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Dishonored - The Knife of Dunwall Review

posted Apr 17, 2013, 6:39 PM by oneclipleft   [ updated Apr 17, 2013, 6:54 PM ]

The recently released DLC for Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall, casts players as Daud, the assassin who kills the empress in the original game. While this DLC suffers some significant problems not present in the main game, it's still worth looking at this DLC due to its low cost and interesting alternate view of the main storyline. I've only finished the first mission, so I won't comment on the story or any other big spoilers. Instead, I want to focus on the gameplay and other things that have changed since Corvo went on his quest for vengeance (or restitution, however you happened to have played it).

The Knife of Dunwall obviously shares many similarities with Dishonored, being DLC and all, but I was struck by how quickly things changed directions. First, players are asked to believe that the cold-blooded, noble-assassinating, enemy from Dishonored has a giant, instant change of heart after he kills the empress. So far, the story has offered no explanation for this, and it's a big request to make of players in the first moments of any gaming experience. It would be similar to asking players to believe that Master Chief has moral qualms about killing aliens in the beginning of Halo 2. Most savvy players may feel jarred by this new information, especially without decent reasoning to rationalize such a swift change. All we really get is some dialog from Daud and the Stranger regarding the empress's death as "different."

After that (all covered in the first few cutscenes), players are immediately presented with an equipment upgrade/purchase screen. This really seemed like an odd choice from the developers, but I'll get into my theories on their reasoning in a minute. Players are given some starting money and a chance to outfit their version of Daud as they see fit before embarking on the first mission. Much like Dishonored, players can buy equipment and upgrades, but they can also buy something called “favors” in order to access certain rewards within the mission. This is when my bullshit detector started buzzing, because it drew attention to something I might not have otherwise noticed: who am I buying this stuff/upgrades/favors from, and how am I getting them? Where is my money going, exactly? In Dishonored, all of this is organic because there is a character tied to these purchases. In Knife of Dunwall, however, it feels like you are buying help from the game itself via a disembodied upgrade screen which, at least to me, breaks immersion. Even worse, I spent all my money on upgrades only to discover that if you do not buy any “favors” at the start of the mission, there is no other way to gain access to those extra goodies. On top of that, players start with enough cash to purchase up to SIX upgrades plus some supplies right off the bat, which seemed a little excessive to me.

Then I started the first mission, which features a new, slightly annoying sidekick character who pops in and out to deliver a pointless line of dialog or two, and what does she do right as I show up? She gives me a frikkin’ RUNE for no reason at all. Great, now I only have to find one in order to start beefing up Daud’s abilities. Considering that DLC is usually much shorter in duration than full games, I can’t believe how much you can achieve before even starting the first mission here. It’s really too much pre-game boosting for my taste. It would be like starting some Doom DLC just to be given the rocket launcher before you even start the game proper.

Anyway, moving back to strange motivations, Daud is as much of a kleptomaniac as Corvo, but there’s much less motivation for Daud to steal. Corvo was essentially on his own, with minimal support from a cabal with limited resources. Stealing tons of stuff made sense for him so he could compensate the characters who were supporting him. Daud, on the other hand, is apparently the boss-man for a successful and well-outfitted group of assassins. I would expect these people to have their resources more or less covered through their assassination contracts, with little need to ransack the places they do their dirty work. The only reason Daud needs to steal is to afford equipment, upgrades, and those dumbass “favors” from the upgrade screen. An easy way to handle both of these problems would have been to treat Daud as inherently different than Corvo. Eliminate stealing and replace purchased upgrades with some kind of predetermined load-out screen where Daud can pick and choose what he wants to take with him, with limitations on how much he can reasonably carry. Boom, done.

The gameplay itself has been tweaked, and not for the better by my measure (rhymed that shit…almost). Almost everything that has been changed makes the game easier (read: require less skill). My beloved Blink has apparently been fused with the freeze time ability, so anytime you activate blink while motionless, time stops entirely. Even if you’re in mid-air. This completely kills the frenetic sensation of choosing where to blink in the middle of a fight, or even in the middle of the crazy parkour-like traveling possible in the main game. You can only bypass this by holding jump or a directional button while blinking, which means blinking is either incredibly easy, or incredibly hard.

I noticed another area where the game has been made easy on players. In one room in the first mission, there are three whale-oil barrels scattered around the room along with some butcher enemies (more on them in a minute). I chose to use the barrels on the butchers, and then discovered that I could have used them in a nearby machine for a side-quest. I was heartbroken by my decision to waste the valuable oil on fighting, only to immediately notice one of those handy-dandy infinite oil dispensers on the opposite wall. The weight of my decision was instantly erased by this unnecessary convenience, and cheapened the game for me. In game decisions seem almost non-existent in TKoD, which is sad because it’s one of the elements that made the main game so good (and worth replaying).

Aside from that, ammo and vials are haphazardly scattered around nearly everywhere. There is almost no reason for a box of bullets to be sitting in on the ledge of a high catwalk in the middle of a whale-processing plant, but I damn well found one. Every time I ran out of darts or bullets, it seemed I would just find more waiting for me on a table right around the corner. I believe this is because the enemies in the first level do not carry ammunition, but the game could have done less hand-holding and allowed me to make the mistake of not bringing enough ammo with me in the first place. Again, it cheapens the experience and eliminates choices and consequences.

The biggest violation of choice and consequence, though, occurred right as I achieved the first mission’s main objective. While talking with the annoying sidekick, I was presented with a moral choice dialog box. When I saw that box I physically cringed. Part of what was so amazing about Dishonored was that these boxes did not exist. You did not have to tell the game what you were about to do, you just went and did it. Your actions mattered more than your words, but not here. There was the oh-so obvious good/neutral/bad choices, and once you chose one it became your next objective. With a heavy heart I bid farewell to the freeform decision-making that made the main game so rich and meaningful. On top of that, there were contradictions involved. One character made a comment similar to “you could do X, but that would be a waste of your time, right?” Immediately after that, a side quest pops up asking me to do that very thing, but with/to/for someone else. I couldn’t believe they missed that. How could they miss that? Seriously.

The two types of enemies in the first level are generic and boring, only one type is incredibly easy to kill and the second is GODDAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT ANCIENT DEMON MAGIC. This second type are the butchers. The general tactic to take these guys down is pretty simple, and has been done in other games, but the execution of that tactic is nearly impossible once these guys notice you. If the game gives you a way to take these guys down intelligently, but then only allows that to happen before you start fighting them, the tactic is pointless. On top of that, one hit with a sleep dart? They’re out. Now the tactic is twice as pointless. This wouldn’t be such an issue if these guys weren’t impossible to deal damage to aside from sleep darts or sneak attacks. A little ridiculous if you ask me.

So, how does this all add up? Still pretty well, believe it or not. This owes to the untouched parts of the game still shining as brightly as they did in Dishonored coupled with a low price tag ($9.99 on steam right now). Otherwise, this DLC would be a worthless waste of time. At best, it’s a mediocre addition to an amazing IP that misses the spirit of the original. I’ll still finish it, if only in the hopes that Daud’s motivations are ever adequately explained. Other than that, I’d rather be playing Dunwall City Trials some more.