Dishonored, a first person shooter with surprising depth, surprised many when it released last year. Its combination of stealth, multiple paths, complex objectives, and incredibly well-realised alternate reality setting created a strong following for what many hope will become a fully-fledged, multi-title franchise in the future.
To help bridge the gap, between now and the future, Bethesda and developers Arkane Studios are releasing a new set of downloadable content for the original game, in which players can take on a number of new missions and experience a new side of the existing narrative. The DLC, titled Knife of Dunwall, will let fans take on challenges and new powers from the perspective of Daud - a character from the original game, but one that players couldn't previously play as.
While the DLC isn't available until the middle of April, I recently got a chance to sit down with the first mission (of the three included) and see what the world is like from Daud's perspective.
The intro sequence sets the scene, and follows on from events in the main game. [If you haven't played the game yet (and you should, it's amazing), there's two things you should know: one, you don't seem to need to have played Dishonored before, although it doesn't waste time teaching you the various tricks you'll need to survive, and two, the rest of this paragraph and the two that follow it have spoilers in them - you might want to skip ahead.] Daud kicks things off by talking about his mission to kill the Empress, and how it felt different to all of his other assassinations. He should really have listened to his gut, I suspect...
After a cutscene in which Daud kills the Empress, things get . . . weird. Chunks of land, buildings, etc all float in the sky, and bricks rise up to form a path. A carriage hangs mysteriously in mid air, and Daud (now under player control) must escape the scene of the crime so the story can advance.
It seems Daud’s fate is sealed, but it's implied that the way he ultimately meets that fate is as yet undecided, and up to the player. If you're concerned about any further spoilers (all of this stuff is from the first couple of minutes of the new content), don't be; I'll be deliberately vague on that stuff from now on.
Set alongside the events of the main game, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that the world is largely the same as you're already familiar with. Given that world was great, and interesting to explore, that's no bad thing. It's still got Walls of Light and Arc Pylons to find your way around, you can still sneak around in the shadows, and everything's still running on whale-oil derived electricity.
The various magical abilities you use to explore the world, however, have changed. Not always in a major way, but even the tweaks are interesting in how they change your approach. Blink, for example, a skill that lets you teleport a short distance, now slows time almost to a standstill while you aim it; this change in implementation means that it's now a much more viable method of escape to use while you're in the middle of (generally unintended) combat.
Another skill - this one brand new - is not only useful, it also helps underline just how many other ways in which the magic system in Dishonored could be used. Called Summon Assassin, it does pretty much what it says on the tin; summons a novice assassin to the spot you select. It's super useful for causing distractions, or when used as an "oh shiiii..." button in combat.
The weapons, too, get a touch of Daud's personality. The new choke dust, for example, is a great way to disorient a group of enemies, while whale oil powered Arc Mines turn enemies to ash - neatly sidestepping that "what do I do with the body?" problem that otherwise plagues your virtual murders.
As usual for Dishonored, missions in The Knife of Dunwall (or at least, the one we saw) have multiple routes and can be completed in different ways. Another thing that hasn't changed, however, is that stealth - tricky as it might be to maintain - is still the "easiest" way to complete a level; once you're spotted, you're up against it - enemies here can be seriously tough to beat one-on-one and they tend to call out to their friends.
The environment for the first level is split into two distinct sections; an exterior area called Slaughterhouse Row and an entirely-indoors location. It's a great pairing, as to succeed outdoors you'll need to use a large number of skills (like teleporting around the rooftops) that are simply impossible once you head inside. The switch-up ensures the second part of the level feels tight and claustrophobic, really forcing you to think about the options you do have, in the face of the many you don't.
Something else that's new in the game will surprise many (and annoy PETA, presumably): whales. Specifically, whale corpses. For a world in which everything runs on the fatty liquor extracted from the massive mammals, the fact we hadn't actually seen many until now became particularly notable the moment we actually did. And boy, do you. They don't look exactly like the kind you'd find in our oceans, but then that's true of the other denizens of Dishonored, too - thanks to the superbly executed surreal aesthetic. That won't, of course, stop some people getting upset about it.
It is a bit harder than the original Dishonored (something magnified by the time between playing both it and this DLC, perhaps), and some of the new enemies (like a whale-chopping, circular-saw wielding butcher guy) are particularly punishing, seemingly hammering home Arkane's intent that you play the game in stealth mode (which is fair enough, that's when it's at its best.) If you're worried about this, don't be; the new abilities help to offset the increased difficulty somewhat, and a new learning curve helps keep things feeling fresh and worthwhile.
The Knife of Dunwall won't end Daud's story (that honor goes to the next DLC - The Brigmore Witches), but based on what I saw of the game, you'll definitely want to jump in anyway. The tweaks to the existing stealth-em-up-with-superpowers formula are worthy, the character interesting, and the level of polish is right in line with that seen in the (full priced) retail game.
If, like me, you lament the lack of decent, story-based, singleplayer DLC, and you enjoyed Dishonored's steampunk dystopia, make sure you've got some time set aside around April 17th / 18th (depending on platform.) The Knife of Dunwall looks to be every bit the DLC that Dishonored deserves.
The Good: More Dishonored
The Bad: A buzzsaw to the face
The Ugly: Whale gore; it's everywhere