For many fans of the series, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider might be a hard sell. The Outsider has long been a fan-favourite character in the franchise, after all, and many players might have difficulty building any kind of animosity towards him. Certainly, he has always been an ambiguous character (a death god whose worshipers include many of Dishonored’s antagonists), but, without him, neither Corvo Attano nor Empress Emily Kauldwin would have any powers to wreak vengeance on those who have wronged them. Furthermore, the central premise behind the game is that players will do the Dishonored equivalent of punching out God. While that task might be considered sensible in God of War, Dishonored has always been more grounded and far less ambitious in the choice of targets.
However, not only does Dishonored: Death of the Outsider sell its premise, but the stand-alone expansion is arguably the best entry in the franchise. Given that Dishonored 2 came out less than a year ago, Arkane Studios has made an astounding number of improvements to the gameplay, streamlining the upgrade system, giving players a huge amount of freedom right from the start, and even shaking up the chaos system with the introduction of contracts. The character work might not be the best and, given the game is a stand-alone expansion, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a little short, but nonetheless a complete, improved product and a fine way to end the first chapter of the series.
Previous games included a chaos system that would alter the ending and the world of the game depending on whether the player knocked out or killed the majority of enemies they encountered. Players were discouraged from enjoying either lethal or non-lethal interactions, so half the experience of the game was denied in any single playthrough. Removing this system in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider has proven to be a great decision, giving players the freedom to knock out or slaughter everyone they come across without any significant narrative consequences.
The clever addition of contracts (ie. quests given to Billie Lurk by civilians in exchange for coin) enhances the new freedom the player experiences, giving them a reason to be as pacifistic or brutal as they desire. Along with having some engaging mini-narratives (in particular the “Alvaro and the Abbey” contract, which complimented the narrative of the third mission), these contracts are cleverly used to encourage different play styles in certain missions. For instance, players will have contracts that require them to complete a mission without harming anyone or even being detected. The next will have a contract that requires players to kill absolutely everyone for a high chaos playthrough. Players will have to acclimatise to different play styles mission by mission, constantly learning as they play, which is a terrific experience in game.
As OnlySP previously reported, the game only has four powers (Displace, Foresight, Semblance, and Rat Whispers) and Arkane Studios has made a smart move in having them fully available after the initial tutorial mission. Previous games required the collection of runes to upgrade powers, and Dishonored 2 intentionally had a rune scarcity, so players had to carefully choose which powers to upgrade (if any). Therefore, several playthroughs were required to experience all the abilities the game had to offer. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider refreshingly throws all that out, allowing every power to be enjoyed during a single playthrough.
Furthermore, having four powers available right from the start does not make Billie feel overpowered. Despite being functionally impressive, Billie’s powers will not come naturally to players, although that is far from a drawback. Even dedicated fans of the franchise might take an hour or two to become comfortable and familiar with the new powers and will likely feel out of their depth during those initial stages. Additionally, as mentioned above, the contracts encourage players to tackle each new mission in an entirely different way, meaning they have to adjust their approach as they go. However, the charm of the Dishonored series has always been that gameplay does not stay that way; players face complex problems and the game trusts they will solve them, even if they die several times doing so. The same is true of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, only with challenges entirely unique to this entry.
For many people, the central plot thread of the game could be figured out with a cursory look at the title. Billie Lurk is the assassin tasked with taking the life of the eponymous Outsider, and carries her own wounds, mental and physical, resulting from events within Dishonored 2. The lack of connection— Billie does not have any direct interaction with the Outsider before being paid to kill him—hinders the narrative, even though the interactions between Billie and the Outsider make for some great cut-scenes. To a certain degree, the writers successfully make a villain of the Outsider as the story progresses and the lore does a great job of making his death feel inevitable and, to some degree, destined. The build-up towards the end seems to suggest that Billie’s decision to kill or spare the Outsider could lead to a profound change to both her character and the mythology of the Dishonored universe, but, sadly, the narrative never quite takes that final leap to make Billie something else. As a result, she seems like a protagonist capable of taking care of herself, but her goal in this game is to finish Daud’s story, not her own. As Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is the first game with a single female protagonist, the narrative disconnect feels like a missed opportunity for what could have been an even more extraordinary conclusion.
Another regrettable aspect is that the game is short, coming in at about 10 hours playtime. However, Dishonored 2 came out less than a year ago and, considering the huge changes to gameplay, the developers have gone beyond what could be expected of them for this DLC. However, the game supplements the story’s brevity with additional content, including an Original+ mode, which provides the opportunity to replay the campaign with three powers from Dishonored 2 and, as always, players can make different choices to subtly alter the narrative. However, replaying the game is not the same as ten hours of original gameplay.
Considering that co-creator Harvey Smith has said that the Dishonored franchise might branch out to different time periods, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider will make fans excited for what comes next. Combing the gameplay improvements of this game with the elaborate set pieces (e.g. The Clockwork Mansion and A Crack in the Slab) and stronger story of Dishonored 2 would make for an astounding new game. The Dishonored series is arguably the best assassin-focused franchise of the past decade and if Arkane Studios desired to make a game with mechanics that more closely resembled Dishonored 2, fans would undoubtedly have bought and enjoyed such a game. The fact that the developers put so much consideration and effort into making a game that improves on the weaknesses of their previous titles is a testament to the strength of Arkane Studios and this landmark franchise.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.