‘The Brigmore Witches’ Hands-On Preview: Yep, You Still Feel Bad

Good news, everyone. Dishonored’s The Brigmore Witches, the upcoming Dishonored DLC that concludes the story of the assassin Daud, hasn’t lost a step when it comes to making choices that can potentially hobble you.

In this instance, during my QuakeCon hands-on with the first few sections of the DLC, I successfully busted out of prison someone critical to the DLC’s overall mission. But because I opted to unlock her from her chains before waking her up, I was forced to carry her all the way to the extraction point. This meant having to move with painful slowness through a prison full of suddenly very alert guards, putting her down to work my way through them (I mercilessly killed them), then having to backtrack, pick her back up, and make it to the dropzone. It was a nice moment which reminds you that if nothing else, Dishonored is always about the consequences of your actions.

If you’ve played Knife of Dunwall, then you know the basics. As with “Knife,” you play as Daud as he seeks redemption for having assassinated the Empress at the beginning of the main game. You’ll get to mess around with the same new (and modified versions of old) powers that distinguish Daud from main-game protagonist Corvo, utilize some cool weapons, and get a taste of rampaging around the city of Dunwall as an actual bad guy.

That’s because the main twist of the two DLCs is that unlike Corvo, who is a basically decent man struggling to avenge a great injustice without losing his soul, Daud is an evil man trying to get his soul back. At least in my playthrough of Knife of Dunwall, this meant it at least felt far more difficult to avoid actions that led to a “high chaos level” — Dishonored’s palpable result for killing a lot of people — than in the main game, and that continues in “Witches.”

As The Brigmore Witches begins — or at least, the portion shown to QuakeCon attendees and journalists begins — Daud (voiced by Michael Madsen, Kill Bill Vol. 2) is once again contemplating the error of his ways. After the events of “Knife,” he’s now in the middle of a feud with Delilah, leader of the Brigmore Witches coven. We’re told that Daud must break the ousted leader of one of Dunwall’s criminal gangs out of prison, so she can smuggle him to a mission-critical location at which he can do his thing and, presumably, kill Delilah.

The prison break segment was a lot of fun to play through. Not only is it nice returning to the first true level from the main Dishonored campaign, this time you get to do it fully powered up with useful magic, so that it’s not a painfully frustrating slog. The weirdness here is that when you’re outside the prison, you must work around the Overseers’ music that negates your magical powers. For some reason, the music doesn’t play inside the prison, which means if you’re ever arrested in Dunwall, be sure not to tell them you’ve made a deal with The Outsider.

The segment was short, but contained just enough reasons to explore the prison to keep it from feeling like the fetch quest it clearly is. Once completed, with the rescue of a prisoner named Lizzie Strider, we were skipped ahead to a series of missions set in a new city region called Draper. Formerly a wealthy enclave, the area has now fallen into plague-induced anarchy as two gangs — one of which used to be run by Lizzie — battle for control of the streets. This was by far the more interesting of the two levels shown off, and perhaps one of the more compelling moments throughout Dishonored as a whole.

I mentioned the consequences of your actions earlier for a reason. The entire city is feeling them. The city of Dunwall is a mess, torn apart by factional fighting and disease. And yet, though Dishonored’s main campaign gave a terrifying look into the greater world, it was largely as background to sneaking into the palaces of the wealthy and decadent, through regions of town locked under martial law. That all worked well, but the Daud-centered DLC at least feels much earthier (a natural result of the fact that you’re playing a villain), and the missions in Draper are to my eye the deepest dive into the way regular life in Dunwall has broken down. (And as with the main game and previous DLC, it can be even worse depending on your chaos level.)

Daud must first infiltrate the section of town controlled by Lizzie’s old gang, assassinate the man who betrayed her to the cops, then return control of the gang to her. Mission accomplished, he then needs to infiltrate the HQ of a rival gang, strike a deal with its leader to acquire some much needed tech, and get Lizzie’s boat working again. In both sections you see the early-industrial Europe equivalent of what we imagine our world would look like after a zombie apocalypse. Rival gangs strut around, picking fights with one another, while looted apartments, stray bodies, and the complete breakdown of law and order cast stark light on just how ineffective the ruling clique has been in saving the city. These moments felt as chilling to me as the mission from the main campaign in which your choice is to either kill someone in cold blood, or save her life by handing her over to someone who wants to essentially make her a sex slave.

We have yet to see a full-length AAA video game that really makes a coherent political point, but Dishonored is perhaps the closest we come to a polemic-as-gaming. Based on what we’ve seen from the Dishonored team, I think when the time does come, we’ll see a lot of developers actually getting it right. At minimum, Dishonored continues to make you feel almost bad for the things you do and that, as much as anything else, is making me ravenous for more. The Brigmore Witches drops on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 next week.

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