Dishonored: Dunwall City Trials

Review

posted 1/15/2013 by Nathaniel Cohen
other articles by Nathaniel Cohen
Platforms: 360
I am terrible at Dishonored.  I’m terrible at most stealth games, but Dishonored’s mix of stealth, magic and old-timey weapons left me too much opportunity to embarrass myself with a missed drop assassination, or Blink mis-fire, usually followed by a checkpoint reload. 

For some reason, my preferred method of playing stealth games is to be completely silent and invisible right up until I decide to kill someone in the bloodiest, and usually loudest, method possible.  I’m talking about playing an entire mission without raising an alarm, then killing my target with a big explosion, fire, collateral damage, and screaming, and then cut my way out.  When I could reign in my inability to accurately perform stealth moves, Dishonored generally allowed me to play that way - that’s one of the things I liked about it. 

Unfortunately, that method of playing Dishonored is the absolute worst way to play Dunwall City Trials, the first downloadable add-on content for Dishonored.  Dunwall City Trials consists of ten trials similar to what we got in the Batman Arkham games.  Instead of just combat and stealth, Dunwall City Trials gives you stealth, combat, puzzles, and mobility tests - and tests they are.  They are tests with idiosyncratic rules and styles of gameplay you won’t see anywhere in the story campaign.  At the end, you receive a score, and a star rating if your score was high enough.  Each score tier also unlocks a piece of artwork, if you’re into that kind of stuff.


Stealth
You get two of these, and right off the bat, they are probably the two that will be playable in a way closest to the story campaign with only a few caveats.  First of all, you can only be seen a limited number of times, or at all, and you are required to silently move from room to room collecting either clues or valuables.  The clues will tell you your assassination target, while in the other challenge, you’re simply collecting valuables because that’s your goal.  You’re looking for specific valuables, but there’s no assassination target.  You can still kill guards in both, but you get a higher score for sneaking past them.  Knocking them out will net you more points than killing them, but fewer than ignoring them.  However, the scoring and star ranking pretty much mean you have to ignore them and you can never be seen since that almost always means combat, but combat just isn’t an option in the two stealth trails.  They’re further complicated by the unforgiving trial and error nature of completing them, and several quirks that have always been present, but are magnified in Dunwall City Trials.  The looseness of the controls makes it very easy to flub a blink or otherwise accidentally expose yourself.  The worst is when you’re seen because you got to close to a chair or something and the game decided you meant to climb on top of it. 

Overall, neither of the stealth trials were much fun for me, but then, I admit, I’m terrible at that kind of stuff.

Combat
This is more my speed.  You get three of these.  One is a simple wave-based melee between you and enemies that are ever-increasing in number and difficulty.  Occasionally runes will appear that give you a new supernatural power if collected (I found them hard to reach in many cases though - especially when you’re swarmed by enemies).  Also, from time to time a merchant will appear.  Attacking him hilariously spawns potions. 


The other two are strictly shooting-based.  One requires you to get from room to room as fast as you can while crossbowing bad guys without any collateral damage.  At the beginning it’s all martial and no art, but the deeper you get, the more puzzle-like it becomes.  The other traps you on a platform while a train car spits whale oil tanks at you.  It’s like skeet shooting, except clay pigeons don’t hit you in the face and explode if you miss. 

Honestly, the crossbow one is fun, but I hated the whale oil skeet shoot.  Red Bull addicts on the other hand . . .  

Puzzle
These were my favorite by a wide margin.  It’s too bad for me then that there are only two.  The first requires you to kill a certain number of enemies using any tool available during a brief period of bent time.  You’ll have a fairly standard weapon and power loadout so don’t feel bad that you don’t get to choose, and there will often be environmental methods to kill.  Whatever you do, running from room to room throwing razor mines, grenades, shooting at whale oil tanks, propaganda speakers, and people in slow motion, then getting a bird’s eye view of the carnage when normal time kicks back in, is brilliant.  I would play a whole game of just that.

The other one is similar, but requires chained kills.  Basically it means kills can’t be separated by more than about 3 seconds.  The interesting part is that the bad guys don’t react to your presence and the timer doesn’t start until you kill the first person.  That means you can strategically place items and people (via Possession) throughout the map.  It’s sort of like setting up human dominos.  The only restriction is your limited amount of mana which, in turn, limits the number of times you can use Possession.  Trying to work out the fewest number of Possessions it takes to set up your kill-space seems to be the real trick.


Like I said, these were my favorites and you can consider this document to be my official demand for more of them.

Mobility
These three probably suffer the most from Dishonored’s inherent control-looseness.  It wasn’t a big enough problem in the story campaign for me to mention it when I reviewed Dishonored back in October, but here, in these timed trials - what are essentially races - you just don’t have the time to fine tune the aim or your blinks and jumps. 

Each one tests a slightly different “kind” of mobility, the first tests your blink ability, the second tests your path-finding and ability usage, and the third tests your drop assassination accuracy.  The first two I could have done without - yes, because those are in my “terrible” wheelhouse - but the third one was right up there with the two puzzle trials.  It’s kind of thrilling to basically just chain together drop assassinations from often insane heights.  Some require an agility jump to reach, while others require an agility jump and a blink to reach.  Successfully stringing together all of them is an awesome sight to behold. 

So yeah, I could have done without the first two mobility challenges, but the drop assassination one is a blast.

The big question now is, “Should I buy Dunwall City Trials?”  Well, I think that sort of depends on how much you enjoy the specific gameplay features of Dishonored, because in Dunwall City Trials, each aspect of the gameplay is distilled down to its most basic form.  It’s only 400 MSP (five bucks), and given the replayability, potential leaderboard-based bragging rights, and expert versions of some trials you unlock at 2 stars, it seems like more than a fair value.
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