Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 6 – Architect of His Own Demise
[one_third]Garrett finds his way into the Baron’s stronghold by way of an architect’s mansion in the most confusing and illogical Thief chapter yet.[/one_third]
Basso has been captured and taken to the Keep, a location that appears throughout the propaganda material of the City Watch but of which you will have not heard about directly until now. It’s hard to manufacture a sense of threat and foreboding about a location without foreshadowing it. Compare the manner in which the Keep is revealed to the way talk of “the island”, the Moria Asylum, is sprinkled throughout the opening hours of the game. The existence of the Keep comes out of nowhere, yet it’s the heart of the Baron’s power within the City and it goes entirely unmentioned by the population at large.
The transition between the City hub and the start of this chapter is abrupt, as the rooftop location you begin on has no clear connection to the streets you were in seconds earlier. This is a much more dramatic transition than that of the previous chapter, where the entrance to the tunnels above the House of Blossoms was organically connected to the streets of the City.
It’s hard to manufacture a sense of threat and foreboding about a location without foreshadowing it
Within seconds your original goal to find Jacob is changed, replaced with a new objective that Garrett provides in a voiceover that offers little context. Eastwick, the Baron’s architect, lives conveniently nearby, and he should know of a way inside the Keep.
The a brief sequence of traversal across the rooftops, with minor diversions to obtain loot and extra resources, concludes with a one-way drop through a window and a soft transition into the area immediately overlooking Eastwick’s house.
Concealed by a switch in the shed, a secret entrance leads down into a tunnel running under the building; wire cutters are needed to disable the traps within. From these tunnels you can enter the wine cellar and from there reach the kitchen on the ground floor. Locked by another wire mechanism is one of Eastwick’s hidden elevators that can carry you up to his study. As there is no disincentive to using the wire cutters every time you encounter a control panel it’s possible to reach Eastwick’s study unintentionally, locking yourself out of exploring one of the few stealth encounter spaces to be found in this chapter. Once you enter the study, you cannot return to the rest of the house.
[message_box title=”Tower Fall”]From the start of this chapter, you can see the Keep ahead of you rising high over the skyline. As you reach Eastwick’s house, an explosion rocks the structure. Something is happening within. This apparent bombing of the Keep by the Graven marks a dramatic escalation in their conflict with the Baron that occurs with little build-up, and has similarly little impact on the unfolding events of the plot. It serves as a means of facilitating entry into the Keep, while also providing context for why large portions of it are unreachable. The events of this chapter do trigger changes in the state of the City hub, though these prove to be meaningless from a player perspective; the Graven now patrolling the streets behave identically to the City Watch whom they replace.[/message_box]
Eastwick’s house is smaller than it appears from the outside, with only two rooms on the ground floor. A pair of City Watch patrol the foyer, at the bottom and top of the stairs respectively, their paths have been created in such a way as to create a window of several seconds where the stairs themselves are entirely unobserved, allowing rapid movement between floors.
Eastwick’s wife is in the master bedroom complaining about her husband, while a servant packs a suitcase for her. Another servant can be found discussing the night’s events with one of the guards as she busies herself in the library. If you can find a way past them, the second of Eastwick’s secret elevators is located behind a false bookshelf at the far end of the room; a note in his office on the ground floor provides a hint of where to look.
Barricaded inside his own study, Eastwick has already hung himself by the time you arrive. The plans you need can only be obtained by solving a puzzle based on a scale model of the Keep, which is visible through the glass beyond Eastwick’s suspended form. Once you have aligned the sections correctly and grabbed the plans from the wall, the guards finally gain entry, bursting into the room and forcing you to escape through the French doors of the study.
Your escape across the rooftops lasts barely thirty seconds, with you only in control of Garrett’s movements for approximately half that time. There’s little challenge, and your entire flight is over so quickly it’s difficult to understand what purpose it serves. Though limited in scope and length, this section does include your first and only encounter with a number of concepts that could have provided interesting challenges had they appeared in the rest of the game. As it is, the uncaged dogs and guard-operated searchlights are minor distractions to avoid while you run forward to trigger the next cutscene.
After climbing back up to roof level, there’s another one-way drop, followed by a brief crawl through a tunnel and a hard transition directly into a cutscene that shows further explosions at the top of the Keep. Debris rains down lethally on the courtyard below. From here, until you reach the Baron’s safe at the top of the Keep, most of your equipment and abilities are either useless or unavailable. When you reach the prison floor where Basso is being held, it’s impossible to even draw your bow.
With smoke everywhere, you can’t even see the building you’re breaking into; the imposing size of the Keep is completely lost in the clouds and ash. You could be anywhere. After heading down into the pipe works, avoiding the jets of fire, and swooping past the still functioning piston, you’ll find yourself inside. The smoke here is different; it’s harmful and eventually lethal if you inhale too much. As the only example of a directly hostile environment within the game, this smoke pushes against the desire to explore. Contradictory messages are presented here; despite there being a side room with loot in it, any attempt to steal it will incur continuing damage as reaching this room, and getting out again, requires cutting a trip wire or picking a lock, both of which take time.
After this smoke-filled section, counter-intuitively the way forward is to head down into the Boiler Room rather than find a way up toward your objective. Upon reaching the Boiler Room, the music swells, rising to a combat theme despite everybody within already lying dead on the floor. From here, you can use an elevator to reach the prison level. There also, nobody remains alive, with Basso apparently the only prisoner who has neither escaped nor been killed in the chaos that followed the explosions.
Despite being able to pick locks, disable traps, and carry bodies, you free Basso by throwing a switch to open a door and then walk toward his cell
The goal of this level strongly evokes the journey into Cragscleft Prison, the second level of Thief: The Dark Project, where the objective is to free Basso from his cell and carry his unconscious body out of the level. There, no extra systems are provided to enable this, as being able to pick up and move bodies is one of your standard abilities. Similarly in this reboot, you are able to pick up and drag bodies, yet here where it would be thematically appropriate to do so, Thief never gives you that option. You facilitate Basso’s escape from the keep in an entirely perfunctory manner. Despite being able to pick locks, disable traps, and carry bodies, you fulfill the objective of freeing Basso by throwing a switch to open a door and then walk toward his cell. This is enough to trigger a cutscene that forwards the plot and sets up the next location you have to reach. With Basso free, you need to get back in the elevator and continue to the top of the keep.
During your ascent, you witness floors and floors of automata that Garrett describes as the Baron’s plan for the future of the City. This information is never made available at any prior point, and proves to be irrelevant to the events that follow. The automata, and Garrett’s knowledge of them, comes from nowhere and is forgotten by the time the elevator reaches its destination.
Attempting to open the Great Safe leads to an attack by the Thief-Taker General, and a transition via cutscene into an arena at the top of the tower, where you need to complete the process of entering the safe’s combination while avoiding the patrolling, and already suspicious, City Watch.
This is a level that makes little sense, and seems to exist simply to forward a plot that makes even less
Chapter 4 is inconsistent to the point that the overriding impression is of something that was once either a much longer level, or several different levels. It is a collection of styles and ideas with no consistency; potentially strong themes and design concepts without a payoff. Eastwick’s house, the most spatially interesting section of this level, can be unintentionally missed almost in its entirety by the simple act of exploration, and the Keep itself is a series of empty rooms culminating in a stealth arena at the top of a structure which, from the outside, appears to be on the brink of total collapse.
The exploration of Eastwick’s house, so rich with potential, is only a means of setting up your entry to the Keep, where the act of freeing of Basso is entirely perfunctory and ultimately occurs outside of your control. This is a level that makes little sense, and seems to exist simply to forward a plot that makes even less. Thief never reaches this level of messiness again, but nor does it ever fully recover from it.