Far from the comfy abodes of the wealthy and the familiar hum of civilization, haunted crypts and dead cities lie. Garrett ventures away from the confines of the City a few times to breach some of these cursed graveyards or ancient civilizations, making him more than a simple thief. In this entry of Dark Narrative, I cover a couple of these missions. These adventuresome romps with otherworldly beings are just as enthralling as travels through manor-houses and other buildings of the City.
So don your cloak and grab some rope arrows, it’s time to … raid some tombs.
This is part of a continuous series. Read more about Dark Narrative here.
-A haunted crypt, filled with undead. An ancient Horn, Whose Music Echoes through the Halls: Down in the Bonehoard-
The "Bonehoard" is an infamous haunted crypt system. Thieves dare to enter it because of the treasures it holds. In his sojourn there, Garrett is seeking the Horn of Quintus, a valuable instrument interred with the noble family by the same name. Thieves have tried for it before. It’s referenced in some notes and on a map left behind by Felix, from whom Garrett indirectly garnered the information he has on the crypts.
Garrett will meet a better fate than Felix did among the dead, as long as you steer him correctly on the quest for the Quintus family's treasure.
You start in a small outdoor area with a few tombs, one of them enclosing an entry point. The rope hanging down there suggests that others have used it. You climb down that rope and reach a few planks that overlook a tall room, and then have to climb another rope even further down. When you've finally set foot in the haunted crypt, you see your first zombie and begin to hear the hollow moans of other undead from deep inside the crypt.
Early on in the crypt adventure, you discover the corpse of a thief with a journal nearby. The late taffer’s final writings reveal an expedition, now failed, that had been sent to loot the tombs. You’ll find other dead thieves who succumbed to the tomb’s tricks and traps, their journals lying next to them.
After making your way through an initial tomb area, you’ll travel through tunnels and caves, where you can find arrows marked on the walls left by some of the thieves. In these areas you’ll encounter herds of burricks, and even stumble upon a burrick burial site. Good thing none of them have risen from the dead. After you pass through these caves, you reach the major tomb sections. Here, from the distance, you hear the Horn of Quintus. It plays a haunting tune, and as you get closer to the horn, it gets louder.
On Normal mode, you just have to get the Horn. On Hard and Expert, there are other gemstones to nab. Thief will occasionally provide different experiences for each difficulty level, beyond harder AI or less resources. On Hard and Expert, you’re encouraged to explore different areas of the crypt.
One of these areas forces you to avoid the gazes of statues as you traverse a room, lest you get blasted by fire bursts. The other has you fend off a fire elemental and light a series of torches. Then, once you’re in the treasure chamber, you have to quickly dodge a barrage of projectiles, triggered by picking up a gem. Another treasure room has a stone face inside who, surprisingly, relays a threatening message. It’s all a fun, Indiana-Jones-style dungeon romp, rich with Thief’s immersive world and gameplay.
The central story theme remains the song of the Horn. There is another cave area just before the Quintus tomb filled with burricks. These burricks leave you be while the Horn plays its tune. After you ascend a series of ladders and platforms, approach the Horn of Quintus, and grab it, the silence that replaces the horn’s song is palpable. The earth, perhaps upset, rumbles from the distance. You’ve disturbed the dead greatly by stealing the Quintus family's ancient treasure. Indeed, once you’ve stolen the Horn of Quintus, you feel as if you’ve gotten the attention of some dark force that, up until then, had been ignoring you. On the way from the Quintus area, the burricks, no song playing, now attack you.
On Normal, the mission ends. On Hard and Expert, you have to get back out. If you didn’t pilfer the other tombs yet, you’ll also have to do that, too, but the haunted echo of the horn blowing is no more, and you feel an even louder silence. It's the fear that you’ve broken a sacred boundary that makes you want to hightail it out of the Bonehoard as quickly as possible, back to the surface above. For this reason, I complete all the other objectives before stealing the horn.
The journals left by dead thieves and the chilling tune of the Quintus Horn breathe narrative life into this crypt. Thief tells story through the environment, and something as wordless as a Horn's haunted calling packs the same punch that NPC conversations would have had.
-An Ancient City, Buried by the Earth, and Teeming with Monsters: The Lost City-
Buried beneath the City is an ancient place where precursors lived before a great cataclysm buried their way of life. It’s hidden by Garrett’s pals the Keepers; the Keepers are the shadowy people who try to maintain balance in the City and who trained Garrett. They’ve placed the Talisman of Fire, an object Garrett needs, deep within this lost city. Garrett has to leave the world of the living once more and enter a space separate, lost to time, like he did when he ventured into the Bonehoard. He will have to brave spiders, fire elementals, burricks, and mages. Just a typical day in the life of a fantasy world’s thief.
You enter The Lost City by placing a stone key into a cleft in a river bottom. After swimming through a waterway, you reach a cavern that leads into the ancient civilization. It’s got all the features of an old place, from stone pillars, to hieroglyphics, to huge pottery, to an amphitheater, to masks, and plenty of ancient treasure. None of the people are here, though, not even in undead form.
You learn some about the precursors from scrolls left by them, and from journal entries left by a lost Keeper expedition. The society had an emperor and a hierarchy around that leader. Power was passed down along family lines. Around the same time as the transition from one noble leader to a vain, shallow one, some cataclysm befell the city. Fire raining down was part of it, and prayers to the gods did little to halt it. You feel more like an archaeologist and less like a thief reading these stories and picking up rare treasures.
Garrett the archaeologist will need to pull off some Indiana Jones moves, like knowing when to duck, while exploring the ruins. When entering one temple area, a skeleton on the ground is a forewarning that something bad could happen; a large, spiked metal wall swinging down is that bad thing happening. I’m glad my instincts told me to duck. Entering that temple area also requires using rope arrows on wooden beams to cross a lava pit. The rope arrow is a Thief staple.
The Talisman of Fire is at the top of a tall tower. The way up is treacherous, as the stairway has been destroyed at one part, and the base is guarded by Fire Elementals. Once halfway up, you’ll have to venture outside a window and shoot a rope arrow into a tiny wooden beam in order to reach the top. The Talisman sits in the middle of a flame, but grabbing it doesn’t hurt you. Once you’ve got it, more Fire Elementals spawn, making your trek back out difficult. Just like in the Bonehoard, you’ve awoken an ancient power, and, just like in the Bonehoard, you better leave before you overstay your welcome.
Thief's otherworldly tombs give it a unique flare among games with stealth. You don't just rob mansions, but visit tombs as well. You contend with monsters and ghosts as much as guards and security systems. In these missions, haunting elements, like the bellowing of a horn or the remnants of a dead civilization, tell story just as much as journals and NPC conversations found in missions set in the land of the living. Later in this series, I'll be considering more horror missions. For now, know that there's plenty to be learned from lost, dead places, as long as you're willing to look for it.