Billie Lurk, the protagonist of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, is probably scowling as she breaks into the beauty salon. The place is a front for the Eyeless—a criminal syndicate that might actually just be a cult worshipping a hidden trickster god—but that’s not what makes Billie so angry. She crouches, gripping her knife in a clenched fist, and reads a proffered list of the salon’s treatments. Facial creams made out of rats, treatments of whale fat. So-called beauty products no one needs, or can afford.
“The rich pay to poison themselves with this shit,” she mutters. “Wish they’d just finish the job.”
The Dishonored franchise has always had fantastic level design and mechanics, but it has frequently stumbled when it come to narrative. Stories about people given power and set loose to change the world around them can be interesting—but they’re less so when about royalty. The famous disgraced leaders of the fictional empire of Dunwall may be good people, but they’re not easy to relate to.
Now, though, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, a standalone follow-up to Dishonored 2 and the final entry in the series, remedies some of those storytelling ills. This time, the power is in the hands of a former street urchin, a newly un-retired criminal and killer trying to figure out if she can use violence to bring a little justice back to the world. The result is a howling death rattle of systemic discontent. It seethes with an undercurrent of anger that was lacking in any of the previous installments. And it makes the Dishonored formula sing one last time.
Every Dishonored game features two things: a target, and a place. The targets are usually nobles, criminals, people who have wronged the heroes and who need to either be killed or disempowered in some other crafty fashion. The places are—well, they’re incredible. Complex, dense micro-worlds presented to the player as open-ended, moving dioramas. Fantasy steampunk cities and slums that feel real and that reward curiosity in a way almost no other spaces in videogames do.
Death of the Outsider, admittedly, doesn’t have the best places in the series. Its locations are interesting, but with the exception of a stunning mid-game bank heist they don’t quite match the depth or flash of those in earlier games. Thankfully, it has a hell of a target. As the name suggests, there’s only one, this time: The Outsider, the trickster god at the heart of the series mythology, the source of the dark magic that all the game’s protagonists use and abuse to achieve their ends. Billie Lurk has been on the fringes of an entire generation of supernatural conflict; her mentor was the assassin Daud, who used his powers to kill the empress in the first game, and in the second she serves as a mentor to that game’s protagonist under an assumed name. Having reckoned with enough arbitrary pain to kill an ordinary woman, Billie has set her sites on the being who might be the source of it all. The smarmy god himself.
Her journey is a dark tour of her world’s upper class, a slow climb to the origins of the cult that made the Outsider himself. Billie gathers arcane artifacts and forbidden knowledge, learns to wield a living knife that is the only object capable of killing a god, and follows the Outsider’s power back to its originating, primal scene.
Ultimately, Death of the Outsider can’t outrace the series’ tradition of having writing and plotting that land just shy of crisp: its story lacks a crucial conflict or two that would bring a truly satisfying narrative arc. But Billie’s bloody quest to kill God Himself becomes a metaphor for the simmering class anxiety that’s been building for the entirety of the series, the backdrop of every moment of disconnect between the players and the royal avengers this series usually has them play as.
Wait, you might say, as you journey through Dunwall’s underworld, as you see the evil and pain that fills it. Am I not responsible for this? How many social problems can I really solve by strangling crime lords, anyway? It’s the Batman problem: maybe he’d be better hanging up his cape and cowl and buying everyone health insurance. Billie is different, though. She grew up on the streets. She knows that the world is governed by complex systems that can’t be fixed with quick acts of cruelty, that everyone is simultaneously victim and villain in immoral structures that run deeper than bone. Those structures have cost her everyone she loves.
Maybe killing this God will be different, though. Maybe, by fighting the chaotic monster manipulating reality, she can destabilize the existing order just enough to break it. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a single-minded revenge tragedy that builds to a wonderfully understated finale for a franchise all about revenge tragedies. It gives you the reins to Billie Lurk and lets you follow her up the invisible chain of society, up through the nobles and fanatics who worship a neglectful god they maybe helped create in the first place.
Up, up, toward the edges of reality, looking for one last shot at plugging the hole in the world. As far as Billie is concerned, regardless of outcome, it’s one worth taking.