Dishonored: Death of the Outsider feels like an apology to my less than warm reception of the last game. While Arkane Studios have made a name for themselves making large complex worlds that encourage clever thinking by their players, they haven’t always excelled in depicting compelling multidimensional characters. Their hard sci-fi horror experience from earlier this year, Prey, had a lot more heart than expected in this department and it seems whatever writing talent they had there have migrated to the story being told here.
Sold as a standalone adventure, Death of the Outsider manages to deliver a supernatural tale of loyalty, morality, and redemption full of some of the series’ greatest missions and sequences, made all the better by a smaller, more intimate focus.
Contract For The Ages
The story begins some time after Dishonored 2 with ex-assassin Billie Lurk scouring the city of Karnaca for her mentor Daud. After freeing him from agents of a supernatural cult known as The Eyeless, Daud lets her in on his greatest assignment ever. After countless years consulting arcane research and underworld contacts, he has discovered a way to kill the godlike entity linked to every instance of black magic in the world, The Outsider. Since old age has crippled him, it is up to Billie Lurk to infiltrate the most secure facilities of Karnaca, unravel the conspiracy of The Eyeless, and determine the future of the world as she knows it.
Almost immediately I could feel how more confident and focused this game was as a character piece compared to its predecessor. Billie Lurk was always a minor supporting character with not much to go on, but her history here is instantly intriguing and is given just enough substance to be equal parts awesome and sympathetic. A street urchin turned accomplice to political assassination, her self-reflection between the game’s larger moments show a more defined character with her own wants and desires ruined or changed by her upbringing. Past loves lost, leaving friends to die, her tenuous father-daughter surrogate relationship to Daud, all spend just enough time in the spotlight and the margins to make her one of the most in-depth characters in the series by default. It also helps that Rosario Dawson does a great job as the voice of Billie alongside Michael Madsen’s grizzled portrayal of Daud.
Compared to prior protagonists who were just mute player surrogates like Corvo or had an entire history full of potential squandered in presentation like Emily Kaldwin, this was a duo I cared more about.
Stab, Shoot Sneak, Success
Each one of the five missions of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider starts with simple objectives: get to this location, get an item, etc., then leaves an entire environment full of approaches and strategies for the player to work out the best approach. Sneak around while robbing the place blind, run in with sword and gun in hand and kill anything that stands in the way, and anything in between is your choice.
Once again, Arkane Studios shows their natural talent in making environments that work both as believable extensions of a working society and as interactive playgrounds of possibility. The elaborate buildings and structures of Karnaca are still a fantastic mix of gothic Victorian and industrial electropunk fantasy, but they’re also home to human-sized ventilation shafts and sewers, large pipes wrapped around buildings that can be used for makeshift platforming, and easily manipulated security systems that run on tanks of highly volatile whale oil that can blown up or removed.
It’s an inherent joy of the series that Dishonored: Death of the Outsider proudly continues while making things more compact. In addition to being able to upgrade gear or purchase items like bombs, gun ammo, or traps from hidden black market kiosks, there are also optional side missions called Contracts. These operations can range between something as high risk as stealing a letter from a guard with no one noticing to something as darkly humorous as throwing a mime off a cliff. Completing any of them is rewarded with more money to help with the more demanding missions later on.
On the supernatural side of Billie Lurk’s talents, things are more pared down as well. Instead of a wide menu of versatile abilities, there are only three powers to pull from. Displace is used for short-range teleports with the notable ability to place a marker on where you want to go first before teleporting, which can be used for quick escapes or trap removal. Foresight is an out-of-body type power used to look ahead and highlight key items or mark roving guard patrols, which is absolutely useful for a more meticulous infiltration. But the crown jewel is Semblance, the ability to knock someone out then look like them for a limited time. This arguably lead to some of the most gleefully malicious moments in the game, like imitating a leader of The Eyeless and just getting handed a plot-focused item.
While there is no way to upgrade special powers, using them is now tied to an energy bar that slowly regenerates over time, so having to ration out uses of certain powers won’t slow down the action or the suspense. The customizable bone charms are also scattered throughout the levels, granting perks like being able to jump higher or use more energy at once
There are even new weapons and tools. The best by default are the hook mines, devices that attach to walls or other people that violently grab and pull people towards them. While they can be used both in deadly and non-lethal methods, there is something adorably silly in seeing a guard in hot pursuit quickly get yanked across the street like a ragdoll. To a lesser extent is the hyperbaric grenade, a sort of pressurized gas bomb that can knock out multiple people at once.
Finally, one of the most divisive changes to this adventure is the complete removal of the Chaos morality system. The judgment system that would grant a good or bad ending based on how compassionate or bloodthirsty you were has been dropped, the ending now based on how you handle the final confrontation with The Outsider and The Eyeless. It’s a change that works in this particular adventure given Billie’s cutthroat history and the entire plot basically boiling down to unraveling the Black Magic Illuminati. Plus it allows an absolute freedom of play style since the game won’t judge you. But I hope this isn’t a direction the series takes going into the future.
Lighter But Dark Enough
Which does lead in to some of the problems that Dishonored: Death of the Outsider can’t fully shake as an expansion pack. While locations are relatively small, there are only about two major areas you explore to any major extent. There’s also a lot of asset recycling going on with one map used for two missions in a row, and one being a reskinned location from Dishonored 2.
This isn’t to discredit the missions themselves, some are the best in the series. A high point is an elaborate bank heist packed to the brim with security hoops to jump through and terrifying enemies to cut down, but their distinct quality makes the familiarity of the journey to those set pieces more apparent.
Also, despite all of the build up of the long-term ramifications of this secretive order, The Eyeless’ overarching goal isn’t fully defined and their presence is minor until the very end. The final mission is particularly taxing, introducing a new enemy type of The Enlightened, a mystical golem that can cut through any supernatural power used against it, but otherwise the members of the order just feel like weak retreads of Delilah’s coven from The Brigmore Witches DLC.
What little complaints I have about Dishonored: Death of the Outsider are minor and simply amount to me wanting more. But Arkane’s philosophy has always been of quality of content over run time, and it shows on every little street corner and person in the world of Karnaca.
It’s a great continuation of the series that addressed the shortcomings of the last game and took advantage of it being something supplementary to a larger experience. Simpler but more versatile powers, a more open-ended approach to seeking objectives, characters with understandable motivations and emotional stakes, and a more downplayed moral choice system lead to an experience that’s easier to pick up but more rewarding the deeper you go.