Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches is rival assassin Daud's final hour. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with Arkane about its latest DLC and how it continues to push the stealth genre to the limit.
Arkane Studios defied convention when it released Dishonored. Here was a new IP that launched as the countdown to the next-generation was starting to build pace, and one that managed to secure strong reviews and decent sales in the face of familiar sequels and domineering franchises.
It's now almost a year since the game released and Arkane is gearing up to launch its third DLC pack The Brigmore Witches on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Set directly after The Knife of Dunwall, the expansion stars assassin Daud as he attempts to track down and slay witche's coven leader Delilah.
I spoke with Arkane designer Ricardo Bare about how The Brigmore Witches will test fans to the limit, and to get a handle on how the studio's aptitude for stealth has grown over the past year. I also wanted to get some reflection on how Dishonored was made, and to learn more about Arkane's stealth ethos.
"We started working on our campaign DLC thinking about what we wanted to do and of course Daud was the person that sprang to mind. We wanted to tell a pretty big story with him and at one point we decided it'd have to be two DLCs."
In The Knife of Dunwall Daud uncovers the identity of Delilah and through a meeting with the Outsider is granted supernatural powers of his own, similar to Corvo. Bare explained that the first pack was something of a build up, while The Brigmore Witches charts Daud as he travels to confront the witch and kill her before a dreadful ritual can be completed.
If you've played Dishonored's core campaign then you already know at least one possible outcomes for Daud. In all games with a moral compass some of these solutions are graver than others, which adds something of an emotional twist to his tale. For those of you who killed Daud, the DLC will prey on your sense of hope constantly.
"I think there is hope for Daud," Bare continued, "and I think that is the theme. In a way it's theme of the game overall because there are some people in the world of Dishonored that are marked by the Outsider. He's interested in them because they have this affect on history that other people don't, and because they have great power. Daud is one of these people."
Powerful Daud may be, but he wasn't concretely Dishonored's DLC star from the word go, as Arkane thrashed out a ton of ideas before resting on him. I asked Bare if he could shed any light on expansion concepts that never made it off the cutting room floor.
"We had other ideas," he replied. "Whenever we asked people on the team, 'What would you like to do with DLC?' Daud was the first name that came up because he's typically like the stark mirror of Corvo. He's already been down Corvo's road with his dark past, and that's always very intriguing.
"In fact, when we asked people who had played and tested the game - and even some press people we asked about what they liked about the game - Daud always came up first. So we we were like, 'We've got to do Daud, everybody wants Daud'.
"We of course considered other ideas. We talked about maybe doing something with like the gangs of Dunwall, like it might have been fun to play as a gang member - a Bottle Street Boy or something like that - or to have you play as an Overseer. Those were fun ideas, but Daud was ultimately the most exciting. Some of those brainstorming ideas made it into the DLC anyway."
As Bare suggested, Daud is a counter-point to Corvo in several ways. The biggest difference is that he's not silent, and in giving Daud a voice Arkane experienced new challenges and ways to push characterisation and engagement in new ways. Despite being made by a smaller team within Arkane, they're clearly not cutting corners with The Brigmore Witches.
The same can be said for the DLC's new environments, including one area set beyond Dunwall's diseased borders. They're challenging by their design and also let players raise hell with Daud's new skills, including one move that lets him drag enemies off lethal drops and hurl them into the sky using telekinesis.
"We have two new areas and one is a district called Draper's Ward, "Bare continued. "It's a little bit like the distillery district from the original game except it's probably a little big bigger. It's an urban street area that is controlled by two gangs that are at war with each other, and so Daud has to navigate this. There's a dock area, a canal, a street area, a textile mill and a hidden area that's pretty fun."
On the second area Bare added, "It's something we haven't done before in the Dishonored universe in that we're taking the player outside the city of Dunwall to where Delilah's base is. It's not a spoiler as you learn about this at the end of the first DLC.
"We're taking players to Brigmore Manor, and it's an old, rotting estate that is a day or two up-river from the city. The team is really excited about this environment because it's beautiful and it's different, this old rotting estate on the riverside that's half-dunked in a swamp, and you get to explore this abandoned, broken-down manor while battling Delilah."
You won't just be fighting Delilah in Brigmore Manor however, as her followers share in her power, giving them great speed and the ability to summon Blood Brier appendages from the ground that snare Daud if he gets too close. Being spotted in this new area can lead to death quite quickly it seems. If anything, stealth in this DLC while non-essential, should prove greatly rewarding.
Dishonored may have been the return to stealth that many fans of Thief were waiting for, but Bare felt that the team is always learning more about the genre with each passing day. It's an iterative learning process that develops as the studio puts out more content. I asked Bare if he feels the studio has learned a lot over the past few years about the genre and how to keep it evolving.
"Oh totally," he replied." Just one example is the introduction of Blink. The thing that's fun to me in the learning process is taking things that are traditional about the stealth genre - when you look back at games like Thief - and then taking that formula and adding new elements to see how it transforms the experience.
"So for us, one thing was the introduction of Blink, and it turned stealth into something that was ... I mean you can still play it slow if you want to, but instead of that slow, super-tense, creeping gameplay, it almost made you feel more like a ninja in what I like to call 'fast stealth'. Suddenly you can zip across a room and it made stealth feel 'action-ey', if that makes sense?"
It did make sense and I agree; the stealth genre is one of my most favourite in gaming, and I felt that Blink, along with Corvo's pared-back tool-set of gadgets and abilities really did give players many traversal and sneaking options in Dunwall's complex environment. The studio could have went balls-out in adding tons of skills, but it was sensible in making the ones you had truly matter.
It's this restraint, together with high production values, a dedication to challenge, lore and atmosphere that has helped Dishonored's appeal sustain for so long after it first released. Whether or not The Brigmore Witches is the last time we'll enter Dunwall remains to be seen, but I know this particular stealth fan is thankful for the chance to go there in the first place.
Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches hits PC, PS3 Xbox 360 across North America on August 13. It hits PC and Xbox 360 in Europe on the same day, but European PS3 owners will have to wait until August 14 for it.