You probably noticed that we ran a story last weekend about how Square Enix’s Thief has turned jumping into a context-sensitive action, with the lead level designer explaining this decision by saying: “Jumping, bouncing up and down, kind of broke the immersion … We didn’t want you to be the master thief and you just tend to fall off stuff all the time.”
I mention this now because Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches does let you jump, and – even though I regularly fall off stuff because, although I’m supposed to be the legendary master assassin Daud, I’m actually an idiot puppeteering his body – I find this quite immersive. Yes, I can stand in front of people and leap up and down and giggle at their lack of reaction, and I can fall off things Daud wouldn’t fall off (because it’s me, not Daud), but I can also traverse the game’s areas how I want to.
That bears repeating: I can do things how I want to. On one of my two runthroughs of Brigmore Witches I put as few points in Agility and Blink as possible, meaning that my mobility was limited; certain areas of levels were a lot harder to access than they normally would’ve been. I spent five minutes trying to get into one window rather than take an alternate route, repeatedly bounding into a wall and sliding down it again like an ill-fated cartoon character. Is that Daud? No. But it’s me, and it’s fun.
At times, the results of being able to do what you want are called emergent gameplay. It is a very, very good thing, and Arkane Studios gets it. It’s why Dishonored – and, indeed, these DLC packs – are all so good: they give you a big environment, a broad set of tools to traverse and explore this environment, and let you get on with it and exploit these tools and this environment however you can, even in ways they haven’t foreseen. There’s an old story about how one of Dishonored‘s playtesters skipped half a level by making a running jump and Blinking at the last second, leaping from one rooftop to an area that should’ve taken a lot longer to reach, and the level designers decided to leave it in because that’s cool.
The reason why I’ve gone into this is because Brigmore Witches is exactly what you’d expect and hope for. It’s another three levels of Dishonored, all offering you lots and lots of ways of getting around and completing your objectives, no matter whether you want to be a sword-wielding lunatic charging headfirst into every situation or a ghost that’s only ever glimpsed from afar. It is, in short, another load of content for the spiritual successor to the original Thief games.
It’s actually a spiritual successor to Thief in other ways, too. I can’t go into too much detail without fear of spoilers, but I’m pretty sure someone at Arkane has been playing Thief: The Dark Project recently because there are a whole lot of nods to that title in here – not least the nature-based powers of the Brigmore Witches themselves. People covered in vein-like vines, able to control plant growth? Hmm.
Most of Daud’s powers, on the other hand, are the same as before – you can still Blink, still stop time, and still summon assassins to kill people if you’re feeling lazy or just want a particularly cruel distraction. The biggest new toys are Baffledust (an upgrade to Chokedust that confuses enemies and makes them forget they saw you, so sort of like a gaseous Rohypnol) and the Pull power, used by Daud during his fight with Corvo in the the original game. This is a fun little ability, letting you dangle people helplessly in the air in front of you so that you can immediately use a lethal takedown (or non-lethal choke) on them.
Another new twist comes in the form of Corrupted Charms, more powerful variants of Bone Charms (the equippable passive buffs) that’re fettered with some serious downsides. One, for instance, makes you move faster at the expense of taking more damage from attacks; another makes your sword swings do more damage, but you attack far slower. My personal favourite makes you pretty much undetectable as long as you’re standing still, but with the caveat that you can’t regenerate mana anymore. This can lead to some fun ways to get through levels; you can stand out in the open (as long as nobody walks into you) and move when everyone turns away, but you’ve suddenly got a very limited number of Blink uses. It’s just a shame that more of the Corrupted Charms don’t follow this route of giving you new avenues of play.
As ever, though, the real stars of this show are the levels themselves. The first is a break-in to Coldridge Prison – the very first “proper” level of Dishonored, in reverse – which uses a lot of the same tilesets as that level but largely gives you access to a different area. The second is a sprawling set of four interlinked maps with a number of objectives that see you heading back and forth through what was once a wealthy district of Dunwall, and is now ruled by warring gangs. The third… well, you can probably guess.
Each offers unique challenges. The first is surprisingly tricky if you haven’t played Dishonored for awhile and are trying to go about things stealthily; because the prison cells are built along multiple levels, it’s both open plan and has guards at pretty much every height, so the usual trick of “perch somewhere high” doesn’t work too well. The second’s gang battles, back-and-forthing, and numerous side quests and changes in tone provide a bit of a unique backdrop. The third has some gloriously beautiful external environments and a dilapidated interior, and rapidly shifts from gorgeous to creepy, and back again. In a lot of ways, it feels like a Thief level.
And, yes, it’s still as morally grey as ever: the non-lethal methods of dealing with at least two of the people you have to face are far more horrible than just putting a sword through their face. Well, I’m assuming that, anyway. I’ve never actually had a sword through my face, but the alternatives on offer here make it seem comparatively merciful.
The story itself is enjoyable enough (if a little light, and perhaps not living up to the mystery established in Knife of Dunwall) and sees Daud trying to uncover and unravel Delilah’s plans before they can come to fruition. It follows on directly from your Knife of Dunwall saves, which means that surviving characters from Knife of Dunwall crop up again – either in person or as passing mentions – and your exploits from that game and the decisions you made within are remarked upon by characters in idle conversation. This makes these two DLC packs feel more like one cohesive whole – a six-mission mini-campaign, of sorts.
And yes, I said saves, plural. Arkane sensibly realised that players would likely go through Knife of Dunwall on both High and Low Chaos, and you can choose which of your completed saves you want to start this off with. A minor touch, but lovely nonetheless.
The short summary is that The Brigmore Witches is more Dishonored. It offers another look at this wonderfully crafted world, shows off a few more sides and aspects of it, answers a few nagging questions, and hints at yet more depths waiting to be uncovered. Dishonored was apparently intended to be a one-off, but if Brigmore Witches is the last we see of it, I’ll be disappointed: this is still good enough and unique enough that I want to see both more of this gameplay, and more of this universe.