Games Review: Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (PC, 2017) is a solid final chapter with no new ideas

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider takes former-apprentice assassin Billie Lurk, a character the series has heretofore considered little more than a side-kick, and catapults her into the spotlight as a lead. The final game in the current Dishonored series hands Billie an unenviable task — find and kill the Outsider.

The Outsider is one of Dishonored‘s most mysterious villains. A practitioner of magic and shadowy puppet master, the Outsider has been pulling the strings around heroes and villains alike from the moment the plot of the original Dishonored began. The one thing that Billie has going for her on this particular job is that when she’s on task, she cannot be derailed. Her all-business approach is the perfect antidote to her target’s foppish nature and fondness for a good Bond villain monologue.

Indeed, Lurk spends most of the game so fixated on getting the job done that the only time she’s really forced to look inward is when the Outsider starts making offers that give her pause — including the offer of helping her bring about his own end.

But Billie isn’t interested any web of intrigue, just revenge served cold. With the help of Daud, her former master now in failing health, Lurk heads back to the city of Karnaca to do … well, pretty much everything you already did in Dishonored 2.

Lurk controls the same way Korvo and Emily did, she can execute many of the same moves that Korvo and Emily did, she embarks on many of the same fetch-quest mission types that Korvo and Emily did. It feels, at once, as polished as anything Arkane have done with the series to date and also left me feeling like I’d seen and done it all before because I have.

The only area where Death of the Outsider really changes anything up is in Lurk’s abilities. While she can perform the now-familiar short-range teleport, it’s augmented with the ability to reappear inside someone’s body and explode out of them, showering everything around you in blood and gibs. I’m not going to lie, I actually really liked that one. Good form, Arkane, I’ll never mark you down for good gibs.

Lurk can also perform a kind of at-will out-of-body-experience, sending her consciousness away from her body to run recon over upcoming parts of the map. It’s a good way to uncover hidden loot and the mechanic is brought back to solve a few physics puzzles later on which was nice to see.

The last trick on Lurk’s utility belt is her ability to borrow people’s faces like a video game Arya Stark or Hannibal Lecter. This allows her to pass by guards undetected, unless the body of the now-faceless victim is discovered or she encounters Dishonored‘s most pain-in-the-arse enemy, a dog. Dogs will sniff Lurk out with ease and you’ll be on the lam with alarm bells ringing before you know it if you aren’t careful.

Death of the Outsider also continues the series’ fascination with using movement as a means of traversal and puzzle-solving at the same time. The vast majority of the game’s puzzles are not about turning some bewildering Rubik’s Cube over and over trying to find the right combination, they’re about simply getting from one end of a given gauntlet to the other. The perennial downside to this design philosophy is that, unless you are particularly enamoured by that game loop, you might find everything starts to feel a bit the same after a while. There were a few especially elaborate ones that forced me to consider all the applications of Bilie’s abilities (a-Billie-ties? I’ll show myself out), and I quite enjoyed them, but they were the exception rather than the rule.

But David, I hear you cry, Dishonored’s thing is that it’s whole world is one HUGE puzzle, not a series of smaller, more discrete ones. That’s true. The world is designed so that it can be traversed in a variety of ways. Dishonored feels like it wants you to experiment — except for those moments when it obviously doesn’t and has something specific it wants you to do, but most of the time I feel as though I am free to dick around, come up with a plan and try my luck.

But as a consequence of this, the same problem I had with Dishonored and Dishonored 2 rears its head again here. Arkane wants you to believe that there’s no wrong way to play Dishonored but there very clearly is, and it’s only when you embark on a playthrough in which you kill everyone that you come to understand this. Murdering your way to the end feels like a cop out. It’s easy, messy and unsatisfying and the game is built to make it feel that way. At best, it’s a warm up round for your “real” playthrough where you don’t murder anyone and are never discovered once, which is much more challenging and satisfying on the whole.

The area where Arkane is still succeeding in no uncertain terms is in their art design. Karnaca still feels like a mad blend of Dickens and the fall of the Roman Empire. Everything, from the building architecture to the clothes on peoples backs, is incredibly extravagant but if you peel back just a single layer of paint, you’ll find it’s rotted underneath. It paints a picture of a culture that has built its fortune on a foundation of corruption, and is now strangled by the very systems it put in place to ensure continued prosperity. Sound like anyone we know?

Karnaca’s streets are a mirror of its bureaucracy — maze-like avenues, houses with deliberately obtuse puzzle-box floorplans, hallways and alleys that lead nowhere and causeways that will trap the player in an endless loop. The environments are littered with opulent garbage cast aside by the city’s rich inhabitants and all of it, tellingly, is useless to you.

All of this eye-popping world design means its very easy to miss the thing you’re looking for, or otherwise items in the world that are actually interactive. Sometimes its a dial, sometimes its a painting or a hidden lever. Most of the time I’ll completely fail to notice the thing I’m looking for and find myself wandering in circles for great swaths of time, becoming more and more irritated. I know that this is kind of what Arkane are going for, they want me to pay close attention and have made doing so part of the game. Their environments have been designed in a way that they become more than just window dressing for the player to cast an eye over as they pass through. If you care to really look, you’ll find they’ve all got a little story to tell.

But again, despite this attention to detail, Death of the Outsider didn’t show me anything I hadn’t seen before. It’s all very familiar at this point, and that may rub returning players the wrong way, particularly those who found Dishonored to be a work of startling originality.

If you are already a fan of Dishonored, then Death of the Outsider is a 20-hour third helping. It is happy to give you more of the same if you are happy to receive it. If you were not a fan of Dishonored before, Death of the Outsider does literally nothing to change your mind.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider feels a little creatively tapped out, which is almost a sure sign that Arkane is saving their best ideas for whatever form the series takes next. It’s a solid final chapter that features a solid lead character but it doesn’t aspire to be anything more than that.

Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Billie is cool; Gibbing people from within is cool; Freedom to explore is cool
Lowlights: No truly new ideas
Developer: Arkane
Publisher: Bethesda
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Reviewed on Windows PC.