Game Pile: Brigmore Witches

I feel a tiny bit cheap reviewing DLC, now. It used to be that DLC was a rare thing in my life, that games typically didn’t have expansion after the fact unless they were major bug-fixes. When I reviewed The Knife of Dunwall, I was at a loss. What to say about it beyond that it’s more Dishonored, and pretty good?

Maybe I could talk about how Daud’s blink power is so much cooler than Corvo’s, even though Corvo’s is probably more useful for speed-runners and other elites. Maybe I could talk about the way that Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches, as linked DLC represent an interesting kind of midquel, a mid-game expansion that ideally should be played in-flashback during the mission you attack Daud’s base. I could maybe elaborate a little on the way Daud, as a speaking protagonist, still performed almost-identical missions to Corvo. Orrrr….I suppose I could talk about how the themes in this final part are a change – and an improvement on the original game.

That last one sounds good. Let’s do that.

“But Alas, She Is A Woman.”

The impression I have from Brigmore Witches, though, is that some writer sat down, and looked back on the historical thread that ran through the other two sets of DLC, when they knew they were going to write a female antagonist.

You have the abuse and subjugation of women in Dishonored proper. In that game, Empress Jessamine is a character post mortem, whose absence is shown to be legitimately terrible for the city, and some voices about the city blame her for dying. Cold comfort it must be to her supporters that the person they think murdered her is wandering around with her heart in a jar. It’s kind of hard to claim a game doesn’t objectify women when one of the central characters is literally turned into an object.

Then there’s Emily, who has fairly minimal agency since she’s, like ten. You have to rescue her, then you have to rescue her again, not exactly a stellar showing. While she’s clearly breathed with some character – especially her evil incarnation is hilariously inappropriate and dark – her role in the story is to be a vessel of power, an object that the protagonist is meant to dad over and rescue. I won’t lie, even though I didn’t like her much, it sure as hell worked. I wanted to be the best possible Dadification Figure that the game could let me be.

When you let your eye roam wider, you see the servants, and while I quite like one plot beat for Lydia, we can’t really say women came out of Dishonored okay. They’re there, but they’re all in marginalised positions. It’s not like the story glorifies in it, but if you were a woman in Dunwall, and you wanted to do something else, well, alas, you are a woman.

Then… Brigmore Witches.

The Witch’s Rebellion

In Brigmore Witches, you play an assassin who murdered the Empress way back at the start of this story, betrayed by his lieutenant, in opposition to the Brigmore Witches, women outcast and marginalised by society, coalescing around a new leader, the dangerous and manipulative Delilah. Along the way to uncover – and thwart – Delilah’s dark designs, you stretch Daud’s creativity. The first task is a rescue. The second, a retrieval. Your third could be called an infiltration.

The tone of these DLC missions is very different from the previous game. Corvo’s existence was vengeful, possibly rageful. You could interpret even his nonlethal kills as magnificently cruel. When Corvo was trying to solve a problem, it was a problem that could be solved through raw violence. Daud? Daud has a whole different set of problems, and they are problems symptomatic of the greater ills of his nation.

First, Daud has to break into a prison, peopled by thugs, murderers, brutal abusers and the worst kind of scum, and talk to their prisoners. Second, Daud has to pick his way through the trail of gangs warring with one another over the pettiest pieces of property, and deal with people who are trying to claim power, trying to claim respect, by any means possible. Finally, when Daud comes to meet with the Witches of Brigmore Manor personally, he has to learn their ways to make it out.

I’ve often thought that games need to have more natural progression with their ideas. Dishonored introduced this unfair world, and The Knife of Dunwall showed the world from the perspective of an alpha predator in its unfairness. I like to imagine that Brigmore Witches was written to be a culmination of that thesis; to show that when people are oppressed, marginalised, and pressed to the edges, when you give them no other choice, they will take extraordinary measures. That’s true for everyone in this little play. All the characters exist below Daud in their own social scale; the people who oppose him do so knowing his reputation.

The other thing is, I never had the impression the game actually judged Delilah for what she chooses to do, and how she chooses to do it. It’s just another thing. You, Daud, can choose to stop her, or fail to stop her – either way, the game, and the voice of the Outsider, seem to not particularly care. If you find it horrifying, then that’s yours to say – but the witches themselves are close-knit, treat each other with respect and affection, and even the ones you can convince to work for you against Delilah only do it in the name of preserving the coven at the expense of their least member.

This is Brigmore Witches. This is the echo of Granny Rags’ entire story arc. It’s about what you get when you tell people that they are monsters.

They’ll eat you.

Verdict

You can get Brigmore Witches on Steam, or if you bought the season pass. When Dishonored goes on sale as a batch, with all its DLC, this pack rounds that out to a very attractive package, and you should definitely consider buying it if you like stealth games at all.

Verdict

Buy it if:

  • You enjoyed Dishonored. Straight up, this is just more of a good thing.
  • You wanted to enjoy Dishonored but found Corvo’s blink too fiddly. If you have nerve problems, this game lets you pause at any point to make careful, informed blinks.

Avoid it if:

  • You disliked Dishonored.
  • You’re uncomfortable with witches, euthanasia or prison environments.

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