(The other authors: Tannar, Moghedian, R Soul, Peter Smith)
Death’s Cold Embrace has a different vibe than most major fan missions. It is repetitious in theme: the same music bits play in and out for the majority of the first few missions, respective to their levels, and you visit the same area of Dayport in the first, third, and fifth missions. This repetitive quality does not mean it’s bad, it just means it has a different flavor than Godbreaker, The Black Frog, or equivalent FM campaigns. Another uniqueness is that the coldness extends from the title into the environment as DCE is set in snow, rare for FMs.
Murder Most Foul is the first mission and establishes the audio style. Rather than standard Thief II environmental sounds for exterior and interior, Yandros has musical bits fade in and out. It feels like exploring in Oblivion or Skyrim while the same orchestral tracks play. You could be out in the town or inside a haunted house, but no matter which the same tracks keep looping. Objectively, it works, and works well in Murder Most Foul and DCE’s other missions, but for my personal tastes it isn’t as atmospherically effective as standard Thief II ambiance.
You’re in the city area of Dayport surrounding Fairbanks Manor. There are shops, inns, residences, and a power station. Readables indicate that there is much frustration going around, with insights into economic hardships.
Thief has real moral dilemmas. You feel guilty stealing from these desperate shopkeepers. After plundering each shop, I felt a foul taste creep into my mouth, feeling morally conflicted more so than in recent games when I’m given a highlighted, binary decision. I had to remind myself that I’m a heartless thief and keep on going – but I don’t think that lowly of Garrett, so still struggled.
The two apartment complexes in this part of town highlight class differences. The rich one, the Biltmore Apartments, is right across the street from the poor one, Greenwood Apartments, each facing the other. Biltmore is guarded, quiet, and fully functioning. Greenwood is open and guard-less, with loud music blaring from one apartment, a bent sign, a flickering light and a meowing cat. A tale of two cities, for sure.
(Minor spoilers in next paragraph.)
The backstory to the mission involves a mythical Keep, an artifact, and competing gangs of thieves. The way the artifact is guarded is clever – they’re paying a man to act as a ghost to keep prying eyes from the apartment where the chest is stashed. From Yandros’ location of the past few months and the title of one of the mission threads, you know that this backstory has ramifications for the campaign in the long run.
The Trickster’s Tale pub is where you’ll go once you have the research journal Fairbanks wants, so you’ll want to save that place for last. The Harlequin Inn is very difficult to enter save by an upper story window, and no matter how you enter stealing from the main lobby is a challenge.
Outside this inn is one of the most clever bits of décor in a Thief mission: the “Eternal Flame.” Did you douse it out? I couldn’t bring myself to. The torch offered another quality moral dilemma. I’m surprised I haven’t seen something like it used in other FMs; it gives non-ghosters a reason to feel guilty for using a water arrow. Let’s hope there aren’t ever any sacred wooden beams.
The Jewelry store has a tough patrol to dodge, but if you do it, or blackjack the guy, the reward will be enormous. Remember those moral dilemmas I wrote about? Some are easier to quell than others.
You discover in a readable that the painter has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Karras. I thought, “Is it that one?” When you break into his basement you find out, yes, it’s that one.
(Spoilers in next three paragraphs.)
The inventor’s apartment is your main objective, and if you’ve been reading, you have reason to dread entering it. The mystery of a she-beast, you discover, is a Franken-maid monster gone mad, lurking in the inventor’s basement. The basement is one of the most atmospherically impressive moments in a FM. The air is thick with dust, the lights flicker, and the she-beast cries from the distance. I was terrified of the moment when I would finally see it.
It is built from the cybernetic midwife model of System Shock 2, but it’s no less terrifying as it walks with the prance of a bug beast. The cyborg maid has rigged up the inventor’s body in an ironic display of revenge. He’s sitting at a dinner table with music playing as a device sends currents through his body. Take that, you hear the maid saying, see what it’s like to be kept alive past death. Whether he was actually alive or not, I don’t know, but I flipped the switch to free him from potential misery. The maid didn’t notice.
Further horrors await in the form of a bronze Mechanist child – and I mean the actual child-thing, not the Children of Karras. You can deactivate it so it won’t be alerted – it’s triggered by unlocking the safe with the journal for Fairbanks.
When you finish this mission, the premise for the next is calmly set. No grand whirlwind of events has started yet. Story-wise, the terror of the maid passed, everything is standard and settled. This being a classical tragedy in three acts, you know that won’t remain the case.