Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
August 23, 2016
Deus Ex, the original 2001 game was a classic. It offered numerous choices to the player, not just in terms of story branches, but also by having emergent gameplay. Eidos Montreal was tasked to make another entry to the franchise. The result? 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of the best games to receive a new entry being done by an entirely new team.
Now, Eidos Montreal is back for a sequel.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided builds upon the successes of Human Revolution, and learnt well from past mistakes. The result is a denser, polished experience that is overall great, but still has some flaws that hold it back from being the greatest game of 2016. Yet, this first-person RPG is worth playing.
Graphics & Sound
Mankind Divided looks remarkable in its own way. Using the Dawn Engine, Mankind Divided played to its strengths by making the streets, the rooms, and all traversable locations feel lived in. Plenty of clutter that is well-detailed and placed with attention given to it. There’s a story to tell in each room or building, with some leaving you enough clues in the environment to piece your own conclusion of who lives there, their story and events that happened to them.
One particular person has a disdain with augs, the augmented people that is now the hated minority in the world. Hence, all his stored weaponry had EMP ammo that’s effective against augs. A subtle touch. Same goes to protagonist Adam Jensen’s apartment. His new place in Prague is purposefully made similar to the one he used to have in Detroit. He still spends time making wrist watches, has a secret compartment, and window sills with a nice view. If you dig deep enough, you can speculate what kind of guy Jensen is.
These two places are just the few that inhabits the new hub world of Prague. The Czech Republic capital was attracting many augmented people to live there before events leading to Mankind Divided happened. With the current state of affairs, Prague is the best place to highlight the tension between the augs and naturals. There’s separate lines and subway coaches for augs and naturals- get in the wrong coach and you’ll get in trouble. Discrimination as Adam talks to shop keepers. Random police checks to augs are commonplace, and Jensen is no exception to it.
Human Revolution has its graphics known for mostly the wrong reasons: the unique, but overblown use of the orange-gold tint (some called it the “piss filter”). Mankind Divided opted for a more stark palette, with less filters on sight. Less, as there are instances where the game takes place in dusk where the golden tint is justified, so it’s not completely gone.
Speaking of not completely gone, Michael McCann returns with his composing duties and the soundtrack for Mankind Divided is what you would expect for a Deus Ex title: brooding, thrilling, and ominous in sound. The voice acting in the game is also on point. Even the stoic Adam Jensen can exert certain tones and emotions due to excellent delivery by Elias Toufexis and some performance capture being used. The same goes to the rest of the voice cast, which includes a good amount of dialogue in Czech and Arabic.
While the look and sound of the characters are superb, the animation quality can be a hit or miss. In some scenes it looks amazing, but when in normal conversations where pre-canned animations are used, it looks jarring. Even the lip-sync is off a bit which makes the pretty character models have this uncanny feel instead. For less important scenes this is the case, but the animation work is at its best where it counts: the pre-rendered scenes and the social battles where analysing body language is crucial to winning the debate.
One last note on the graphics, while the PC version is obviously the best looking one, the PS4 version is no slouch either. Yet it suffers with frame stutters in certain location in the hub world. With the game announced to be one of the first to sport enhancements on the PS4 Pro, I’m willing to bet it will look even better, and a tighter lock to the 30fps limit. As it is, the game generally looks great in certain angles, but look at it in the wrong way and you can see blemishes- low-res textures, some stiff animations, and performance dips.
Deus Ex shines when it comes to gameplay. The franchise is built upon tenets that allows game systems to interact together. This makes the experience something the player figure out themselves. Mankind Divided is no exception. Developers Eidos Montreal doubled down on providing multiple paths and solutions to any given objective. Combat or stealth, both main playstyles are now equally viable, fixing the balancing error where sneaking nets more experience in Human Revolution.
There’s a slew of additions to the already rich gameplay. Weapons can now be further upgraded using scrap materials and can change attachments and ammo type on the fly with a menu akin to Crysis. There’s also a crafting system where you can craft certain items and ammo with crafting parts, or use those parts to upgrade your weapon of choice. Inventory is still limited in space and requires some attache case organising, a staple of Deus Ex but it can be automated entirely should you not want to spend time with that.
Mankind Divided continues to be a first person RPG with third-person cover mechanics. (Yes, you could make Jensen do the safety dance again) You gain experience by accomplishing tasks. Be it taking down enemies (lethat or non-lethal), hacking, finding a password to skip the hacking, finding alternate routes by smashing walls or crawling into the many Jensen-sized air ducts and vents, reading e-books or completing missions and side-missions.
There’s plenty to do here, with several side missions only triggering if you look at the right place or talk to the right people, so expect to miss a few if you’re going in blind and not explore the world thoroughly. Earning enough experience will unlock a Praxis Kit, which is what you spend to unlock the powers of Jensen’s augmentations; including new, experimental augs.
I loved how the game introduces the experimental augs. It even opens up a side quest to learn more about them. The experimental augs are much more game-changing and more active in nature, but for half of the game, they are pretty much limited. You cannot activate too many experimental augs at the same time as using these makes Adam “overclock” himself. Add too much without shutting down other augs not in use will cause the HUD to keep on glitching, an effect you’ll mostly see in the early parts of the game.
While the idea to make the experimentals a big deal is neat, but unfortunately it’s not. You’re fine with having just one experimental aug activated without closing any other augs, and you can still play most of the game without investing too much in the experimentals. Later on there’s a way to remove the limitations altogether, and the aforementioned quest doesn’t have a satisfying end, so it’s all much ado about nothing. But hey, the new augs are really cool! There’s both lethal and non-lethal abilities that should fit any sort of playstyle and opens up interesting new opportunities, like Remote Hacking.
Shooting and sneaking is good as expected, though it takes some time to learn its control scheme (or just use the traditional FPS controls option). AI patrols sometimes changes according to where you are now positioned, so it’s not completely predictable at first glance. Later on you’ll face with other augmented people who can use similar abilities that you have, making combat a bit tricky but more varied.
Apart from the combat and sneaking, the hacking and social part of the game remains a minor part of the experience, but delivered well. Hacking works mostly the same bar a change of look and one new obstacle to consider (some have most of its nodes clouded, so you can’t just plan everything and just press X- unless you have the right software). Social debates still work similarly where you need to choose the right response that coincide with the personality and mood of that particular person. As mentioned earlier, it’s still totally playable using just your own wit and cunning ability alone to detect what response is best suited for the situation, with great animation providing enough tells and sound ques after each response. Though the CASIE aug opens up more dialogue choices.
While Deus Ex is all about open-ended gameplay, the story progression is mostly linear. Mankind Divided tires to mix something up by putting you in situations where each decision has repercussions that can alter the story, by just a bit. First is Jensen’s allegiance. While not played up as much in the beginning, Jensen is working with two sides at the same time: Task Force 29, an Interpol branch based in Prague, and The Juggernaut Collective, an underground hacking group. In his search of trails to expose the Illuminati, you will need to decide at certain points on who do you side with.
While these choices only starts popping halfway through the game, it feels urgent. When I first saw the prompt I was genuinely surprised it actually is a thing that the game allows you to decide, and the few others you encounter does raise up the stakes further. It succeeds in making me care of what decision I need to take, and for some decisions, made me own that choice as the game guilt-tripped me by showing the consequence of forgoing the other choice. The double-agent nature of Jensen could have been better introduced, and I wish it could bring bigger impact to the general direction of the game, but having the decisions all pay off in the endgame is suffice.
Content & Longevity
You’re looking at around 20-30 hours worth of content in the main story mode. You will mostly be constrained in the hub world of Prague, where most missions take place there, and compared to Human Revolution, there’s less globe-trotting, so the set-piece locations like the intro mission in Dubai are less common. Though the early and late game set-pieces are done nicely, there’s one location that just feels underwhelming, despite being seemingly important to the story.
And let’s address the biggest letdown of Mankind Divided: the story. Sure, you’ll have no problems for not playing Human Revolution beforehand, since the main plot is just meh. There was no build-up to Jensen having agency on him siding with the Task Force or the Juggernaut Collective. The last level is great gameplay-wise, but it just ends abruptly with nothing major being gained from the main plot. There is escalation to the plot, things get really serious and the world reflected that, but the main plot thread is unfortunately forgettable.
Which is a shame, because the writing has plenty of shining moments here and there. Issues of augmentation, human rights, racism and terrorism are the main topical points here. And interestingly, they managed to squeak in the Muslim point of view of augmentations- or in the context of Deus Ex, transhumanism.
This one scene here is brilliant because the writers take effort to understand some of these issues and present a message. Same goes to the many smaller details and side stories found off the main path. But the dressing is better than the main course in this case. Thankfully, the ending isn’t just a button select away like Human Revolution, in a post-Mass Effect 3 world that just won’t fly. So it’s at least a better ending than Human Revolution.
You can play the game again with New Game+ (all augmenations and items in the inventory are carried over). But if the story mode’s ending leaves a bad taste in your mouth, there’s this other game mode: Breach. The idea here is it’s a more confined, arcadey Deus Ex experience. Something like Metal Gear Solid’s VR missions, where you have most of your abilities and gear from the main game but played differently in bite-sized levels. Interestingly, all of this is still connected to the whole Deus Ex Universe- even to the main story. But the main difference here is that it is a live game where internet connection is required and has a loot system where you open booster packs to obtain random packs of items. It’s fun for what it is, but you can clearly see why Breach is in the game: micro-transactions. Like many games using this system, it has a premium currency (chips) that allows you to buy premium items, in this case weapons, but with a little RNG added to it. Which undermines that Breach is actually an OK game mode, but there is a micro-transaction hook to it that does impact gameplay.
On that note, oddly enough you can buy Praxis Kits and credits for the main story mode, skipping most of the progression by doing so. It feels iffy that a single player experience resorted to micro-transactions for what could’ve been just cheat codes, but thankfully the game balance is not affected in any way. Playing on hard difficulty (“Give Me Deus Ex”) on my first playthrough, I still got most of my augmentations, credits and ammo in a fine rate that doesn’t feel gimped because they wanted to sell micro-transactions. The in-game shop menu doesn’t seem to work on my copy of the game, but there is an option to buy them in the Playstation Store, including the oddly implemented weapon packs where some items are of one time use only.
We never asked for this.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided delivered one of the better gameplay experience you can expect from a first-person RPG of its kind. Plenty of ways to approach a situation, new abilities to play around with, more weapon customisation, and a fleshed-out world backed with an awesome soundtrack and believable sounding characters. It’s main story is not something to keep you playing: the excellently crafted world and fun, emergent gameplay will. It is not a perfect game, as they are still issues that stopped it from being the best game of its kind.
If you’re the kind of person who wished that a ledge can be reached by either spending the points to unlock higher jumps or stack crates together to reach it, then you will see those opportunities, as well as more interesting ones, in spades. A solid experience for what it’s worth, and a well-made and deserved sequel to the series.
Review is based on the PS4 retail copy purchased by the reviewer.
Immaculate world-building with detailed worlds and deep lore
Diverse options from new augmentation powers
Both combat or stealth playstyles rewarded equally
Social debates are still great
Breach Mode is OK
Great voice acting, nice and brooding soundtrack
Not as many set-piece levels as expected
Micro-transactions to skip progression in a single player game
Rough dips of framerate on PS4
Animations can be stiff at times
Underwhelming main story
Jensen being a double-agent gets underplayed in the early game