Let’s talk about why The Knife of Dunwall (and whatever comes next) is the ‘directors cut’ treatment for Dishonored, instead of irrelevant, tacked on content that DLC so often is.
In my (sometimes, sorry) humble opinion, the trick to good DLC for any story driven game with a beginning, middle, and end, is to take a look at the world players previously enjoyed from another perspective. We’ve already played the game… we’ve met some memorable characters, seen some unforgettable places, we don’t want to sit down to two hours of something tacked on, or irrelevant. DLC shouldn’t be about throwing some extra crap at the consumer, and it’s often such a wasted opportunity to explore that which we’ve already seen from the eyes of someone else, or from another context. Juxtapose the world; hell, it’s an excuse to use the same assets, right?
Dunwall City Trials is exactly what I’d consider to be tacked on, irrelevant DLC. Players enjoy Dishonored for the story and gameplay, not for the parkour. Priced at $4.99/£3.99/€4.99 respectively, though, we weren’t expecting much for our money. We didn’t explore the first DLC for Dishonored because it’s basically what people were worried about, or expecting: nothing much at all. We left our Dishonored review with the impression that ”Dishonored feels like one of those great Hollywood movies that just needed a proper full length directors cut.” The Knife of Dunwall, I guess, is that directors cut.
Imagine a narrative in Dishonored which explored moral relativity from the perspective of an alternative cut-throat anti-hero. Pretty cool, right? There was no exposition from the perspective of Corvo’s greatest adversary, but The Knife of Dunwall has brought exactly that. You play as Daud, the assassin who kills the Empress (which Corvo was framed for) at the start of Dishonored. You get to watch that famous scene from his perspective. That’s some sweet delicious DLC exposition right there, and with games like Dishonored with a rich and expansive universe, exposition is really worth paying for – it’s what we want in a story driven action game.
£7.99 worth of sweet, ‘that rings a bell’ exposition
Whilst The Knife of Dunwall is arguably more linear than Dishonored, each of the missions allow you to explore, over-hear, or see the downfall of the city at your own accord. You’ll listen to guards talk about Corvo, and how he has brought the city to its knees, and you’ll visit places you’ve been before – for better or for worse. This pack is about playing a slice of the game from another perspective, and what makes it so awesomely satisfying is that you’re playing it from the perspective of the guy the games actual protagonist wants dead - whilst he seeks redemption for what he’s done.
We all know that short, relatively expensive DLC has taken over the tradition of boxed expansions (Half Life Blue Shift, anyone?) that PC gamers used to enjoy, and Knife of Dunwall won’t take up more than a few hours of your day, but with four relatively long missions to enjoy, you still feel as though you’re investing into something worthwhile, because the third DLC will continue Daud’s story – ultimately, ostensibly, ending in his demise (in whatever form you chose in your original play through of the game). There’s less exploration, and there feels like there’s more of an emphasis on killing, but for what it’s worth the expansion on the story makes up for what is relatively linear content.
The levels are large, and there are still secrets to find and explore, with multiple infiltration and exfiltration points, and you still have a choice of what missions to do, and how you do them, but there’s nothing quite as grand as, say, the banquet mission in the games original release. There aren’t as many big and bold characters, but the Rothchild Slaughterhouse is eagerly referential of the original releases content quality. In this, you’ll be met with the same morally ambiguous options as to how to complete missions, picking between reward for a harder life, or torture for an easy way out, but a nasty bit of business.
What’s more, Daud comes with a few new gadgets and abilities, although a couple are rehashed such as Daud’s wrist-bow (effectively the same weapon as Corvo’s) and The Heart ability, which is now The Void. Still, you get Choke Gas and Arc Mines. Daud plays identically to Corvo, with a few tweaked animations, but his internal monologue and running narrative are deeply interesting, making for a brilliant alternative lead protagonist, or antagonist.
Stuck in the same morally ambiguous dutiful position as Corvo, Daud feels both familiar and expansive, adding to the over-all tone of the base-game without simply borrowing from it. This really is DLC how it should be, and whilst I’m skeptical of DLC because generally, when I buy it, I find myself lost, confused, and questioning the relevancy of tacked on content to a finished story, I get the impression Arkane Studios are adding that “directors cut” polish to Dishonored as a package, rather than milking us for more cash.
Whilst this isn’t as expansive, or as grand, as Dishonored was when it was released, it’s all about the context, narrative, and exposition. Knife of Dunwall is for those who play Dishonored for the combat, and for the story – not for whatever RPG elements there were, and I’m okay with that. Keep it coming.