While The Brigmore Witches carries along its own unique branding, it could just as well be called The Knife of Dunwall Part 2, as it represents a direct narrative continuation from its downloadable predecessor. If you were kind enough to read my review, you’ll realize straight away why that is a very good thing indeed.
The player is thrust back into the role of assassin-about-town Daud, continuing his solemn hunt for the elusive and sinister witch Delilah that will take him through a familiar Coldridge Prison, the once-ritzy slum of Drapers Ward, and the Witches’ outwardly-serene manor itself. Adding to the sense of continuity between episodes, your save file from Dunwall can be carried over if you so choose, bringing acquired skills, upgraded weapons, accumulated currency and chaos level into the new content. It isn’t terribly impactful, and that the fate of Daud isn’t also inherited from the base game feels like a cop-out, but it is nice not to be forced to repurchase the same upgrades for the third time.
As has been the case in the previous two outings, the serviceable plot plays second fiddle to the stellar mechanics, though Brigmore is perhaps the most compelling of Dunwall’s stories thus far; the once dry Daud has finally been given a healthy degree of texture and substance to fully realize the characterization Arkane has been attempting to convey since his introduction. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Michael Madsen‘s performance is a significant step up from his prior droning.
Daud is not portrayed as a hero, nor as the murderous villain we saw through the eyes of Corvo Attano. He is rather an amalgamation of the choices offered to the player over the course of the game, pruned to their precise specifications; slaughtering everyone who stands in your way reflects his sordid past as a contract-killer, while the non-lethal approach expresses the more redemptive side of a man struggling with the guilt of his heinous actions. It’s an impressive bit of gameplay-narrative interweaving that is quite rare, and should not go unnoticed.
The antagonist Delilah herself, thus far enigmatic and distant, blossoms in the game’s final chapter, the revelation of her motive and methods giving the environs a much more menacing ambiance through force of narrative alone. That this can all be accomplished in a relatively organic fashion — which is to say sans lengthy cutscenes — serves as an encouraging sign for the series going forth; the stunning worldbuilding Arkane has accomplished with Dishonored and its DLC episodes cries out for well-told stories to populate it, and they have demonstrated the chops to pull it off.
The Brigmore Witches never quite matches the peaks of the series, such as Lady Boyle’s Last Party or A Captain of Industry, but it likewise never plunges into unbecoming mediocrity, as The Knife of Dunwall did with it’s final mission, The Surge. As Dishonored goes, Brigmore is decidedly average. If you’ve been keeping notes, that’s a statement of quality.
All the boxes you would expect to be ticked have been ticked. Blinking is back exactly as it was in The Knife of Dunwall, with time freezing while stationary to allow for more responsive and less reflexive teleporting. Pre-mission shopping lets you spend your honestly-earned coin on a wide assortment of items and equipment upgrades, though it is perhaps more wisely spent on the mission-unique favors that can provide crucial runes or allow for easier access to the game’s hardpoints. As virtual economies go, Brigmore’s isn’t bad, but a stealthy, non-confrontational style will likely see you full up on consumables, leaving the pile of cash accrued to be spent on whatever upgrades or favors suit your fancy, without much consideration for the cost.
New to the series are corrupted bone charms, nasty bits of cobbled-together whalebone that serve a similar function to standard charms, though with an attached penalty. For example, the Tank charm reduces damaged taken, but will also slow your movement speed significantly. It’s an interesting addition that fails to meet its potential due to the overwhelming focus on combat-related modifications, rendering them rather useless to the sneaky-type play style employed by proper gentlemen.
Arkane decided to toss one more skill into the mix, almost if out of obligation for the bulletpoint counters among you. Pull, as it’s called, serves as a great example of truth in advertising: You use it to pull things. People, too, if you decide to level it up. Like most of Dishonored’s non-movement related skills, it really didn’t see much use beyond occasionally snagging a particularly well-guarded tin of potted meat from safe distance, though your mileage will of course vary wildly depending on your play style.
Cutting to the bone of the game, The Brigmore Witches plays just as well in the moment-to-moment as you’ve been led to expect. Things get off to a bit of a sour start in your return to Coldridge Prison, which is a woefully cramped and half-baked bit of level design where the all-important player creativity is stifled. It isn’t terribly long, but this was time previously spent worming through the excellent Rothwild Slaughterhouse. Thankfully, things open up nicely once you hit the second mission, Drapers Ward. Call it the Law of Dishonored: the longer a player spends above 20 feet in a level, the better that level is.
While the gang war “engulfing” Drapers Ward is in reality two or three awkwardly scripted skirmishes, the trademark verticality on display gives the game’s tools plenty of space to stretch their muscles. Engagements are dictated on your own terms from the comfort of a rooftop perch, and making your way upwards is further incentivized by the increased visibility that can be the difference between chancing a risky approach through scads of perceptive thugs or spotting a more discrete means of entry.
Further demonstrating the strength of the underlying mechanics, the mid-game textile mill demonstrates how the gameplay stylings of Dishonored can thrive even indoors, where it has periodically faltered. There are nooks, crannies and elevated positions galore to shuffle you through unseen, despite the best efforts of that bastard patrolling the stairwell. Better still, the ultimate solution to Mr. Hat’s woes involves a degree of environmental snooping that evokes the seminal Deus Ex; always a good thing to do.
After nearly 40 hours of Dunwall’s drab masonry setting the stage, the wonderfully verdant Brigmore Manor offers a stunning change of visual pace whose unsettling greenery, mixed with some of the series’ most dangerous foes, ratchets up the tension to a thickness appropriate for a final level. Even at this late stage, where a lesser game may push gameplay aside for narrative considerations, Brigmore continues to offer an unmatched level of mechanical creativity on the player’s part, with at least three different ways into the multistory manor. On the rundown interior, collapsed ceiling segments present vertical opportunities in even the tightest quarters. It’s a fitting end for such a mechanically progressive title, and it was heartening to see one of Dishonored’s great weaknesses tackled so confidently in it’s final moments.
Dishonored is a series that represents the very best in gaming: player choice and creative freedom unleashed by expertly designed levels and a powerful, varied toolset to give the maximum degree of latitude while still retaining tight, concise design. All of those ingredients are present and accounted for in The Brigmore Witches, even if the final product isn’t quite as delectable as its predecessors.
Bring on Dishonored 2. It’s sorely needed.
Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches was developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda. The game is currently available on PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 for $9.99.
This game was independently purchased by the reviewer on PC.