Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – Side Contracts and Social Stealth

A recent article on the official Bethesda website describes Contracts – the side missions we'll be able to undertake in the upcoming Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. And even though Death of the Outsider's protagonist is an assassin, Contracts won't be simple go there – murder that jobs, according to the article. Instead, they'll offer various insights into the world of Dishonored and the characters inhabiting it. Here's how this will all work:

“Billie has undergone major changes, and she’s now a supernatural operative in a sense – like Corvo, Daud or Emily before her,” says Creative Director Harvey Smith. “But Billie is not coming at this from the angle that Corvo or Emily did, from a position at the imperial court. Billie is like her mentor Daud, an assassin. In her mind, some people just need killing… there’s no other way.”

Enter the Contract system. In addition to the side objectives you can uncover just by exploring the world, Death of the Outsider introduces a way for Billie to take a break from the mission and help the citizens of Karnaca solve their problems – for the right price, of course. Get rewarded for your efforts, and learn a bit more about how the people live their lives – often through murder and backstabbing. No one wants to do their own dirty work, not when they can pay someone like Billie Lurk to neatly handle it.

“Contracts are a new system dreamed up by the Arkane team members in Lyon, France,” says Smith. “We felt like mercenary Contracts were the right call for Billie as a new featurette, just like adding Favors felt right for Daud in the Knife of Dunwall and the Brigmore Witches, since Daud had years of experience running an underworld organization, and presumably a bunch of people owed him blood debts. Most of the time, Contracts can be found and undertaken in black market shops across Karnaca. They’re often stranger in nature than most Dishonored missions.”

The People’s Stories

Our recent hands-on time with Death of the Outsider demo takes us to Upper Cyria, a new area of Karnaca for players to discover. Before setting our sights on the mission at hand, we chose to head to the Black Market and pick up some Contracts, with the hope that they would help us better map out this new location. The four Contracts we took on did indeed take us to all corners of Upper Cyria, and each one had distinct objectives and demands.

  • Kidnap the Bartender. The bartender in the Spector Club (an exclusive club run by the Eyeless, a new faction in Death of the Outsider) has made some enemies, and one in particular wants him to disappear for a little while so he can think about what he’s done. In this particular Contract, we have to kidnap the bartender from the busy club and deposit him – still alive – in a crate sitting on a rooftop.
  • Death to the Mime. Someone in Karnaca really hates mimes. If we can remove one particular mime from the picture and make it look like an accident, we’ll receive a healthy stipend. Lucky for us, he plies his silent trade near the district’s infamous suicide spots. (Smith points to this particular Contract as perhaps his favorite in the game.)
  • Workplace Harassment. A bank employee is being threatened on a regular basis and they want it to stop. The client figures the woman bullying them must be working for someone, and they want the abuse to stop. It’s up to us to trail this troublesome “customer” back to her associates and kill them all. This was a good opportunity to put our new Foresight ability to the test and mark her so we wouldn’t lose her.
  • The Missing Brother. There’s a missing brother and just one clue: the Spector Club. We’ll have to search the club, locate the missing man and deliver him to his brother’s cabin alongside the canal. Of course, getting him out of the club without anyone noticing could be tricky.
“With each new Dishonored game, we try to introduce interesting new ideas,” Smith explains. “Both in terms of flavor and game mechanics, Contracts give players something fun to toy with. Often, Contracts will pull you over to another part of the world, away from the main mission, so you get a chance to see something tertiary, and when you move back toward your primary objective, you see the situations along the way from a different angle.”

Unlike main missions, it is possible to fail a Contract. That’s not a game ender; it just means you won’t be paid for your efforts. But that’s OK. You can always try the mission again in a second playthrough, maybe with the help of Original Game +, a mode we’ll be shedding more light on in the weeks to come. A mercenary’s work is never over in Karnaca.

And apart from that, PCGamesN has recently spoken to Harvey Smith about the social stealth aspects of the upcoming game. An excerpt:

“Social stealth is incredibly hard because it changes the fundamental interaction,” Smith says. “It’s almost like a different game - it is a different game.”

The Death of the Outsider team kept iterating after Smith’s feedback, and gradually they reduced the ramifications of their new ability to something more manageable. It remained a mammoth task: there’s plenty of unique dialogue that comes about through combinations of faces and NPCs. But thanks to its constraints, Semblance works.

The NPC whose face Billie steals using Semblance fall immediately unconscious, and moving their body breaks the spell. Moreover, if a guard discovers that victim, they quickly realise there’s something odd about the second version of that person they’ve seen pottering about the place. Trouble soon heads your way.

Successful use of Semblance requires patience. Perambulating through the streets of Karnaca beneath the rarefied skin of a noble, I enjoyed the kind of respect Lurk isn’t usually afforded. But I soon noticed that the spell was gradually draining mana, and eventually I’d be exposed - right in front of the patrolling guards on the pavement. I broke into a run, and the mana drained even faster. Which is when I realised Semblance is intrinsically related to speed: stand still, and you can wear a face forever.

After breaking into the house of Shan Yun - an opera singer with an unlikely link to a cult important to Lurk and Daud’s quest to destroy the Outsider - I made my way upstairs slowly and deliberately. The face of a kitchen staffer could only take me to the first floor, where I watched and learned the patrol routes of Yu’s guards. From there, I hid in a storage room - stuffed with cast-off art only the rich could consider junk - and was able to recharge my mana before taking on the guise of a guard. Earning a salute from a colleague as I ascended the central staircase to the top floor felt like a quiet victory.

Perhaps social stealth’s problem back when it was being toyed with ten years ago was that it relied on the idea of anonymity - the faceless bustle of the city. Here, social stealth is interpersonal: to get where you need to go in Dishonored using Semblance, you have to think about whose face you’re stealing, and what kind of relationship they have with the people whose paths you’re going to cross. Perhaps that’s why it works now where it so often didn’t before.

“I have to say it’s one of the coolest things in Death of the Outsider,” Smith says. “In my most recent playthrough, almost on the final version, I found myself using it more than I expected. In a major scene that is pivotal to a Death of the Outsider mission, I took one of the two major characters - caught him alone, which is hard - and took his face. I walked out and stood in front of the other major character in the mission, and she totally interacted with me as if I were Brother Cardoza. It felt shockingly intimate. I had all these emotional reactions to it and then hustled away.