Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider is an expandalone for Dishonored 2 that came out towards the end of 2017. Given that Dishonored 2 and its sci-fi stablemate Prey are two of my favourite games of the last few years it’s possibly a little surprising that it’s taken me two years to get around to playing it; however they also came out within six months of each other and Death Of The Outsider looked like more of the same, so I decided to let it breathe for a few months and come back to it when I was ready. As it is now 2020 I appear to have gotten a little bit distracted between now and then, but that’s actually done Death Of The Outsider a considerable favour: it is, arguably, just more Dishonored, and if I’d played it so soon after Prey and Dishonored 2 I’d likely be much more critical of it. However, since both games underperformed it’s highly unlikely we’ll see more of either from Arkane in the near future. Death Of The Outsider is the last Dishonored thing we’ll be getting for some time, and if you view it through that lens it being more of the same is no bad thing at all.
As is now tradition for Dishonored DLC, Death Of The Outsider puts you in the shoes of a supporting character from the main game. This time around you’re playing ex-assassin Billie Lurk, who has gotten tired of spending most of Dishonored 2 masquerading as Emily/Corvo’s chauffeur and has gone off to find her mentor, the master assassin and previous series antagonist Daud. Both of them have the same gameplay-enabling eldritch powers as Emily and Corvo, and both got them from the same place: a magical brat called the Outsider, who is the closest thing the Dishonored setting has to a god. Daud and Billie are far more jaded about both the powers and the Outsider, though, to the point where Daud now sees the Outsider as responsible for everything bad that happened over the past two Dishonored games and has hatched a plan to kill him. Unfortunately he’s basically an OAP at this point, and so the bulk of the actual god-murdering legwork falls to you as Billie.
Death Of The Outsider is much smaller in scope than Dishonored 2: it’s just five levels (which translates to between 6 and 9 hours of playtime depending on how sneaky you’re being), and one of those is a short and mostly-linear tutorial where you rescue Daud from the gang that’s captured him. Arkane have also taken a hammer to your Outsider-derived superpowers; the hilarious Time Stop, Domino and Doppelganger abilities have all vanished1, and in their place are three powers that represent the bare minimum required for Death to feel like a Dishonored game:
- Displace, which is a medium range teleport power much like Corvo’s Blink. It differs in that your first click plops down a teleport marker at your location of choice, and your second click then teleports you to it. This gives you much more fine control over the timing of your teleport, as well as letting you telefrag unfortunate guards who happen to be walking through the marker at the same time as you teleport to it.
- Foresight, a pretty standard scouting and enemy-tagging power. Billie sends her spirit shooting out of her body, and it has the ability to both see through walls and pass through closed doors. Guards and objects of interest are highlighted, and up to four guards can be tagged so that they remain visible when you turn Foresight off.
- Semblance, which lets you disguise yourself as any NPC you’ve knocked out. Potentially useful for getting by areas with a high guard population, but also very costly in terms of mana and dogs aren’t fooled by the projection.
And that’s it. Given that two of these are just the same enemy tagging and disguise mechanics you can find in literally any game released in the last five years you’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe Arkane cut things down a little too far and that Death is in danger of feeling alarmingly lightweight. Instead, though, I found it proved that all Dishonored really needs is that mobility power; having absurd vertical and horizontal mobility is what enables the interesting level design and exploration that powers Dishonored, and Displace might just be the best version of it that Arkane have come up with, especially once you attach a few special effects via bonecharms that give it a bit more flexibility when you’re under pressure.
And because your magical toolkit is so limited you end up falling back on both the powers that you do have (both Foresight and Semblance got solid workouts where I might not have bothered with them otherwise) as well as your physical gadgets. Ever since the series started Dishonored has been constantly struggling with its gadgets, since most of them have lethal effects despite the game implicitly placing a higher value on a non-lethal approach by having this lead to an unambiguously better ending. If you want the “good” ending you can’t use springrazors, grenades, most of the crossbow bolts or even your sword, and have historically been relegated to choking guards out again and again. Thankfully Death Of The Outsider moves things much closer to where the series should always have been: while it does still track lethal/non-lethal takedowns these don’t appear to have any impact on which ending you get this time around, making a non-lethal run a genuine player choice just like it was back in the days of Thief and Deus Ex. It also adds a few more non-lethal gadgets, and while these are basically just remixed versions of the lethal ones (there’s now a stun grenade that knocks people out instead of killing them, while the new Hook Mines have explicit Lethal and Non-Lethal settings) it’s enough to make me feel like playing non-lethally isn’t restricting me from having fun. Of course because I knew I wasn’t being scored on this stuff outside of the end-of-mission summary screen I felt free to toss around a few springrazors and actual grenades and made a wonderful mess; Dishonored is at its best when you have the freedom to use your entire moveset, not just the half of it that aligns with your current ending goal.
Still, having an actually varied moveset that enables multiple approaches to a problem doesn’t mean a thing if your level design doesn’t do the same thing, and it’s here — and somewhat unusually for Arkane — that Death Of The Outsider falls down somewhat. As I stated up top, there’s only five of them, but to compensate for that the four non-tutorial levels are bloody massive, easily matching the size of the largest levels from Dishonored 2. However, since one of them is one of the largest levels from Dishonored 2 — a remixed version of the Royal Conservatory — that’s hardly surprising, and this recycling of content is something I honestly found a little disappointing given how imaginative the base game was. It’s not a bad level as such, it was just hard to get away from the feeling that I was replaying something I’d done before instead of experiencing something new. The final level of the expansion pack was a very long one and threw in a few interesting dimension-shifting effects, but it also struck me as unnecessarily constrained, like it was Arkane’s take on Call Of Duty-style linear level design that funnels the player through a series of chokepoints. Again, it wasn’t something I’d necessarily call bad, but once I was finished with it I had precisely zero desire to replay it because I felt I’d already seen everything it had to offer, which is something I’d never say about any of the levels from Dishonored 2.
Let us focus instead on the two levels that Death Of The Outsider actually does right. After springing Daud from the tutorial level Billie ventures into town to investigate an Outsider-worshipping cult, and this level is both sprawling and pleasingly open, with a ton of secrets ferreted away in the various nooks and crannies of the map. The highlight is a raid on the high-security mansion of a cultist opera singer, which is split off into its own little sub-area with at least three different methods of entry and its own isolated security systems to defeat. Once you’re in there you discover that the cult is hiding a crucial Outsider-related macguffin inside the fortress-like bank that you’ve walked past many times as you crisscross the level, and so the next level is something which inevitably ends up being the best part of any Thief, Dishonored or Deus Ex game: a good old-fashioned bank heist.
In my opinion the bank heist level, on its own, is sufficient reason to buy Death Of The Outsider, because it is absolutely outstanding. For starters it’s so big it’s split into three different segments. First there’s the approach from outside, which offers a variety of different points of access along with a couple of things you can do to make your life easier once you’re inside, like dumping a load of sleeping gas into the ventilation system. Then there’s the bank interior – the lobby, counters, offices and so on — which present a series of barriers that need to be bypassed in order to access the vault area. This is the final part of the bank, and it’s protected by patrolling guards and clockwork soldiers, voice access systems and electrified floors — and once you get past all of those, you still need to deal with the fact that the vault itself is suspended fifty feet off the floor and needs to be lowered to ground level in order to access it. Even if you’ve gassed everyone this still presents a rather tricky challenge, since the bank staff and guards are genuinely asleep instead of knocked out and they’ll wake up if they hear any significant noise. Of course you could just murder your way inside, but there’s more than enough guards to ensure that you’d have significant difficulty winning the ensuing fight, even with a full set of grenades, mines and bullets.
This meant that the bank was the first time Dishonored’s level design has properly risen to the challenge presented by its toolset. Dishonored 2 had some fantastically imaginative levels but they weren’t all that great at forcing you out of your comfort zone, and you could quite happily get through them by using the same three or four moves or powers over and over again. By contrast the bank scatters so many obstacles on your path to the vault that I needed to use everything in order to get there in one piece; it took me two hours to clear this one level, and from a mechanical viewpoint it’s the most fun I’ve had with a Dishonored game yet because I was constantly experimenting to see what worked and what didn’t. It doesn’t quite compare to Clockwork Mansion or A Crack In The Slab because at the end of the day it is just a bank, but it comes damn close for something so comparatively mundane. And it does also sum up Death Of The Outsider’s general mindset pretty well, I think; by removing most of the powers it’s stripped down the amount of stuff you can do in a level, but it has substantially raised its expectations of the amount of stuff you must do in order to complete it.
Oddly enough I think it’s the removal of the Chaos system — where the game tracks exactly how many people you’re killing and alters certain things based on this, including giving you the Good Ending/Bad Ending depending on whether you finish the game in a Low or High Chaos state — that has enabled this change in philosophy, and which justifies Death Of The Outsider existing as a separate entity at all. It’s ironic because a lot of people would point to the Chaos system as one of the things that defines Dishonored, and I will admit that the game does lose a little something as I missed the cool environmental tells in the levels that accompanied high Chaos/low Chaos runs. It also doesn’t make the ending situation any better, as instead of going Lethal for the Bad Ending and Non-Lethal for the Good Ending you’re instead just presented with a binary choice at the end of the game as to which ending you want. I think the tradeoff is well worth it, though, as Dishonored is a much stronger game when you have the freedom to do everything in a level which actively demands experimentation on the part of the player. Death Of The Outsider ultimately doesn’t avoid being “just more Dishonored” since the level design doesn’t really live up to that ideal and is rather too uneven to sustain it all the way through, but for a few brief hours it does end up in a markedly different place from the mainline Dishonored games. That, for me, made Death Of The Outsider a worthwhile experience.
- Although you can replay the game in OG+ mode once you’re done, and this apparently has some of the powers from the base Dishonored 2. ↩