Dishonored has always been a series about player freedom. Where, at its most basic level you can go one of two ways. The first being the stealth route. All life is precious, and the act of choking someone out and throwing their body behind a dumpster is an act of kindness. Then there’s being the noble psycho and deciding that the life of a guard, clad in an old-timey red or blue jacket, holds very little value. So you might as well use a sword and magic to give them a somewhat notable death. And then loot their corpse.
The sheer number of ways each Dishonored game nurtures one’s instincts towards either spectrum, or even a combination of the two, is the reason to keep coming back. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, a standalone and almost expansion-like release for Dishonored 2 is no different. The overall scope might be smaller, with fewer missions and a more focused story. But the level of freedom hasn’t changed. How you play Dishonored is an extension of how you, well, play.
And this is something that one learns over time. Freedom and multiple ways to reach a goal are reasons enough to replay and revisit any game. But, when it comes to true player freedom, the results often stay the same. Strange, but true. And so, you tell yourself ‘this time I’ll go straight-up action and treat every guard encounter like a fate-altering duel to the death’. Fast forward three and half hours later and you find yourself still in the first proper mission after the introduction, searching the upper levels of a bar full of gang members to find some way to carry an unconscious target through the front door.
It turns out that walking through a bar full of patrons whilst carrying a corpse, without causing a scene, is impossible. But, after several minutes spent searching you realise that one of the rooms has a couple of bottles of chloroform. Which you then proceed to throw at individual patrons whilst staying hidden underneath a staircase to put them into a deep, floor slumber. One by one.
Again, how you play Dishonored is an extension of how you play. For me that’s exploring every room, staying out of sight, avoiding combat, and being content to simply absorb the overall feel and artistry of the world. It’s the sort of playstyle that quickly fills up every save slot. And results in a lot of reloading. So even though Death of the Outsider is a smaller and more focused Dishonored experience, one that introduces a new playable character with her own set of moves in protagonist Billy Lurk, it’s still very much Dishonored.
Which means, it’s great.
Viewed as a victory lap, or victory stab, this is an exceptional release. Setting aside the fact that you’ll revisit locations from Dishonored 2, there’s still a sense of care and thought put into every mission and side contract. The smaller focus only seems to affect character progression, which this time around is limited to the act of equipping bone charms. Those otherworldly bits of cartilage that provide minor upgrades along the lines of being able to jump higher or stab stronger. In terms of raw abilities Billy Lurk is equipped with everything she needs to pull off a mission right out of the gate.
And if you’ve played Dishonored before they’ll feel familiar. Even though, like the environments themselves, they’re remixed.
Perhaps the best new or remixed ability is the rework of the Void vision, that thing from the first game that turned guards into bright yellow figures that you could track through walls whilst creepily whispering “a heart’s eyes”. In Death of the Outsider triggering this ability freezes time, does away with the creepy voice, and let’s you move a disembodied ghost around freely to track and tag anyone and anything. It’s the sort of subtle improvement that that leaves you wondering how Dishonored worked without it. Actually, I remember. In yellow-vision. But, it’s a testament to Arkane’s vision for the series. And the diversity. What was once a single protagonist, is now three very different characters across three standalone games.
Even though as a standalone title that could effectively be played by a newcomer to the series, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is also clearly a love letter from developers Arkane Studios to fans. The missions may be fewer, but again the freedom to tackle them in different ways offers huge variety. From something as simple as choosing to enter a bank via the rooftop or through the sewers, to putting something in the vents that puts everyone inside asleep, it’s clear that this isn’t merely more of the same. There are also plenty of narrative nods to the events of Dishonored 2, with many of the strange sights and sounds of Karnaca returning to once again showcase the incredible attention to detail.
And overall sheer terror that is going one-on-one against a Clockwork Soldier.
Then there’s the overall mission, kill the Outsider. The ex-boyband member who lives in the Void and has been pulling the strings ever since we got our first glimpse of the plague rats in the original Dishonored. It’s a universe altering event, that feels as big and intimate as anything in the series, which makes Death of the Outsider a worthy expansion or continuation in every sense of the term. A no brainer for fans of the series, and a great way for newcomers to see what all the fuss is about.