Towards the end of my preview time with Dishonored's new story-based add-on, I'm stood deep within a slaughterhouse, speaking to a compact, rather determined sort of lady. "Mister Daud," she tells me, with a conspiratorial air, "we're both professionals."
I appreciate the compliment, but I don't really agree. You see, in the past hour I've fallen off rooftops, strode - possibly whistling - into rooms packed with deadly mercenary folk hell-bent on killing me, and run, at speed, through a fully-operational Wall of Light before watching as it deposited burnt tatters of my flesh about the place like a malfunctioning T-shirt cannon. I've murdered, and I've murdered through innocent stupidity. A while back, I even electrocuted a whale to death; I'm not sure "professional" really applies at this point.
Before we get into all that, let's clarify a few things up front. Dishonored's latest DLC provides three missions, chained together into a punchy mini-narrative. It contains new gadgets, familiar powers, and a few clever twists on things you'll have seen before. It's partly set in fresh Dunwall territory - not that any of Dunwall looks particularly fresh, of course - and it stars a new protagonist, Daud, the titular Knife of Dunwall, and the very same assassin who once killed the Empress whom good old, bad old Corvo was trusted with protecting.
Except I don't appear to have understood that last bit. Today, muddling through 360 code, I appear to be playing as Dowd, Elwood P., the affably pinheaded lead from Harvey, the old Jimmy Stewart film about the charming idiot who thought he was friends with a giant rabbit. There's no rabbit here in Dunwall, but there's certainly plenty of idiot. I don't stick to the shadows. I don't strike with deadly force. I blunder through this glorious clockwork landscape leaving bent escapements and shattered cogs in my wake. And yet! And yet the game keeps pace with me whatever I do to it.
It doesn't start too badly, of course. Daud's tale kicks off just after he's killed the empress. He feels rather weird about it: he's murdered so many, but this one seems different? The Outsider agrees. Summoning Daud to the strange, warped geometry of his netherworld or whatever it's called, he explains that the end of the line is nearing for our hired stab-man, but that he faces one last mystery: a mystery that starts with the name "Delilah".
Delilah, it quickly transpires, may be a ship: a pleasing twist, and one that was also used in the bizarrely satisfying Nicolas Cage romp National Treasure. This ship's owned by Rothwild, an ex-deckhand who now runs a whale slaughterhouse over by the docks. He's a nasty piece of gristle indeed, and he might have the answer to this whole riddle. (Or at least one third of the answer to this whole riddle, judging by the fact that finding him will take up the first mission of a three-mission game.)
Before heading to the slaughterhouse, it's time to do a little shopping. I'm very bad at Dishonored as we're about to see, so I stock up on plenty of ammo and health elixirs. At the same time, I can also spend a couple of points on a few rejigged powers: Blink has been altered slightly so that it slows time when you pull the trigger, Void Gaze replaces old visibility aids and allows you to spot hidden items in the environment but will not, rather bracingly, let you spy on guards through walls, and Summon Assassin is entirely new and pretty much entirely self-explanatory, too: fire it up and a sinister friend drops from the shadows, gets you out of a tricky spot and then deftly expires.
Fully stocked, I head over to the slaughterhouse: brown brick buildings, down by the murky sea in an area that's riddled with overhead catwalks to move between as you avoid the guards patrolling the streets below. That's the idea, anyway, but stuck with a first-tier blink, I'm not quite as nimble as I'm used to being, and my initial teleport drops me right into the path of a bunch of baddies, positioned in one of the map's few spots of glaring sunlight.
A small but surprisingly vicious fight ensues. I flee, leaving a muddled clump of dead bodies behind me, and then do a relatively faultless job of getting to the door of the slaughterhouse itself. It's locked, though, and I'll need an employee's punch card to open it. Also, I've triggered an alarm somewhere along the line, while the short, Darwin-styled Thinking Walk I've employed to wrack my brains for a new way into the building has lead me towards the deadly embrace of an arc pylon.
It's yet another fight, in other words, this one affording me the perfect opportunity to use Daud's Chokedust - a kind of smoke grenade that incapacitates foes and provides time for you to peg it to relative safety. As luck would have it, the relative safety that I've found is right by a neat little employee's prison, where Rothwild likes to keep his less favoured slaughterers locked up. A deal is struck. One of these guys still has his punch card. If I can get him free, he'll let me into the slaughterhouse. Back to sneaking, then, which means back to falling off a nearby roof and landing on a group of hardnuts, which means back to ad-libbed violence, and then back to the prisoner with the key he's after, and with a pesky wall of light deactivated so that he can escape.
I'm into the slaughterhouse! Just in time to forget that you can spy through keyholes in Dishonored before blithely throwing open the doors they're set into. No worry: the room I'm in is empty. Oh, it's not. It's actually filled with Butchers, a new enemy for the DLC, and amongst the best that Dishonored's nasty cityscape has yet brought forth.
Butchers spend most of their time carving up whale flesh with the circular saws mounted on their arms. When they're not doing that, they like to carve up assassin flesh with the circular saws mounted on their arms. They're big, and they're well-armoured: I can attest to the fact that you won't get very far firing sleep darts at them from Daud's natty wristbow.
Their weak spot, though, is that they have a glowing whaleoil reserves on their back, and these can blow them to pieces with a quick bash or two if you can blink behind them. Or you can back away frantically and accidentally zap them into their component gases using a new mine type that functions as a portable arc pylon - I gather that works too.
It's dazzling, really. Not the fact that I'm playing Dishonored so very badly, but that Dishonored is perfectly comfortable with all of that. If I make a mistake, it simply chucks a consequence at me. If I stumble over a carefully-planned set-piece, it merely builds an unplanned set-piece around what remains. I've accidentally turned Arkane's gloriously serious stealther into an all-out comedy action game, and yet I can still see the scarlet threads that are waiting there for quieter, less cretinous players.
I really can. I catch glimpses of the different paths laced through the slaughterhouse - one up very high, another exceedingly circuitous - and I get the odd insight into how the end-game with Rothwild might play out if you don't, like I chose to, simply bumble into him and get him in the throat without thinking. There's his private torture room: that could be turned against him to extract the information you need to further unravel the mystery of Delilah. Then there's the thing I found upstairs that could be used for... well, I'll let calmer minds muddle that one out when the DLC actually arrives.
After that, with Rothwild dead, and with another quick race around his slaughterhouse completed - this one leaving even more impromptu chaos on my conscience - I'm at the end of the mission, completely out of elixirs and chatting with this compact, rather formidable lady who's filling me in on backstory, priming me for the path ahead, and - yes - telling me what a professional I am.
And I can barely hear her over the explosions I've caused and the wailing alarms I've triggered in the last hour. This is my Dunwall. What's yours?