A few months back, I have finished Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, the third standalone installment of the Dishonored series and the finale of its "Kaldwin Era" story arc. The game has left me with... mixed feelings, particularly in regards to its value as an immersive sim, which is a genre that I got into through the Dishonored series, in the first place.
At the root of my conundrum lies the question of what an immersive sim ultimately is about: the space and the emergent interactions or the characters inhabiting this space and interacting with them? If you read any of the immersive sim developers' commentary, it is abundantly clear that they are focusing on the former, the space and the emergence, but how much do they know about their creations? After all, if you believe the MDA model, they view their games from point a fundamentally opposed to the players'. So, under the working assumption that immersive sims are about characters, how does DotO measure up to its immediate predecessors?
If you look at the original Dishonored, the entire game space is itself a giant mirror held up to the characters within it. Every level in Dunwall tells us about our next target, establishing a personal intimacy that wouldn't be possible with cutscenes and dialogue, while the sum of all levels, in turn, tells us the character of Dunwall itself, just like the sum of our actions as Corvo tells us what kind of person our Corvo is. The same goes for Daud's DLC Duology (DDD) and Dishonored 2. All three made me care about the people and the place they lived in.
What does DotO tells us about Karnaca or the Empire, which we didn't already know from D2? Not much, really. Neither does it characterize our main mark, the Outsider, beyond giving him a sterile-clean, formulaic backstory. At the end of the game, we still don't know what kind of person he was before becoming a god – so how can we decide whether to spare him, not knowing what kind of person he will be without his divinity? All the other, human "targets" feel more like footnotes on the path to the next MacGuffin than like actual people.
And that is the crux of my discontent with DotO: it has too few characters and too little character in it. For me, D1 was about exacting ironic revenge on wicked people (without the "ironic" part in Lady Boyle's case), while D2 was about healing and mending people and relationships that were once broken (except Kirin Jindosh). DDD was instead largely about the person of Daud and his quest for redemption – Daud's marks may be entirely forgettable, but he is the pillar that carries that story. I feel like DotO's designers and writers wanted it to follow DDD's mold, but in my opinion, Billie is not nearly as interesting a character as her mentor. This is, perhaps, reflected, in how unpersonal and detached from her back-story her powers feel, compared to those of the other three protagonists.
I find it very difficult to care about people in DotO, especially since Billie herself hardly cares about anyone except Daud and her long-dead girlfriend (Aramis Stilton is mysteriously absent). She doesn't even really care about the death of the Outsider that much! Killing him is really only Daud's passion and his personal fight – and one must wonder why Arkane didn't make him the protagonist in the first place. A big part of Billie and Daud not caring about anything or anyone in Karnaca may be that neither has any meaningful connection to the place, unlike Corvo, a Karnacan by birth, and Emily, its nominal sovereign.
I also found myself unable to care about Karnaca itself in DotO. Both D1 and D2 have consistently painted their respective city's character: deeply flawed and sick with plague and man-made crises, but at the same time, relatable and awe-inspiringly ambitious. In D2 especially, the levels are massive and open, and there is always a vista or a city panorama close by, with tons of open sky and sea. Ambition is really the main character trait of D2's Karnaca, with its larger-than-life architecture (like the Addermire Institute, the Jindosh Mansion, the Royal Conservatory, and the Grand Palace) and machinery (like the windmills in the Dust District). D1 had some of that epic ambition, vistas, and eye-meltingly beautiful sunsets, too, on the Kaldwin Bridge, which is, accidentally, my favorite level of the game.
Compare that to DotO, where you only see open sky and sea from the Dreadful Wale, and most of the time when you are not constrained by utilitarian buildings, caves, or cave-like buildings, it's night outside. DotO's Karnaca has no ambition or scale – it is just an urban environment that Billie passes through on a way to pay off a debt for her mentor. The only time it felt like old, D2 Karnaca to me was when I saw Addermire from the Upper Cyria canals – and that was in the second level out of five...