My hopes and dreams for the new Thief

I’m mainly hoping that it will steal my heart

I’m bursting at the seams with hopes and dreams at the moment. It must be a spring thing, though looking outside my window, I’m hard pressed to imagine that we’re entering a new season. It’s positively gloomy outside, clouds blocking out all light and smothering everything in a bleak shadow. Speaking of shadows, many of my hopes and dreams are aimed directly at Thief, a title that no doubt many of you are sparing a thought for at the moment.

It’s a franchise that, I feel, has done right by us even when it changed quite a bit with Deadly Shadows, and it’s rather wonderful that it’s risen, or rising, from the dead after we feared it gone forever. We’re approaching nine years since we last saw a new game in the series, and a whopping 13 years since the high point of Thief II: The Metal Age, so things have changed. I’ve changed. And what I want out of the new Thief isn’t necessarily simply a return to what made me adore the first three games, though that certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

A big, living world with marks everywhere

The City has always felt like an empty place. The first two Thief titles only gave players a hint of freedom outside of the locations they were sent to directly — which admittedly had a lot of freedom — and Deadly Shadows attempted to present a slightly more open world, but it was a lonely one and noticeably limited due to console memory constraints. 

In Thief, nothing would give me greater pleasure than making my way across The City at my own pace, getting into trouble all over, and creating my own objectives. If I see a fancy dandy, I want to be able to tail him back to his home and rob him blind. I want to be able to linger outside pubs, waiting for the drunks to stagger out at closing and select a mark.

So much of The City in Deadly Shadows felt modular, even disconnected. As much as I hated Assassin’s Creed III, I’d love Garret to have the freedom to explore The City in the same way Connor did in Boston or New York. As fellow Destructoid writer Alasdair Duncan put it, “When I wasn’t getting bored of the repetitive structure of the first Assassin’s Creed game, I was thinking ‘Wow, this is a stunning city they’ve created. It would make for a great Thief game’.”

Cartographers get all the ladies

As a very, very cool youth, I was never far from some trusty sheets of graph paper, usually stolen from school. And scrawled all over them were maps, notations, arcane symbols, and no small amount of scribbles. Drawing dungeon layouts was once key to many of my favourite games, but convenience demanded that such a thing get relegated to the past.

With wonderful titles like Etrian Odyssey and Legend of Grimrock making cartograhpy cool again, I’d like to see that make its way over to Thief. The previous games already made use of unreliable, hand-drawn maps, so the addition wouldn’t be completely loony. 

Imagine it: Your next job is to rob a vast mansion, underneath which is a series of labyrinthine corridors potentially filled with the most epic of loot. But nobody has been down there to check, or at least nobody you can trust, so you have a vague layout of the upstairs area, and the rest is absolute guesswork. 

Perhaps there’s a party at said mansion, and perhaps you’ve managed to steal an invite. So you gain entry legally, and spend the rest of the evening nonchalantly wandering the house, adding to your map. Doors, guards, precious objects, all accounted for. Then, time permitting, you could sneak down into the labyrinth and map out the whole area.

Once the party ends, you can leave, having not broken any laws or drawn any suspicion. But you don’t really leave. You wait, just outside. Maybe you’d previously noted a less than secure entrance. And when everyone is asleep, you strike, knowing exactly where everything is. Maximum efficiency, people. 

It’s Master Thief, not kleptomaniac

Garrett has a tendency to steal everything shiny that isn’t nailed down, which at first makes sense since he is a thief. He doesn’t exist in a vacuum, however, and presumably The City has a black market economy that is constantly shifting. At some point, after stealing literally every bloody candle-holder in the entire city, that sort of stuff would decrease in value.

I want thievery to be meaningful. Rather than simply nicking everything, I want to do research, I want to find out what’s selling well on the black market, I want to use my sources to find out what artists are popular, what gems are currently most coveted, and most importantly, I want to be able to actually manipulate the economy.

Say I start stealing a lot of one particular item, but I don’t sell any of them right away. I wait for such things to become rarer, more expensive, and then slowly I reintroduce them into the market. Multiple fences offering different prices would also be desirable, especially if one could actually foster a relationship with them, getting better deals and perhaps even extra information.

Speaking of things Garrett is not…

Garrett’s not a pack mule

Seriously. People might vehemently disagree with me about this point, but I want some significant inventory limitations and the carrying of lots of loot to affect the gameplay. Not only would it making items more meaningful, it would also create conflict between a player’s desire to enter a scenario well-armed with lots of gadgets, weapons, arrow types or what have you, and their desire to steal a lot of shit.

Thief is all about tension, but I never really felt like the act of stealing something was particularly tense. If Garrett has shoved a bunch of gold plates and jugs down his trousers, then one would assume that he’s less agile, prone to making more noise, and that he looks like he’s stuffed his trousers with loot… like a thief. It’s suspicious, to say the least.

Of course, inventory space can be expanded with bags, pouches, and pockets, but perhaps even then there would be a cost when it comes to mobility. It should be about risk vs. reward, not just grabbing everything in sight.

Oh right, I’m playing a game

Look, I love my escapism. One of my biggest complaints with things like Assassin’s Creed is that it’s so laden with nonsense fluff, new objectives that pop up every five minutes, and synchronisation goals that I could never really immerse myself in it. Well, there was also the terrible writing, horrible characters, and complete lack of focus too. 

A great way Thief could do away with immersion breaking crap is by giving us the invisible HUD. I don’t want to see how many arrows I have left, I don’t even want to see a light meter. I want to actually read the situation, not get told what’s happening. If I have an objective, I want to be told it by a person, or passed information on a piece of paper that I can read when I inevitably forget. 

I am absolutely certain that no small amount of people would actually despise this. So perhaps a compromise would be in order: it could be achieved with a customizable HUD/interface. This is likely only something that would work on the PC version, but since there’s no hope in hell of me playing it on a console, I don’t really care. Another handy feature that I’d rather enjoy in this vein would be the ability to change the field of view, though I suspect I’ll end up needing to go to the .ini file to do that. 

Oh yeah, and I’d bloody love the ability to get rid of this focus nonsense we’ve been hearing about. It sounds awful. I don’t want silly magic powers, and I don’t need to be directed to such an absurd degree. Of course, that’s never going to happen and I’ll be stuck with it. But these are my hopes and dreams.

Stealth isn’t just hiding like a big girl’s blouse

Sneaking around is great, don’t get me wrong. Even in games that aren’t just about stealth, I tend to take the silent but deadly route. But crouching and being quiet can get a tad boring at times. Especially when you are waiting for that guard to finish standing right next to your hiding spot for no apparent reason. I mean how long does it take to piss?

Alasdair had some thoughts about how stealth could be more meaningful in Thief. Games like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and Mark of the Ninja have done really well in providing players with information about their character and their surroundings. Subtle visual cues, like a change of tint when concealed, to subtle footsteps to shows guards’ progress have meant stealth games aren’t simply trial and error, get caught then try again.” 

Personally, I’d like to see stealth become more vertical. With the grapple hook which we now know will make up part of Garrett’s inventory, the replacement for his old rope arrows, it seems like reaching lofty areas will be a lot simpler. Stalking marks from roof tops, hiding out in rafters — those things strike me as very thief-like. There were certainly vertical elements to the older Thief games, but I would like to see such things used even more this time around and with greater variety.

A sexy, gritty reboot.

I want Garrett to be a smoking-hot shirtless dude. 

Failing that, it would be interesting to see Thief  going back and tackling The Keepers, mechanical menaces, and the religious zealotry with fresh eyes and new, modern, mechanics, especially given that Deadly Shadows felt like a complete ending. 

Alasdair’s been pondering such things as well. “At the end of Thief: Deadly Shadows there are serious repercussions for the The City as a whole. The Keepers are exposed and the City will surely enter a new age. Whilst it might be fun to see what happens after those events, it would be fun to stick to the original world of the early Thief games and see the new mechanics and city tech deployed in that world. But continuing the story would still be fun. It’s a win/win situation as far as I’m concerned.”

I think it might even be worth exploring a very different version of The City with drastically different architecture and threats. Heck, I’d be interested in seeing an entirely new location. As much as The City made for a compelling setting for series, familiarity breeds contempt, and there’s something to be said for exploring a fresh locale and learning its original lore and history.

Hopes and dreams aside, I really just want a nerve-wracking, challenging stealth and stealing adventure with my old buddy, Garrett. As much as I want to see Eidos Montreal break new ground with the game, its predecessors were just so damn good that I could live with more of the same.

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Fraser Brown
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