Dishonored ‘Dunwall City Trials’ DLC Review: Worthy Challenges

Back when The Orange Box came out, I was still in college, and spent a lot of my video game time searching for achievements. I had a running battle for Xbox Live Gamerscore going with my old roommates and friends, and we’d take it so far as to play the living crap out of games like Hexic and King Kong just to one-up each other.

And then we found Portal, and all other concerns fell away.

Portal includes some pretty ingenious, but extremely difficult, challenge mode levels. Completing puzzles with the fewest steps possible, in the shortest time possible, and with the fewest portals possible, was a challenge that kept me busy for a long, long time. Eventually I maxed out Portal, and The Orange Box as a whole, and the feat still stands as one of my proudest gaming achievements. While the Portal challenge modes were ruthless, they were also incredibly fun and extremely rewarding.

Dunwall City Trials,” the first DLC pack released for Dishonored, feels like Portal’s Challenge levels did. The series of 10 different challenge levels are diverse and inventive, and best of all, they’re difficult. They feel like worthy challenges.

Dishonored ‘Dunwall City Trials’ DLC (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda
Release Date: Dec. 10, 2012
MSRP: $4.99

With all the supernatural powers players get to use as they take on the role of super-assassin Corvo in Dishonored, it only makes sense that the game would encourage you to exercise your skills in a series of specialized challenge levels. That’s what Dunwall City Trials is, focusing on four areas: fighting, stealth, speed and puzzle-solving. What’s great about these challenges is that Arkane make them each fairly unique. It could have just had players racing on rooftops again and again, or doing four variations on target shooting (well, there is a target shooting challenge). Instead, the developer came up with some really smart ways to test players capabilities in using the gifts of The Outsider.

Firing up the DLC gives you a rundown of all the challenges, and each has a specific icon to indicate what part of your skill set you’ll be exercising when you start it up. A few are necessarily a bit pedestrian — a survival mode brawl against a series of groups of enemies, each harder than the last, makes too much sense (and is too much fun) to pass up. Others, like a speed run that has players descending a bunch of drops while performing air assassinations at every step of the way, are truly inspired ways of building Corvo-specific levels.

Each of the challenges includes a three-star rating system and a points-based scoring system. The rules of each are different, but the goal is always to earn as much points as possible to rack up a high rating. Break two stars or better and you unlock the even harder “Expert” versions of each challenge, but in its own right, getting three stars even on the “Normal” challenges is a tall order.

Some of the 10 challenges are really inspired. My favorite is probably Mystery Foe, a stealth-based challenge that recalls the level “Lady Boyle’s Last Party” from the campaign, and tasks you with sneaking around a mansion, gathering clues about which of the various people there you have to assassinate. The fewer clues you need to find your man or woman, the more points you score; you’re also given bonus points for avoiding guards and for not requiring to knock anyone out.

The second stealth challenge, Burglary, is similarly fun. It has players sneaking around a building, grabbing as much loot as they can, as well as six key items. The more you grab, the more points you earn, and you’re rewarded for being both highly stealthy and bold — so you might want to try pickpocketing the guards as you’re slinking around.

Other challenges are a little more simplistic. Bonfire Run is a speed run with checkpoints along the way, more or less; another challenge has you shooting down as many whale oil tanks as you can, like at a skeet shooting range. But they all have a bit of a Dishonored twist, as well, with the whale oil tanks exploding to give you different benefits or negative effects, and the survival mode providing you with different powers at intervals, giving you the opportunity to change up your tactics.

And a few of the challenges are really inspired. The Air Assassination speed run I mentioned before is particularly addictive, as is the time-bending massacre puzzle, in which players have to figure out how to use a short stint of frozen time to their advantage to kill as many people in a level as possible. Even the simpler challenges make great use of what makes Dishonored interesting — its powers system — and test the skills players have built up through the course of the game.

What I like best about the challenges, though, is that they’re hard. My best performance on any of them was two stars during my play time for this review, and that’s to say nothing of the six significantly harder challenges that open up after you fight through the base set. Add to that a series of tough achievements that ask even more of your skills than the challenges do, and even a series of hidden collectibles you need to find in each challenge that has nothing to do with the level itself, and you’ve got a fairly robust package for just $5.

Dunwall City Trials is not going to be for everyone. This isn’t story DLC, after all (that comes next year), and it adds nothing to the narrative or characterization of the game. What it does, however, is give you some nifty playgrounds in which to mess with Arkane’s intriguing and sophisticated set of tools. This sort of thing is a skill player or a completionist’s idea of a really good time. If you’re like me, Dunwall City Trials will be a $5 investment that’ll provide several hours of infuriating, but ultimately rewarding, entertainment.

Pros:

  • Some inspired puzzles and challenges in this group of 10 new Challenge levels
  • Throws in collectibles hidden in Trial levels, which changes things up even more
  • Challenges are pretty tough (which is good), and doing well unlocks additional “Expert” challenges, which are even tougher
  • Even on the simpler or more standard-issue challenges, Arkane has changed up the formula through the inclusion of Corvo’s powers
  • One challenge is basically a rehash of the “Lady Boyle’s Last Party” level, which is Dishonored’s best — and even better, its elements are randomized each time you play it

Cons:

  • Challenge mode is probably something that should have shipped with the base game
  • While the challenges are all fun, some are a lot like what you’d see offered in other, similar games
  • Definitely not for everyone — these levels are specifically for players who want to test skill and complete everything; little to offer if that’s not your thing

Final Score: 80/100


Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

1 Comment on Dishonored ‘Dunwall City Trials’ DLC Review: Worthy Challenges

Robert

On December 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm

yeah, so I’m never going to have 100% achievements in dishonored ever again. “Headhunter” Is literally impossible..