Game-related ramblings.

Which Witches? The Brigmore Witches

Readers should definitely read my post about The Knife of Dunwall first. Before that, they may want to read my original posts about Dishonored, and optionally, if spoilers are not a concern, my recent Death Before Dishonor series. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

If there’s one thing that Dishonored needed, it’s more witches. Fortunately, the second and final piece of story DLC, The Brigmore Witches, addresses this glaring issue, providing an entire coven of them. This is just one reason that it’s even better than the first story DLC, The Knife of Dunwall. Which you should read my post about before continuing, since The Brigmore Witches picks up where that left off.

In fact, the split between the two DLCs makes for a slightly awkward start to The Brigmore Witches. It’s launched separately from The Knife of Dunwall, with its own main menu, which means it must allow for players who haven’t played The Knife of Dunwall despite it being a direct continuation of the story. Fortunately, it recognized my saved game from the end of The Knife of Dunwall, so I was able to keep all of the equipment upgrades and magical powers I’d purchased, and the short playable introduction does a good job of summarizing earlier events. But those who, like me, are playing through both DLCs, will find a clumsy break between the two.

I was also surprised to find a new magical power to play with, Pull. This lets Daud grab objects from a distance, and can even be upgraded to let him lift and incapacitate his enemies. This power is a lot of fun to use, and felt appropriate for Daud’s stealthy focus. I happily blinked onto rafters or other high perches, and then nabbed valuables from tables below with Pull while no one was looking. On one memorable occasion, I needed to drop down into a room but the two guards below were surprisingly vigilant, never giving me an opening to choke one of them out without the other catching me in the act. So I just used Pull to lift one of them up to my perch, and choked him out up there. This doesn’t end up being that practical for stealth, because the guard still shouted a lot and it was sheer luck that no one heard him. But it was a lot of fun.

The best new things in The Brigmore Witches, however, are the witches themselves, as I said in the opening. They make it clear that the base game suffered from uninspiring antagonists. The treacherous Lord Regent is a pantomime villain, almost comically evil, and he’s also cowardly, hiding behind the soldiers and security devices he commands. Even before Corvo acquires his magical powers, the Lord Regent would have been no match for him in a straight fight. Daud, of course, possesses similar powers to Corvo, but the story of Dishonored is structured such that while Corvo’s and Daud’s paths do cross, the Lord Regent remains the main baddie. Daud instead gets his chance to shine in these DLCs, which follow events running parallel to Corvo’s adventure, but his magic is already familiar. Corvo used many of the same abilities. The witches, on the other hand, wield new and scary powers, totally different from those of Daud and his gang. Not only can they stand toe to toe against Daud in battle, they can surprise him with magic that, like their motives, is unknown and unsettling. Having just played through Dishonored for the second (and third) time, followed by The Knife of Dunwall, I’d forgotten what it was like to actually fear my enemies. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

The witches are also another clear homage to the Thief games which inspired Dishonored. They share a strong connection to nature, controlling vines and branches with their magic, in a way that instantly recalls the Pagans from Thief. As the Pagans did in those games, the witches serve as a way to connect to the wilderness beyond the city. There are many references to these places in books and letters players can find while playing through Dishonored, including personal accounts of growing up in the countryside, field reports from Overseers sent to root out witchcraft in the smaller villages, or explorers’ memoirs describing the wild and frightening wilderness of distant Pandyssia, where there is no bastion of civilization to hold the Outsider’s dark magics at bay. The Brigmore witches bring this wildness into Dunwall with them, the chaos of nature which defies the ordered explanations sought by the Academy of Natural Philosophy. The witches are, by their very nature, hostile to the city of Dunwall on a fundamental level. Since I found the Overseers and their endless battle against the Outsider to be the most interesting part of Dishonored’s world, I welcomed these themes taking center stage here.

And of course, the witches are women, and with them comes better handling of women in the game. I bemoaned how there are very few women with any agency in Dishonored, but The Brigmore Witches marks the first appearance of women as active enemy combatants, and these aren’t limited to the witches themselves. They don’t really show up until towards the end, actually. Earlier, Daud deals with the Dead Eels, a gang led by the infamous Lizzy Stride, and the only gang that accepts women into their ranks. Their addition is so seamless that one wonders why the developers didn’t let any women take up arms in the base game. Yes, Dunwall is a patriarchal society, but that can be shown without universally portraying women as victims, powerless against the men of the city. And indeed The Brigmore Witches ably does just that, with the Dead Eels and the titular witches acting in direct opposition to the de facto patriarchy.

They don’t always count Daud among their enemies though. In fact, throughout The Brigmore Witches’ short length, Daud is specifically trying to get the Dead Eels to help him out. Where The Knife of Dunwall began with a mystery, by the start of The Brigmore Witches the mystery is largely solved, and Daud instead gets to work facing this new threat. He’s more focused, more in his element. He knows what he needs to do, and he knows how to do it: use his underworld connections to call in a favor from the Dead Eels. That means seeking them out where they live.

In The Knife of Dunwall I lamented that none of its missions were full free-roaming sprawls in the vein of the Distillery District or Flooded District in the main game, but The Brigmore Witches offers Drapers Ward, a brand new city district to explore that captures a similar feeling. Once the city’s fancy fashion district where the wealthy elite would go to shop for the latest styles, it’s now laid low after a series of workers’ rights scandals, followed by the plague. Gangs now run the place, although a few merchants still scrape by, dealing in illegal items. The Hatters, who Daud encountered in The Knife of Dunwall, call the textile mill in Drapers Ward their home, but they’re facing off against the Dead Eels who control the docks. Daud must deal with both gangs in order to get what he needs, and he can do so through stealth, diplomacy, or open violence. The open ended nature of this mission, with its mixture of friends and foes, and many side objectives and possible approaches, is the closest thing to the design of the Distillery District in Dishonored proper, and is a highlight of Daud’s adventure.

If there’s a weakness to The Brigmore Witches, it’s the ending. But that’s really not the DLC’s fault. The end of Daud’s story is clear from the main game, so there was never any question about how it was all going to turn out. The writers of the two DLCs had the unenviable task of fitting in a new story about Daud that both responds to players’ choices but also winds up at the same ending that players have already seen. This means that low chaos vs. high chaos approaches feel less integrated into the story. I got the low chaos ending, and it was precisely what I suspected it would be, but it didn’t really feel like I’d made a meaningful impact. In the main game, Corvo is directly deciding the fate of Dunwall’s political leadership, so it’s easy to see why the outcome is worse if he does so through wanton murder rather than less violent means. But Daud is, as ever, working from the shadows, with few even aware of what he’s done, and his ultimate fate is out of his hands. The mid-story crisis at the end of The Knife of Dunwall is more effective at incorporating players’ choices in a meaningful way. Here, while I appreciated that I could approach missions in any way I wished, the fact that my chaos level was tracked didn’t seem important, since it had little bearing on how events would play out.

Overall, however, The Brigmore Witches is excellent. It’s even stronger than The Knife of Dunwall, and, taken together, both DLCs tell a story that is more compelling than Corvo’s own. Daud’s adventure is still smaller than Corvo’s, clearly constructed with a lower budget, but it maintains a high quality all the same, and features a coven of creepy witches to boot. While I doubt I’ll see Daud again, I believe some of the characters from the two DLCs recur later in the series, and I look forward to finding out what happened to them. But I’ve just played a whole lot of Dishonored, and I need a break before diving into the sequel. When I’m ready to return to Dunwall — and indeed, to travel beyond its shores — I’ll be sure to write about it here. Until then!

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2 Comments

  1. Seyda Neen

    When I first played these DLCs I played them out of order, accidentally. I remember getting the impression that they were distinct mini-stories against different foes. Ah well, in the long run I don’t think anything was lost, I still enjoyed them and I’ve played them in order many times since.

    Your thoughts about the chaos system seeming more significant in part 1 than part 2 are interesting. You’re right, but I’d never thought about that imbalance. Going along with that thought, if you take these DLCs as one whole story, it’s clear that the emotional climax for Daud happens right in the middle of the story, with everything involving his protégé Billie Lurk. For the second half of the story the only stakes left are purely plot. That’s an unusual structure (not necessarily bad, but unusual) that was maybe caused by the DLC format? I can imagine, if it were a full game, Billie’s betrayal being the turning point into the third act (in the same way the Loyalists’ betrayal is), and maybe having more emotional reverberations through to the finale.

    Apologies for the ramblings. I’ll be super interested to hear any of your thoughts about how the rest of the series handles chaos (a topic my brain spends too much time on, honestly) but I know those entries are a long ways off. Thanks for sharing your writings!

    • No need to apologize for ramblings! I agree that the story structure is unusual, and maybe you are correct that the writers would have changed its pacing if the story was being released in one piece instead of two. That might have made the big story points flow better, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on any of the great missions in The Brigmore Witches which narratively come after the first story climax. Maybe adding another mission or two to the early parts of the game would shift the pacing better. The ending to The Knife of Dunwall did feel a little suden.

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