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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 10 – Cast Off


Thief’s anti-climactic finale features easily-bypassed encounters within confusing and characterless spatial design.


With Garrett delayed by the Thief-Taker General, Orion was able to make his escape with Erin. Pursuing him leads you into a network of tunnels where Freaks shamble along their long slow patrol routes. Patience will enable you to avoid engaging them directly, and with careful timing you can escape through a door onto the docks without ever being detected. Visible through a hole in the rock wall ahead, the sea churns around the massive irregular form of the Dawn’s Light. Skeletal and half finished with huge wooden ribs visible against the storm clouds, the ship’s form makes little sense. It appears top heavy, like it has been built upside down.

Before you can board the Dawn’s Light, you first need to get through the heavily trafficked area between the starting section and the docks themselves. There is loot to discovered if you risk exposure, though you can avoid the Graven by using a rope arrow to climb directly to the upper level and move through the room there to reach a hole in the rocks that leads back outside.

The ship’s form makes little sense. It appears top heavy, like it has been built upside down

There are two way of boarding the ship: climbing over the side onto the deck, or using a rope arrow to reach the stern. The latter route presents the greater challenge, as it requires passing a pair of Graven on the docks. However, approaching from this direction has the benefit of providing a view of the ship as you climb up that helps solidify it as a single large vessel, rather than the disparate collection of spaces it feels like from the inside.

Besides being made entirely of wood, there is little about the spatial design onboard the Dawn’s LIght that marks it out as being a ship; you could be inside a warehouse.

Besides being made entirely of wood, there is little about the spatial design onboard the Dawn’s Light that marks it out as being a ship. You could be inside a warehouse.

The first encounter space within the Dawn’s Light appears initially challenging. However, if you have the wrench, you can use it to enter the vents, bypass the patrols, and reach the elevator to the next section while only having to worry about a single Graven guard.

Built on a symmetrical layout, the Stowage Deck of the Dawn’s Light more obviously feels like something onboard a ship, though its sense of place relies on you being able to relate your current position to the outside of the ship you saw briefly as you approached. Without that connection between exterior and interior, there’s little to differentiate it from the warehouses and back alleys of the City itself.

The final encounter plays out not against Orion, but Erin. Dragged into the altered reality of the Primal, the first part of your two-stage confrontation is the only example of an objective that explicitly requires you to avoid detection. Being spotted while attempting to approach Erin will cause her to lash out and disappear, coalescing again in another part of the level.

After bypassing the Freaks she leaves in her wake, you reach Erin again in the bow of the Dawn’s Light. Multiple forms of her floating around the space set off bursts of Primal light than will injure you if caught in them. Your final act in Thief is a game of red light/green light with a mystical entity, while you attempt to gather the separate pieces of the Primal stone for a purpose that is never made clear.

An emotionally and aesthetically flat conclusion

Structurally and aesthetically an addendum to the previous chapter, the Dawn’s Light features some challenging encounter spaces onboard the Dawn’s Light and the structures built into the rocks on the shoreline. Unfortunately, in every instance, the level design subverts this challenge. You have been trained over the course of the preceding hours to look for and exploit the opportunities provided by grates and rope arrow anchor points. Doing so here enables you to avoid large portions of every encounter. Behaviour you have been conditioned to use, to rely upon, now enables you to bypass the game’s climactic encounters without any clear indication that you will have no way back should you wish to explore.

A piecemeal and frequently confusing end to the game, Chapter 8 lacks the smart level design of Northcrest Manor, the scripted bombast of the Keep, or the out and out hostility of the Moira Asylum. It’s an emotionally and aesthetically flat conclusion, that includes too many shortcuts, both in its level design and narrative.


This post is part of Deep in the Shadows: A Thief Design Analysis series. Click below for the next instalment.

thief design analysis part 11

Or, you can click below to return to the Deep in the Shadows contents hub to find links to every part of our analysis.

thief design analysis contents

Justin Keverne

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