In my previous coverage of Dishonored 2, I’ve made my grievances with the series known – I won’t harp on them here again too much. They do bear reiterating though because I need to contrast them with just how much Death of the Outsider does to remedy many of the issues I’ve had with the previous games, and just how damn enjoyable of an experience it is.
The single most gratifying change made in the Death of the Outsider is a big one; the removal of the Chaos system. Gone are the game’s silent (and not-so-silent) judgement for your playstyle and lethality level. Instead, it is simply your final choice that impacts which ending you get. Until then you are free to, and in fact encouraged to, experiment at your whimsy with different approaches to the new missions.
There are five such new missions, and though the second and third take place in the same area of the city of Karnaca, each adventure nonetheless manages to bring satisfying new challenges to the table. Through her journey to kill the catalyst behind all of the chaos in the Empire of the Isles, protagonist Billie Lurk infiltrates cult-infested venues such as a fighting pit and a pub, revisits the Royal Conservatory from Dishonored 2 and even executes a thrilling and challenging bank heist that requires expert use of all of her abilities and tools. Side missions in the form of Contracts are fun diversions that often require a vastly different playstyle than you may be going for (i.e. kill no one in the bank heist and remain fully undetected, or kill every guard in a level), and the fact that you aren’t punished (in fact, you are rewarded with money or bonecharms) for playing around is another fantastic feature.
While Billie isn’t as empowered from a magic standpoint as Corvo, Emily and Daud, her few abilities are extremely well-utilized by the game – the levels are clearly designed specifically around her. Billie has three primary abilities. Displace is her navigational aid, a variant of Blink that uses markers to which she can teleport to at any time if she is within range and has line of sight. There’s also Semblance which allows her to channel her inner Arya Stark and take on the face and identity of an unconscious NPC for as long her mana lasts, and Foresight, her recon ability which stops time and allows her to float around in spirit form, marking enemies and items from safety. Foresight also allows for the placement of Displace markers, which is handy given that Displace allows you to teleport through windows and bars, but you can’t place markers through them. Many of the navigation puzzles in Death of the Outsider (and robbing the Black Market shops) rely on this combination of abilities in some way, and it’s great fun to figure out – I never once found myself frustrated by a puzzle or obstacle in my 15-hour playthrough. This is also helped by the fact that your mana now recharges fully – there’s no way to restore it manually, and there’s even an in-universe ban on the Addermire Solution that previous characters used to refill their blue bar.
This simplification and refocusing translates to the weapons and gear as well. Billie’s sole ranged weapon is a Voltaic Gun, an electromagnetic projector that is semi-silent and fires every projectile available to the player. These include normal bullets (and pens and nails, with an upgrade), incendiary bolts, shock stun rounds and hagfish pearls, reusable noisemaker projectiles that can knock out foes and pesky civilians if charged up and shot true. Grenades include sticky bombs, regular pineapples and the very useful Hyperbaric Grenades, which are fantastic area-of-effect non-lethal gadgets. Rounding out the brand-new stuff is the Hook Mine, a device that rips the nearest enemy towards it and either knocks them out or fatally rips off the limb it snagged, based on the setting. Great especially for knocking out guards and automatically hanging them out of sight!
Returning after its addition to Dishonored 2 is Custom Difficulty, allowing you to tweak over 20 different aspects of the game from detection sensitivity to health regen and how many guards respond to calls for reinforcements. It’s not the most ground-breaking thing around, but it certainly is a welcome feature for someone like me who needs to find a sweet spot for Dishonored’s sometimes-inconsistent stealth system (though I must say I found myself getting arbitrarily caught much less frequently) and likes to play around with empowerment vs. challenge. I played around a bit with starting over (you can’t change the custom sliders once a playthrough is in-progress) and eventually went with a forgiving stealth and challenging combat playthrough so I’d feel more encouraged to use all of my tools instead of shooting everyone in the head or executing them from the shadows.
Given the expansion’s short length, I won’t speak much about the story since there isn’t much to go on. What’s here, however, is the best story Dishonored has ever told. The relationship between Billie and her aging, ailing mentor Daud as they lament the monstrous existences they’ve led and burn with hatred for the Outsider is the most compelling and heartfelt relationship I’ve seen from the series. Where Dishonored 2 failed to create any meaningful moments between Corvo and Emily, Daud and Billie have an engrossing weariness and darkness about them.
Their commiseration belies a certain self-awareness of their own complicity in what they’ve done that cuts to the core of what the series has always tried to be about; the Outsider only grants individuals his gift, what is done with it is on that individual. While some might argue that the removal of Chaos tracking in the expansion undercuts this message, I would disagree, if only because the stakes of the endgame in Death of the Outsider are so much higher than a few murdered thugs in the streets of one city, and because the narrative (told through narration and still images mostly) does such a great job of getting its characters to a place where either ending seems logical. Rosario Dawson and Michael Madsen put in great voicework as Billie and Daud, respectively, giving Billie a personality that outshines any of the previous player characters and Daud a grizzled, fatigued fatherly demeanor that was sorely lacking from Corvo. Both characters are just as much introspective as they are expressive, especially Billie – this set of characters has always had the more interesting story to me, since the Dishonored 1 DLCs, and I was glad to wrap up this era of the series with them.
Death of the Outsider is Dishonored at what I would argue to be its most pure – tightly designed, with the fat trimmed where it needs to be while still maintaining the strong environmental storytelling and amazing sandbox gameplay the series is known for. Couple that with a surprisingly effective story that wraps up both the main thread and the side plot of the Knife of Dunwall and his protege, Death of the Outsider delivers what I consider to be the best Dishonored experience yet.