Wot I Think – Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

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Me: someone who believes that gothbro apparent trickster god The Outsider is the worst thing that ever happened to the Dishonored games, and thus positively relishes the chance to kill the blighter.

Also me: someone who is absolutely determined to play Dishonored games without causing even a single fatality.

Hmm. Standalone expansion Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider [official site] makes life pretty tricky for me, then.

Death Of The Outsider is simultaneously Dishonored 2.5, a delayed sequel to Dishonored 1’s excellent Knife of Dunwall/The Brigmore Witches DLC and potentially/theoretically a conclusion to the series as a whole. Whether that last point is dependent on sales figures or creative impulses, we can’t say for sure, but if this is to be the end, it’s a good one.

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Death of the Outsider suits me in ways Dishonored 2 didn’t. It begins in Karnaca, the setting for the second game, but it’s a very different proposition both in terms of its story and its approach to stealth. The player character this time out is fallen assassin Billie Lurk, and we follow her through a mix of new and recycled environments as she first searches for her lost mentor (and returning Dishonored 1 antagonist) Daud, then attempts to put an end to The Outsider’s smug riddling and pernicious interference.

For whatever reason, I click more with this series whenever it’s focused on the world’s underbelly rather than the woes of betrayed high society types. It was tricky to empathise with members of a ruling class who oversaw a society that seemed perpetually to suffer. But it’s the change in pace that really works for me.

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Dishonored 2 had some fabulous moments, but at times it felt like work – the long road to gather runes and upgrades, to slowly become akin to the character I was by the close of the first Dishonored. DOTO grants effectively its entire power set right away, with subsequent upgrades focused on refining your aptitude at either stealth or combat. I also felt safe in the knowledge that the denouement is not too far away, although the game is long enough for you to stretch your legs – depending on your playstyle, you’re looking at anything between three (running and shooting) and ten (creeping and choking) hours of play.

For the record, I was towards the latter, because I’m one of those who feels compelled to stick his nose into every nook and cranny in addition to being determined not to take a life. I felt broadly satisfied with the length of this thing, but adrenaline junkies may feel short-changed. This has forever been the Dishonored problem, of course.

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The power set here is smaller and leaner, with really only three magical abilities on top of around half a dozen weapons and gadgets, and not too much that could be filed under Weird and Wonderful. By and large, that makes DOTO more cleanly a stealth and/or combat game rather than a sort of supernatural superhuman sim. Again, this suits my own tastes and needs and, if you so choose, brings this more in line with the stealth games of yore rather than leaning heavily on the fantastical.

Even the only truly new power here, Semblance, is effectively a magical variant on Hitman’s stolen disguises concept. You steal an NPC’s appearance with a spot of faceswap juju, which can be used to enter areas unquestioned, or in some cases complete objectives through conversation. The catch is that it only lasts a few seconds so you need to be highly tactical about using it. You can also play pranks on guards while also being a clever stealth-person, as in this video.

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It’s brilliantly tense, and in some cases the game is delightfully reactive to it, though the time limitations prevent the game from becoming the playground of identity theft it could and perhaps should have been, leaving Semblance as more of a throwaway toy rather than a doorway to brand new things. Perhaps if we ever get a Dishonored 3…

In any case, DOTO feels focused in a way that the previous game, for all its successes, did not. On the flip side, this means perhaps fewer gosh-wow moments and more getting on with the art of the steal, though it does boast what I would argue are the series’s most gorgeous cityscapes to date as well as a long’n’large centerpiece bank job that makes it impossible to argue that Dishonored is not the heir apparent to Thief.

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As well as its sheer size – and the glittering trophy of eventual access to its bus-sized central vault – the great joy of the bank is that you move repeatedly back and forth between its floors, bypassing security, uncovering secrets and each time accessing new rooms or encountering new challenges as you slowly, slowly peel back the layers of this loot-filled onion. In that, it’s like a capsule version of a System Shock or Arkane’s brilliant 2017 game, Prey.

That said, it’s not necessarily my favourite part of DOTO – the preceding level, made up of many extremely tall buildings, and with a greater focus on finding and deceiving NPCs, was stronger overall, and comes across like its own, condensed greatest hits of Dishonored. But Dishonored deserves, nay needs, a bank job, and I’m very glad to say it gets a good one. And this is the right place for it too: Corvo or Emily wouldn’t rob a bank, but Billie Lurk would. That’s who she is.

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Billie isn’t a royal on a revenge quest: she is a thief and an assassin, and this grimy, deadly place is her world in a way it was never truly Corvo or Emily’s. Unfortunately, though Billie’s voice actor Rosario Dawson nails the basic essence of hard-bitten strength and weariness, she doesn’t manage to imbue the character with any other traits in scenes that sorely need it. There are many monologues here, and the rather one-note performance meant I cared a little less than I felt the game wanted me to. But I was here for the heists more than I was for the story. Despite the joy of the level design, the story is central though, which makes this a pretty poor place to start if you’ve never played a Dishonored game before.

The first four chapters of series-traditional thievery and takedowns lead to a fifth which does indeed dictate the fate of The Outsider, the whiny-voiced dark god who has been both assistant and foil to other Dishonored protagonists, and the worship of whom has been at least partly responsible for many of the land’s various miseries. I will not spoil what happens, despite the game’s title apparently doing so, but there are choices to be made.

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I know The Outsider has his enthusiasts, but I’ve never much enjoyed either his sub-G-Man, walking deus ex machina status in a game that’s essentially about figuring out my own solutions, or his preening, says-everything-without-saying-anything characterisation. To DOTO’s credit, it builds on Dishonored 2’s attempts to provide justification for why he comes across like a sneery teen, as well as raising doubts about whether killing him is at all morally justified.

I don’t think it quite succeeds at this, mostly because too much is withheld for the closing scenes of the game, but my feelings were a whole lot less clear-cut coming out of DOTO than they were going in. On the other hand, and being as careful as I can to avoid spoilers here, if you’ve never liked him and nothing that goes down in DOTO changes your mind, the game will still work to satisfy you.

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As to whether this is a fitting (if hopefully temporary) goodbye to Dishonored as well as the Outsider, I would say yes, though with some hesitation. I don’t think the last level is as weird or inventive as it needed to be, and its relative straightforwardness washed away the more awe-struck feelings of scale, possibility and beauty I’d got from the game’s middle straight. It’s a shorter tale full of high-points, and wraps up lingering storylines while also leaving the door open for further adventures in the world of Dunwall, Karnaca and beyond.

From here, the future of Dishonored isn’t clear, but if these were indeed my last days with the series, I’m glad and grateful they were spent playing a solid, focused stealth adventure set in a sometimes incomparably beautiful place.

Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider is available now for Windows PC, via Steam, for €30/£30/£20.

30 Comments

  1. jeremyalexander says:

    I would love to see this world fully realized as a seamless open world rpg that incorporates the islands shown on the in game maps and globes. I think it would achieve a much larger audience and being such a deep and rich world, it would likely just grow with time, especially with full modding tools as with Bethesda Studio’s core games.

    • blur says:

      It’d be Blades in the Dark: The Video Game. And I’d drool over it.

      For info on Blades, see cheery RPS companion-zine Shut Up and Sit Down.

      link to shutupandsitdown.com

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Dishonored 1/2 and each game’s DLC are among my top-10 or 15 favorite games of all time, and I would have no interest whatsoever in playing an open world version. The series biggest strength is probably the level design, and all that bigger maps would do is dilute that.

      Has there ever been a game with great, focused levels and a sequel with an open world where the latter wasn’t severely disappointing? Thief 1/2 and Mirror’s Edge are among my favorite games ever, and Thief 3/4 and ME:Catalyst are maybe the most disappointing things I’ve ever played.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        I could see a Dishonored game like that working as a supplement to the main series, but I definitely wouldn’t want the franchise to take that direction as a whole.

        Metal Gear Solid V and even Shadow of Mordor show how stealth action can work well in an open world. I’d be OK with trying it in a Dishonored game (just don’t waste Arkane’s time with it, give it to someone else).

        I like the setting enough that exploring it on a large scale sounds interesting.

      • KenTWOu says:

        I don’t get it. Thief 3/4 were hub based games like Deus Ex or Dishonored. And Thief 4 is not a good example, because it went through development hell. And Thief 3 was/is a really great game, which certainly wasn’t harmed by its own structure.

      • CaptainDju says:

        I fully agree with you, I never liked the open world games Bethesda produced recently (e.g. Elder Scrolls and Fallout) it’s just not my thing, and I feel such a game wouldn’t work well with the gameplay and the way the Dishonored levels have been designed.

        This being said, I also think they could use the setting, lore and artistic direction to create a fabulous open world game, it’d just not be for me :-)

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      It can be argued that pretty much any game would achieve a much larger audience as a seamless open-world RPG with an extensive and well-supported set of modding tools.

    • eljueta says:

      I think it would be great as a book. An open world RPG would make everything into sidequests. But then again I’m openworldaphobic.

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  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Sounds like it focuses on the series’ strengths. That’s good to hear.

  3. foszae says:

    I would so love to see something like the Dishonored series without all the supernatural mumbo-jumbo. Steampunk stealth is such a great genre, it just needs to really embrace its setting without resorting to the creatively cheap cop-out of magic powers to make the gameplay work.

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      In Dishonored 2 you can refuse the powers for yourself.

      Some enemies still have them though, so that might not be good enough.

      In any case you always have the option of just not using them for the most part.

    • Jollyrogers says:

      If you haven’t yet, do give Thief: The Dark Project and Thief: The Metal Age a shot. It might be exactly what you are looking for. (And don’t let the old graphics dissuade you – it holds up very well today).

  4. Jason Moyer says:

    “between three (running and shooting) and ten (creeping and choking) hours of play”

    AFAIK there are 5 missions, and it took me 11 to get to the end of the third. I suppose playing without the cheats (awareness and objective markers) and having to use the maps makes it last a little longer.

    I think calling semblance the only new ability is kinda short-changing the game somewhat. The way the new versions of blink and dark vision combine is pretty amazing, the two more obvious instances being the ability to use time-stopping dark vision to get around a fence or transparent window/door (whether by going through a guarded area, over a fence, or through a rat tunnel) to set a marker and then being able to teleport to that marker, or using the bonecharm that lets you set multiple markers to quickly traverse an area full of guards before they know you’re there. The latter was especially useful in a certain plaza full of hounds and guards, once to fulfill a contract that required pickpocketing a specific item from a specific guard with no one noticing (set one marker along his patrol and another back where I started, letting me teleport/pickpocket/teleport back in one swoop) and then traversing the area by setting a marker on top of the plaza’s statue (where you’d be highly visible) and then another on the opposite side of the plaza so I could near-instantly travel a long distance.

    • Snidesworth says:

      It took me about 11 hours as well, and I agree that Displace and Foresight aren’t just reskins of Blink and Dark Vision. Billie’s whole power set leans much more towards planning then executing. There’s nothing in there that works particularly well in a fight, and there’s nothing that allows you to handle a whole swarm of guards like you could with Time Stop/Mesmerise.

      I really want to sing the praise of Foresight though. I hate Dark Vision and all the other Detective Mode abilities you find in games. It sticks an ugly filter over the game, but it highlights so much important stuff that you’ll find yourself playing with it on. Foresight stops time and lets you fly around, observing what’s ahead and only allowing you to mark a few people or objects before you snap back to your body and execute whatever plan you made. The ability to place your Displace marker while using it is a nice touch as well.

  5. napoleonic says:

    I’ve never understood why some people don’t like the Outsider. I’ve not played 2 yet, but he was my favourite character in Dishonored.

    • Snidesworth says:

      He has a new voice actor and demeanour in Dishonored 2. In D1 he was more languid and dispassionate. While he’s not reversed direction in D2 he doesn’t feel quite the same. This might also be a consequence of D2 (and DOTO) dealing with his origins and exact nature, whereas before he was just an observer who empowered the underdog and waited to see to what extent they’d abuse their new power.

      • napoleonic says:

        So, did the new Outsider voice actor spoil the role or something?

        • Chris S says:

          The quality of the writing (for the prequel). Very juvenile, I’m not sure what happened as the other characters were strong.

          For the second, I have no idea. It was slightly more emo, but otherwise the exact same.

          Perhaps just people wanting to appear different or discerning.

  6. Crusoe says:

    Finished DOTO today. It was excellent. Familiar enough and different enough.

    I played stealth creeper, hard difficulty, making sure to completely loot every room, back alley and corner, rob every black market, and collect (almost) every bonecharm. It took me 12 hours.

    Without spoiling anything, I also want to point out that the powers and bonecharm focused character building fits very well with Billie Lurk as a character as a whole. There’s a bonecharm you start the game with that I found especially fitting, even charming. It’s a fantastic little narrative and ‘hint’ device. And given a little thought, it reverses the way you feel about one of the original games major players.

    Sorry to be a little cryptic at the end there, but I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone.

  7. Mouse_of_Dunwall says:

    Dishonored is my favorite series of games, and Daud and Billie are two of my favorite characters, so I was really excited for this game. I finished it yesterday, and really enjoyed it overall. I think I liked it a bit more than Dishonored 2.

    The bank mission was one of the best levels in the series.

  8. RosalietheDog says:

    I have not finished the game yet, but it’s already clear this is a very good addition to the series. I especially like Billie. The character invites a more aggressive playstyle. The guards and soldiers you encounter in Dishonored were the personnel of the Empress and the Lord Protector, deceived by a coup. It therefore felt awkward to kill them playing as Emily or Corvo. (It was also weird story-wise that in D2, there were no loyalists whatsoever, except for Billie and Sokholov.)

    Whereas with Billie, I try to play stealthily. But if a guard happens to surprise her or if she’s impatient, she won’t hesitate to kill. The military is just a part of the oppressive apparatus for her. The civilians are also rarely likeable … The new displace mechanism also suits this playstyle. Before you wade into a combat situation, you can more easily plan an escape route.

    Finally, the game is truly gorgeous. The attention to detail is stunning. Add to that the wonderful mobility of your character, the beautiful animations of your own character (those hands, the head bobbing) and of your enemies, and the world really comes to feel “fleshy” and solid. There is nothing like it.

    • Blastaz says:

      Yeah, I wonder where the rp motivation to play stealthily/non-lethally comes from – other than thief of course.

      In theif it makes a lot of sense. But in other games, modern deus ex and dishonoured, I don’t get it.

      In D1 you were a noble warrior betrayed and out to revenge the murder of your lover. Maybe you had a little sympathy for the beat bobbies but there were an awful lot of people you didn’t care about and I doubt Corvo would be particularly squeamish about people who got in the way… I felt my enjoyment was limited through thinking I should play non-violent which greatly restricted my tool/toy box.

      Likewise in HR you are recovering from massive physical and mental trauma and people are actively hunting and trying to kill you. I played mostly non lethal but when I got to Singapore and met some of the enemy scientists all those civilians died, likewise Montreal when they lure you into the trap.

      The mechanical expectation of the “ghandi” path (more xp, chaos mechanic in D1) seems like an interesting inversion of the typical ludo-narrative dissonance.

  9. Jollyrogers says:

    The Bank mission absolutely did scream “First City Bank and Trust” from Thief: Metal Age. What a fabulous mission. And I did quite enjoy the final areas. That new enemy type is unsettling. I always did like when Thief/Dishonored veered into the “strange creatures” vibe.

  10. ColonelFlanders says:

    So I’m guessing it doesn’t run like cold ass like D2 did? I may consider buying it if it’s actually a decent port

  11. Monggerel says:

    Gotta admit, I kinda wish you’d play as Daud in this one, too. Or get the choice between him and Billie Lurk. They and Sokolov are the only characters I actually liked in Dishonored, and I thought Michael Madsen did a great turn as the voice of Daud.
    Kinda makes sense when I think about. One’s an aging, jaded washout who spent way too long playing at being an assassin, and the other’s the Knife of Dunwall – there’s some role familiarity, is all.
    Meanwhile, I liked Billie in Dishonored 2, but thought Rosario Dawson’s performance would have been improved if she was a bit more… edgy? Mordant? Talked like she means to bite? I dunno.

    Ir-regardless of all that, glad to hear the goodbye from Dishonored is a high water mark. Second star to the right and straight on till morning, space cowboy.

    • Chris S says:

      She hadn’t rehearsed her lines. It sounded like she was reading them cold. I do not know why they didn’t demand she do them again.

      Also cannot understand why they aren’t employing scriptwriters for these games, when they are paying for Hollywood talent? Friggen Susan Sarandon as Granny Rags, and they’ve got level designers or an owner writing the script.

      They managed to do a good job for the first one (with the exception of the outsider), but the second was a mess in concept and execution.. this isn’t much better.

      Sequels must be hard as you are written into a corner. The choice of Delilah as an agonist was foolish as it wrote you into another corner still, and the characterisation of her was someone worthy of compassion.

      I don’t think it’s much of a high water mark. The 2nd mission was good. The bank mission would have been good, but you got to knock out everyone prior to entering, which destroyed all challenge in the mission. Just bizarre. Maybe because it would be extremely difficult to sneak perhaps.

      Much like the internal parts of mission two, which didn’t bother to give you height for sneaking. I think they made a deliberate decision to encourage people to hack and slash, and signalled this in their PR.

      The reuse of Royal Observatory was just lazy, not only that the level itself was divided off and notably worse. The last level was linear and not great. I think they ran out of money and time, or it wasn’t budgeted for to begin with.

      D2 was a commercial dissapointment apparently, and the refocus represents a loss of confidence in their game design. They need to try a new setting, but they may end up changing the design of their next game significantly.

      It appears a mistake, as the poor sales on PC at least would have been due to technical issues.

      Moreso, the rubbish story takes away the narrative compulsion. The general state of game criticism will be unable to recognise this, so I’m not sure they will receive accurate feedback on the issue. Their review scores will go up 10% with a strong narrative.

      The low/high chaos thing was dissonant, but it is interesting and worthwhile. It’s a mistake to discard it, although I think it would have been a cost issue here.

      They simply need to rejig so it’s not particularly moral, and have the outcomes be less or more chaotic, but also satisfying. They can put in good and bad choices as well if they want.

  12. disinteger says:

    One thing I found myself enjoying that I didn’t think I would were the limited powers and how well they worked with each other. I wouldn’t mind seeing a tightened version of powers and upgrades similar to DOTO in Dishonored 3, surprisingly.

    And recharging mana was also definitely the right decision. That needs to make a comeback.

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