Dishonored is a series defined by its constant evolution, with the dark and gritty stealth/action gameplay of the first game refined and expanded in a sequel that tried to build on what worked and fix what didn’t. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (DDotO), a hefty standalone expansion to Dishonored 2, has everything you would expect from the series, including sneaking, stabbing, exploding, mercy, destruction, and an overwhelming willingness to “make good choices”. Far more importantly though, it keeps the series’ reputation intact, with bold design choices creating new problems and opportunities, and a new protagonist giving Arkane the chance to truly explore the game’s narrative. It’s a shame, therefore, that this latest entry in the series continues to be dogged by some familiar failings.
In DDotO, you play as Billie Lurk, a streetsmart, tough straight-talker who was a key character in the ‘Knife of Dunwall’ DLC from Dishonored 1, and she also went by the name of Meagan Foster in Dishonored 2. She’s on the hunt for her mentor Daud (a master of both magic and violence who works as an elite assassin for hire and is central to the events of the first game and its DLCs) and quickly finds herself back on the streets of sunny Karnaca a few months after the end of the second game. To find him, she (or rather you) will need to journey into the city’s seedy underbelly, starting with infiltrating an underground boxing club run by the Eyeless gang, a band of cultists who worship the god-like Outsider. Disappointingly, the Eyeless NPCs seem to be re-skinned versions of the classic brute, witch and upper class enemies, and so Dishonored veterans shouldn’t have much trouble dispatching them from whence they came. They also lack individuality but do at least seem to be more perceptive than enemies in the first two games, which can lead to a few panicky moments as you try to remain out of sight.
The first mission seems almost like a tutorial level to get you back up to speed with the controls. It is exceptionally bland and offers nothing to the story except giving you a starting point and a new enemy. Although this is a smart choice for new players, it was unnecessary for players who understand the series and its controls. One thing the first mission does well is give you a feel of the environment in a post-Delilah world (see Dishonored 2). There are some nice throwbacks throughout the expansion to the original games, providing a continuity to the series and showing that Arkane Studios remembers the franchise’s roots.
After the release of the original game, Arkane Studios realised that a mission that stood out was the party at the Boyle Manor. They used this knowledge and tried to incorporate a different quirk in each mission in Dishonored 2. This was a smart move by the developers, and it works well when used for DDotO. Special missions in the expansion include a bank heist, using detective work, and infiltrating the Eyeless gang. Despite the variation of missions and goals, some missions felt rushed, weak on content, or like they lost the ethos of the franchise entirely. Without giving too much away, each mission seemed to be built for the end goal but missed some steps in the middle. The groundwork for each mission (finding clues, gaining information, etc.) could have been more immersive as it was in the original game’s DLCs.
On the other hand, each mission flows into the next very well. The entire story is set over a few days and does not feel overly complicated. The main focus of each mission is a step in Billie’s journey to kill the Outsider. She learns secrets, gains powers, and steals artefacts all for this cause. The story in DDotO was its main strength as it did not tie you down to unnecessary missions that are simply there for the purpose of furthering the plot. Despite the story, missions were short, and players deserved more goals to pour their efforts into.
You gain your abilities from the Outsider after the first mission. There are four new supernatural abilities to help you work through the game which can work like a well-oiled machine when properly combined. Your new powers include:
- Semblance – Steal an unsuspecting NPC’s face, making Billie walk and talk like them.
- Foresight – Move your spirit freely and mark enemies, loot, and mechanical devices (marked objects stay marked until you choose otherwise).
- Displace – Lay a marker that you can instantly teleport to when in a clear view (Billie’s rendition of Blink).
- Rat Whispers – Gain info and learn clues from groups of rats (usable from the start of the game)
One way the series was improved in this expansion is that your powers automatically regenerate without the need for mana potions. This allows you to focus more on quickly moving around the landscape without having to scout for elixirs, meaning the game flows better. The powers themselves are useful, but you may find that Semblance is more of a novelty than a useful ability. There are a couple of instances that are clearly pointed out by NPCs where this power is actually helpful, but otherwise, it went mostly unused. Of course, every power is only as good as its user, so players may find a way to use it to its full potential. One of the best power combinations is to link Foresight and Displace. You can zoom around the map marking targets then tactically teleport to your enemies without alerting anyone else.
An aspect of the Dishonored franchise that will never leave us are the ever collectable Bonecharms. They are literally everywhere in this game, around every corner you seem to hear the familiar screeches letting you know you’re near a collectable. This probably makes up for the fact Runes are now unnecessary, as you are not able to upgrade your powers. Despite the familiarity that comes with Bonecharms, they are almost unnecessary in DDotO. Other than a boost in mana or health, you can complete the game easily without needing to think about any added boosts to your game.
Black markets also make a return to DDotO and offer the same ammo and equipment. One additional thing that the black markets can offer you is the option to complete contracts. These are small jobs that pay in various degrees depending on their difficulty. You must first visit the black market to see the contracts, which means players who want to speed-run the game will likely miss out on extra coin or Bonecharms. The contracts themselves seem relatively easy but may frustrate players on their first run through, especially contracts that seem easy but are hard to find.
One factor of this game that did not please me was the lack of a Chaos system, a game mechanic that made the original such an immersive experience. For those that don’t know, the Chaos system measures your actions and tailors the world around you based on your decisions. For example, if you assassinate your targets, you will be viewed as a villain and the game has a much darker tone. If you show mercy, you will see less rats or bloodflies and will achieve a happier ending. This expansion does not factor this system into its game. You can stab, shoot, and steal as much as you like and having no consequences other than a massive kill count. On one hand, it was nice to know that my actions will go unpunished, but it took away an aspect of the game that made you think about how you approach different situations.
Finally, the Envisioned cultists were literally the worst thing to happen to the world of Dishonored since finding out that there were no Tallboys in Dishonored 2. They add nothing to the game except frustration and repeated death screens as you try to work out what the hell you are doing wrong. Without the proper formula, these things are unkillable. When confronted, they will one-shot you with no hesitation. At the start, they are interesting Void-walkers that remind you of the Clockwork Soldiers with an extra sprinkle of grim foreboding. After about 6 deaths with no end in sight, you will start to view them as evil entities set to destroy your very soul. When players purchase DDotO, they likely will not expect something from Dark Souls to haunt their dreams. The Envisioned cultists are killable, but they require some serious firepower. There are plenty of guides and walkthroughs online that can tell you exactly how to end these soulless beasts.
In summary, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a nice spin on the franchise but with some serious misses in gameplay. The story was a major win for the game and ensures that players understand the world around them without worrying about getting lost on the way. Players may feel the substance in the missions was watered down, and sometimes the ethos of the series was missed, but it satisfied the murderous rage in all of us enough through its story to push us to carry on playing and ultimately decide The Outsider’s fate.
GR Writer and Sub-editor Daniel Garcia-Montes Says…
I’m a pretty big fan of Arkane Studios’ Dishonored series. The first Dishonored was excellent and brought something new to the table with its unique setting and fun gameplay that offered lots of freedom for experimentation, and it built upon all that with its two awesome DLCs, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. Dishonored 2, while also a good game, fell short of my expectations with its story that followed the same basic formula as the first game (go after your greatest enemy’s supporters before taking on the main enemy), and the plot was also strikingly similar to that in the first game’s previously mentioned DLCs, plus it didn’t change all that much whether you played as Emily or Corvo. Now we get Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, the standalone expansion to Dishonored 2 that officially brings the story of the Outsider and his influence on the world and its people to a close. So, how does this game fare compared to its predecessors?
I’ll start off with this game’s lack of the Chaos system. One of the better and more interesting morality systems I’ve ever seen in a video game series, the Chaos system makes changes to both the story and gameplay in the Dishonored games depending on the choices you make, missions you undertake, and most importantly, how many people you kill or spare. These games really make you think about the consequences you and those around you can and will suffer if you take too many lives, and they reward you for taking the more merciful approach with your enemies, and in large part, the “merciful approach” is just so much more satisfying than simply sticking a knife in your enemy’s throat (usually). In Death of the Outsider, you still have the freedom to either sneak your way past enemies and treat them with kid gloves by knocking them out, or you can simply slaughter them all. Only this time, these choices don’t really affect how the story progresses, they just change the circumstances of each individual mission.
And to be honest, while the lack of a Chaos system does kind of feel like a step back, I was mostly fine with it given how Arkane have decided to have all three games in the Dishonored series follow a set continuity (namely Low Chaos), regardless of any choices you made in them, so the fact that you don’t make any moral decisions in Death of the Outsider (except in the very end) is no big loss to me in particular, especially since the story for this game is still damn near as good as that in the first Dishonored anyway. Furthermore, I liked how most of the missions in this game didn’t follow the usual formula in the first two games of getting into a heavily guarded place in order to go after a main target whom you can either kill or just bitch-slap with some poetic justice. Death of the Outsider has only one main target, which the title kind of gives away, so it was somewhat refreshing for most of the missions to focus on different end goals, such as thievery, sabotage, and good old fashioned clue gathering. Make no mistake, you’ll still be infiltrating heavily guarded places like mansions, gang hideouts, and banks to get to your goal, and the proceedings are still just as engaging as ever with the plethora of different routes and approaches you can take. Different contracts that you can take on in each level, whether they be the stealing of valuables, kidnappings, or assassinations, provide more opportunities to screw around with enemies, and the rewards include extra cash or Bonecharms.
Now for the gameplay. Taking on the role of Billie Lurk, former right hand assassin to Daud from the first game’s DLCs and Emily/Corvo’s ally under the name of Meagan Foster in Dishonored 2, the player is first tasked with freeing a now elderly but still rather virile Daud from the newest gang of Outsider worshippers known as the Eyeless. Afterwards, Daud recruits Billie to (spoilers…well, not really) kill the Outsider, whom Daud views as the one responsible for screwing up his life and the lives of so many others for thousands of years. Ever the enigma, the Outsider knows of their plans and yet still provides Billie with some new magical prosthetics that grant her with special powers of her own. Billie’s powers, while not as numerous as the ones wielded by the other series protagonists, are still a blast to use and allowed for some fun creativity. Billie’s Displace (allows teleportation around corners and through windows and iron bars) and Foresight (go out of body to scout areas, mark enemies, and set Displace points while time is frozen) powers work particularly well together and allow her to approach difficult stealth situations with careful planning, and with these powers it’s easier to surprise enemies and escape from them more effectively than was possible with the more direct Blink and Far Reach abilities wielded by the previous protagonists.
Semblance, which allows Billie to take on the appearance of NPCs (as long as they’re not dead) is another useful ability in stealth situations, and the later acquired Twin-bladed Knife lets Billie strike enemies from a distance with a slicing wave of Void energy. The fact that Billie’s magic fully regenerates on its own and doesn’t require the use of potions to fully replenish itself is another big plus in my book. She also has a relic that lets her hear and understand the squeaks, or “whispers”, of rats that could provide her with useful clues on the locations of enemies or important objects. While Runes are not featured in this game to provide upgrades to Billie’s powers, a number of the previously mentioned Bonecharms you can find in the levels provide you with familiar upgrades like increased agility, more health, the ability to block enemy projectiles, and extra perks for your main powers, like increasing the distance of Displace, increasing the length of time you remain disguised through Semblance, etc.
New gadgets and weapons that Billie can use include electric darts to stun enemies into unconsciousness, hyperbaric grenades that can knock out multiple enemies simultaneously, and hook mines that can attach to any surface (either directly or by being thrown) and grab enemies in range with a grappling line that reels them in and either incapacitates or kills them. These gadgets also work well in unison with Billie’s powers. Few things are quite as satisfying as using Semblance to take on a guard’s appearance, walking up to two other guards conversing with each other, and slapping a hook mine to the first guard’s ass so that it will grab the second guard with a grappling line and send him careening right into the first guard, taking them both out in a flash…and if you’re lucky, they’ll both be catapulted into a nearby window in the process for some extra comedic effect. Speaking of enemy guards, most of the enemies in this game consist of city guards, Eyeless gang members, and a few Clockwork Soldiers, as well as some wolfhounds, so nothing too exciting here. At least not until you encounter these stone-like creatures known as the Envisioned, who certainly kept me on my toes. Not only are these guys big and resilient, but they are able to use the same Displace ability as Billie and have the added “benefit” of being able to kill her in one hit with both close-range and long-range attacks. They are also not susceptible to stealth attacks, as I have learned the hard way. As daunting as these enemies are though, you can still be victorious in a confrontation with them through smart use of lethal weaponry, (gunfire, grenades, and spring razors), using the Displace power to keep yourself out of their reach, and marking them with Foresight so you can keep a bead on them (and their patrol routes) should they teleport out of your immediate area…that is assuming you take them on one at a time.
As far as technical aspects go, graphics are the same as in the previous game. The game runs well too, although it did freeze on me once in the very beginning. There’s the odd glitch or two as well; more than once I was inexplicably spotted by enemies even when hiding behind a wall or pillar. In the end, this game closes out the Dishonored series (or at least the saga focusing on the Outsider) appropriately. The first game is still my personal favorite of the series, though I found this one to be a bit more enjoyable than the second game. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider manages to inject just enough refreshing elements into the gameplay and takes the story to epic new heights, so if you enjoyed the previous games, then this one is definitely worth a playthrough, especially given its lower price of admission.
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 15th September 2017