The narrative endured by bodyguard-turned-fugitive Corvo Attano spun tangential threads in different directions, but few were as intriguing and mysterious as the plight of the empress’ true assassin, Daud. The Knife of Dunwall, Dishonored’s first story-related piece of downloadable content, represents not only an opportunity to detail Daud’s enigmatic circumstance, but also prove the value of DLC in a single player game. Modern DLC i.e., map packs, item bonuses, alternate costumes, and other trivial content couldn’t exist in the world Arkane created. Dishonored required substantial, engaging content that both expanded the player’s conception of Dunwall’s mythos and modified Corvo’s mechanics in a familiar yet engaging manner – and thankfully that’s exactly what The Knife of Dunwall accomplishes.
Like Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall picks up six months after Daud murders the empress. The Outsider, the source of both Corvo and Daud’s discretionary supernatural abilities, appears to Daud and speaks with an ominous tone regarding Daud’s future. The Outsider mentions a single clue, Delilah, and suggests it may be a path to Daud’s redemption. The Knife of Dunwall ushers Daud through three distinct missions in three different areas, each of which are as intricate, involving, and expansive as most that Corvo undertook in Dishonored.
Daud’s abilities share a clear lineage with Corvo’s, albeit with a handful of modifications. The most potent adjustment arrives with the limited teleportation ability, Blink. If Daud is kept stationary and then Blinks, time stops around him. This even works in mid-air, and almost feels like a revision to Corvo’s more risky interpretation of the same ability. Being able to see where I could go in the middle of a jump, rather than winging it and falling to my death before an attempt, certainly cut down the number of accidental deaths and subsequent reloads. Daud also boasts the option to summon assassins to stand in and fight for or alongside him, which would be theoretically helpful to certain chaotic play styles.
I said, “theoretically” because, beyond a few suicidal attempts after I knew I screwed up, I played Daud exactly as I had played Corvo – a reserved, stealthy experience. I never used mines or any sort of damaging projectile to deal with my aggressors, instead relying on a careful combination of Blink, Void Gaze, and stopping time as a means to either sneak around or progressively knock out the opposition. The Knife of Dunwall, mechanically speaking, supports this style of play by only offering enough runes to satisfy a single upgrade path. There are plenty of other abilities like Blood Thirsty, which enables better melee options, or a variant of Corvo’s Devouring Storm, Shadow Kill, which disappears enemy bodies. Those were geared toward efficient killing, but that wasn’t compatible with my vision of Daud’s future. It’s up to the player whether they want to position Daud as an indifferent assassin or a measured stealth savant.
The Knife of Dunwall also contextually supports the player’s interpretation of Daud by way of his actions. Do you feel he’s remorseful and second guessing his decision to murder the empress, or is his merciless downfall inevitable and prolonged violence unavoidable? There aren’t a lot of story beats in The Knife of Dunwall, but enough are present to suggest a legitimate degree of control over Daud’s ultimate fate. The only catch is it’s not quite resolved by the time credits start to roll – The Brigmore Witches, another piece of content arriving at a later date, is primed to continue Daud’s role in Dishonored’s grander narrative.
This isn’t to imply The Knife of Dunwall feels light on content – quite the opposite, really. One of its three missions takes place in the Legal District at the Rothwild Slaughterhouse, a brand new area complete with fundamentally different enemies. These Butchers are bulky bruisers, some of which trade their trademark knives for whale-oil powered chainsaws. They’re easily taken down with a tap to the explosive fuel container on their back, unless, of course, you’re trying to keep chaos low. Hatters, The Knife of Dunwall’s other new faction, don’t quite have the same impact, but they do well to flavor a familiar area with a new threat. Returning to The Flooded District, home to Daud and his assassins’ base of operations, generated a new appreciation for Arkane’s sprawling yet cohesive level design. In Dishonored-proper I was mostly sprinting through that area at maximum efficiency in the home stretch, but in The Knife of Dunwall I took my time and learned every beautiful nuance in its smart architecture.
The menacing presence of Butchers and alarming threat of Overseers is consistent with another theme of The Knife of Dunwall, namely a perceived increased density of bad guys. Observing enemy patterns and sneaking in for a choking submission or sleep dart seemed to have a much thinner margin of error than in Dishonored, leading to a greater sense of satisfaction upon completion, but also a higher amount of reloads and restarts upon repeated trial and error and error and error. In this regard The Knife of Dunwall isn’t too different, and in some cases worse, than its predecessor; Arkane really never solves the problem of combining pure stealth gameplay with a proper system of punishment. It’s tough because few players will embrace that particular style, but for those that do, especially on a console, the process of constantly reloading saves is long and damaging the overall experience. If you let it, Dishonored and The Knife of Dunwall can demand perfection, it just doesn’t oblige its own request very well.
It’s worth it for what The Knife of Dunwall suggests of Dishonored’s bigger picture. A world packed intrigue with calls for exposition, but not to the point of overindulgence. It’s a tough line to walk, but the implications in Daud’s story, namely the nature of Delilah and the player’s resolve to influence Daud’s fate, could spin a thread as interesting as that of the main game. In a perfect world The Knife of Dunwall would lead to numerous Tales from Dishonored spin-offs that indulge in every detail and conspiracy generated from the main game, and maybe we’ll get there, but as a single piece of content it serves as a peak into possibility instead of the usual questionable finality frequently by similar content. In this regard The Knife of Dunwall on the right side of the law, even if it’s not quite complete.