The stories of both main Dishonored games have always functioned on an uncomfortable thematic contradiction. These are pulpy revenge tales where massive kingdom-shaking coups are made into intensely personal vendettas, where members of the nobility are cast into hiding and seek to regain power by slitting the throats, literally or figuratively, of the elites that stole it from them. It’s always felt like these games wanted to immerse players in the sad, filthy streets of a society that’s being crushed under the oppressive weight of its institutions and then allow them to be the vengeful sword of the people. But while all that violence against the corruption of industry, religion, and government feels like righteous rebellion in the moment, there’s no escaping the fact that Corvo and Emily are ultimately members of that same aristocracy. Yes, the citizens of The Empire Of The Isles are far better off under the auspices of Emily The Merciful than Delilah The Deranged, but the end result of all that action is personal vindication and the reforming of a less awful aristocratic status quo.
And so the vein of revolutionary thinking that’s flowed under the series’ surface from the beginning was never fully realized. Death Of The Outsider, a standalone follow-up to Dishonored 2 and potentially the last game in the series, comes off as a more genuine attempt to bring that angst to the forefront and offer a more amoral playground in which to express it. You’re not playing as a queen or a royal bodyguard but Billie Lurk, a queer black woman who spent her youth murdering and stealing to keep from becoming a prostitute. She was shunned and dehumanized by everyone around her, including her mother and, after an act of violence against the nobleman who killed her beloved Deirdre, her friends and partners in the criminal underworld. The only person who’d eventually embrace her and encourage her talents was Daud, the famed supernatural assassin who spared her life and made her a part of his elite mercenary squad. Eventually, she’d become estranged even from him after a failed attempt to take his position.
It’s a reunion with and promise to her former mentor that sets the events of Death Of The Outsider in motion. Held down and made pawns for too long, these pariahs decide it’s time to aim higher and eliminate the one force that’s bigger than all of the aristocrats that have abused them and everyone else: The Outsider, the occult deity who acts as the source of all the magic in Dishonored and who, Daud believes, is also the source of this world’s ills, the puppeteer behind all the plots and suffering. Symbolically speaking, at least, it’s as big a target as these characters can take on, an embodiment of all the agents we’re powerless to influence despite them governing our lives.
Throughout the game, that anti-authority attitude is occasionally made more literal. While most of the environments either feel or actually are familiar—one has been taken straight from Dishonored 2 and changed a bit, while another acts as the hub for multiple missions—Death Of The Outsider’s centerpiece is a lengthy heist at a huge, ornate bank. It’s one of the best levels to ever appear in the series, with a ton of prep work to undergo (or not), several interesting options for infiltration, and lots of safes to crack. And as you work your way through this humongous testament to wealth and greed in search of the only thing that might be able to kill the outsider, you’re finding evidence of the bank’s all-too-real cruelty to the people of the city that surrounds it. Letters from ordinary citizens alleging unfairness and outright thievery litter its offices, many of which have been crumpled and discarded like the fruitless cries for help that they are. After seeing all that, and feeling the obvious echoes to the world outside the game, sliding a sword into the bank owner’s chest feels only natural.
The fury and injustice at the heart of this Dishonored side story definitely push you toward violence in a way its other games have not, but bloodshed is further encouraged by its biggest changes to the way the series plays. There’s no invisible morality meter tracking the number of people you kill and quietly punishing you by degrading the world to reflect it. And you can take on secondary contracts that bring you to remote corners of each level’s metropolitan sandbox and sometimes force you to take lives. In one instance, you’re even asked to kill every single enemy in a location save one, presumably so whoever drew up the contract can step in for some face-to-face payback against this fiend. Billie is well equipped for mayhem, too. She carries the same basic arsenal of lethal and non-lethal weapons as her fellow Dishonored stars, but her dark magic works slightly differently. She only has access to three abilities, none of which can be upgraded to suit your playstyle as in other games. (Some Bonecharms do offer slight alterations.) Her moves have a little less utility in stealth situations when compared to other characters, but they’re great for zipping around and slicing up everyone in sight. Combined with the constant regeneration of her magic meter, it feels like a pretty strong nudge toward a more violent path.
The game can still be completed without killing a single person, and considering the series’ history, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that includes the ultimate target of your scheme. Either outcome feels like a logical conclusion to this particular story and has the same effect of destroying the supernatural underbelly of Dishonored’s universe. But after everything we’ve come to learn about The Outsider’s origins, greeting him with a final act of malice might not be the just and good solution you thought it was. He appears to be some sort of all-powerful god whose ambiguous intentions bring nothing but strife, but he was yet another innocent outcast who had his life ruined by powers beyond his control. He’s the ultimate symbol of the abuse that Dishonored’s many monstrous characters perform and a reminder that, even in a world where black magic and alternate planes of existence are real, humanity’s inclination to do evil to each other is a far greater threat than some unknowable agent. Death Of The Outsider’s clever ending choice gives you the opportunity to undo the wrong that created him, not with more bloodshed or manipulation but with one of the truest acts of compassion that this cold-hearted series has ever afforded. It doesn’t get much more radical than that.