The Outsider (character)
The Outsider as he appears in Dishonored 2
|First game||Dishonored (2012)|
|Created by||Arkane Studios|
The Outsider is a fictional supernatural being in Arkane Studios' Dishonored franchise, residing in an empty otherwordly dimension called the Void. After appearing in promotional webisodes, the character made his game debut in Dishonored (2012), where he grants magical powers to the player character. He serves a similar role in the game's sequel, Dishonored 2 (2016), though may be rejected. The Outsider reappears in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (2017), which follows former-assassin Billie Lurk as she attempts to kill or otherwise neutralize him. Within the series' fiction, the Outsider is one of many representations of the Void that have existed, and was originally a street urchin before being sacrificed by a cult. Voiced by Billy Lush in the first game, the actor was replaced by Robin Lord Taylor for Dishonored 2 onwards.
The character has often been viewed as a sort of trickster god, though director Harvey Smith has denied this interpretation. His sacrifice drew comparisons with the ancient Greek pharmakos by one writer, who would be brought to work on Death of the Outsider. Others commented on the Outsider and the Void as figures of choice, or related them to the open-ended gameplay of the series. The character has received a negative reception from some critics, though has been praised by others.
In the lead-up to Dishonored's release, the Outsider was introduced in more detail in The Tales from Dunwall, a series of webisodes giving more information on the game's lore. "The Hand that Feeds", the second episode, tells of one character the Outsider gifted powers to. An unnamed boy is ostracized and beaten by the other boys he knows, his only friend a white rat. One night while the boy is hiding in an alley, the Outsider appears and grants the boy his mark. Emboldened by his new powers, the boy finds his "tormentors" and uses the mark to unleash a swarm of rats over them, but one of the rats bites him in the process and infects him with the plague. In his last days, succumbing to the sickness, the boy searches in vain for the Outsider to thank him, as he "would no longer have to live in fear, for what little life he had left".
The Outsider then made his game debut in Dishonored, voiced by Billy Lush. In Dishonored, the player plays as Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress. After the Empress is murdered and her daughter kidnapped by Daud, an assassin marked by the Outsider, Corvo is framed for her murder by the new Lord Regent. Corvo escapes six months after and joins with the Loyalists, who wish to rescue the Empress's daughter, put her on the throne, and use Corvo to systematically eliminate the Lord Regent's core allies and then himself. The night after Corvo meets the Loyalists, the Outsider visits Corvo in a dream and marks him, granting him magical powers. He also gifts Corvo a living heart, which gives him the secrets of anyone it's pointed at. If the player finds shrines to the Outsider during the game's missions, the Outsider will discuss Corvo's current mission and his choices during it.
The Outsider kickstarts the story of The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, the game's downloadable content, where he first informs Daud of "Delilah"; this leads Daud to begin investigating her and then work on thwarting her plans. Like in the main game, the player find his shrines across the levels, whereupon the Outsider will comment on Daud and the player's choices so far.
Dishonored 2 (2016)
For Dishonored 2, artists looked again at the Outsider, making slight alterations to some details and giving him a more balanced silhouette. Robin Lord Taylor replaced Lush as the voice of the character. Lush appeared in the Dishonored 2 reveal trailer, but has said he did not receive any further calls about the role afterwards. The character was Taylor's first role in a video game, as well as his first outside of live-action. Taylor was not familiar with the game beforehand, but studied Lush's "amazing" performance in preparation of the role and was given detailed information on the character and the world by Arkane.
In the game, the player can choose to play as Corvo Attano or Empress Emily Kaldwin. After the throne is usurped by the witch Delilah and Corvo's powers robbed of him, the Outsider appears again to offer the mark. The player may deny him and play the game without powers, if they wish. The Outsider appears a few more times, at shrines and at one point where he drags the player into the Void to give them more information on Delilah. During this time, he recounts how he was tied down and sacrificed against his will to become "a god".
Death of the Outsider (2017)
Death of the Outsider was intended to bring the initial story arc of the Dishonored games, following the Outsider and the aftereffects of the Empress's assassination, to a close. The game follows Billie Lurk on a quest to kill or otherwise neutralize the Outsider at the behest of an aged Daud, her former mentor. After rescuing Daud from the clutches a cult devoted to worshipping the Outsider, Daud tells Billie of his plan to kill the "black-eyed bastard". That night the Outsider visits her in a dream, forcibly replacing her arm and left-eye with Void-touched substitutes which grant her magical abilities. Billie searches for the knife used to originally sacrifice the Outsider, which is carefully guarded by the cult and may be used to kill him. After she finds it, the Outsider informs her that Daud has passed away.
Billie tracks the cult to an isolated mountain that leaks physically into the Void. There she finds the Outsider's physical presence, carefully guarded by cultists and encased in stone, surrounded by Daud and other dead spirits wandering the Void. The player may choose to kill the Outsider here. Alternatively, they may discover that the Outsider's mark is actually his forgotten name, taken from him by the ritual and written in the language of the dead, and that if given back this name will undo the ritual and turn the Outsider human once more. The player may then instead convince Daud to forgive the Outsider and whisper the Outsider his name, setting him free to live a new life. In the epilogue, Billie muses that without the Outsider there is to no one to choose who will or won't be touched by the Void's magic.
Character and analysis
Within the context of the Dishonored universe, the Outsider is a representation of the Void. The Void is eternal, though "every few thousands of years" it has an avatar that watches over it. The Outsider himself is not the first god to act as such a representation, nor may he necessarily be the last. He was originally a "vulnerable" street urchin, until he was found by a cult, kidnapped and ritually sacrificed to turn him into what he is now. As a god, he appears as a young man with iris-less, black eyes. A religious order known as the Abbey of the Everyman work to oppose the Outsider, magic and witchcraft.
Gaming critic Robert Rath compared the Outsider to Satan in the Book of Job, considering the Outsider as a tempter figure who provides Corvo with the power that may ultimately "doom" both him and Dunwall. Rath notes the most violent powers the Outsider provides Corvo are the "most effective, visually striking and fun", and sees him as silently encouraging Corvo to give into his baser instincts. The Heart, meanwhile, often "spoonfeeds" Corvo the justifications for killing the people he comes across, easily leading to a slippery slope justified by faux-"righteousness". Ruth supports this position with how other characters gifted by the Outsider—Daud, Granny Rags, Piero—all seem headed for "a bad end", destabilizing Dunwall in the progress. Jeff Howard considered the Outsider a "trickster figure" whose "moral Otherness" from the rest of Dunwall society allowed the magic of the franchise's world to be an "amoral force", whose uses are left up to the player. Frank G. Bosman sees the Outsider as a "morally neutral" figure whose ties to the Biblical Leviathan represent an association with the primal chaos before creation. With the Outsider as a figure of "chaos and anarchy" whose grace is "arbitrary", the Abbey in opposition to him fight for "order, discipline, separation and rationality", and more negatively "for the inclination of domination and control"—thereby themselves becoming complicit in the oppression of the common people by Dunwall's elite.
Harvey Smith denied interpretations that the Outsider was a trickster god, or that he was completely "amoral" or "indifferent". Dishonored 2 intended to detail more of his backstory, with Smith describing him as someone who "suffered great abuse" before becoming the Outsider and now "struggles to maintain some sort of human consciousness". Elsewhere, Smith has called the Outsider an "observer character". Arkane had tried to make the character come across as sarcastic, though found difficulties where players would misread the character and take his lines as sincere endorsements. Hazel Monforton, writing for PC Gamer, used the Outsider's sacrifice to compare him to the ancient Greek social ritual, the pharmakos. For her comments on the character, Monforton was brought to work on Death of the Outsider. GamesRadar's Alex Avard considered the ending of Death of the Outsider to "shatter all of our preconceived notions" by revealing him to be an "incarcerated victim" rather than a "machiavellian villain". On the third game's ending, The A.V. Club's Matt Gerardi commented: "[The Outsider]'s ultimate symbol of the abuse that Dishonored's many monstrous characters perform and a reminder that [...] humanity's inclination to do evil to each other is a far greater threat than some unknowable agent".
Bit-Tech's Joe Martin, meanwhile, compared the Outsider to the design team and Corvo to the player: "It could be like giving a handgun to a toddler or a textbook to a genius—and Arkane/The Outsider are merchants of mischief, desperate to find out which." Jim Rossignol of Rock, Paper, Shotgun echoed the comparison, calling Dishonored "an elegy to the art required to create it". In response to a comparison between the Outsider and the developer, director Harvey Smith did comment that the team "joked" that the Outsider's responses, though not fourth-wall breaking, were directed at the player themselves. Taylor described the character as "in many ways" "the narrator of this experience". Art director Sébastien Mitton called the Outsider a twisted projection of the player, giving this as a reason for the character's "androgynous" look. Javy Gwaltney, for Game Informer, wrote that the Outsider was "an embodiment of what Dishonored is all about: an intersection between our choices and our identity, a celebration of the flexible design of immersive sims themselves, and the responsibility that comes with great power". Eurogamer's Andreas Inderwildi felt that inherent in the act of playing the game, the player "align[ed]" themself with the Outsider and the Void: "Its openness, flexibility and emergent design mean that you cannot help but act like the Outsider who sees many paths where others see just one."
The character has received criticism. In their reviews of the first game, Kill Screen called the character "severely undercharacterized" and called Billy Lush "half-asleep" in the role, and Giant Bomb felt the mystery behind him was never satisfyingly explained. Rock, Paper, Shotgun writers together criticized the character. Jim Rossignol praised the mythology behind him, but called the Outsider himself "a bit... teen vampire?" They speculated that other Outsider details were being saved for sequels, though Adam Smith felt the Outsider worked well "as a suggestion"; sentiments agreed by Alec Meer and Rossignol, though they wished the character was more something "implied" rather than someone the players met. Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku contrasted him unfavorably to the Lutece Twins from BioShock Infinite, similar characters in a "mysterious stranger" role. For his appearance in Dishonored 2, Meer commented that the Outsider was even "worse", calling him "arguably the least convincing element of Dishonored 1". In the lead-up to Death of the Outsider's release, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Adam Smith criticized the character and wrote how he would be glad to kill him. Smith called the character "condescending and smug", and felt that the more fantastical elements of the Dishonored world were "a distraction" from the rest of the series' "grungy reality and messy class conflicts".
Describing the character as a "returning favorite", however, Polygon's Allegra Frank reported on a divide between fans on the character's recast, quoting comments supportive of the old voice that questioned how well the new take fit with the character. Brenna Hillier described the Outsider as their favourite part of the Dishonored universe, praising the game's ability to show off "real ambiguity" and the many ways the Outsider could react to the player. Hillier commented on fan depictions of the character. Gwaltney argued that the Outsider was "one of gaming's greatest characters". In his review for Death of the Outsider, however, Gwaltney criticized the Outsider's "habit" of popping up throughout Death "with frustratingly dull philosophy 101 questions".
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