Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches – Final Review

When considered alongside the base game Dishonored, its two primary DLC adopt a more narrative-centric approach; story is wonderfully prioritized, emphasized just as much as the central gameplay; The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches both thrive on narrative, this thriving helping the DLC achieve and assert its own distinct identity, splintering away from an experience which valued and cherished gameplay above all things, this cherishing coming at the expense of narrative. Each individual mission, six in total when considering both DLC, begins with a formal, highly stylized cutscene, drained of all vibrancy and saturation; aesthetically, the cinematics are presented almost in greyscale, though browns also see subtle inclusion. These cutscenes are rarely protracted in length, almost none of them exceeding one or two minutes in length, but they serve a sharp, highly useful framing function. In this regard, both DLC are better structured than the base game, where narrative was fairly minimized, or at least delivered in a lazy, halfhearted fashion, such cutscenes being mostly absent; departures, then, are immense, and further departures arise when considering the protagonist and player character, the reluctant assassin Daud. As individual, he displays far more depth than underdeveloped Corvo Attano, the protagonist of Dishonored. Central to Daud’s depth is the voice acting, Michael Madsen performing spectacular work, his intonations communicating a sharp sense of disillusionment; Daud is a profound, conflicted character, speaking passionately, sometimes sorrowfully, whereas dull Corvo is entirely silent, nearly devoid of any profundity; contrasts here are immense, and Daud truly anchors the central narrative; he is central to its manifold successes.  

Consider the very opening of The Knife of Dunwall, an opening concurrent with the opening of the base game. In both instances, Daud advances on Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, and, when in striking range, cuts her down. Seemingly this act of murder, this assassination, establishes Daud as some villainous character; he risked thrusting the empire of the Isles into complete chaos for a meagre sum of coins. Here is, indeed, villainy. But as both The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches progress, Daud shows himself as a figure deserving of sympathy; he is not defined exclusively by darkness. Darkness dwells within him, certainly, though it is tempered by brightness, by restraint – it is tempered by empathy. All Daud has known is life as assassin, and accordingly he is desensitized to violence. But such desensitization does not mean that he delights in violence. Far from it; it is merely a means to an end. His character growth and overall portrayal are remarkable, and he consistently displays many endearing attributes. With a compelling central character and more stylized cutscenes, then, the narrative present in both DLCs easily eclipses the narrative of the base game. An almost investigative dimension emerges, which further enhances narrative strengths. Reflecting this, in the opening, Daud is simply provided a name – Delilah. Much of the narrative centers around this one enigmatic figure, a figure certain to play a pivotal role in the determining of the empire’s future existence, potentially tossing it into perpetual turmoil; through her actions, she could deal the empire a far more severe blow than that dealt by the assassin Daud in murdering the empress. 

None of this potential negativity is known outright, and as the narrative progresses ever onward, information as to her person is gradually accumulated, some information tragic, some information almost menacing. Largely, menace dominates, and while Daud is characterized by certain endearing attributes, Delilah is almost exclusively defined by her villainy; certain of her traits may indeed elicit sympathy, though such sympathy is overshadowed by her antagonistic nature. And she is central to the entire narrative, anchoring it just as Daud does; understand her, unveil her importance – that is the ultimate objective of the narrative. Expectantly, the stakes of any given narrative must be lofty, to further enhance player engagement. And so the stakes are lofty, as is observable within the closing few missions of The Brigmore Witches, wherein Delilah’s own motivation is communicated to the player – using a bit of mysticism, she plans to implant herself within the figure of the orphaned lady Emily, daughter to the slaughtered empress, and after inhabiting that body she plans to rule the empire in a method of her own desire. Given her villainy, it follows that her reign would be a tyrannous reign; many would suffer owing to her readily apparent selfishness. And so, she must be stopped. In a curious, compelling turn, then, Daud is indirectly assisting the people of Dunwall and assisting that youthful figure, Emily, a figure he orphaned, wronged terribly. Just as Delilah clings to villainy, Daud adopts an almost heroic role, and the clashing characteristics of these two characters leads to fair profoundness. Both figures were chosen by the mythical, mysterious Outsider, meaning both were endowed with a certain power, but while this link exists between them, the pair use those powers for sometimes different ways – Delilah wields her powers irresponsibly, whereas Daud clings to relative restraint in the employment of these abilities.

In certain instances, this narrative can seem fairly long winded, the pacing of a sometimes-plodding sort. The process of learning about Delilah can seem excessively long, and the weighty nature of Daud’s actions, the immensity of the burden resting on his shoulders, is not communicated to the player until fairly late into The Brigmore Witches. Had the player known early on of her ambitious machinations, a greater sense of focus and purpose would emerge. But it is not to be. It is a minor failure, certainly, one which is compensated for by another compelling narrative thread – that revolving around Daud’s assassins, those existing under his charge. The most well-developed subordinate is Billie Lurke, a masked figure who serves as a lieutenant of sorts, appearing at the opening of missions to converse with Daud, periodically reemerging within missions to comment upon the present state of things, to provide Daud with insight and assistance; Lurke is likable, certainly, and clearly she respects Daud, a respect which he clearly reciprocates; theirs is an intriguing relationship, which makes all the more tragic her eventual betrayal towards the conclusion of The Knife of Dunwall. For selfish reasons, she turns upon Daud, compromising his position and heightening his vulnerability, whereupon Delilah, motivations still unknown, strikes. Expectantly, Daud – the player – emerges victoriously, and the player is provided a choice: spare Lurke or cut her down. It seems only logical to offer her amnesty, though increased player choice will always be welcome. Billie Lurke, then, also enhances the DLCs narrative strengths, which makes all the more tragic her logical exclusion from The Brigmore Witches, whereupon she is replaced by a nameless entity, merely a grunt, completely devoid of the complexity and conflict defining Lurke; her existence is missed. Some other, very minor characters periodically emerge throughout the narratives, serving to provide Daud with information and advance that same narrative, though these characters are underdeveloped, being featured for a very brief span of time. Still, with Daud, with Delilah, and with Billie Lurke, a fair degree of intrigue is established, and the conclusion, while predictable, is of a mostly satisfying, poignant sort, Daud’s inevitable obscurity mentioned by the Outsider; he removed a very tangible threat – Delilah – while simultaneously preserving the health of the empire and Emily’s own person; but none of these great feats will ever be widely known. 

As was characteristic of Dishonored, both DLCs boast highly beautiful environments; creativity abounds, an overall sense of crispness and vibrancy dominating; the art direction for The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches both is spectacular, though a failing is in place – environmentally, matters are excessively iterative, neither DLC featuring environments which mark radical departures from the base game’s environments; beauty is abundant, but originality is not. Thinking logically, this immense similarity is explainable – both DLCs transpire in the same city, Dunwall, as that featured in the base game; they are not situated across the vast seas or in some snowy northern wastes, but are, again, positioned in that city of former grandeur. Still, the developers didn’t go far enough when designing these environments, though this is not to say they are defined exclusively by staleness or blandness; far from it; that characteristic beauty is, again, absolutely preserved. A marked rift, a marked imbalance, is in place, too, in that exterior environments are far more compelling than interior environments. Much of this imbalance stems from the differing levels of player freedom such locations encourage and permit; the verticality of the vast Dunwall city streets is completely absent from the more claustrophobic interior locations. Still, the vacillation between exterior / interior does preserve player interest and makes more enjoyable the overall exploration component of gameplay. Such interior environments are of course deprived of the sweet sunlight, which is beautifully abundant outdoors and which is exaggerated and stylistic in presentation, brick buildings impossibly orange and sunbaked; the sun’s sweet rays rest on everything. The draw distance, meanwhile, is massive, communicating player smallness and the largeness of Dunwall proper; none of these things exist when considering the interior environments, largeness and openness displaced by smallness, confinement. Attention to detail may be immense in these interior environments – and indeed it is – but player freedoms are dramatically lessened. Displays of greatness are not completely absent, though – consider the first explorable environment of The Knife of Dunwall, which, while opening in one of the city’s districts, transpires largely within a massive, cavernous whaling facility, a giant leviathan incapacitated, strung up in the very heart of the facility, being preyed upon by armored, aproned workers wielding oversized drills designed specifically for such purpose. It is an immensely compelling environment, even as it is an interior location. This greatness is directly and intimately connected to originality – this sprawling whaling factory is completely removed from any location featured within the entirety of Dishonored. The Knife of Dunwall, then, opens in spectacular fashion; it is instantly engrossing.  

And then, the DLC loses its way environmentally and atmospherically; originality recedes. The second environment neatly conforms to the design standards of the base game, while the third and final environment – the Flooded District, where Daud and his fellows call home – is completely recycled from Dishonored. This complete duplication almost points towards a certain laziness, and this laziness is rather frustrating. This DLC, then, is characterized by manifold letdowns when considering its design, in that the first explorable environment – the whaling factory – is brimming with originality and creativity, which wanes as the DLC progresses and eventually disappears outright; many mistakes were committed here. The environments are all beautiful, certainly – Arkane have a firm grasp and mastery of the Unreal Engine – though again there is the rampant iteration. Matters are not much improved in The Brigmore Witches. Whereas that earlier DLC hits its stride almost immediately and gradually loses its way as the narrative progresses, this DLC’s environments do not soar until the narrative’s very conclusion. Coldridge Prison is first explored here, this environment being another instance of lazy recycling. The claustrophobia here is indeed palpable, though such palpability does not instantly equate to success; it is a rather dull location, and this dullness persists in the next environment, transpiring in Dunwall’s cliched city streets, though a beautiful waterfront sees brief inclusion, while a sharp sense of dynamism is present, two warring street gangs engaging in constant melee, the entire environment being one of hostility, countered only occasionally by that selfsame waterfront, with its gleaming, lapping waters. The final location of the DLC, however, is brimming with beauty, being situated at fair remove from Dunwall, the location reachable only by boat, by a protracted voyage. Here, greens and vibrancy have their place, and while the central structure of this environment – Brigmore manor, specifically – is in an overall derelict state, the beauty and creativity on display here are remarkable – Daud’s tale concluded in an immensely satisfying fashion, this sole environment easily eclipsing in greatness and wonder any environment present within Dishonored.  Bold displays of fierce beauty are present here, then, though these displays are countered, diminished, by that damning iteration.  

The gameplay of The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches both is characterized more by subtractions than additions; several of the abilities present within Dishonored are noticeably absent here, while that absence is only rarely compensated for. Both DLC, though, fiercely cling to the gameplay blueprint established in the base game, a reassuring statement owing to the soundness of that blueprint; Dishonored, with its immense valuing of player freedom, player flexibility and adaptability, offers a singularly enjoyable gameplay experience; both DLCs preserve that enjoyability, subtractions or no. Here, as in the base game, the player can rely upon quiet, plodding stealth, or, conversely, they can adopt a more bombastic approach, slaughtering the opposition. For most players, a more organic approach will likely be embraced; cling to stealth, and upon eventual detection, rely upon blade, pistol, crossbow, or grenade. In an interesting turn, meanwhile, an additional difficulty level exclusive to these DLC is introduced, greatly magnifying the perceptiveness of enemy AI, simultaneously enhancing their combat aptitude, and while these enhancements disincentivize direct combat by making more threatening these enemies, still combat maintains some viability. Subtractions or not, then, satisfaction abounds. And subtractions are fairly abundant – consider the removal of the possession ability, the removal of the wind blast ability. These exclusions are compensated for by one compelling alteration – the blink ability, so central to success for Corvo and Daud alike, has seen dramatic enhancement, in that once the player halts movement, time stops completely, allowing greater thought in traversal, permitting also the easy execution of deft movements which would be executed only with fair difficulty in the base game. This one alteration changes the overall player experience in a fundamental fashion; it is a spectacular inclusion, which minimizes the sorrow which might accompany other abilities’ exclusion. The ability results in a great deal of player empowerment, heightening also player freedoms and expanding upon the pool of available tactics applicable to any given scenario. Still, gameplay innovation largely stops there. While an ability which summons an assassin appears first in The Knife of Dunwall and is carried over into the subsequent DLC, its usage is fairly situational, especially if adopting a stealthy, more cautious approach. A highly valuable pull ability sees inclusion in the second DLC, and while empowering, while also expanding available tactics in that objects and eventually enemy AI can be attracted to Daud while in a vulnerable state, ready for dispatchment, it is not a transformational ability. The alterations to blink, then, constitute the DLCs greatest gameplay innovation, and fortunately it is a dramatic innovation – here is a phenomenal success.      

Some other scattershot design alterations are also present, like the inclusion of corrupted bone charms in The Brigmore Witches, objects discoverable in the environment which, like the bone charms of the base game, offer unique benefits, though here those benefits are more substantial and are consequently countered by player limitations; the reach and speed of the pull ability, for instance, can be increased though at the expense of a heightened mana cost. It is a clever, subtle inclusion, which does encourage a fair degree of decision making, although for every compelling, useful bone charm – corrupted or otherwise – there are five discoverable which are essentially useless, excessively situational. Still, this experimentation, this alteration to the bone charms, was quite welcome, and another subtle inclusion needs brief mention: namely, the favor system. Before beginning any given mission, the player is presented with an inventory and economy screen, wherein they can purchase upgrades, ammunition, or other consumables. Additionally and more notably, though, are the favors. Many favors are far from exciting: spend coin on one favor, and some nameless, faceless entity will cause a rune or ammunition cache to spawn somewhere in the game world. Others are more imaginative, one such illustration being the accessibility of an overseer’s disguise on the Coldridge Prison map. If the coin is expended on that item, the player can navigate the space with greater ease and lowered detection rates, resulting in an almost Hitman like experience. In almost all scenarios, then, such favors should be purchased, in that certain of them enhance player flexibility. Coin, discoverable in the explorable environments, can indeed be abundant, depending upon player scavenging, though still it is finite, forcing the player to choose between favors, upgrades, and ammunition; here again is compelling decision making, while exploration, looting, is heavily incentivized.

Neither The Knife of Dunwall nor The Brigmore Witches fundamentally alter the gameplay defining Dishonored, though immense narrative improvements are in place; Dishonored’s lazy narrative minimalism is countered by greatness, by intrigue, both DLC featuring highly stylized cutscenes, compelling central characters of fair profundity, while superb voice acting abounds, Daud’s voice actor performing especially well. The detective-like element present within much of the connected narrative further enhances narrative strengths; here, then, are innovations and improvements; these DLC are performing as DLC ought to perform, offering something completely new and novel. And novelness does abound: Daud, presented in a unique fashion, is no bloodthirsty fiend, no tyrant ruling over indifferent assassins. Instead, he is a figure largely of restraint – at least depending upon player choice, for the chaos system of the base game sees implementation here, Dunwall morphing in response to Daud’s actions, the potentially barbarous nature of those actions. The inclusion of chaos seems fairly halfhearted here, though compellingly, the fabled Outsider will periodically emerge to comment on the state of things, again conveying Dunwall’s dynamism. The narrative, then, soars, the conclusion being especially profound; Delilah has been subdued, either banished to some remote realm or killed outright; the villain has been conquered, and the great conqueror promptly retreats into the shadows. Daud, that great assassin, has long grown familiar with the shadows, and finds comfort within them; he does not desire the regard and respect his selfless actions, if publicized, might win him – here again does he display character complexity, clashing with Corvo’s basicness.

The gameplay accompanying this narrative is enjoyable yet unoriginal; a scant two new active abilities are provided the player, a modification to the bone charm system is in place, while blink is dramatically enhanced, and while a handful of new tools like the stunning chokedust are present, additions and improvements are slight. The world, meanwhile, is a world of beauty yet iteration, safely designed; rare are the risks taken here, even as impossibly beautiful environments see occasional emergence – consider the final explorable area, Brigmore Manor. The structure of these DLC, highly original and innovative, must also see brief mention. Rather than being self-contained and isolated, again they are intimately linked, being one complete entity. This unifying nature protracts Daud’s tale, and when regarded together they rival in length and complexity the complexity found in Dishonored. The lengths are fairly comparable, and these two DLC, with their emphasis upon narrative, show an ambition lacking in the base game, and such ambition could never be realized if the two DLC were divided entities rather than connected ones. The existence of this a unique structure, of this ambition, an ambition absolutely realized, makes especially appealing both The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. The spectacular gameplay of the base game has also been preserved here, and the experience is a rewarding one. The reduced cast of characters, meanwhile, enhances narrative focus, and while the exclusion of intriguing characters like Samuel the boatman, or Sokolov and Piero the scientists, deprives the narrative of some intrigue and levity, this absence is but a minor failing; Daud, compelling Daud, dominates the landscape, and that dominance directly results in the greatest successes present within both DLCs.  

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