Dishonored: The Knife Of Dunwall PS3 DLC preview – full of character, hard as nails

 [See some Dishonoured: Knife of Dunwall PS23 screens here.]

[Update: I've been corrected: Daud's Void Gaze does actually reveal enemies once upgraded. Something that wasn't made clear in the hour I had to play. That's a good thing then.]

I remember being amazed when someone told me they played through all of Dishonored without touching Dark Vision. The X-ray magic sights seemed like such an essential tool I couldn’t imagine playing the game without it. This vision-less DLC will be right up their street, then. No magic eyes, no advance warning. Just you, corners, and the clenching worry you’re about to blunder into someone angry.

Daud, the empress-killing hero of this add on, doesn’t share entirely the same set of magic powers as Corvo, and Dark Vision has been replaced with Void Gaze. As far as I can tell all it really does is show runes and bone charms, replacing the chatty, voyeuristic heart of the original game with a basic ‘hear they are’ arrow. It also leaves you with no way of seeing enemies through walls.

Maybe all the magic vision modes have made me soft but being forced to use just my eyes and memory to keep track of angry men with knives was quite the shock. Although being shut in a room and given an hour to play this first chapter of additional story-based content doesn’t exactly promote the most patient approach. That’s what I’m blaming for all the alarms, shooting and red stuff.

Stripped of the ability to easily monitor and track threats this is a far sterner test of Dishonored’s stealth and I have to say – pushed for time in the preview hands-on – I did terribly, spending about 20 minutes of my hour looping the same warehouse environment as I repeatedly triggered alarms and fumbled my way to death against new whale slaughtering enemies armed with machine gun/circular saw combo weapons.

The bits I saw that didn’t involve painful death were full of character and expanded the world of Dishonored in a pleasing way

The difficulty spike seemed frustrating but if I’m honest it was largely a result of feeling rushed. Left to my own devices I would have probably spent most of the first hour just exploring the routes and options in the hundred yards leading up to the main gate, rather than barreling through it all to try and see as much as possible.

And with more time that’s exactly what I plan to do because the bits I saw that didn’t involve painful death were full of character and expanded the world of Dishonored in a pleasing way. The tale of Daud’s mission of redemption after killing the empress feels much like a playable version of the books and logs you usually read to expand a backstory.

The grim whaling factory adds so much to the tone of the world I’m amazed it wasn’t part of the main story – more than the rats, the plague, or corruption in the main game this really highlights the rot at the core of Dunwall’s society. Something driven home when you find the whale oil powering the world is taken from live whales to keep it fresh; I discovered this after crawling into the factory through a sewer outlet awash with blood and finding myself under one of the groaning tortured beasts (the option to ’euthanise’ it an interesting brief potential side mission).

From what played this feels like a measured dose of Dishonoured rather than the full experience but a potentially a good one. It’s similar to the mission in the main game where you visit Slackjaw and his gang. A microcosm environment where whaling boss Rothchild rules and his slaughterhouse staff police the carcass-filled area.

Upgrades and supplies can only be bought at the start of each of the three missions, which I’m told last 1-2 hours. You can also buy ’favours’, essentially clues like safe combinations to help you out (and possibly negate the need for playtesting accidental discoveries like overhearing conversations). I’m also told that the emphasis here is on options – multiple routes for example to drive replay value. And I did see plenty of choices with open areas to be interpreted, navigated and played as you see fit

While the lack of Dark Vision will be a matter of taste, other changes to the powers are more welcome. You can summon an assassin for example, either to cause a distraction or take out a specific target. It’s something I only really experimented with towards the end of my hour but immediately gave me ideas for how I could have done things differently.

One odd change is that Daud can’t blink up ledges with a body. So you can’t hide unconscious/dead guards safely on roofs. Combined with the lack of Dark Vision that’s another change that adds to the challenge overall. I suspect that while some will relish the extra challenge this adds others will be a little frustrated they can’t play this like ’old’ Dishonored – there’s a step up in difficultly forced by the new mechanics that can’t be avoided. But the chance to spend more time in the game’s world and expand it’s story should make up for that.