Dishonored: Death of the Outsider review: A fine follow-up to a stealth masterwork

The biggest flaw with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is that it released after Dishonored 2. Memories of Dishonored 2’s busted PC launch are still all-too-easily conjured up in my mind, but there’s another aspect we don’t talk about as often: Its level design. Here’s an excerpt from my review last year:

Dishonored 2 takes first-person stealth to new heights…As far as this type of Thief-style steal-everything-that-isn’t-nailed-down stealth game goes, Dishonored 2 is a masterwork.”

masterwork. My review focused on two levels in particular—the Clockwork Mansion, with its shifting walls and multitude of paths, and the “Crack in the Slab” mission, which [Year-old spoiler] saw you flitting between past and present versions of Aramis Stilton’s manor, one pristine and getting ready for a party, the other crumbling into dust. [End spoiler]

But those were just the two standouts. Dishonored 2 was full of groundbreaking levels. Death of the Outsider? Not so much.

Devil in the details

I alluded to this last week, as I wrote up my impressions of the first two missions. “It’s a lot of the usual—soldier-filled streets, alternate paths through pseudo-Victorian apartments, some industrial areas, some docks. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it definitely feels a bit been-there-done-that. Hopefully the game picks up a bit as it approaches the end.”

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

IDG / Hayden Dingman

It didn’t. Death of the Outsider’s third mission (of five) is probably the strongest—a bank heist. It has a strong visual style, which helps. Creative approaches, too. [Spoiler] One path allows you to knock out all the guards by pumping laudanum into the level before you enter. The catch: If you make too much noise, everyone wakes up and tries to apprehend you. The challenge is to make it through the whole bank without waking anyone. The perfect crime! [End spoiler]

The bank is also a self-contained area, which I think is important. While I love some of the wide-open levels in Dishonored 2, I think the series is best when the player is constrained—when the space is an elaborately-constructed puzzle. The Clockwork Mansion fits that bill, as does Stilton’s manor, as does Death of the Outsider’s bank.

So yeah, a high note. The fifth and final mission also wins points for aesthetic—it’s very different from business-as-usual Dishonored. You’ll see.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

IDG / Hayden Dingman

But too much of Death of the Outsider feels rote. The first mission is notable only because you don’t yet have any supernatural powers, but is otherwise standard Dishonored. The second is one of those wide-open areas, and feels like playing the Dust District again. The third mission, pre-bank robbery, actually uses the same open hub as the second mission—frustrating because completionists will have to backtrack through and rob the same handful of apartments again for no real reason. It would’ve been better if the bank mission had been truly self-contained.

The fourth mission is just a rework of the Royal Conservatory level from Dishonored 2, post-witches. No, really, it’s the same building, but with the interior changed to reflect events in the previous game. And then there’s the fifth level, which is at least more interesting to look at but not groundbreaking to play.

None of it is bad, but coming off Dishonored 2 it feels like a letdown. Even a mediocre Dishonored is still a solid stealth experience, but this isn’t like BioShock 2’s Minerva’s Den (or even Knife of Dunwall, the expansion for the original Dishonored) where it felt like it added a lot to the base game and was, in some ways, an even better experience. Dishonored 2 is the high-water mark here, and Death of the Outsider very much an add-on.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

IDG / Hayden Dingman

Hello, old friends.

That goes for the story, too. I wasn’t a huge fan of Dishonored 2’s story, and was hopeful here. The title Death of the Outsider is certainly an attention grabber, and “killing a demigod” sounded like far better stakes than Dishonored 2 proper, which was basically a rehash of the original game’s royal family woes but set in the Caribbean.

Death of the Outsider doesn’t make much of its conceit, though. There are some intriguing moments, a few bits of lore that will appeal to longtime fans, and potential ramifications to either ending that could make a Dishonored 3very interesting indeed.

Billie Lurk’s story doesn’t go much of anywhere though, Daud barely moves the needle, and the ending feels entirely unearned. Both endings, actually. Despite starting strong, the player is eventually rushed to an inevitable conclusion without any motivation given, and were it not for the fact it’s titled Death of the Outsider you might be forgiven for thinking the whole plan is absurd. There’s no “Why” to any of it. Daud decides to kill the Outsider for the thinnest of reasons, Billie agrees because the title expects her to agree, and we’re left with plot holes you could pilot a whale through.