Dishonored: Death of the Outsider sucks Arkane Studios

Death of the Outsider is not the swansong Dishonored calls for. It ties into the greater universe, paying off on a decade-long story — but it also makes you feel like you’re missing out on crucial details if you haven’t kept up with every step in that journey. Everything else is just explained in the most perfunctory manner possible because Death of the Outsider is in a hurry to get this over with.

In theory, Death of the Outsider is five missions — about half the length of Dishonored 2. In execution, it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it-length tutorial mission, one long mission set across two times of day, a normal level, and then a final stage that might be one of the worst sequences in the series. The single major twist in the experience is that the removal of the “chaos” morality system means there is less incentive to take it slow and stealthy. Instead, the easiest way to clear any problem is to just barrel through like you’re Doomguy.

The new Contracts system offers little incentive to get smart too. You aren’t rewarded with particularly stunning narrative insights, nor do missions react to your choices outside of the odd newspaper headline changing. It’s a strangely backwards approach that, while technically granting more freedom, removes the weight of decisions.

Choices are what make immersive sim games interesting. Dishonored, for all its homages, isn’t simply Thief with more stabbing. The series has far more in common with Hitman spliced with BioShock. And as archaic as the chaos system is in terms of moral thinking, removing it wholesale eliminates part of what makes Dishonored what it is. Evolving the system beyond good and evil would have been preferable.

When you flex its gameplay systems, there’s a wide variety of potential in pairing the level design of Hitman with the storytelling of BioShock. The chaos system adds an interconnectivity that makes your decisions matter. Meanwhile, in Death of the Outsider, I can slaughter multiple members of high society in a private club, run out onto the street, and stab every guard and civilian, and nobody cares mere hours later in the same environment. Why should I care if the game world itself tells me I shouldn’t?

Likewise, protagonist Billie Lurk’s dull intonations not only waste Rosario Dawson’s acting talents but leave you feeling equally apathetic. There was a bit more emotion and life to Lurk’s character even in Dishonored 2. Here, she’s so deadpan and interacts with so few people that any emotional connection is left fumbling about until the last three minutes, when suddenly Death of the Outsider remembers it needs to explain its narrative thesis.

While bits and pieces of the central argument over justice and redemption connect, there’s nothing profoundly new at the heart of the matter. I’m not kidding when I say the rats you can eavesdrop on are easily the most compelling characters you’ll find along your journey. There’s also a plot point about split timelines thanks to one mission in Dishonored 2, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.

This sense of “been there, done that” is strangely pervasive given how thoroughly Dishonored: Death of the Outsider tries to break away from its predecessors. When you get past the absence of impactful consequences and the story failing to hook, what else is new tries and fails to reinvigorate gameplay. Instead of almost a dozen abilities, you have three abilities meant to be multi-use. You can impersonate people for a limited time, teleport in real time within line of sight, and astral-project to scout ahead and mark key items and enemies.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider sucks Arkane Studios

However, each ability has issues. Impersonation is only really useful if you’re being stealthy, so outside of a single Contract, you can easily forget it’s there despite how cool it is. A bonecharm perk allowing you to spawn a decoy when teleporting is the only thing that adds imagination to that ability. And your astral project ability is a neat way to undercut the typical Batman cowl vision ability so many games have now, but it gets old after a while when you just want to scan a room quickly.

These abilities are bolstered by a mana bar that automatically recharges. So there’s not really any resource management besides ammo, which is remarkably plentiful, and your health bar. As if admitting that this system isn’t worthwhile enough on its own, the game’s New Game Plus feature is instead Original Game Plus, which swaps your initial three powers for three fully upgraded powers from Dishonored 2. You can’t choose them; they’re selected for you. The only real progression is what bonecharm traits you unlock, so even New Game Plus isn’t all that rewarding.

The list of criticisms with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider goes on. Levels are distinctly more linear, with more unopenable doors and segregated play spaces than even in the original game on previous-generation hardware. Enemy placement is typically in dense clusters that are harder to break up or spread so thin that it’s too easy. Environments are just as uneven, boasting visual flair and style but struggling under the pressure of player behavior.

The bank heist mission, the highlight of the campaign, is the sole exception, but then it hands you an easy get-out-of-jail-free card where you can knock out all the enemies inside without touching them. Save for two remaining hazards, it’s just a matter of skulking around slowly from that point on. You get the highest payout from your Contracts from doing things this way, and it’s easy to pull off.

While you can appreciate them trying to match the Clockwork Mansion level from Dishonored 2, the result is that, again, there’s not really much choice unless you want to manually challenge yourself. You’re either efficient or ignoring the most logical decisions for the sake of variety. But there is something to be said for the latter, as it’s hilarious sending a murderous politician to his death through a trapdoor, crashing an auction under the guise of an auctioneer, or trying to crack a musical lock by pretending to be the musician himself.

Ultimately, Death of the Outsider with its flaws provides a surprisingly thorough argument for why previous Dishonored entries worked, for all their eccentricities. Without any consequences, being merciful and stealthy is just for achievement hunting. Though the series’s story hasn’t been the biggest pull, it matters for emotional investment and for investing in the NPCs that surround you. And while, yes, whole powers may never be used by players in any of their playthroughs, it’s better to give them that choice than to try to reinvent the wheel while restraining their play style options. I do approve of the regenerating mana bar and impersonate power though — each has great potential for future iteration.

Death of the Outsider was a worthwhile experiment. It kicks the tires and really asks what is or isn’t crucial to Dishonored’s identity. The answer might not be quite what anyone was expecting, but it’s valuable if the series ever goes forward after this. However, if you just want a great Dishonored experience, Death of the Outsider isn’t a must-play. Only those most desperate for some more Dishonored first-person shenanigans need to experience Billie Lurk’s final Karnacan odyssey. For everyone else, Death of the Outsider isn’t a contract worth taking.

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