Minerva’s Den, a bit of single-player DLC for Bio Shock 2, was to my mind the best Bio Shock experience. It condensed and distilled the series formula in to a smaller, more focused game. A pure experience, stripped of much of the inessential periphery.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider feels a lot like that. A smaller, more focused standalone expansion that eschews some of the series’ superfluous mainstays to deliver a core, action-stealth experience. In it, you’ll play as Billie Lurk, skipper of the Dreadful Wale – who, as Meagan Foster ferried your Dishonored 2 hero around. An assassin and thief, she’s a departure from the royals and their clichéd quest for revenge.
Instead, she meets up with her mentor (and often tormentor) Daud, who enlists her help for one last assassination: the death of the Outsider himself: the foppish-haired emo quasi-god who granted Corvo his abilities. but is also responsible for much of the Dishonored world’s supernatural misery. She’s actually a departure from most protagonists; not just a woman but also a black one, bisexual and with a physical impairment. However, she is neither a token nor a stereotype, not there for representation’s sake. She’s interesting, she’s nuanced, and she’s terribly flawed with a broken past and an uncertain future.
Given the nature of Billie’s task, she’s not granted the mark of the Outsider to give her otherworldly abilities. Instead, she’s outfitted with artefacts that give her a direct connection to the Void. It means her abilities aren’t quite as supernatural as the ones you had in previous games. They may be limited, but they’re still interesting. Given that they recharge over time instead of requiring blue vials, they’re something you’ll use far more often.
Displace is effectively Corvo’s blink, allowing Lurk to teleport a short distance, but it’s far more versatile. Instead of instantaneous teleportation, she places a marker that can be teleported to provided there’s direct line of sight. It can be used in conjunction with another of her powers, Foresight.
A riff on Dark Vision, Foresight allows Billie to freeze time and then astral project, given her the opportunity to scout ahead. When she’s in that spectral form, she can not only mark targets, but also set a Displace marker, letting her teleport there later, provided she has line of sight. It can cleverly be used not just for general traversal, for being an obfuscated angel of death but also for solving the game’s environmental puzzles. With the right timing, Displace can also be used to transmute into an enemy, resulting in an impressive shower of crimson viscera.
Semblance is probably my favourite of her quartet of new abilities, the last of which I shan’t spill as it’s tied to the narrative. It lets Billie take on the appearance of an NPC for a limited time, perfect for sneaking through without raising alarm. Billie is a wanted woman and guards will attack on sight, it’s oddly empowering stealing their faces and casually strolling through their ranks.
Her powers stay the same throughout the game, so you’ll not be spending your time searching for runes to upgrade them. While this would have seemed limiting and stilted in a longer game, it suits this smaller one perfectly. Instead, certain bone charms will help buff your abilities: using less mana to power Semblance, letting you displace further and other, more subtle enhancements.
Death of the Outsider also ditches the series divisive morality system. The Chaos system that altered the game’s world and story in previous entries is absent, and it’s curiously liberating. The game no longer judges you for how you progress through a level, letting you mix and match playstyles without feeling like you’re going to miss out on the good ending. You’ll still get an end-of-mission report on how sneaky you’ve been, but it won’t have any enduring impact, and you’ll no longer feel like reloading if you’ve somehow mistakenly dispatched of somebody.
In fact, you’re regularly encouraged to kill people. New for Death of the Outsider is a contracts system, a series of optional objectives that you pick up from the black market. They’ll often take you off the beaten path, allowing you to delve deeper into Dishonored’s already brilliant world building and deep lore. Some want you to steal priceless objet d’art, or kill hapless characters while making their deaths look like suicide or kidnap lone NPCs from a room full of hostiles. They often require strategy and planning, and a deep understanding of how the tools you’re given work.
Each of its mission levels is an equally wonderful sandbox that lets you explore, playing the game your way without the restrictions from previous games. It reuses many of Karnaca’s best locations from the second game but does so in a way that’s fresh, with a narrative epilogue spin that lets you view the results of Dishonored 2 from a different perspective.
The last mission veers off into the linear, as its focus narrows to a point – but it feels a little rushed in its race towards the end. Too much exposition that feels better suited to extrapolation within more missions is withheld for the closing moments. As a result, it loses a little of its charm and much of its lustre.
It also leaves the future of Dishonored a little unclear as it brings the current storyline to a close. If this is the end for Dishonored, then it’s gone out in style.
Last Updated: September 22, 2017