Life just wouldn’t be worth living with expansion packs. Except now expansion packs are, instead of monolithic brain-meltingly brilliant additions like Age of Empires II‘s The Conquerors or Warcraft III‘s The Frozen Throne, little bite-sized portion-controlled microtransacted chunks. (Not convinced that the sum total of the bonus content here is as big or strong as either of those, but at the time it probably sold for as much, if not more.)
Which is the main reason I wait for GOTYEs these days. No fuss, just a disc full of everything. Buying a complete game — fancy that!
So now it’s time to delve into Dishonored‘s extra appendages.
Dunwall City Trials
I said that the game’s core systems were solid but it needed more plot, so obviously the first DLC had to be a purely mechanical suite of challenges completely lacking in plot. Careful what you wish for, eh?
I guess my main complaint is that, while the game thrives on giving you multiple ways to achieve your goal, most of the challenges are rather singular. When stealth fails because I suck, running and hiding and shooting take over — but in a particularly stealth-orientated challenge that’s obviously out of the question. You do get scored, so you get bonus points for being really good and less points for being mediocre, but as a completist it obviously irks me that I’ll just never be good enough to win all the… artwork unlocks.
That’s not to say there is only one way to win any of the challenges, just that the broad range of options is extremely constrained. They are just that — challenges, above and beyond the call of duty.
I guess it’s a nice little diversion to hone your skills, but I don’t think I would have forked over the cash for it at the time. (Mostly because I am ham-fisted and have the weirdest keyboard bindings that are totally inappropriate.)
The Knife of Dunwall
Plot expansions, that’s what we’re really here for. The Knife of Dunwall offers you a new character to inhabit and occurs coincidently with the main game, a bit like how Crysis: Warhead puts you into the shoes of Psycho when you played the main game as… whoever you were. Not confusing at all. Anyway, MORE OF THE SAME.
Well, not quite the same. Your suite of powers have a few subtle alterations, while there’s nothing but an upgrade/shop screen between missions (a bit more like Thief II in that regard, if I remember rightly). The main thing is that you can buy more sleep dart capacity, but despite this and finding few more in situ during the first mission, I still managed to get through them all and end up murdering people. They were nasty people anyway, that makes it all right!
That first mission isn’t quite a whaling ship, but it is a whaling slaughterhouse so I guess that’s close enough. Objective markers are still relatively necessary, but a few area maps are scattered around the levels so you can sort of get your bearings and choose an approach. People still tend to refrain from actually telling you where to find your objectives.
The Brigmore Witches
Why didn’t they just smush this and The Knife of Dunwall together and sell it as one? Not the fashion of the day, I guess, but you can’t exactly play part 2 without having played part 1: this is a direct continuation, picking up where the previous pack left off.
It even lets you import your save from the first pack to define some events. It has a brief resumé, but it hardly captures the nuances… Ach, its plot is as anemic as that of the main game. It suffices, but little more.
The missions continue to escalate in challenge, though, and I guess that’s what we’re really here for. Hordes of guards make it impossible to go on a non-murder spree as you begin by raiding Coldridge Prison, from whence you escaped as Corvo at the start of Dishonored itself.
I tranquilised all the guards on the way in, exhausting my supply of sleep darts, and foolishly assumed that no more would appear once I’d rescued my target. Alas, it was an undignified run through alerted and very angry watchmen for me.
Stealth is hard. It’s worse because you get those little arcade scorecards at the end of each mission — with those “killed nobody” and “never detected” checkboxes. I know it’s meant to make you strive for these things, but really it just makes me feel bad when I fail. Maybe that says more about me than the game.
The extra story missions are what counts here, but they don’t really add much to the mix. New locations and new factions give a few new faces to avoid and strangle and the actual structure of the missions is still good, with varied possible approaches and the obligatory non-lethal takedowns, but there’s nothing groundbreaking here.
I guess I’d rather they welded these missions into the main game instead of making an aside. Dishonored‘s primary flaw remains its underdeveloped story, where things happen far too fast and lack the build-up to give them real impact. Dishonored, throughout its DLC, continues to only play at having depth.
Maybe I’m just looking for the wrong things out of the game because I suck so badly at stealth (but oh, how I try!). On the other hand, I can’t help remembering that Deus Ex had it all ways, with strong mechanics and a strong story to match…
Either way, these DLC have not changed my mind. Dishonored is a very good game, but it only carries the seeds of true greatness. Whether or not those seeds blossom will be up to any sequels that might emerge from the this soil.