Perhaps the most exciting part of Dishonored, the triumphant assassin game released last year by Bethesda and Arkane Studios, was the feeling we'd get when entering a new area, a new chunk of Dunwall filled with apartments to loot and guards to terrorize.
That's the best thing about games like that, isn't it? The feeling of potential, like you could wander into a basement and discover just about anything: a severed torso; a hidden cache of runes; a heartbreaking note from a family of plague victims. Sure, you could play through all of Dishonored by slashing through enemies and beating missions as quickly as possible, but what would be the point?
It was quite exciting, then, to find that Dishonored's newest piece of downloadable content is a meaty chunk of that same potential. There are three missions in The Knife of Dunwall, released earlier this week for PC, PS3, and 360. Two of them are wonderful, long, complex missions with multiple resolutions and lots of secrets. One is less wonderful, long, and complex. Still fun, though.
You play as Daud, an assassin whose personality is as brusque and simple as his name. Daud, you might remember, is the man responsible for triggering the entire plot of Dishonored by murdering the empress and blaming it on her guard, Corvo. But! Daud's feeling guilty about that whole shindig, as we see at the beginning of his story. He almost wishes he hadn't done it.
Note that over the course of The Knife of Dunwall, you can indiscriminately murder hundreds of guards, maids, factory workers, city officials, and butchers. Daud expresses no guilt about any of this.
But, still, ludonarrative dissonance aside, there's a heck of a lot of potential in that premise. Master assassin feels bad about his latest victim? Cool! Maybe he'll figure out a way to help fix the city, or try to assist Corvo behind the scenes, or start an orphanage for plague babies? No. He does none of this, nor does he do much of anything with his remorse. He goes out and kills—or, knocks unconscious, if that's what you prefer—some high-profile targets.
I won't detail those targets or spoil any of the story for you, but the main plot involves a woman named Delilah, and just when it starts to get interesting, it suddenly ends, as if The Knife of Dunwall was originally part of one larger expansion pack that was inelegantly chopped into two parts.
In what surely must be a coincidence, Dishonored is getting another piece of downloadable content, The Brigmore Witches, later this year. So The Knife of Dunwall's abrupt ending may make you feel a little... abused.
Still, it'd be hard to turn down the opportunity to re-explore Dunwall, a city that should rank among the Midgars and Raptures on our lists of the most memorable locales in video games.
There are two ways to play The Knife of Dunwall.
The first is the violent, high-chaos method, and it's the only way to take advantage of Daud's coolest new power: the ability to summon assassin minions who can blink around the battlefield and cut peoples' throats.
The second is the way I chose to play: sneak around, try to kill as few people as possible, and hit the reset button every time you get seen. Supplementing this approach are two great new gadgets: stun mines, which you can deploy to knock people unconscious; and chokedust, a grenade that immobilizes enemies so you can sneak behind them and knock them unconscious.
Mostly, though, Daud plays like Corvo with a couple of extra tricks and a bow hidden in his wrist. The assassin's blink ability is a bit better. But he can't possess things, so Corvo wins there.
So if the tagline for Dishonored is "Revenge Solves Everything," the tagline for The Knife of Dunwall should be "Yeah, More Of That." Same ol' city, same ol' rats, same ol' overseers. Guards will still ask each other to gather for whiskey and cigars. Enemy attacks will still glitch up occasionally. In other words, The Knife of Dunwall is just more Dishonored.
"Just more Dishonored," it must be said, is not a complaint. You don't go to a steakhouse expecting to get fish. Sometimes another big chunk of meat is just what you need—even if you won't get to finish eating until later this year.