout releases of 2012, Dishonored was nothing short of a revelation, and left a greater hunger for downloadable content in its wake. Merging the stealth-oriented gameplay of the Thief series with Half-Life-styled technology to create a uniquely atmospheric steampunk action title, it was full of stunning moments and even stronger characters—not the least of which is the murderous assassin Daud, whose actions set the game in motion. His fingerprints are also thankfully all over the game’s first story-based DLC, as he becomes the playable antagonist-turned-protagonist of The Knife of Dunwall, the first half of a two-part story sharing the redemptive arc of the man who heads up the city’s most notorious band of regicidal killers-for-hire. It’s a fascinating look at a great character, albeit one whose stay is much, much too short.

Rather than forcing you to play through Daud’s most monumental moment—the murder of the Empress in the opening scenes of Dishonored, setting up the framing of Corvo—The Knife of Dunwall instead shows you the sequence as a first-person cutscene before launching you into his attempt at making good. Since taking that particular gig, Daud has entered into a certain period of reflection about what he’s actually done, and after a visit from the mysterious, god-like Outsider, he embarks upon a quest to try and set a few things right. This particular timeline sits roughly through the period in which Corvo is trying to clear his name, filling in the blanks between the time the two first cross paths and the instance where they meet to settle things possibly once and for all.

These adventures take Daud through a total of three missions as he crisscrosses the plague-stricken city, marking just a fraction of the missions available in the core game. Still, these areas are as wide open and ripe for sandbox-style gameplay as any in the original, packed as they are with countless opportunities to take care of business the way you see fit. From a series of rooftops to the darkened recesses of a whale slaughterhouse, these areas offer terrific elements of dark foreboding and creative avenues for exploration and destruction. If you’re foolish enough to try and take things head-on, you certainly can, though you’re almost always better off working out some sort of path through the cellar door, or the ventilation system, or down from the roof and through the rafters. It’s a terrific trio of playgrounds firmly in the Dishonored style, and which is firmly encouraging of multiple playthroughs.

Helping you to navigate your way through Dunwall is Daud’s particular set of talents, which vary just enough from Corvo’s to offer a different type of experience. In a move that explains the teleporting assassins he commands, Daud has also been touched by the Outsider’s gifts, giving him access to a range of supernatural abilities that can be upgraded through careful exploration. This array includes some familiar to players of Dishonored, such as the corpses-to-ash Shadow Kill ability; others are new and specific to The Knife of Dunwall, such as the ability for an Assassin’s Creed-style summoning of your fellow throat-slitters to leap into the fray. New equipment is also on hand here, as Daud can lob Choke Dust grenades that essentially serve as movement-obscuring smoke bombs for emergency escapes or stealthier movement. If you’ve got no qualms about widespread death and the High Chaos path that comes with it, you can set up Arc Mines to flash-fry anyone who stumbles upon them. It’s a rather handy mix of old and new tricks that helps to put a bit of a new spin on the experience, all while reinforcing Daud’s shifty background.

What’s easily the best gameplay improvement on offer is a small but crucial tweak to what was already Dishonored‘s greatest strength, and that’s the signature teleportation Blink ability. Like Corvo, Daud can make use of this powerful talent to instantly move from one location to another with incredible ease, something which has already offered a truly liberating sense of scale and mobility to an already great game. Where Daud differs is that his Blink is bolstered by the ability to stop time mid-jump, which is tricky at first but eventually offers the player some brilliant gameplay moments. For instance, if you’ve leapt off a balcony only to discover halfway down that your landing zone is swarming with enemies, you can halt mid-jump, carefully choose a spot to Blink over to, and disaster is averted. It also helps with exploration, in that you can prevent what would otherwise be some deadly leaps over railings, or take a safer look around a corner, and the list really does go on. Much as Dishonored‘s Blink soured me on less mobile protagonists in other games, Daud’s enhanced Blink is so terrific that its absence in the original Dishonored is a very real disappointment. It’s that good, and that much fun.

Voiced by the gravelly Michael Madsen, Daud is a great character whose motivations and thoughts are more clearly articulated here than with the completely silent Corvo, which along with the terrific environments and gameplay improvements, make for a great experience that is only sullied by its length. At roughly an hour or so per mission, this DLC lets you slip back into Dunwall just long enough to remember how great it is, but you’re barely finding your groove before it’s all snatched away as the credits roll. As the first half of a two-part story, The Knife of Dunwall also ends with absolutely no closure whatsoever, and the closest thing it offers to a transition isn’t nearly good enough; in other words, playing your way through is short and fun but extremely unsatisfying from a story point of view. There are surely arguments to be made for quality over quantity, and this pack might be the most extreme of examples, in that it’s a wonderful improvement over an already wonderful game, but much, much too short. Of course, there’s the replayability factor, which helps to redeem this somewhat, as it is clearly designed with multiple playthroughs in mind, possibly making it a six-hour affair or more. Still, if the story’s your thing, it’s probably advisable for most players to hold off for part two of Daud’s story, The Brigmore Witches, whose release date is still unknown.

As a worthy companion story to Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall is a terrific example of high-quality DLC that intelligently improves upon the core material while retaining what made it great in the first place. By shifting the viewpoint from the set-upon Corvo to the less-than-virtuous Daud, the game is able to take a few entertaining liberties with your skillset and storyline in a way that still somehow manages to make sense. The only hitch is its incredibly short length, which is much less of a problem if you play it as intended, i.e. over and over again, which is still surprisingly quite entertaining. The lack of closure or even any decent transition for the story to its eventual second-half follow-up is the only standout disappointment, but those who can ignore that small hitch are likely to find this a great return to the darkness of Dunwall.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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