Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall hands-on - murder spree in a blood-slick slaughterhouse
Dishonored's Knife of Dunwall DLC lets you play as the Empress' assassin, Daud, in a new story that runs parallel to Corvo's campaign. I've played an hour of the first of the DLC's three missions, set in a whale oil factory in Dunwall's docklands. It's a large, fleshed out infiltration mission featuring the traits you'd expect from a proper Dishonored level - complex environments with lots of vertical exploration, secret areas, hidden bone charms, audio diaries and notes full of extra lore.
In terms of moment to moment movement, stealth and murder, Daud feels identical to Corvo, but his powers and gadgets present new opportunities for improvisation. Some changes are purely cosmetic (he fires bolts from a wrist mounted launcher rather than a mini-crossbow), but others feel fresh and instantly entertaining. As the leader of a team of assassins, Daud can summon help whenever he needs a distant target killed, ordering assassins to de-cloak and silently slay guards with a quick point.
"Daud can summon help whenever he needs a distant target killed"
The DLC opens with the Empress' death. Daud co-ordinates the attack and does the deed first-hand in the opening cutscene. It's a tough moment to witness when you've experienced the fallout of the murder from Corvo's perspective, and it sends Daud into a spiral of doubt. He's used to killing members of Dunwall's corrupt and sordid elite, not kind-hearted royals. In the midst of his guilt trip he's visited by Dunwall's resident mystical entity and leather jacket owner, The Outsider, who mutters something vague about redemption and "Delilah" and then leaves Daud swinging in the wind.
Fortunately, Daud's assassins double as intelligence agents when the plot demands. His sources point him to a local whaling ship called the Delilah. Daud perches on a gantry overlooking the harbour, and there I take control.
I blink from walkway to walkway, vault a tesla coil in the alleyway below and blink up to a gap above the wall of light. I find myself on some rickety rooftops overlooking the dock. Distant boats are silhouetted against a brilliant orange sunset. I move towards the cliff and peer over the edge and see a huge dead whale bobbing in the water.
"He’s surprisingly calm for a man who just saw an assassin drop twenty feet onto a floating whale corpse"
In Corvo's quest, found notes and overheard conversations built up an aura of mystery around the strange creatures that produce Dunwall's whale oil. Even if you don't care much for Daud's dilemma, this DLC offers a chance to see aspects of Dishonored's world that have been teased, but never shown.
The level layout feels a little narrower than most of Dishonored's main missions, but the environment is as enticing as ever. Within seconds I've blinked down a series of outcrops and jumped onto the dead whale, landing right in front of a worker relaxing in a row boat. He's surprisingly calm for a man who just saw an assassin drop twenty feet onto a floating whale corpse. I blink into his vessel, knife at the ready, but stop myself from killing him when he starts to speak. He's fearful of Daud's reputation and offers up some advice on how to enter the factory.
I won't spoil how I got in. Suffice to say there are several ways, and you have even more options if you buy "favours." These mission- bonus objectives can be unlocked with in-game cash at the start of each mission. Daud's version of Corvo's "Dark Vision" can't penetrate walls, but it will highlight these extra objectives and bone charm locations. It offers more precise direction than Corvo's creepy bionic heart thing.
"Wide atria house the remains of half-processed whale carcasses"
I make my way into the factory and start the search for the foreman. As in Dishonored, targets can be killed or disposed of in more creative ways non-lethally. A rusty interrogation chair early in the level offers a hint as to how that could be achieved here.
The factory is full of dead whale. A warren of grim, red corridors feed wide atria that house the remains of half-processed carcasses. It's a slaughterhouse. Strongmen shave chunks off captured whales with saw blades powered by whale oil back packs - an obvious weak point, or so I assume. I shoot the first one I meet right in one of the two conjoined mini-tanks. It pops spectacularly, but the spare canister has enough juice to power his weapon. Annoyed, the whaler turns and saws me to death.
I elect to keep my distance from the next whaler I run into. I drop an Arc mine into his path and blink behind a pipe. These proximity bombs zap nearby enemies into ash as they pass - a spectacular variant on Corvo's spring razor mine.
I press on in search of the foreman. A trio of pipes offers an elevated walkway that's perfect for drop-assassinating whalers. I hop up to a high gantry and close in on an office. There are voices beyond the door. I peer in through the keyhole and see a butcher and a chainsaw-wielding whaler chatting next to a long, low table. I open the door and hold down the blink button. If he aims while standing still, Daud's blink freezes time. That gives me lots of time to plan my attack. I teleport beyond the table, crawl underneath and equip my wrist bolt, expecting a cry of surprise that never comes. The guards chat away, unaware that there's an assassin closing in on their knees.
"My assassin flicks his blade to his chest in silent salute and vanishes into thin air."
I enjoy a brief moment of indecision. I could slow time and slap a couple of sleeping darts into their thighs. I could fly out of my cubbyhole, chopping at every ankle I can find with my knife. What would Daud do?
I roll an incapacitating choke dust bomb between them. As it explodes I summon an assassin right behind the chainsaw whaler. Then I move to blink behind his friend. Time pauses as I pick my destination and I briefly see the shadow of my summoned assassin lunging toward his target. Suddenly, I'm behind mine slipping a blade into his throat.
My victim crumples silently as the smoke clears. The chainsaw whaler is already dead. My assassin flicks his blade up to his chest in silent salute, and vanishes into thin air.
I move on. The whaling factory is a greasy, rust-coloured warren of passages. Looking down through floor vents, I see gutters strewn with whale viscera. I'm glad I can't smell it. I find a hatch into the bloody sewer and discover a bone charm in a pile of unidentifiable organs. I use it to upgrade my agility, and try not to think about the logistics of improving my jump height with a blood-soaked ornament.
"I discover a bone charm in a pile of unidentifiable organs"
It's a gory place, but an enjoyable one to poke around. I busy myself taking out as many whalers as I can find, spurred on by the gruesome sight of huge whales hanging from meat hooks.
I miss some of Corvo's powers. Daud can't possess enemies or summon rat swarms, but his new abilities can be upgraded. If you pump bone charms into assassin summoning, your minions gain extra powers. I start to wonder if it's possible to do an entire playthrough of the DLC using summoned assassins to do the dirty work, reducing Daud's role to "man who hides in corners pointing occasionally."
Time runs out before I can put my new plan into action. I estimate that I made it about two thirds of the way through mission one in an hour and there's plenty of scope for a replay. The abstract skill tests of Dunwall City Trials delivered disposable fun, but The Knife of Dunwall offers more rich, thoughtfully constructed locations to explore, which is exactly what I want from Dishonored DLC. I'll definitely be pouring hours into this when it's released next month.
The Knife of Dunwall is out on April 16. It'll cost $9.99 / £7.99. Only Xbox code was available for the preview, awkward stick-aiming and all, but the levels/skills etc are the same across both versions.