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Friday, 8 December 2017

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider - Review










Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks 
Platforms: PC, PS4 (version played), Xbox One

Dishonored is a series I find endlessly frustrating. On the one hand, it’s a set of games that I think I should really like; there’s the unique art style, the (in theory) interesting world, and a fairly flexible game system that allows you to play in multiple ways.

All this is scuppered however, by the fact that there’s something inevitably bland about the game’s design, despite its attempts to avoid typical fantasy tropes. The game would seem to want players to care about its world; after all, a big element of the game is its chaos system, yet, most Dishonored characters are dull robots with little in the way of character. As I said in my previous review, Arkane Studios seem to care a lot about making an intriguing world but don’t seem as desperate to tell interesting stories in that world that they’ve gone to the trouble of creating, and I think that’s a huge part of the series’ problem.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider switches up a few formula staples. For starters, all of your powers are available right off the bat. Playing as Billie Lurk, you have three special abilities at your disposal; a teleportation skill, basically Billie’s version of the typical Blink ability that forms the foundation of Dishonored’s level design, a disguise power that allows you to assume the faces of enemies and pass as them for a limited time, and Foresight, which freezes time and enables you to scout ahead outside of your body.

The streamlined approach to your skill suite does a lot to help Death of the Outsider keep its focus. Without a broad spectrum of powers to check and balance, Arkane are better able to grasp the myriad ways that a player can approach each challenge.

This does come at the expense of some of the previous games’ freedom, mind. There’s a clear focus on stealth this time around. Of course, that’s always been a heavy focus for the series but here it borders on mandatory. Billie’s combat equipment lacks some of the heavier arsenal that Emily and Corvo had access to. Her gun for instance, is a silenced wrist shooter.


The game’s levels have been designed around this narrower skill-set. Earlier chapters have you skulking around Karnaca, trying to track down clues about the Outsider. It’s the third act that’s the most engaging however; an elaborate heist inside a bank vault. It plays to the game’s stealthy focus whilst still giving players a broad range of ways to tackle the challenge; with multiple entry points and ways to get to your target.

Other sequences suffer from the short development time, however. Sections of each level have characters parading around that you need to off or steal something from in a really clunky and artificial manner, emphasizing that this is in fact a game space and not a lived in world. In another game this wouldn’t be too bad, but if there’s one thing this series has nailed its the ability to immerse the player. Throughout Death of the Outsider though, that illusion regularly dissipates as the game makes concessions to its time and budget.

It doesn’t help that many of the series’ flaws haven’t been fixed. Combat is still a clunky button-mash that’s not made any better now that most of the cooler toys have been removed. Meanwhile, whilst stealth is clearly the way to go, the game has a wonky system even at the best of times, with some characters lacking any peripheral awareness whatsoever, whilst others spot you from a mile away.

It’s the game’s finale that’s the most frustrating. As I’ve said, Dishonored is a series with impeccable world building but frankly dreadful writing. Hiring Rosario Dawson and Michael Madsen to voice your characters will only get you so far, and by about the halfway mark, any attachment you (tried) to have with these characters will be long gone. This is a game where Daud, Billie Lurk’s mentor, chides her on snooping through his journal which he hints that he’s hidden...only it was hidden right on top of his bed, in plain sight.

Without the cookie-cutter revenge plot that the previous two games used, Death of the Outsider struggles even more than its predecessors did. The Outsider makes for an annoying, bland and vague villain, spouting nonsense and gibberish which, whilst that might be the point, (he’s somewhere between an Alistair Crowley-type and something out of Lovecraft) doesn’t make for engaging storytelling. It’s frankly laughable when, during the game’s final scenes, you’re left to decide whether to save this stupid character or murder him. There’s zero attachment there, zilch, I wasn’t feeling remorse or anger towards this figure, simply indifference.


Perhaps the biggest risk that Death of the Outsider takes in its trimming down of the game’s structure is the removal of the chaos system. This is the one game mechanic that directly tied into its best feature; its world design, and is sorely missed here. Without any incentive to play a certain way, and with the breadth of your skill-set curtailed by the smaller pool of powers, the game frequently feels hamstrung and limited, lacking the replayability that the previous instalments offered.

To be fair, the game does provide some incentive to stick around in levels and root out some extra things to do. Each chapter has a series of contracts; basic assassinations and thefts that you can carry out. The big reward for doing them, aside from the satisfaction, is the money you accrue can be spent on upgrades to your gear. Only, the upgrades are trivial at best, bigger ammo pouches, quieter footsteps, it’s rarely interesting and makes you less inclined to risk being spotted in a level just to go after an additional mark for some extra cash.

It’s a little unfair to compare Death of the Outsider to the previous games simply because this clearly doesn’t have the same time and budget spent on it. It’s a DLC expansion and should be treated as such. However, the best expansions do just that, they expand the concepts of their parent game in new and interesting ways. Death of the Outsider tries to do this by shrinking back its scope and focus on a narrower array of gameplay options in a more intimate fashion. In doing so however, it robs the series of its greatest strengths whilst also highlighting many of its weaknesses.

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