Deus Ex games are interesting experiences, because they tend to include and explore a variety of game mechanics, moods, storytelling methods, and morality choices that are, while not unique, very difficult to compare with other non-Deus Ex games. The real aspect of these games that make them unique, is choice. The choice to not only be a good guy or a bad guy on some binary scale (renegade / paragon, I’m looking at you,) but the choice of how you accomplish your goals. That may sound generic initially, but once you dive into the depth of the game mechanics, you realise how few other games measure up to the standard we find in Deus Ex games.
Take for example the choice of mission entry. How you want to enter the mission area can differ greatly across playthroughs and personal play styles. Do you want to stealthily hack the lock on the front doors, while sneaking past the guards and cameras? Do you want to use your upgraded leg augmentations to jump to the open second-story window, and tase any guards you find? Maybe you want to go loud, so you throw a frag grenade at the front door to blow it off its hinges, then go on a shotgun rampage? How about scouting around, then overhearing a guard mention the keycode for the security computer, then use said computer to turn off the cameras and turn the turrets against their former allies? Or maybe you’re like me, and had none of these skills, so you just take a refridgerator from a nearby apartment, and throw it at the front door until it breaks open. All of these options lead you to the same end goal of completing the mission, but how many games have the forethought to allow you to play your way?
The point is, choice matters. But it can only matter if the designers want it to matter. Without the love and care of these dedicated craftsmen, from design mechanics to level design, we wouldn’t have anything close to the same gameplay experience. Writing is a crucial tool as well, because it must have the same level of detail to deliver the memorable experiences that Deus Ex is known for.
Unknown choices matter just as much. In the original Deus Ex game, there is a point where you and your brother (Paul Denton) are ambushed in his apartment. He yells at you to escape through the window, and the mission goal states the same thing, but there is really a choice here. Running away might not be your play style, so you might start blasting away all of your attackers, defending your brother’s life at all costs. The game doesn’t throw endless waves of bad guys at you until you jump out the window; there is a set amount, and if you kill them all and keep your brother alive, you are acknowledged and rewarded for doing so. The storyline changes accordingly, and your brother can assist you for the remainder of the game.
Rewarding the player for playing the game how they want to is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of great game design. And it is for this long, convoluted reasoning is why Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (DE:MD), and all of its predecessors, are worth playing.
DE:MD gives you a few moments of unexpected choice, as well as a myriad of mission options that have greatly evolved since Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DE:HR). DE:HR stood out as a game with excellent storytelling and writing, bogged down by a few buggy and half-baked mechanics. DE:MD revamped and improved on those detracting mechanics and managed to create a fantastic gameplay experience, but left a bit behind on the writing / storytelling facet.
DE:MD has been maligned by user reviews for having a short, incomplete story. And they are right. It is the only imperfection on an otherwise flawless game. All other DE games have their story divided into three sections, and to borrow from one of my favorite movies (The Prestige), we’ll call them the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige.
Traditionally, the Pledge in Deus Ex games is your character working with an organization to stop an evil group.
The Turn occurs when you uncover info that points to your organization somehow perpetrating the evil.
The Prestige is how your character works to fix or resolve the grand conspiracy, and which side “wins” due to your choices.
Unfortunately, DE:MD ends at the Pledge. Even at a 28 hour playthrough, it feels like I only experienced 1/3 of the game’s story, and nothing is resolved. I have my speculations that Square Enix is attempting to make this a true “season pass” game, where the remainder of the story will be available for purchase a few months down the line, not unlike Half-life 2 Episode series.
What the game lacks in main story depth, it makes up for it in the sheer weight of interesting side missions, and two extra gameplay modes called the Breach and Jensen’s Stories. The Breach is a hacking simulator with online components, rewards, a leveling system, and a global time challenge. It takes one of my favorite segments of the main storyline, and makes a wonderfully fun gameplay experience with a different yet fully realized aesthetic. Jensen’s Stories allow you to jump into more one-shot side missions, delivering more of the gripping environment and writing that went into the main game's side missions.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also explain the improvements DE:MD made over the DE:HR systems. And there are a lot of them, so here we go.
Playstyles - As I expressed earlier, the numerous augments, modes of entry, and unexpected choices allow for almost every playstyle to flow naturally.
Experience Gain - There is no longer a “right choice” to gain the most amount of experience possible. All playstyle options are weighted and rewarded equally.
Gunplay - Firing your weapons feels more realistic, provides ample room for upgrading weaponry with tweaks and modifications, and allows you to be prepared with different ammo types (normal, EMP, armor piercing,) to react to situations accordingly.
Stealth - Greatly improved upon the original system, allowing for a natural experience while not relying on the invisibility augmentation.
Boss Battles - One of the biggest improvements over the HR system. For all but the final boss, you can fight normally, go non-lethal, avoid combat entirely due to a specific item, or talk them down from a fight. I unwittingly skipped a number of bosses due to talking them down, not even knowing that they would be a boss fight.
CASSIE Dialog - Diplomacy, enhanced by pheromone, body language, and verbal cues. The dialog options are very well written, flow naturally, and can be accomplished without the CASSIE augment through the player’s own logic and intuition.
Aesthetics - The graphics, world building, themes of the wealthy versus the poor, sense of fear and quasi-racism, and all the way down to the clothing style and building design, all lead to a wonderfully realized world that manages to tell a grand story without uttering a single word.
Did you make it this far through my ramblings? Great! To conclude, the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided manages to expand and enhance almost every aspect from Human Revolution, and is well worthy of playing. I was disappointed with the short main story length, but I loved every minute I got to spend in such a well-realized world. And it still manages to do what the Deus Ex series is known for: make player choice matter.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: Hales of Bay rating
Jonathan - 9 out of 10
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