Preliminary Thoughts on The Knife of Dunwall


I’ve played through roughly half of the first “stage” or “chapter” or “section” or whatever the hell it is called in the new DLC for Dishonored called “The Knife of Dunwall“.

My main interest in this DLC stems from the fact that it is centered around Daud and his Whalers, a group of assassin’s that we saw for a small amount of time in the game proper of Dishonored. A little more importantly (for me): the locations and the content is supposed to focus on the whale slaughter that supports the city/world of Dunwall.

I started the game tonight thinking I could play through it in a few hours, but I probably only made 30 minutes of progress. So, preliminary thoughts that will probably change before I finish it.

1. The design seems confused. I think that the level design of the main game is good in that it provides the player with several pathways to get to an objective, and two or three of those pathways are always apparent. For example, if you have to get through an energy gate, there is always a way to climb over it and a way to disable it within visual range of the gate; if you can see it, you can see a path to “solving” it.

In the first two areas of “Knife,” I don’t see that happening. The opening of the stage has a fairly unclear way of moving forward, and I never felt like I had good sightlines on enemies, their paths, and the designed paths that would allow me to get around those enemies as long as I play well.

My method of solving the first area ended up being “well shit I will just run” and then running through the entire map.

2. The second stage of the first level introduces a new enemy to the game. He is a butcher of whales, a big beefy bald man who carries around a huge, person-sized saw. The “power butcher” has qualities of other enemies that we’ve already seen in the game–he’s beefy and hard to kill, but he has a power cell on his back much like the strider enemies in the main game. That’s supposed to be the trade-off; he’s hard to fight head-on, but if you get the drop on him, he’s easy to kill in one shot.

It also has other, strange, nonsensical qualities. I found myself trapped against a wall or an object several times, unable to move, while this power butcher just stood against me in a very “early FPS game melee enemy” kind of way and made my health drain. Additionally, if he sees you from a fair distance away, his move is not to find cover nor is it to attempt to close the distance. Instead, he leans back, heaves his saw, and FIRES BULLETS OUT OF IT LIKE A MACHINE GUN. I don’t understand it at all, but it did cause me to be killed several times, and it was profoundly annoying.

3. The game didn’t allow me to do what I wanted.

I understand that is the King Complaint in games: I wanted to do X but game only allows for YZ things, so boo.

This isn’t that complaint. I wanted to kill everyone in sight, but I found it difficult to do so. So difficult, in fact, that after thirty minutes of trying to kill +/- ten enemies on normal mode, I essentially rage quit the game. I want to stress that I’m a fairly calm game player, and I can literally count on my fingers the number of times that I have been angry enough to stop playing a game (three of those times are Devil May Cry related).

So why did I want to kill all of these fictional, overpowered slaughterhouse workers? Because we were in a slaughterhouse. More importantly, the machinations of the slaughterhouse were shown to me, explicitly, in grotesque detail. And in that moment, I wanted to punish the fictional people that worked in this fictional mass murder simulation.

That’s a little weird, and I recognize it, but affect doesn’t work on levels of reality and fiction. The injustice that I perceive and the rage that I feel at video game animal mass murder is just as real for me, affectively and emotionally, as seeing footage from inside chicken houses, or reading factory farm workers narratives, or reading press releases from flesh-selling companies.

The design of the enemies, and the number of power butchers, meant that I couldn’t kill them. To kill them all, I would have had to stay silent and deadly. In this power fantasy, and Dishonored is unabashedly power fantasy, I couldn’t react with justified rage and power. Instead, I have to sit by quietly, acting only when the level design and the enemy AI provided gaps for me to strike.

In other words, the stage itself is structured in such a way as to be saying “hey, this is terrible, but you should be able to be calm and cool headed about it.”

And maybe all of this is just because I am bad at the game. Maybe tomorrow I will turn it on again and play through it quickly and this will all have been a bad episode. That doesn’t matter so much, though; this is how I came to it, this is how the system worked on me today, and I’m going to carry it with me throughout the rest of the experience.

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