Damn, does it feel good to be back in Dunwall. Dishonoured was the blockbuster standout of last year’s Christmas glut, a superb mix of stealth, sword-fighting and crazy navigation, wrapped up with an interesting world and enjoyable plot. To return is to realise that you should have returned sooner, that you were more than ready to replay Dishonored and to dig into everything it has to offer.
But as much as the simple pleasure of returning factors in to our appreciation of this content, The Knife of Dunwall is more than a reminder of the game’s fundamental, standing qualities. You’re given three new missions for your $10 and plonked into the grimy boots of Daud, best remembered as the bad guy who straight up murdered the Empress back at the start of the game, just as you were perfecting your hide ‘n seek skills.
Daud isn’t given quite as much character development as you might be expecting, but Dishonored has always been the story of a world and a people rather than the individual, bar the focus on the player and their choices. The Knife of Dunwall follows suite, offering up about two and a half hours of content chock-full of player choices and plenty of interesting insights into Dunwall itself. This is particularly evident in the first two missions, both of which are total level design masterpieces. The first sees Daud travelling through a whale slaughterhouse, while the second takes him through streets and apartments filled with guards and crooks, ultimately culminating in a mansion and a target that can be dispatched in numerous ways. Both of these levels put a heavy emphasis on exploring extensively and getting to know the locals, who are, naturally, a delight.
Without spoiling any of the particulars, both of these levels would have fit right into Corvo’s adventure, but Daud’s powers and general ‘feel’ are slightly modified. Corvo was a bodyguard roped into a new line of work, but Daud is a trained assassin, one who has had time to perfect the wonderful ‘blink’ ability the game is known for. In the core game, those short-distance teleportations were often very hard to aim properly, especially in a pinch. Here, if you’re not moving anything other than the camera, time stands still while aiming a blink. This means that you can take a running jump, pause in mid-air, and take time aiming a blink to a nearby ledge, which makes escape far easier – but then these levels, particularly the third one, make it pretty hard to not occasionally sink your sword into someone’s throat.
This third mission takes you back to Daud’s hideout (which you may remember as a frustrating but exciting level from the original campaign), and is a tad disappointing. It’s a little simpler than the prior missions, and very, very difficult to ‘ghost’ – so much so that, right now, we’re not entirely sure how you’d even go about attempting it (although the achievements suggest that it is possible). No doubt this level will become one that the hardcore fans will love to hate, with the intense focus required to properly work the game’s stealth mechanics in your favour. Almost all of Daud’s new abilities and items are combat focused, though, with the major new power being the ability to summon an assassin to help you during a fight. It’s not quite as funny as being able to possess a rat.
The Knife of Dunwall is actually only the first half of the downloadable campaign planned for Dishonored, and damn does the missing half stand out. Things end abruptly on a rather half-hearted twist, and your powers remain fairly basic unless you’ve spent a great deal of time hunting for runes. We imagine there’s some financial reasoning behind why the content wasn’t simply worked to completion and all released at once, but we weren’t quite ready to stop once the credits rolled.
These missions don’t quite reach the same heights as the main campaign’s best moments, and we miss Corvo’s abilities more than we appreciate Daud’s (the constant companionship of that creepy heart Corvo carried around meant more to us than we realised), but there’s more effort, imagination and fun across these levels than plenty of big releases manage across their entire lengths. Plus, as an added bonus, it might inspire you to play through the original game again.