Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mission #3: Down in the Bonehoard

            A great thing about the Thief games and their fan content is that they are not always ‘standard stealth fare.’ This is especially true of the first Thief, in which, as has been explored, there is an underlying ‘dark’ or ‘mystic’ theme. While “Cragscleft” had some horror elements, the first full-on ‘haunted’ or ‘undead’ mission in Thief is this one: “Down in the Bonehoard.” What makes this mission great is not just its creepy atmosphere, but also its labyrinthine design. On Expert mode, especially, the designers have the player exploring every bit of this mission’s location: a large underground crypt, or catacomb—whichever term you prefer. It’s a pretty abstract design, and is a kind of catacomb structure that could not possibly exist in our real world. And as Garrett explores it, he's not so properly a thief, as he is a...grave robber. This mission is much less on the sneakster side and more on the ‘Indiana Jones’ side, though there’s certainly sneaking to be had. So grab your hat and whip—or, in this case, your cloak and rope arrows—and let’s explore the Bonehoard.

            In Thief, difficulty setting can radically change the playing experience. The changes are not just in terms of the awareness level of the AI or in the amount of health the player has versus the damage the player takes, though these are affected by difficulty level. The changes are also in the amount of objectives and, more importantly, in the very structure of the level. On the ‘Normal’ difficulty, “Bonehoard” is simple: Get the Horn of Quintus. That’s it, and the design is as simple as the single objective (though still brilliant). This is good for a player’s first time through Thief. But on ‘Hard’ and especially ‘Expert’, “Bonehoard” becomes a very different experience. More areas are open to explore and there are many more objectives, including returning to the surface once all the objective items have been acquired. It makes for a great adventure, and this write-up is based on the ‘Expert’ version of “Bonehoard.”

          The player starts out in front of a small crypt entrance. It’s a small opening into a cornucopia of Thief-y fun.

            Garrett begins his descent towards the legendary Horn of Quintus by climbing down a rope into one of the tomb areas. Here a solitary zombie walks around. Creepy art styles decorate the wall—the air is thick with a sense of isolation. You’re down here all alone. But other thieves have tried to rob the dead, as evidenced by the corpses Garrett finds with journals lying beside them, detailing the final days of these late explorers’ lives.

As Garrett moves through this early tomb section, he crosses a few booby traps, such as a falling boulder, and treasure chests that trigger shooting arrows when opened. There are quite a few more of these throughout the tomb. Once Garrett reaches the caves that will lead him to the main area of “Bonehoard,” the mission really opens up.

            “Bonehoard’s” open-ended design makes it highly re-playable. I’ve played it hundreds of times (literally, no hyperbole) and even still will suddenly feel the itch to dive back into the Bonehoard for a fix. It’s great design and lots of fun.

            The tunneled caves, with Burricks (large lizard-like creatures), and the large crypt areas, with the undead, make up the main area of this mission. Both weave in and out and soon enough the player will find they are going in circles. But this a good feeling here—one with lots of discovery and the joy that comes from it. Discovering new areas, or new passages to old areas, is crux to the Thief experience.

            Acquiring the Horn of Quintus is one of the most memorable moments from the Thief series. When the player first step out of the Burrick-infested tunnels and then enter the large, main catacomb area, they will hear, echoing from the distance, a piped-tune playing. Garrett mutters, “Tombs with piped-in music. How classy.” It is the Horn of Quintus, and it will keep playing until Garrett nabs it, giving players a signal to follow to the treasure they seek.

            The main section has several areas to access, each one of them filled with tricks and traps. The tomb of the Quintus family is located past a cavern filled with Burricks. These, however, are standing still and do not attack Garrett as he walks by. The tune coming from the Horn of Quintus is what is keeping them still. So, once Garrett steals the Horn, he won’t have as easy a time getting back past these Burricks as he had getting into the Quintus’ tomb.

            Climbing up the large corridor to the Horn, its tune becoming louder as Garrett progresses to it, is magical. Once in front of it, Garrett says, “The Horn of Quintus, I presume.” A sound of distant rumbling plays. Thief’s use of audio, both Garrett speaking out loud to himself and the atmospheric ambiance, is brilliant at creating atmosphere, and it shines in this ‘Quintus’ experience.

            Either before or after grabbing the Horn, the player may explore all the other areas of the crypts and get all the other artifacts. “Bonehoard” is a fun, well-designed grave-robbing adventure that fuses the world of Thief with the classic dungeon-crawling vibe. Like many of Thief’s levels, it’s a great non-linear, open-ended mission that encourages exploration and rewards this with discovery. 

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