Join your former mentor on a mission to kill a god.
PC Release: September 15, 2017
By Ian Coppock
The standalone expansion is back in vogue, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In an age when devs hack pieces out of their own games to sell separately and studios launch their titles with hundreds of dollars’ worth of skins (*cough*Evolve*cough*), a more substantial piece of additional content is a welcome change. Bethesda seems intent on leading the expansion pack charge, first with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood in 2015 and now with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a standalone title that started out as a piece of DLC for last year’s Dishonored 2. Plans changed when Dinga Bakaba, Dishonored 2‘s lead designer, advocated for making Death of the Outsider its own title instead of an add-on. That decision proved to be a good idea because it gave Death of the Outsider the chance to foster its own identity that’s independent of Dishonored 2.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is also meant to serve as the end to the “Kaldwin era” of Dishonored titles, wrapping up the Dishonored world’s current plot threads and character arcs. According to industry scuttlebutt, if Arkane elects to make more Dishonored games, they’ll feature new characters and storylines. Death of the Outsider is thus intended to be an encore, a final hurrah of the Corvo Attano/Emily Kaldwin arc (even though neither of those characters feature in this title).
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider takes place a few months after the end of Dishonored 2 and stars Billie Lurk, former assassin-turned-boat captain. Having helped Emily/Corvo on their journey in Dishonored 2, Billie turns her attention to finding her old mentor Daud, the guy who killed the Empress in the original Dishonored. Daud hasn’t been heard from in over 15 years, but Billie has it on good authority that he’s in Karnaca, the one and same city Dishonored 2 took place in.
Sure enough, Billie finds Daud in the city’s least reputable corner and watches him use the same awe-inspiring powers he wielded in Dishonored. It turns out that Daud has been out and about studying the Empire of the Isles on a deeply personal mission, one that he needs Billie to help him execute. Daud’s noticed that a lot of the bad stuff that goes down in the world of Dishonored is due in no small part to the Outsider, and makes Billie a bold proposal: kill him.
Wait, the Outsider? That black-eyed supernatural entity who floats around in the void, bestowing terrible and amazing powers upon whomever he sees fit? The guy who can see into the past, present, and future? The kid who’s basically a god? Yep, that Outsider. Billie is rightfully skeptical that it’s possible to kill him, but Daud thinks that he’s found a way to do so deep in Karnaca. Billie decides that she’s willing to risk her life to see the Outsider gone, and picks up her old assassination tools for one last job.
Like previous Dishonored titles, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a first-person game that emphasizes stealth and subterfuge. Even though Billie’s out to end his life, the Outsider decides to give her her own set of deadly powers to use. Players rely on a combination of skill with a knife and supernatural abilities to navigate levels and complete objectives. Usually those objectives involve ending the life of some heavily guarded fat cat, but Billie can perform other missions too.
Unlike previous Dishonored titles, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider gives players all the powers, all at once. Billie is given a small but potent set of abilities that are all fully upgraded and ready to use from the get-go. These include a Blink-like ability called Displace as well as a much more novel power that allows her to assume the guise of any unconscious NPC (for a limited time). Players can also use a magical scout wisp to scope out the area ahead.
Death of the Outsider also features an even more far-reaching formula shakeup than immediate power: removal of the chaos system. The endings of previous Dishonored games were affected by how many NPCs the player murdered; no such penalty system exists in Death of the Outsider. Players are thus free to sneak or kill as they see fit. Billie’s story gets the same ending no matter whether she sneaks past everyone or leaves a trail of corpses.
Both of these fundamental changes to the Dishonored formula are quite refreshing. Getting all of the powers at once conveys the fun of the new game plus mode onto Death of the Outsider, which doesn’t feel all that out of place considering that this is an expansion to Dishonored 2. The design change gives players as much freedom as possible to traverse maps and kill enemies, and emboldens them to experiment with different abilities. What’s more, Billie’s mana recharges over time instead of relying upon elixers, so magic away.
Additionally, it’s nice to see an end to the chaos system. Sure, it served as a way for players to challenge themselves and make as little noise as possible, but a game about assassination shouldn’t give players an adverse narrative because they, well, assassinate people. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider recognizes this and makes the narrative and gameplay two separate entities. Some might say that the chaos system’s removal negates the player’s impact on the story, but Billie is still doing plenty of story-moving stuff.
Another refreshing departure that Death of the Outsider marks from Dishonored 2 is that it actually runs well. Even though almost none of the big-budget titles that released last fall ran well on PC, Dishonored 2‘s PC performance was particularly dishonorable. Between the crashing, the stuttering, and the FOV bugs, there weren’t many facet of Dishonored 2‘s performance that didn’t need patching. Luckily, Death of the Outsider runs just fine. Arkane managed to sidestep all of the performance issues plaguing Dishonored 2 and Death of the Outsider is much, much better for it.
Additionally, players who do experience performance issues while running Death of the Outsider should check out its comprehensive options menu. The menu allows players to adjust virtually everything about the game from key bindings on up to visual effects like shadows. The result is a title that, even if by chance it doesn’t run well the first time, actually allows players to try to remedy issues. Props to Arkane for including an in-depth options menu.
Death of the Outsider‘s decent system performance does more than make the game playable; it also makes it more beautiful. Dishonored 2‘s rendition of Karnaca was always marred by the poor performance, but players can now experience the city in all its proper glory. Karnaca espouses beautiful Greco-Roman architecture and bright colors, giving players no shortage of things to gawk at even as they’re slitting throats and stealing purses. Objects are well-placed and the game’s Void Engine-powered textures are sharp as ever.
Death of the Outsider also benefits from more varied level design than past Dishonored games, sending Billie through the customary multi-leveled city streets as well as more constricting spaces like caverns. Levels in Death of the Outsider are sizable, and though their design isn’t all that different from past Dishonored games, there’s still lots to find. Death of the Outsider also adds a contract system in which players can complete side jobs for extra coin. Just take care to read the job postings carefully.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider succeeds in creating the series’s most fun gameplay experience to date, but the same can’t be said of the story. The narrative sounds like compelling stuff at face value: find a way to kill a god and bring an end to an era of Dishonored. The problem with Death of the Outsider‘s narrative lies not in its jaw-dropping backstory nor its lore, but in how breakneck of a pace this story is delivered at.
Worse still is the game’s ending, the most rushed and anticlimactic of any Dishonored narrative. It’s difficult to elaborate without spoiling, but suffice it to say that the ending does not befit the premise of setting out to kill the Outsider. The narrative just quickly peters out with a vague epithet about the future and leaves it at that. It’s not quite Mass Effect 3-levels of abrupt, but that example’s mere usage is not a good sign for Death of the Outsider‘s ending.
Luckily, Death of the Outsider saves its story’s mediocrity from seeping into the gameplay by keeping the two untethered, resulting in a title that has the series’s most meh story but also its most fun gameplay. It’s a shrewd use of the expansion format, as Arkane was able to shed the mediocrity of Dishonored 2 and still have enough elbow room to try new things. Death of the Outsider is the Dishonored saga’s gameplay at its purest, giving players the most freedom of any Dishonored game to sneak and to stab. Players who enjoy both of those kinds of gameplay should pick the title up, and series fans keen to see how the Kaldwin era ends should as well. Happy hunting.
You can buy Dishonored: Death of the Outsider here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.