A quick flick back in the diary shows that Dishonored 2 released back in November 2016; a contentious date for any title looking to snag Game of the Year honors, and yet in the eyes of many, Arkane’s Dishonored sequel managed to do just that. Indeed, in our very own review of Dishonored 2, we praised its fantastic level design, tremendous sense of place and the fact that it was better than the first Dishonored in every way.
Less than a year later it seems almost inconceivable that we would get another great Dishonored title, and yet with Death of the Outsider; a slender, yet accomplished expansion of everything that made Dishonored 2 so fantastic in the first place, developer Arkane has almost managed to deliver just that.
A new protagonist with new powers and a new attitude
The story behind Death of the Outsider, as hinted at none too subtly by its title, is that as Billie Lurk, the one time confidant of Empress Emily Kaldwin and prized pupil of the assassin Daud, she must murder the supernatural Outsider; a deity that has long believed to be the source of humanity’s corruption (not to mention the benefactor of the supernatural powers that folk such as Corvo, Daud and Emily all seem to possess).
As was the case with the first two Dishonored games, Death of the Outside prides itself on giving the player a series of objectives and then leaving it up to them to forge their own path to those goals by using a combination of their powers, the environment and of course, a king-sized dollop of their own ingenuity. To say that this freewheeling approach to mission design remains alive and well in Death of the Outsider would be something of an understatement. If anything, such an approach feels newly emboldened, not least because of the new abilities that Billie Lurk possesses over her predecessors in Corvo Attano and Emily Kaldwin respectively.
Of the fresh powers available to the player, the new ‘Displace’ skill functions much akin to the Blink and Teleportation abilities that Dishonoured players will already be accustomed to. Though that said, it does have a rather savage wrinkle to it in that should Billie teleport to a spot inhabited by another individual, that person will explode into a shower of meaty corpse chunks in short order. Less gruesome, but no less interesting is Billie Lurk’s ability to converse with rats. Yep, rather than killing or devouring the little critters for health, Lurk can instead listen in to their chatter and gain valuable clues about everything from hidden caches of loot, to the location of a particular individual or even kick off a whole new side quest for players to embark on.
Elsewhere, the new Void Strike allows Billie to repel enemies that are close to her with devastating force, while the much more intriguing ‘Semblance’ enables the player to steal the face of their chosen victim (the ability doesn’t kill the host, it just incapacitates them), and use their newly acquired identity to trick their way into areas that would otherwise prove inaccessible. Finally, Foresight reveals itself as being perhaps the most useful of the quartet of new abilities, since it enables Billie to freeze time, detaching from her physical form and float about the place as a ghost. The benefits of this are clear, as it allows the player to scout the level, placing markers on points of interest such as hidden ability boosting bone charms and the like without risking Billie’s neck in the process.
Quite unlike either of the Dishonored games before it, Death of the Outsider not only has all of these powers unlocked from the start, but it has also done away with the need to guzzle down mana potions, since the precious blue substance now automatically regenerates over time. The result of this is that players can now jump straight into the game without the need to build themselves up to a badass version of Billie Lurk because quite simply, she’s already a badass from square one.
Rounding out the arsenal of Billie Lurk is a new weapon, the Hook Mine, which can be placed on any surface and has togglable lethal and nonlethal states. In the latter, the mine will pull the intended target toward it and detonate with a concussive blast which knocks them out. Switch to the lethal setting however, and the mine instead wrenches its quarry into a literal gut-wrenching explosion which tears them clean in half. Nice.
Sat atop Billie Lurk’s array of new powers and gadgets, is the fact that she is no longer governed by the Chaos system that framed the story and character progression in both Dishonored and Dishonored 2. Indeed, free of the moral and ethical shackles of the Chaos system, Death of the Outsider lets players run amok (or not), without the fear of the game penalizing them in one way or the other.
This makes sense from a narrative perspective since Lurk, much like her mentor Daud, are individuals that lurk (excuse the pun) very much on the fringe of society and are not burdened with the concern of how their actions might affect the general populace. The problem with getting rid of the Chaos system and not instituting any sort of replacement however, is that there are no longer any real consequences to playing through the game one way or the other; a sad fact which also serves to exacerbate Death of the Outsider’s already modest duration.
Where Death of the Outsider pulls things back though, is in the excellent performance that actress Rosario Dawson delivers as Billie Lurk. Truly, it would have been all too easy to make Lurk appear as the stoic assassin archetype; essentially a gender swapped Corvo Attano, and yet Dawson’s performance ensures that the character escapes from the temptation of playing to such clichés, instead providing Lurk with a smattering of acerbic rebukes and biting witticisms that serve to set her apart from the heroes that have come before.
A much smaller, more compact Dishonored
Essentially a standalone expansion to Dishonored 2, complete with budget price point to match, the breadth of Death of the Outsider’s offering is pretty much what one might expect. Coming in at between six and ten hours for a single playthrough across its five missions, that is a figure that will inflate or deflate depending on how long you spend savouring every nook and cranny of the game’s five levels.
Each and every area in the Dishonored games have all felt like lived-in and organically habitable spaces, rather than action and exploration assault courses whose existence to serve only the player feels both flimsy and contrived, and in this sense, Death of the Outsider is no different. Betwixt the ornate finery of its grand interiors and the familiar grim sprawl of its outdoor locations, Death of the Outsider knows well the sizable strides which Dishonored 2 made over its predecessor in terms of crafting evocative realms that just beg to be explored.
Nonetheless, as robust as the majority of its design is, Death of the Outsider cannot lay claim to having the best levels in the series, as nothing in the game can be considered superior to either the intricate sneak-space design of The Golden Cat from the first game, or the mind-bogglingly modular design beats of Dishonored 2’s Clockwork Mansion. Granted, the higher class urban sprawl of Upper Cyria District comes close to the series previous highs in this regard, boasting an extravagant urban sprawl that takes in all sorts of sun-bleached piers, high rise apartments, VIP clubs, eclectic shops and much more besides.
As it is however, Death of the Outsider’s selection of levels prove to be unevenly curated, with one level that simply takes the Royal Conservatory level from Dishonored 2 but casts it in a different time of day, while another area is actually used twice and feels a touch lazy as a result; leaving the player with only really three truly fresh levels to explore in the end.
Making up for this somewhat are the optional Contract missions which Billie can accept at the black markets dotted throughout the game. Effectively side missions in all but name, these additional quests not only provide our protagonist with extra cash to spend on upgrades, but are also entertaining in their own right; ranging from abducting a barkeep and burying him in someone’s garden, to assassinating a pair of scammers who are attempting to rip off a local bank.
Padding out the offering yet further, is that once the game has been completed, an Original Game Plus mode becomes available that allows players to go through it all again, but with all of the powers that were featured in Dishonored 2. Disappointingly however, such an inclusion feels more like an afterthought as it doesn’t really add anything to Death of the Outsider and feels more like functional tokenism than anything else.
At even the most basic, reductive level, the argument for Death of the Outsider’s existence is compelling; the game is basically more of Dishonored 2 with extra bits on top.
Ultimately, Death of the Outsider feels an appropriate closer to Dishonored in the form that we currently know it, and while any potential threequel will likely, hopefully, be meaningfully different from its predecessors, a third core entry in the franchise would be remiss if it did not take and build upon some of the impressive innovations that have been wrought in Death of the Outsider.
That said it’s clear that not all of the design decisions made in Death of the Outsider are to the series benefit and in particular, both the removal of the Chaos system and the lower quality level design both serve to detract from the game overall. All the same, those who are hankering to lose themselves once more in Arkane’s grim world of supernatural assassins, Bloodfly infested corpses and urban squalor, will find much to love here.