You like dessert, right? Sure you do. And if you know you like dessert, surely you know what type is your favourite, yes? Think of that familiar comfort, and then imagine at what point it would become off-putting or even unpleasant to eat. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (DotO) is not the point where the pudding becomes a pain, but in devouring it readily, you get a sense that that feeling may be close at hand. It’s excellent in all the ways you would expect an expandalone title to be, but it also falls short in the minor ways you’d expect too. After all, it’s only been a year since we last had our cake. Dishonored 2 set a pretty high bar, but DotO sets itself apart just enough to make it worthwhile. And if you’re a fan of the lore, it pushes the direction of Dishonored’s world into a realm of exciting possibilities.
DotO, like the previous game, assumes the player made certain choices to establish its canon. Emily Kaldwin has reclaimed her place as Empress from Delilah Copperspoon and has begun her attempts at repairing the damage done during her exile. Set once again in Karnaca, players assume the role of Billie Lurk, the former right hand of Daud, the legendary ‘Knife of Dunwall.’ As we find her, Billie has tracked down her former master, who is being held captive by a group of occultists. When reunited, Billie is afeared to find that Daud has become frail, and worse still, has a worryingly bold plan to atone for his sins – to kill the God of death himself, the Outsider. Redemption and a need for justice underpin Billie’s motivations, in comparison to revenge driven quests of her mentor and the Kaldwins. The relationship between her and Daud is one of strained but bespoke affection and respect, and the path it takes kept me motivated through to the end. Characterisation in this series has come a long way from the first game and outclasses Arkane’s other release from this year, Prey, in every way.
While the main plot beats and pre-mission exposition is an improvement on previous games, missions and sidequests still have multiple outcomes that appeal to a variety of moral stances. As such, the details of the story are mostly yours to define, but most of your choices yet again boil down to ‘help’ or ‘stab’ options. But that’s OK, as Arkane’s wondrous world-building lore is present here once again too. Books, letters and journals will give you glimpses into the lives of Karnaca’s citizenry while overhearing the awkward mutterances of guards and nobles is worth more than a few chuckles. While all this can be said to be in line with fan expectations, the ending poses some BIG changes for this series, and I, one not particularly invested prior, am now more excited than ever before to see where it all goes.
The main draw of DotO and its forebears has always been in the mucking around with weapons and powers to meet mission objectives stealthily or aggressively. Billie’s arsenal of equipment is only mildly different from previous characters – crossbow bolts, grenades, mines (all with non-lethal counterparts) are all back, as well as rewiring tools for repurposing enemy equipment. Billie does get her hands on a new toy, a rather spiffy magic sword, early in the story, and it does add some variety by allowing players to send non-lethal energy blasts toward enemies in a pinch freely. Billie’s powers on the other hand, are more enticingly inventive.
‘Displaced’ is Billie’s traversal power, and is essentially the same as ‘Blink’ with one minor difference. Instead of travelling to a location instantly, a marker in the shape of Billie’s silhouette will appear in the desired location when used. Tap the power button once more, and you’ll teleport to the marker. This subtle change makes for interesting cat-and-mouse play with more powerful enemies, allowing you to lure your foes into areas underneath your marker, teleport upwards while luring them in the opposite direction, then rain death from above. ‘Semblance’ is like the possession power of old, but by way of Arya Stark – Billie can steal the faces of NPCs and wander about in their skin for a limited time, less so if she moves quickly. The big caveat is that the body of the person you’ve assumed is left behind, temporarily mutilated, and a liability to be discovered by onlookers. Lastly there’s ‘Observation,’ or as I like to call it, ‘the Ubisoft power.’ Activating this ability lets you float dispossessed around the map for a brief duration based on your distance from Billie’s body, allowing you to see items & enemies through walls and mark them. Another minor ability is being able to listen to the cryptic whisperings of rats, who often give subtle clues Billie can use to her advantage.
While only a trio of new abilities seems like a meagre offering compared to Dishonored’s usual skinner-box proceedings, a more relaxed approach to the series’ base mechanics adds plenty of leeways to make up for this. Mana elixirs have been done away with. Instead, the resource powering your magic abilities regenerates indefinitely. The previously mentioned magic sword gives players pursuing aggressive tactics a reliable fallback weapon for when the armoury of explosives and traps runs dry. The AI, however, is as sharp as ever, so the added looseness of the mana system often compensated for my clumsy fumbling when *trying* to sneak about. Giving me enough resources to use ‘Displace’ to escape quickly, then semblance to assume the form of an unaware bystander, and slink away to reform my approach. This made me feel more like an aloof stalker of the night, instead of a maladroit miscreant, and I was all the more grateful for it.
Levels in DotO are expectedly large, open, full of secrets, and begging to be explored through multiple playthroughs. A variety of environmental traps and seemingly innocuous tools populate levels, acting as puzzles of sorts for players to engage in creative means of murder. Dropping a profligate politician through a trapdoor or stuffing over-dressed cleric warriors into furnaces to produce jewellery are a couple of the opportunities to indulge your innermost murderous bastard. The game gives you a world to run amok in, in the way fans have come to expect – this is an entirely fleshed out Dishonored game, though its playtime clocks in at roughly 8 or so hours for a playthrough on normal difficulty if you’re not being to finicky about setting off alarms like me. The formula for the series’ sweetness is here, but with the bonus of being budget-priced. Moreover, once the game is finished, new game plus becomes available and allows the use of powers from Dishonored 2. Levels like one involving a bank heist beg to be experimented with, and I’m looking forward to seeing how my experience changes on my next playthrough.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a fully fleshed out follow-up to one of the best games of last year, and a damned steal with its budget pricing. The story is the series’ at its most personal, and for my money, most interesting, while the ending leaves the world hanging on a thread of intriguing possibilities. Get into it.