Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
One question is all it took for Arkane Studios' Harvey Smith to spiral into a deep and philosophical journey recapping eight years of working on the Dishonored series. Smith was energetic and clearly proud of the work he and his team had produced, but also somber, as Death of the Outsider brings closure to that journey. Death of the Outsider is a standalone game that is shorter than the previous two adventures starring Corvo and Emily, but still offers five meaty chapters that equate to nine to twelve hours of gameplay. I talked to Smith about this potential final act for the series, and learn plenty about the mysterious Outsider in the process.
Game Informer: The Outsider is one of my favorite creations by Arkane Studios – an enigmatic being that always seems to be watching you or making his presence known at the right times. Taking all of that into account, when I see the name "Death of the Outsider," I immediately think this is the end of the road for this series. Is this the finale?
Harvey Smith: I don't know what's going to happen after this. I don't know if there will be more Dishonored games. For us, working on this arc that started with the rat plague and Corvo, this is a finale. It's definitely a rare opportunity to work for eight years on this arc. You don't plan the whole thing from day one, but you can see as you go and make adjustments to it. What I will say is Dishonored starts with the death of [empress] Jessamine Kaldwin – the political assassination – and the whole of civilization wobbles at that point. She dies. Corvo, her lover and bodyguard, is standing in front of her. Emily, her daughter, is standing there. Daud is there because he pushes the knife in. Billy [Lurk] is there because she's part of the crew that assaults her. And then Corvo does his arc. It's all thematically about the abuse of power – the concentration and the abuse of power – either through aristocrats or their warping money they have, or guards and the legal authority over you, or supernatural assassins as the metaphor, right?
Then we see it all from Daud's perspective as he goes out on the rooftops, heading toward Jessamine, Emily, and Corvo. They are talking to Billie and making their move. He realizes this isn't just a killing of a corrupt aristocrat; this is going to do things. He knew he did something bad. Corvo ultimately spares him, which is a surprise, and then 15 years later we have older Corvo and Emily's adventure. Spoiler, but Meagan Foster living on the boat with [Emily] is a lost soul, she's adrift, but she takes a lot from Emily and Emily takes a lot from her. At the end of Dishonored 2, when Emily goes back to Dunwall, Meagan Foster drops the name [becomes Billie Lurk], finds her purpose again. She's going to find Daud, her old mentor, and put an end to this. Her conclusion is whether the Outsider is a sympathetic figure or not, such a concentration of power is a bad thing. She clearly has a handful of unresolved issues. Her boat is called the Dreadful Whale, which is an anagram for Farewell Daud. She's the most weathered character, with the most interesting history, and probably the most interesting protagonist I think we've done.
Her power doesn't draw from the mark of the Outsider. She persists after him, and draws her power from the Void itself. It's a project that's experimental in many ways. We don't do potions to replenish your mana – it recharges instead. We also don't give you a pallet of powers to buy. We pick some that are curated, and feel like they fit better and are constrained, which makes them more interesting. [Death of the Outsider] is a standalone expansion that offers nine to twelve hours of gameplay.
Back to the original question: Is it a finale?
Yeah, it is a finale to the arc. New Dishonored games I assume would not involve this time period, or Corvo, Emily, Daud, and Billie. She's a really interesting character to end it all on. For me it's been an amazing time. I worked on it for eight years, first with Raphael Colantonio, Ricardo Bare, and people like that, and then later with Sachka Duval and the team in Leon more directly when I moved to France. We literally at the end were hiring people who grew up cutting their teeth on Dishonored [as fans], and knew a lot about it. When we were making it all up as we went initially, that's one set of challenges, but when we went to Dishonored 2, I went and found Sachka and hired it, and she was just steeped in the lore because she had played the first game and DLCs. Now she's leading the narrative. It's been a wild ride. Through the entire time, we've had largely the same art direction and level design direction. Sébastien Mitton and Christophe Carrier and Dinga Bakaba, who was a character designer on the first project, was my right hand during Dishonored 2, as lead designer. By the end of the project, we listed "additional creative direction" to Sachka Duval, Christophe Carrier, and Dinga Bakaba, just because their roles were so pivotal [in the first game].
I think people are a little scared of this game because exactly what it is wasn't communicated well. I know some people who think it's DLC, but that isn't the case at all.
It's a major new chapter in the Dishonored universe. It's the last piece of the puzzle. I hope people who played Dishonored 1 play this one. It's really fascinating to think some people will walk into this as their first Dishonored title. Like maybe they've never heard of it, but they are exposed to it for the first time, and they buy it on Steam and play it. We always make the world bigger than the story we are telling, so it will really feel like to them "Holy s---, these people are talking about events and history and people that I don't know," but we try to keep that coherent. We have tutorials that are videos and we ease you into it. We also do a lot of world building and environmental storytelling, so maybe they will go back and play the first two games, but maybe not. Maybe they are attracted to just this one because it's about killing a god like figure. That's fascinating. It's totally possible that will happen when we decided to make it standalone and not a direct expansion.
Let's talk about the name of the game again. For people who played the series up to this point, that's a shocking proposition. Killing the Outsider seems like a tall order. How does he get involved in this one?
I'll tell you some stuff I haven't told other people. Five years ago, when I started talking about the second game, I said "Oh, it's going to be 15 years later and Emily is going to be the protagonist." That was a shocker for the team and everyone else. And then at some point, I said "You know what we should do for DLC? We should let players decide whether to kill the Outsider or not. And then we should deal with whatever cosmological impact that has on the Void and everything else in the world." We had all sorts of crazy ideas, like his power gets broken up between all of the people that were ever marked, so they become like these demigods in the world. We didn't end up going there, but that was an idea we were kicking around. At that point though it wasn't Billie Lurke. Only over time, when we saw Meagan Foster, and in the low chaos playthrough how she confesses to Emily, and they deal with that. Meagan was missing an arm and an eye, and Emily unmade that. She was kind of a woman broken in time. We were like, "My god, her looking for Daud and killing the Outsider is a great ending."
Very early on, when we were talking about this game, we referred to it as the Death of the Outsider. It almost has an Old West feel. When we finished Dishonored 2 and started working with marketing, we had all of these different names. I think we called it Dead Hand at some point because Daud is the one who, when Billie finds him, she's the one who has hatched the idea of killing the Outsider, but he can't complete it because he's failing. It's almost like Lancelot goes after the Holy Grail, but isn't good enough to get it, but Galahad is. Billie takes it on and says "I'm going to finish it."
Dead Hand is from the Soviet era. They had switches, a mechanism or protocol where if someone didn't check in every 24 hours, they would launch all of the nukes. Moscow and other places had to ping them. That was just in case everyone got obliterated. It's a dead hand on the button. That was initially the working title of the project. I don't remember why we couldn't go with that, but we an internal project title of Blackheart, or something like that. We liked it a lot. When marketing kept kicking around ideas, we kept presenting those things, you know, Dead Hand and Blackheart, and everyone was like "Eh, it's not quite right." Other people started suggesting things, and they all felt wrong, so at some point in one of the meetings I said, "You know, when we first conceived this, we just called it Death of the Outsider." Everyone in marketing sat up and said "Oh my god, that's perfect. Let's call it that." It's a long and involved process and no one is a genius on day one. Everyone is trying to figure it out. It's a collaborative thing.
The Outsider is a polarizing character. People had all sorts of misconceptions about him. "Oh, he's satanic," or whatever.
He seemed like he was toying with the player. At least that's what I got. I never got a solid read on him, and that's partly what made him so dynamic.
We tried to make him sarcastic, but gamers don't read that at all sometimes. If you killed Lady Boyle and wrecked the party, the Outsider says something like "You spoiled the party, and took off her head. What choice did you have?" Of course we meant that sarcastically because you totally had a choice, but players were like "Yeah, he's advocating that I killed that woman." It's a tricky thing to deal with sarcasm in games. People can easily misinterpret your stuff. The way we saw the Outsider was 4,000 years ago, this guy was a street urchin as a child. There are very few people in the world that are as vulnerable as homeless children, especially when they are very young. Like imagine a toddler living in the ruins of a city. Yemen right now is going through a crisis. Those people are very vulnerable, and everyone has a concentration of power relative to them. For the history of this character, a cult sees him and ritualistically executed or sacrificed him in order to create the entity that is the Outsider. Our fiction is the Void is eternal, but there's an avatar every few thousand years that watches the Void. In this game, you get to see a piece of what created the Outsider; the Eye of the Dead God. You get to see more of the cult that created the Outsider. The way we see him, since he's a figure that was abused and used, he grants people concentrations of power and cynically expects them to abuse it. If they don't he's pleasantly surprised. Like human nature surprised him. We see him as a sympathetic figure, but Billie still thinks this is a bad thing, and he needs to go. But once again, you don't have to kill anyone in the Dishonored games, so there's an alternate way and all of that.