I’ll preface this by clarifying I’ve only played through once; a semi-lethal run without much exploration, ignoring all but two contracts. It still took me fourteen hours. (This factors in the eleventy-billion times one particular insta-kill enemy sent me to oblivion, but more on that later). As with the previous titles in the series however, the way Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is played is entirely down to the individual, so my play time isn’t saying much.
Being a tremendous fan of Dishonored, I’ll swallow anything related to it I can get. The Knife of Dunwall in particular stuck out as a true highlight, Dishonored at its peak. I’m not alone in thinking that Daud felt far more fleshed-out than Corvo as a protagonist, although this may partly be down the gravelly tones of Daud’s voice actor Michael Madsen. For this reason I was itching to see Daud reappear as more than just a passing mention, and my prayers were answered. My first-class seat on the hype train was booked from the moment this game was announced.
Although the old assassin does play a role in Death of the Outsider, players instead step into the boots of his one-time apprentice and second-in-command, Billie Lurk. Tasked with one last contract from her old mentor, Billie sets out to find a way to enter the Void and eliminate the Outsider himself. In true Dishonored fashion there is a choice in how this is achieved, although I took the lethal route.
Death of the Outsider plays virtually identically to the previous games. Billie has a small arsenal of physical weapons and supernatural powers at her disposal, although in this instance she is not branded with the Outsider’s Mark. Instead he takes her right arm and eye, replacing them with what amounts to pieces of the Void, allowing her powers to draw energy from the Void itself and for her energy meter to replenish itself fully over time. This dispenses with the requirement of collecting mana potions, leaving Billie with mostly unlimited use of her powers.
Being that the game is only an expansion, Billie’s skill set is more limited than Daud’s for example. There is no upgrade tree for her active or passive abilities, nor can she purchase new powers by collecting runes. The powers she does have, however, are unique to her character whilst remaining comfortingly familiar.
Billie’s Displace power is something of a cross between Blink and Emily’s Shadow Reach from Dishonored 2. As well as allowing her to cross wide gaps or climb to higher places, it also allows her to transport herself to the exact same spot occupied by another person: it transports her into that person and they explode from the inside out (this does cause Billie damage). This is termed Displace Interpenetration and is undeniably the coolest ability in the game.
She also has Foresight, the ability to project herself in spirit. Much like Dark Vision, it gives her the ability to mark enemies to view their movements/lines of sight through walls and identify bonecharms, useable items and important objects in the environment. The caveat with this power is that it drains her energy incredibly quickly, and she can’t stray too far from her physical body, making it sometimes impossible to scope out a heavily-guarded location from afar.
Semblance is her third and final power, although I only used this twice. Similar to Possession it allows her take the form of an unaware (human) NPC, although in this instance she is simply mimicking their outward appearance rather than using them as a meat suit (I found out the hard way impersonating a guard with this power does not trick Arc Pylons). It is a useful tool if you want to simply walk through a guard outpost, or if you’re trying for a ghost run and find yourself facing numerous enemies without much chance of picking them off one-by-one or navigating around them from above.
One difference is the inability to upgrade Billie’s existing powers or purchase new ones. This omission is logical, seeing as Billie’s powers do not stem from the Outsider’s Mark and therefore runes would be of no use to her. Certain bonecharms can be found that do affect her supernatural abilities, such as extending the reach of her Foresight and increasing the number of enemies she can tag. Some of the passive powers from previous games can also be obtained as bonecharms, such as Agility.
As well as Billie’s unique powers, the game also introduces the original Clockwork Sentinels, featured heavily in the trailer for the second game, which were included due to them being a fan favourite. These Clockworks, whilst being decidedly more sinister in appearance thanks to their grinning faces, have the advantage that they do not, I repeat NOT, have the ability to see out of the back of their head. (As someone who hates the Clockworks in Dishonored 2 with the passion of a thousand suns for that very reason, I thank you Harvey).
The game itself spans five missions, starting with Billie’s rescue of and reunion with Daud and culminating in her facing the Outsider. Set in the gritty underbelly of Karnaca, players can find familiarity in not just getting their asses kicked by the game’s difficulty but also exploring the nooks and crannies, looting items for coin and of course listening to the same handful of NPC voice lines. Players will recognise the Royal Conservatory from Dishonored 2, which makes a reappearance as the setting of the fourth story mission. Karnaca is as visually striking and atmospheric as it was in Dishonored 2, the buildings much more dilapidated but still strangely pleasant. The atmosphere of a world awash with dangerous secrecy is palpable, especially in the final mission where an already creepy abandoned mine becomes a horrific eldritch world filled with crazed cultists and the aforementioned insta-kill enemies, the Envisioned, creatures that are remnants of the original cult responsible for creating the Outsider (by sacrificing an innocent teenage boy).
In addition to the main campaign objectives, Billie can also pick up a number of contracts from the black markets. These are optional side quests that pay a handsome amount of coin, or sometimes a bonecharm. Some contracts are simple, some need specific requirements to have been met. They vary from theft to multiple assassinations, and inject some true variety into a formula that can sometimes feel a bit monotonous.
The biggest difference, one that has been met with a mixed response, is the lack of a chaos system and with it the lack of the core message of the previous games: any decision, however big or small, affects the world around you and those in it. Ultimately, Billie killing civilians or sparing the Overseers bears no effect; there are no extra swarms of hungry rats or bloodflies, nor are the sewers crawling with Weepers. Ultimately, the impact of whether Billie is an unseen phantom, a blood-soaked psychopath or somewhere in between ends with the player’s own decision of how to play. I will say not having to worry about a chaos level made it far more comfortable for me to hack, slash and shoot my way through the game in places where I would’ve thought carefully about leaving everyone unharmed.
Much like the previous games, the true strength lies in the holy trifecta: terrifically complex story, brilliantly written characters and astounding voice performances. The raw emotion audible in Billie’s voice after Daud’s death is heartbreaking. The relationship between master and apprentice is an example of unconditional trust: even after her betrayal in The Knife of Dunwall, Daud knows he can still count on Billie. The fatherly affection he feels for her is obvious in the diary entry he writes at the beginning of mission three, and his final audiograph in mission four. I’m not ashamed to admit listening to it made me cry.
Billie is driven by her loyalty to Daud and the will to complete his dying wish, but is also conflicted thanks to her own guilt at the life she led before. If you choose to kill the Outsider, there’s a tiredness within Billie as she resigns herself to being ‘just a murderer’, conceding that killers never change despite being given the chance. It’s this gem of writing and voice acting that means the ending, a simple action rather than an action-heavy brawl with a deity, was a fitting climax to the tale. This is all interwoven with Daniel Licht’s emotive soundtrack. Sometimes eerie and sinister, always somewhat bleak, each note of the ambient music ripples through the tense atmosphere of the game and provides a perfect backdrop to the game.
There’s a strange, hollow feeling that grips me as I write this. It’s the feeling one experiences at the end of an era, when the stories of beloved characters have come to their conclusion and been laid to rest. The entire series was a true masterpiece, an obvious labour of love packed with detail, and for this reason I think Death of the Outsider is a truly fitting swan song that is likely to stay with me for a long, long while.