Deus Ex is a series with a long history, regarded as a great example of open, non-linear stealth level design, and interesting stories with a basis on conspiracies whilst maintaining a dystopia cyberpunk aesthetic. Every entry has been held in relatively high regards, and its lowest point, Invisible War is still a serviceable game, but just seems to pale in comparison to the other entries in the series, if we exclude The Fall.
Many people will be split on Mankind Divided, depending on what they like most about the previous games. The game acts as a sequel to Human Revolution, and focuses heavily on racism and segregation, and as such, the usual Deus Ex themes, such as trans-humanism take a back seat.
To say that the themes of racism are covered well here would be a false statement. This is on the basis of the contradictions made with Human Revolution. For those who aren’t aware, people who were able to get augmentations were extremely wealthy. The catalytic event that caused such a negative view on augmented individuals was Human Revolution‘s ‘Aug Incident,’ referring to when an antagonistic figure had driven all the augs into a murderous frenzy through using a signal to effect their augmentations.
In the context of Human Revolution‘s trans-humanist themes, this was a necessary event, since if we’re mostly technology, abuse of our mechanical parts would be the biggest threat to us, and if done to such an extreme that Deus Ex is famous for, the aftermath would be as horrendous as the game, and the first part of the Mechanical Apartheid trailer shows us. However, to assume that such an event would push nearly every upper-class aug down to this lower class, oppressed group is pretty unbelievable. I had personally really struggled to suspend my disbelief when the most believable part of Human Revolution became the most unbelievable, but key, part of Mankind Divided.
As these points suggest, Mankind Divided‘s problems lie not in its gameplay, but its story. From the get go, something is off. You’re dumped straight into a tutorial level, which is completely fine, except you feel as if you’re missing something. Before playing Mankind Divided, I had run through Human Revolution again, and after starting up the first mission, I felt as if I had missed something. I struggled to understand why Jensen was immediately working with who he was, and why this whole double agent story was happening, outside of trying to bring about the end-goal of stopping the Illuminati as was established in Human Revolution. Not to mention that the ending seems to be so weirdly placed, as if to accommodate for a sequel or DLC to wrap it up, along with its other plot threads.
If you find story largely unimportant, or a second priority to gameplay, then Deus Ex Mankind Divided will be great. The most apt way of describing it is as an iterative version of Deus Ex Human Revolution, and I mean that in the best way possible. Human Revolution‘s mechanics and systems were considered tight, but Mankind Divided further improves on these mechanics and implements newer upgrades. These all fit well in terms of gameplay, and are explained very well in terms of story. There weren’t a massive amount of super exciting upgrades in Human Revolution, now that I look back on it. Most were straight upgrades to core abilities, such as hacking.
The newer skills add more exciting abilities to play with, from a blade that you can launch from your arm, to converting your fist into a tesla cannon. They’re exciting and add more ways to approach the levels. Deus Ex already allowed that, but with more varied active abilities, you’ll end up doing multiple normal, ruthless and ghost runs thanks to the massive amount of available upgrades.
These multiple playthroughs are also facilitated through the non-linear level design that is a hallmark to the series. Playing through the game a second time, I’ve made a conscious effort to take deliberately different routes than my first playthrough, efficiency be damned. Though to damn efficiency would be weird. Each route is equally valuable, and are in place to accommodate for different playstyles and builds. Each level seamlessly incorporates all of its available obstacles, and as such, you really don’t need to overcome each one. Being experimental is encouraged, or even necessary. There are obvious upgrades that appear almost mandatory and will take up some of your early Praxis kits, such as remote hacking, but I would imagine that playing the game without these upgrades is possible, and could make for an interesting challenge.
One feature I have yet to cover is Breach mode. This mode is a leaderboard based, pseudo-multiplayer mode and has been a source of great fun for me. The gist of the mode is to achieve an objective by either collecting pick-ups, killing enemies, or more commonly, gather data from towers and get back to the exit. Some of these levels have time limits throughout, or initiate after completing your objective. You are awarded points, experience and credits upon completing the level. These maps are a lot smaller than the main story ones, and are a bit more linear, but still have multiple routes. There’s normally more defined paths to your objectives, and you’re obliged to find the quickest one that allows you to gather the most data.
The replay-ability here is fun, and is encouraged through player-made challenges. These
challenges are intended to give you more credits, thanks to its booster pack system. The best comparison would be to Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer mode. Whilst playing, you gain currency, and purchasing booster packs would grant you items, Praxis kits, weapons and modifiers. These modifiers can boost your score at the cost of making the run harder, or make the run a bit easier with no penalty.
These booster packs can be bought with real money, however. I personally didn’t have a problem at first, since I was beating times without dropping real money, and that getting the quickest times and scores were achieved more on the basis of your skill than your gear. It is, however, still a bit of a bad move, on the basis of it being able to provide an advantage. This is similarly used in singleplayer, with the ability to purchase credits and Praxis kits (used to upgrade your augmentations) with real money. This is a lot less forgivable since, in theory, one could drop enough money to buy every upgrade as soon as possible. This paid advantage seems pretty scummy, and whilst is optional, may have had an impact on the frequency of Praxis kits outside of levelling up.
All in all, Mankind Divided has provided an entertaining stealth experience which begs for you to replay it and discover more of the secrets in its level design. Its story is a lot less secretive and thrilling, more just confusing and contradictory, but not on the account of the series’ known complexity. The story will be considered a disappointment by many, but for quite a few, I do not see it being a massive detracting factor when paired with its phenomenal level design and gameplay.