Poor old Daud. The moment he hits the height of his profession - assassinating the empress of Dunwall in Dishonored's opening cutscene - he's struck down by not a blade or a bullet, but by his own brain. As if making an enemy of Corvo isn't bad enough, a conscience rears into his ugly, scarred head. Bummer. Still, 'the knife of Dunwall's' bad news is good for us, because it means we get to a) play more Dishonored, and b) experience it through the eyes of one of the game's most interesting characters.
Daud's story runs alongside the main game, and focuses on him being rather miffed by his own actions, seeking the closest thing to redemption he can find. There's also a nice line in posho class war running thorugh it, as Dunwall's big boys and girls realise they're in as much trouble as everyone else. (Bonus points, as well, for a nicely surreal character Daud has to chase down.)
Like the original however, it's the visual storytelling that is key, and the first thing that strikes is what a pleasure it is to be back in Dunwall. Arkane's Victorian-style setting is just as alluring as before, and for the most part the new environments (a spectacular whale-harvesting factory being the best) don't disappoint. The retro-aristo-future vibe had always been one of the game's strongest elements, and Arkane builds on it here, contrasting knee-deep filth and squalor with high class splendour as well as it ever has.
Of the three missions included, two are of such high quality they would have have been a credit to the original release. One of my main issues with Dishonored was that, despite all of the options available to players, there wasn't much incentive to do anything other than Blink around like an amphetamine-charged Nightcrawler. Lady Boyle's party - an open ended, Hitman-esque mission - was heavily used to promote the game, but endud up being atypical of the experience.
There's more planning here. Daud is joined at various stages by his lieutentant, Billie Lurks, who gives him assistance, advice, and tactical oversight. Maps, keys to backdoors, and other strategic edges are offered, and players can pay for agents to sneak into levels beforehand and give them a boost: disabling alarms etc. Together with the various other NPCs who will aid your quest should you take the time to find them, there's plenty to consider, making executing the perfect assassination (or not, if you're a low chaos player) very satisfying indeed.
I strongly advise you take Lurk's advice, because The Knife of Dunwall is bastard hard, sometimes to a fault. Daud has similar powers to Corvo, but attempt to play the game in the same manner and you're gonna have a bad time. At first Blink seems even more overpowered than before - holding LT on its own freezes time, enabling you to take a while to pick your next move - but rely on it too much and you'll be seeing the loading screen again and again, as the mission design seems to be built around not enabling players to use it as a get out of jail free card.
Other powers have been either discarded (Possession, Windblast, Devouring Swarm) or kept but altered: Dark Vision now only gives you the ability to see enemies through walls at level two, meaning you'll have to use the lean function far more often or sacrifice a rune you could be using elsewhere. It pays to focus on hunting out these runes and upgrading two or three compatible powers, especially as Daud has the ability to summon assassins to do your bidding and share his upgraded abilities with them. Using these in concert to sneak and stab your way though the stages is as addictive as it ever was, even when the game's superhuman AI is hunting you down.
But it's the open-ended nature of the stages, and the variables within them, that'll keep you coming back, even after you've screamed at the screen for the 1000th time due to Sherlock-smart enemies or another bungled plan gone awry. The aforementioned waterfront slaughterhouse is as beautiful as it is grisly: reminiscent of the Hostel series in its dank, rotting industrial vibe, if the Hostel series had whales for victims instead of backpackers. (A new enemy type stalks players here: armed with a buzzsaw, he's near impervious from the front and is quite intimidating.) It's up to players to make good use of the factory's different levels and entrances (including wading though gore-soaked output sewers), and as ever you can choose how you dispose of your foe: kill him outright, or pack him off into a box and send him to the end of the empire? Up to you.
The second mission is even more flexible, with Daud infiltrating a barrister's fancy estate. Do you snipe him on his balcony, or throw shit in his air filter and plant evidence on him so that when the Imperial five-o arrive they nick him for breaching plague rules? Something in between? Up to you, but fun any way you attempt it.
Sadly, the third mission - Daud infiltrating his own lair to free his buddies after an Overseer assault - isn't a patch on the other two, and highlights how frustratingly trial-and-error the experience can be. It's markedly less open (in terms of your options) than the other two and feels like it's building to a pay off that never comes. Sneaking around stabbing goons is fun, but one mistake and they all come running, and as the game's story doesn't conclude here, it's an abrupt jolt out of an involving world.
There are other problems, including mission logic breaking for me (the objective marker didn't show) and forcing me into combat when I entered a certain area, but overall this is a very impressive new slice of Dishonored. With Daud's story left on a cliffhanger, we hope Arkane keeps up this form with the next installment.
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Played for around 7 hours, a lot of those spent looking at a loading screen as the best-laid plans spun out of control.