Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Format Reviewed: PC
Provided By: Purchase by Reviewer
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider shows how a shift in theme can overhaul a game series’ design and quality. While focusing on redemption instead of revenge may seem like a small change in narrative, it completely reworks both how the player interacts with the world and its characters. Death of the Outsider may be the smallest of the Dishonored franchise, but it may be the best of them all.
This focus on redemption is shown primarily through the game’s protagonist, Billie Lurk. Unlike the previous Dishonored protagonists, Billie was not directly wronged by the main antagonist. Instead, her misfortune and dishonor comes from her own misdeeds, primarily in aiding the assassination of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and betraying her mentor Daud. While a lot of her character development was presented in Daud’s story and Dishonored 2, there is enough information that new players won’t feel lost in Billie’s adventure. Her focus on killing the Outsider doesn’t come from revenge or hate, but a sense of duty and the wish of her dying mentor.
Additionally, Billie actually has growth throughout her adventure. While Corvo and Emily only really changed in accordance to player actions, Billie focuses on taking responsibility for her deeds, regardless of player input. She struggles to decide whether to blame the Outsider for the chaos and violence in the world, or to accept that people with the Void’s power made a choice in their actions and misdeeds.
This decision drastically changes how each mission is structured. Instead of assassinating selected targets, you focus on stealing resources that will help you kill the Outsider. While nearly all of your main objectives revolve around neutralizing the Outsider, you’re not forced to harm anyone else. You still have the freedom to complete your objectives in whatever manner you see fit, as each mission is full of optional tasks and secrets.
What sets Death of the Outsider’s missions apart from previous Dishonored missions is how open each area feels. In the original Dishonored, missions were mostly linear, with branching paths creating a false sense of freedom. Dishonored 2 improves on this, giving players larger environments to explore, but both pale in comparison to Death of the Outsider’s open level design. Almost every mission contains multiple objectives that can completed in whatever order you see fit. Buildings and street ways hide useful secrets, from tools to bone charms. These buildings are interconnected in realistic ways, making you feel like you’re exploring an actual place, instead of a video game level.
Your powers from the Void will aid you in your adventure, but will also guide you towards stealth instead of combat. Foresight and Semblance focus on infiltration, while Displace is your standard teleport. While not destructive, these powers are essential in solving the problems thrown at you throughout your missions. Luckily, your powers rely on Void energy, which regenerates over time. The use of a regenerative source allowed me to experiment with all the powers while not being able to simply spam them.
Runes are also nowhere to be seen, with Billie gaining new powers after certain story events. For more subtle powers or greater customization, you must rely on bone charms and their passive powers. In the other Dishonored games, bone charms were rarely interesting or useful enough to warrant the search. Now, they contain some of the most useful powers such as a double jump, or reducing the wait time seen in Displace. Bone charms change how each mission is played and are nice rewards to careful exploration. It feels like Arkane Studio trimmed the useless fat and made each optional ability actually interesting to use.
While many of the added tools and abilities encourage a more stealthy play style, there is still plenty to enjoy for those who love violence and carnage. Combat is more challenging than before, with enemies willing to feint and attack you from all sides. For the first time in Dishonored’s history, I had to be truly careful with combat, as fighting against multiple enemies usually led me to my death. These enemies feel like puzzles to overcome, may it be through violence or stealth.
A few new tools will make your encounters with enemies a little easier. Non-lethal grenades allow players to handle groups of enemies without being detected, while hook-mines allow you to pick off patrolling guards. You still have access to your springrazer and crossbow bolts, but many of the new tools seen in Dishonored 2 are nowhere to be found. Again, it feels like Arkane is putting tighter focus on a few techniques, while giving the player multiple ways to use each one.
And your understanding of the levels and abilities will be tested, especially with the added Contracts. These optional objectives allow Billie to regress into her former criminal self through assassinating targets, stealing valuables, and kidnapping victims. Each Contract has the player explore and learn about the world around them. May it be kidnapping the bartender in an Eyeless bar or stealing bank information without being caught, these added objectives force the player to explore and think creatively.
For all the improvements in level design and narrative, it’s a shame the presentation didn’t face enough revisions. The voice acting is still monotone and jars with the improved writing. Important speeches are spoken in the same way as someone reading off a shopping list. It weakens emotional impact and is the biggest thing holding Death of the Outsider’s narrative back.
Dishonored’s painting-in-motion art style still suffers from being stunning at a distance, and muddy up close. While characters look distinct and emotional, the blurry textures really stand out in the watercolor backgrounds. I did run into occasional slowdown, but it happened rarely and never during intense gameplay.
Despite these issues in presentation, Death of the Outsider provides the best single player experience in the Dishonored series. By creating an engaging narrative that complements the new mission structure, Death of the Outsider builds a cohesive whole satisfies players. This may be one the best games I played in 2017. Death of the Outsider is the finale that Dishonored deserves.