A plague ridden fusion of gothic, British fin de siècle and brutalist sci-fi architecture, the city of Dunwall is a beautifully twisted sight that many will have missed since they last visited it in 2012’s Dishonored.
The first of two narrative driven downloadable expansions for the game, The Knife of Dunwall follows Daud, one of the original game’s central antagonists. One might expect this narrative schism to detract from the game, burdening players with control over a dislikeable protagonist. However, the game does a surprisingly solid job of establishing Daud’s feelings of guilt and genuine remorse, making a tragic anti-hero of what was originally a notably undeveloped character.
Thanks to a revised arsenal and some fine-tuned powers, Daud is actually a hell of a lot of fun to play as. The original game’s central traversal mechanic, Blink, allowed players to teleport a short range. The idea was that they could elegantly zip through the Dickensian streets but in practice, one wrong move resulted in a dangerous fall or a time consuming checkpoint restart. This problem has been fixed by making Daud’s version of the power freeze time, allowing players to look before they leap. Feathering the movement stick allows for minute adjustments mid-air, and this level of finesse is crucial, given that this expansion is considerably more demanding than the original game. I spent the first hour getting my butt kicked up, down and occasionally straight over the winding alleyways of Dunwall, but this challenge was infinitely preferable to a patronising retread of old scenarios. Indeed, while the star of Dishonored was undoubtedly its city, the game’s mechanics really come into their own here.
The focus on Daud’s enhanced playability isn’t to say that Dunwall takes a backseat in this expansion; divided into three acts, the first two of which explore brand new areas (a gruesome whaling factory and a tall-walled bourgeois district), while the third reprises an area used in the first game. One realises just how central exploring the city as a whole, with its incidental dialogue and environmental stories is to the game when they are forced to retread through this disappointing final act. Here’s hoping that the game’s final expansion won’t make the same mistake.
Often resembling a painting in motion, The Knife of Dunwall is a beautiful, multifaceted and inventive expansion whose smart mechanical improvements and dedication to player empowerment shines through, even if its occasionally recycled environments detract a little from its lustre.