Posted on April 23, 2013 AT 08:00am
Better off Daud
Daud is wracked with guilt. The blood of the Empress is on his hands, and for what? Money? Doesn’t seem quite as fulfilling as it once did. Certainly not remotely meaningful. Perhaps that is why an ominous name—Delilah—enigmatically imparted by the Outsider consumes Daud’s mind. Something about it resonates with a genuine sense of purpose that Daud has apparently lost in the wake of Jessamine Kaldwin’s death—or perhaps never possessed.
So six months after slaying Dunwall’s empress, when word of a whaling vessel with that very name, Delilah, reaches Daud, the assassin at large pursues the lead with single-minded purpose.
Welcome back to a city divided—to Dunwall.
Despite its downloadable content status, Knife of Dunwall is a decidedly welcome return to the world of Dishonored—and a sizable one at that. Clocking in at roughly six hours (maybe eight for more meticulous players), Daud’s headfirst plunge into Dunwall’s districts feels, initially, jarringly difficult. But it doesn’t take too long before muscle memory kicks in and navigating Dunwall’s districts once again feels second nature in a comfortingly familiar way without failing to be challenging.
Arkane’s first story-oriented DLC feels right at home, a page torn out of the full game that the developers returned to, proofread, and revised. The add-on manages to shed more light on the layer cake that is Dunwall’s lore and improve upon the core gameplay mechanics in subtle but noteworthy ways. New abilities await experimentation, and old hits—Blink in particular—feel familiar yet fresh. The teleportation power is functionally the same as ever, with one addendum: holding down the L trigger while immobile—even in midair—now stops time, adding an extremely useful new strategic dynamic for more thoughtful players. And while, for me, Dishonored very impressively compels a furtive approach to situations, Knife of Dunwall still offers the play-as-you-will variety that helped make its parent stand out.
Knife of Dunwall serves up two new slices of Dunwall for players to explore—the Rothwild Slaughterhouse and the Legal District—and a return visit to Daud’s hideout in the Flooded District. All of these arenas feel like a living, breathing, organic extension of the Dunwall explored by Corvo in Dishonored. Each new area is just as sandbox-y, just as expertly crafted, and just as teeming with options as the previously explored sections of the city.
For all the positive aspects of Dishonored echoed in Knife of Dunwall, however, it equally mirrors many of the full game’s shortcomings. I maintain that both the DLC and the full game practice Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. The story is presented in a minimalistic fashion—the visible tip of the iceberg—while a massive size of content lurks just below. And I like this approach. Love it. But it is wholly dependent on interesting, engaging characters. Corvo was neither. Daud is an improvement, since he actually speaks, but despite tapping Michael Madsen’s talent to voice the leader of the Whalers, Arkane Studios fails to realize the character’s full potential. His vocal presence is, at first, a noticeable improvement that eventually falls flat. And unlike Hemingway’s elegant execution in his prose, Knife of Dunwall fails to adhere to the crucial “show, don’t tell” technique to creative writing as far as Daud is concerned. I’m told Daud regrets murdering the Empress, but I’m never shown that he does. Arkane—at least with their first DLC installment—doesn’t mine Madsen’s talent. Daud is conceptually fascinating, but beyond a few pieces of lore his presence never amounts to more than a few lines of dialogue.
Considerably more irritating, however, is Knife of Dunwall’s abrupt closing. Say what you will about Dishonored’s narrative, it maintained sturdy pace and ended in a logical, satisfying way within the context of its narrative arc. Conversely, this first installment of story-driven DLC leads up to the denouement with a well-paced crescendo, but never winds down with a decrescendo, no gradual falling action. Instead there is a very abrupt caesura. Once it’s clear Knife of Dunwall is wrapping up, it does so in a way that feels relatively conclusive, but far from self-contained. There’s still a very distinct and far from faint “to be continued” note that Daud’s story fades out on. Imagine listening to a really badass track by one of your favorite artists only to have it stop mid-chorus. “Y’all dig this dope jam? OK, see you when The Brigmore Witches launches.”
In that sense, comparing Knife of Dunwall to an iceberg seems even more appropriate. It expands and improves upon Dishonored in every way—it moves the franchise forward, but at a glacial speed. As a result, it’s hard not to interpret Dishonored’s DLC as a test run—a toe in the water. Maybe The Brigmore Witches will be a whole foot, but my instincts tell me Dishonored won’t go all-in on its as-of-yet fully realized potential before a proper sequel emerges.
|Developer: Arkane Studios • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 04.16.13|
For fans of Dishonored, Knife of Dunwall does not disappoint. And for those less infatuated than I, the Daud DLC may offer a promising look at the series’ potential. Unfortunately, Knife of Dunwall’s across-the-board improvements are incremental at best.
|The Good||A thoroughly fun sampling of what the future holds for the franchise.|
|The Bad||Piquing my interest only to dash my hopes by being Part One of Daud’s Tale.|
|The Ugly||Shattering that archaic silent protagonist mold, but not capitalizing on it.|
|Dishonored: Knife of Dunwall is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), and PC (Steam). Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|
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