Arkane knows how to design wonderfully labyrinthine levels, without ever making them feel like game levels. They feel – for lack of a better world – real, albeit part of a reality that is filled with death, corruption, and supernatural horrors both stomach-churning and fascinating. It is the titular source of these horrors that serves as the antagonist in the latest and likely final chapter in the wider Dishonored story.
In Death of the Outsider, the Outsider – an enigmatic, black-eyed, formerly human demi-god who bestows power and pestilence in equal measure across Dishonored's murky, water-coloured world – has been marked for death. But carrying out the execution is a task far more difficult than any our experienced assassin protagonists could ever have dreamed up.
This standalone DLC puts you into the shoes of Billie Lurk, a sometime antagonist, anti-hero, and ferrywoman who teams up with her former mentor Daud as they seek to put an end to the meddling of the Outsider and the countless crimes he’s committed against the populace of the Empire of the Isles and the very fabric of reality itself.
There is a lot of backstory and character development that this adventure assumes you know. Even though Death of the Outsider has been released as a standalone product, it really isn’t. While it is true that you do not need to own either of the previous games to purchase and play this expand-alone, coming in cold will likely be a confusing and frustrating experience.
For the very best experience, playing Dishonored 1 and expansions The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches is a must. Billie also plays a key role in Dishonored 2, so it too should be played first. If you’ve not played them, you are in for a treat. If you have, then you have 10 more hours of stealthy power fantasy ahead of you.
Part of what makes Death of the Outsider so much fun to play is how Arkane has approached the game. Billie’s skill set and powers work differently than those of main protagonists Corvo Attano and Emily Kaldwin. Billie is an assassin by trade, and her mystical powers come directly from the Void, not filtered through the gift of the Outsider. This is important, as it has allowed Arkane to remove the need to drink mana vials to replenish your magical stores. Instead, Billie’s mana replenishes over time naturally, and this opens the game a lot in terms of available actions, as you no longer need to manage your mana.
In addition, runes have been removed from the game, which makes sense as they are an extension of the Outsider’s influence on the world. More importantly, this means you have full access to your core skills from the very start. Billie can expand or improve her skillset by collecting Bonecharms, but there is no longer the need to search every level for runes to unlock your powers.
It’s a simpler and more immediate system that streamlines the game in a logical manner. It helps to separate Billie from both Corvo and Emily, even if some of her skills are rather similar.
Her primary skill is Displace, which is a slightly different take on the traversal powers seen in prior games. Instead of aiming at a location and zapping to it, Billie projects a marker to a location and teleports to it. It’s a minor tweak, but aesthetically it's rather pleasing. Just be aware of where you teleport to: teleporting onto a person will instantly transform them into an explosion of gore while also causing Billie some damage, so it can ruin a stealth run with its certain lack of subtlety.
When combined with Foresight, which lets Billie freeze time and project her senses ahead to scout and mark points of interest, it makes traversal much easier, and allows you to teleport through obstacles and completely avoiding encounters that would have been almost impossible in the previous games.
Billie's most interesting skill is Semblance, which lets her transfer the face of an unconscious NPC on to her own. This takes the disguise mechanic in Hitman to a whole new level. It’s a lot of fun to experiment with, and can lead to some very creative solutions to various roadblocks. It also helps to keep Billie safe when just walking around. After all, her real face is plastered on posters found in every region of the world.
Or, you could just kill everyone, because the chaos system is gone. You no longer need to toe the pacifist line to trigger a "better" ending.
Like every other Dishonored game, Death of the Outsider is the epitome of exceptional level design. Every location is complex, and most are much more open than they initially appear. A little exploration will invariably open previously unseen paths or alternate access points. You will also revisit locations as you move through the story, but rather than making the game feel stale, they help you better understand the level of detail Arkane has put into its play spaces.
The game's five missions are open to be tackled as you see fit. You can also pick up additional contracts, which offer up new challenges and may require you to complete them in very specific ways. This is a great way to mix up the experience without ever feeling trite or artificially limiting. These optional tasks allow you to flex in-game muscles you might otherwise seldom or never flex.
As great as the game is, it is not without some serious issues. The story ends up feeling very rushed, and by the time you begin the final mission, some of the freeform gameplay is given over to moving you through the final act. As a result, the game in a sense hamstrings itself, and the final mission tries to pack far too many resolutions and loose threads into its confines. It’s disappointing that for whatever reason, the game was not able to resolve itself in a manner in keeping with how it began. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful title covered in a layer of carefully-placed grime.
The Dishonored series is one of the darkest to ever see a release on modern gaming systems. This isn’t just due to the game’s reliance on shadows, subterfuge, and stealth, but also because thematically, each outing revolves around betrayal, revenge, and killing a lot of people.
In many ways, they are the ultimate power fantasy games: wield otherworldly powers, kill or not as you please, and explore the world as you see fit. Death of the Outsider doesn’t stray too far from this path. However, the motivations here are new, and that makes for a refreshing change.
Smart design choices lighten the burden on the player and give a little more freedom without the risk of the somewhat arbitrary consequences seen in the tent pole entries. These minor, but still significant modifications do more than enough to shine a little light into the darker corners of the Empire of the Isles.