As a franchise Deus Ex has been on a strange journey. There’s been multiple companies involved, long gaps between new titles, and nearly constant conversations over whether this franchise is dead or alive. Even as I write this I’m not sure when we’ll see another title. Throughout the past month or so I’ve been trying to autopsy this franchise and get a better understanding for why it’s not sitting at the forefront of the FPS shooter/immersive sim genre.
For our Deus Ex Podcast Episode, click here https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/november-2019-deus-ex-mankind-divided/id1372647464?i=1000457796057
By the time we get to the latest installment, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided we’re looking at a game that has all the ingredients needed to make a big splash. The game play is fun and challenging. The story is the perfect blend of Cyberpunk and “future-that-seems-not-that-far-off” and the graphics still hold up nicely to my 2019 trained video game eyes. The performances are subtle and nuanced. The city of future Prague seems vibrant and alive. There are real consequences to almost everything you do. It also has one of the best 20 minute ramp ups into a new game that I’ve ever experienced (more on that in the podcast). Suffice it to say, this game should be used as an example of how to do a “first/tutorial mission” in any late-franchise game.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided beckons you to become part of the city and engage with it instead of being a mindless player sprinting from one objective to another.
There is one scene, one moment in particular that happened to me in this game that solidified how excellent the entire experience is, allow me to explain.
The center HUB world of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is future Prague as I mentioned, and it begs to be explored. In fact the constant deviations from my path were a huge part of my enjoyment of this game. A stray air vent in the side of a building can lead you to an entirely new side story with new characters, loot, and enhancements. This leads to a greater understanding of the world the game is built around, and a higher appreciation of the work that went into this world.
One such deviation took me to the top floor of a swanky apartment building. It was exactly the kind of exploration that makes this game great. I was able to clamber up into the penthouse level of an apartment building I had been exploring. Inside was a very lived-in home of one of this world’s one percenters. Everything was nice, and the place was absolutely brimming with loot for me to well, loot.
Having explored most of the joint I decided to run over to the lap top before I left. I popped it on and attempted to hack it and was suddenly floored. I was unintentionally looting my bosses home. The moment struck me like a brick and it immediately made me love this game ten times more.
Roughly thirty minutes before this moment I had just finished my first cut scene with my boss. I knew his name, what he looked liked, and had a decent idea of his personality. Here I was soon after meeting him, breaking into his home because I hoped there were some lootable components.
I obviously couldn’t undo what I had done, and I also wasn’t able to fully hack into my bosses computer. So in my frustration I turned around to leave and saw that my boss had installed a punching bag in his place. I decided to punch it on the way out, just for good measure, and when I did a secret room opened. Inside the secret room my boss had a sniper rifle and a whole other lap top. I was floored.
The thing is, moments like this are rampant in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided if you’re open to letting the environment dictate your travel and not the story.
In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided the environment dictates your decisions, not the story.
If you allow yourself to become part of the city rather than a mindless player sprinting from one objective to another, all sorts of new stories and gear will open up to you.
The side stories are lengthy because they’re very well told and to shorten them would be to cheapen them. Every character is someone you could see yourself siding with. Even the “bad guys” have extremely convincing reasons for doing the things they’re doing. The conversation trees are deep and have actual in-game consequences. Entire boss battles can be avoided if you know when to talk and what to say.
The main character is doing his absolute best Keanu Reeves impression both in appearance and in voice, and I mean this as extremely high praise. The way Reeves has influenced and changed the Cyberpunk genre isn’t talked about enough and homage should exist when anyone creates in this particular genre space.
The game play is intuitive and really leans on the players ability to problem solve in an open environment.
This game knows you’re smart and doesn’t coddle you. DE:MD believes you’ll find the best solution to any situation if you want to, and it won’t shove the answer in your face.
My friend and Podcast co-host Andrew kept a certain NPC alive for his play through, and it was a man that I ended up killing. When he told me the very late game advantage to keeping this player alive I was floored. I had no idea. There are multiple ways the game encourages non-lethal methods and at the same time lets you know that non-lethal is harder. A no-kill run is essentially the same as a difficulty spike, but it’s entirely worth it.
The story delves deep into future politics and it’s all stuff that had my on the edge of my seat, although I am prone to be into that kind of thing already. Every good entry into the Cyberpunk genre asks the question, “What is human? When does a person stop being a human? When does a non-human being count as human?” and DE:MD tackles all these issues in droves.
And now, here at the end of my article, we look to the future. Just like the characters in the game we ourselves are not exactly sure what’s next. There is a post-credits stinger in DE:MD that was on par with the stinger in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and we know the latter is getting a sequel. I for one hope to be playing more Deus Ex at some point on the next generation of platforms. It’s a world that I don’t want to be done with yet, and I certainly hope it’s not done with me.
Nathan is the co-creator and co-host of the Splash Damage Bros. Podcast. He can be found @thenatejc and @splashdamagebro