Dishonored’s DLC ‘The Knife of Dunwall’ has three missions. The story concludes in the third mission, but by the end of the second the action has reached its climax. The infiltration of the Timsh Estate, which closes out that mission, should rightly be celebrated among the great stealth sections of all time and it is the greatest single section in Dishonored. Your objectives are simple enough: break into the estate, steal Arnold Timsh’s will and kill or otherwise incapacitate him. In a mission with otherwise merely serviceable level design, however, the Timsh Estate is an intricate, confined environment which is a delight to explore and sneak through. It is easily the highlight of the whole DLC and from a mechanical perspective it’s a better conclusion that the poor third mission (entitled ‘The Surge’). It tests the player’s knowledge of the mechanics introduced thus far and, especially at higher difficulties where simply cutting enemies to ribbons isn’t an option, succeeds at something Dishonored rarely even attempts: making the player feel vulnerable. Someone seeing Dishonored for the first time in ‘The Surge’ or missions like ‘High Overseer Campbell’ in the main game could be forgiven for thinking Dishonored was an adaption of Batman. The Timsh Estate, though, forbids player from lurking in rafters or easily picking off its guards and to its credit it makes for a more thoughtful, tense experience.
I have a particular affection for infiltration missions which start the player outside the building they’re infiltrating. It encourages players to consider their approach to their target, adding immensely your freedom and immersion. The excellent blog ‘Tiny Design’ notes it as a feature of Gunpoint and Thief 2 which is good company. It’s high praise then when I say The Timsh Estate’s approach goes one better than both. Here, the player is led to a rooftop overlooking the estate – where the main character, Daud, meets his second in command – and given all the tools to plan an intelligent break-in. As well as giving the player a vantage point which overlooks most of the potential points of entry (the front door and the balconies), the rooftop also has a crate of ammo and a map of the interior.
There is, of course, no ‘map’ button in Dishonored. Players have to locate them in the game world, look at them in real-time and then sneak away before they’re spotted. Here, though, the map is deliberately left next to the player’s overview of the building so they can work out what they’re looking at and what point of entry they should use. The player’s freedom is only enhanced by starting the player outside, where they’re free to scout around the building. Another delightful detail is that along with the map is a note detailing the routine of Arnold Timsh. It explicitly states his patrol route “from his bedroom on the top floor, to the lobby of the law offices on the ground floor” and points to the building’s various entry points including the front door and balconies. The note leaves out the basement (while informing the player about the dumbwaiter inside) and consequentially you’ve something to discover as you scout.
Inside, the Timsh Estate is densely packed. Every floor is a mess of interconnecting rooms which provide cover from guards patrolling central chambers on the ground and third floors. On the second there is one long area with a low railing and a clear line of sight from a guard on a balcony facing it and those climbing the stairs behind which serves the same function. The Timsh Estate has no rafters, a rarity among Dishonored’s interiors and a welcome change since rafters make buildings trivially easy to navigate stealthily. The Estate not only grounds the player, it forces them to expose themselves while moving between the inner walls on the Law Offices floor and the pillars in the Office of Barrister Timsh. There is no easy way to snag Timsh’s key (which is necessary to open the chest to get the will) or kill him stealthily. The player needs at the very least to look down over him in the Law Offices to trigger his conversation with his guests and get him to move at all. Additionally, provided you want to complete any of the side objectives like getting the ground floor’s bone charm, the top floor’s rune, complete the Granny’s Recipe side quest or simply non-lethally eliminate Timsh you’ll need to navigate the building at length. There is no quick entry and exit from the Timsh Estate and the section is stronger for it.
The guards also have the rare virtue in Dishonored of being threatening. They’re almost all designed with long patrol paths going through multiple rooms or even covering multiple floors. Consequentially they’re both difficult to predict and ignore; rarely is anyone confined to walking back and forth in one room, staring at one wall and then another. Their paths overlap, something which inevitably makes guards more threatening since it increases the likelihood a body will be discovered you’ll be seen choking or stabbing a guard. If you take out a guard on the Reception at the top of the stairs, for instance, you could be spotted by the guard in the balcony across, one patrolling to there from the floor below or one patrolling from the floor above. Additionally, there are few obvious places to hide the guards and even throwing them from the balconies isn’t easily done (though it is delightful) since the surrounding alleyways are patrolled. The only reasonably safe thing is the hurl them down an opening in the dumbwaiter’s shaft on the third floor with is a satisfying, if lethal, exception.
It’s interesting to note too that the Timsh Estate doesn’t strictly confine players to one building. Rather it encourages them to blink from the Estate’s many balconies to the lampposts and balconies nearby and ascend or descend to the Estate’s other levels. The section even requires you to get to an adjacent apartment if you want a rune or to get the items to take Timsh out non-lethally. This involves switching Timsh’s letter exempting him from plague provisions with an arrest warrant, getting a bag which smells of the plague from a deserted apartment and finally slipping the bag into the air conditioning unit in the basement. Timsh’s partner then arrives and arrests him. It’s a challenging, lengthy process and crucially demands navigating through multiple floors of the building.
Even with Daud’s incredible abilities which are souped-up even from what’s available in the main game, you will probably get caught in the Timsh Estate. There are too many moving parts, guards, intricate patrol paths, not to mention Timsh himself roaming around to avoid it. ‘The Knife of Dunwall’, though, is better for the challenge. In a game and DLC otherwise easy even to ‘ghost,’ the Timsh Estate is a refreshingly tense experiment and the highlight of Dishonored. It is thoughtfully designed in a way that’s lacking in much of the rest of the mission (indeed, the Estate would probably be better remembered if it wasn’t embedded in a dreary mission) but crucially never unfair. Before you even enter the Timsh Estate, you can see the map and notes on Timsh’s routine, scout the building and even your ammo is replenished. If the developers of Dishonored 2 are taking notes from its predecessor, they couldn’t do better than to look back at the Timsh Estate.