The city of Dunwall, a steampunk, alternate-universe London circa 1800 and the setting for last year’s Dishonored, quickly became the main character of the phenomenal, original title. The city was filled with unique characters and social strife, forcing users to do more than slice — or sneak — their way through this title’s stealth gameplay. Stopping to observe the scenery, read the myriad books and diaries, and discover every nook and cranny bolstered the world building as much as the gameplay. But even after traversing the city’s sewers, derelict buildings, and mansions pieces, of the story were still underdeveloped.
Enter The Knife of Dunwall, Dishonored‘s second piece of downloadable content and its first story-driven addition. Rather than continuing the storyline of protagonist Corvo Attano, you assume the role of Daud, the assassin who set the events of the original game in motion by killing the empress of Dunwall. The DLC opens — and ends — in familiar settings, giving context to the events at hand. While Corvo sets off to find Daud in the original title, in The Knife of Dunwall you carry out Daud’s agenda, namely, uncovering the secrets behind the name/person/ship “Delilah”.
The DLC’s opening level best builds upon the world of Dunwall by exposing players to the murky world of whale slaughterhouses. If any aspect of the city was left mostly undeveloped from the original title, it was the widespread whaling community that dictated life in the city. Machines and baddies were powered by whale oil, and you would frequently see roped-up whales being brought to port by unique whaling ships. However, never in Dishonored did you get an up-close look at the practice itself. The Knife of Dunwall lets players tangle with masochistic butchers and dig through the remains and runoff of slaughtered whales.
Unfortunately, the DLC’s other two maps feel all too familiar, either because they’re direct remakes from the original game or yet another urban setting. The second level sends Daud into the affluent Legal District, which plays similar to many of the levels from the core game. However, the main setpiece of the level, the infiltration of an aristocrat’s stronghold dwellings, is one of the best of the series. Not unlike The Golden Cat brothel in Dishonored, players have to enter the dwelling from any one of a number of locations and dispatch the inhabitants by various means of violent or non-violent disposal methods.
Though The Knife of Dunwall excels at environmental storytelling and in filling in the blanks, the binomial chaos system that ruled the original game feels forced onto the addition. In Dishonored, you had real decisions to make as Corvo: clear your name and hurt as few people as possible or rain fire on the city that turned its back on you. But Daud has none of these motives. Though the game forces an internal narrative on the player, it is inherently foreign to the character. Daud struggles with the murder of the empress and even admits that he’s killed nobles before but that this was somehow different. Daud’s change of heart is disingenuous and a tool used to force the moral system into the downloadable content. Daud is an assassin and an agent of extreme chaos in the world of Dunwall. Players shouldn’t feel guilty or be punished for acting as such.
The DLC does heed this thematic shift through the presentation of Daud’s magical powers, which are more lethal than Corvo’s. Though both characters can utilize the Blink spell, allowing them to warp across long distances, most of the similarities end there. Daud’s most unique feature is the ability to summon assassins to fight alongside him. Just the presence of this skill encourages players to enter into more hand-to-hand combat and avoid the low-chaos route. But the biggest problem with Daud’s high-level abilities is that there’s not enough time to use them. The runes, used to develop your character, return from the original game but are in short supply. Collecting enough runes in order to summon master assassins leaves only the final mission to utilize the skill thoroughly.
When The Knife of Dunwall winds down, you’re left with more questions than answers, previewing the final piece of Dishonored DLC. But you already know Daud’s near future, as the DLC’s final map is the scene of Corvo and Daud’s climactic battle. The Knife of Dunwall then plays a lot like a collection of B-sides from a band’s standout album: recorded at the same time and carrying the same tone and quality, but unable to fit within the flow of the full album. It fills in many of the blanks left from the original game without feeling tacked on.