Monday, 30 August 2021

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

Fifteen years ago, the assassin Billie Lurk betrayed her friend and mentor, Daud. For all that time she has sought solace and redemption. Having aided Emily Kaldwin regain her throne, Billie now goes in search of the long-missing Daud, tracking him down to an unsavoury district of Karnaca. But the reunion does not go smoothly, and Billie is left with a daunting task: to eliminate the Outsider, the god-like being who dwells in the Void and whose influence has shifted the course of history for more than four thousand years.

Dishonored 2 is one of the greatest games of the 2010s, a triumph of atmosphere and outstanding game design that even goes beyond its excellent predecessor. Its brilliance was marred by a technically-compromised launch which took months to resolve, which put off buyers. The game sold, at best, mediocrely and well below Bethesda's expectations. Arkane Lyon started work on a new game, Deathloop (due out next month) but were able to sneak in an expansion to Dishonored 2, which became the stand-alone game Death of the Outsider.

Death of the Outsider is a mixed bag. For those who enjoy Dishonored rich, unusual atmosphere and its focus on stealth, the game continues to deliver those aspects in spades. However, it does feel cut-down. It is only half the length of Dishonored 2 itself and does re-use one level twice and repurposes another from Dishonored 2. Time and budget constraints feel apparent in the game as it bumps up against those limits constantly. Billie only has three Void powers and a limited set of equipment compared to the previous arsenals wielded by Corvo, Daud and Emily, which leaves her feeling underpowered compared to the other protagonists. However, she can use her powers much more often as her mana bar refills to maximum automatically (a great idea that should be backported to the older games, frankly) and there's no need to hunt for mana potions. Her powers are also extremely impressive, especially Semblance which allows her to take on another character's appearance (even a major NPC) to pass through secure areas, and a drone-like ability to astrally scout out levels for routes and hidden passages.

Level design is as formidably excellent as always, with the bank heist making up the central setpiece of the game being particularly brilliant, especially if you decide to put the entire bank to sleep by poisoning the airducts. Unlike other parts of the series where people are knocked out for the duration of the level, here they can be woken up by loud noises or you accidentally bumping them, adding a lot of complexity to how you traverse the area (you can knock people out properly, but there's an achievement for doing the level without resorting to that). It's not quite as good as the Clockwork Mansion or the time-travel manor house from Dishonored 2, or the Boyle Mansion from the first game, but it's pretty damn good.

Unfortunately, the area surrounding the level is less well-designed. The game has the absolute nadir quest moment of the franchise when either a bug or a poorly-thought-out bit of design prevents you from carrying unconscious bodies through a level transition zone, forcing you to fight your way through a building to the front door with almost no capacity for stealth. It's easily the most disappointing moment of the whole series in denying you a choice in how to proceed and forcing you to resort to violence.

The game's plot builds satisfyingly as it goes along and the ending is unexpectedly thoughtful and interesting, with the ultimate resolution of the story (and the entire series to date) resting on a meaningful decision you have to make. It wraps up the story that began in the first game quite well, and sees Arkane putting a line under the franchise for now. I hope they return to this world, but if they do it'll apparently be a completely different location and in a different time period.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (****) gives you more Dishonored to play, which is always a good thing, but time and budget pressures mean a somewhat less-polished experience than the previous games in the series, with a few cut corners. But the bank heist mission is up there with the best levels in the franchise and the story and character arcs develop and end well. Disappointing when compared to the greatness of what came before, but on its own terms still a very well-designed game. The game is available now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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