My introduction to Deus Ex began with a trailer back in 2010—yeah, you know the one. With its iconic black and gold aesthetic, cyberpunk themes, references to Greek mythology, and one of the most famous one-liners in gaming today: “I never asked for this…” Deus Ex: Human Revolution immediately captured my attention as well as my imagination. I don’t know what it is about Adam Jensen exactly, but seldom am I able to connect so strongly with a character that is so undeniably shallow and one-dimensional. Like a sophisticated embodiment of Duke Nukem, Jensen is cold, calm, collected, and just a straight up badass. Not to mention, that voice. As a game, however, Human Revolution blended action, stealth, narrative and RPG elements in a way that was truly astounding for its time despite a few shortcomings.
Personally, I’m one of those players who loves any opportunity for a stealth and/or non-lethal playthrough. Deus Ex is superb in that it provides a breadth of strategy and playstyles, so you can approach it however you like. If shields up guns blazing is your type of game, so is Deus Ex. However, there was one recurring issue with Human Revolution: the bosses—at least in the version that I played. I invested a lot of time and energy into sneaking, hacking, and not killing people, and so I augmented my character accordingly. And yet, every time it came to a boss, I was forced to abandon that path, and at a disadvantage to those players who preferred direct action. It was jarring and frustrating, though not a total deal breaker—but when the inevitable follow-up was to be announced, fixing that was at the top of my wish list.
Like its predecessor, Mankind Divided was treated to a series of phenomenal trailers in the lead up to its launch (both CGI and live action). It has also seen its share of controversy, from the use of the word “apartheid” causing concerns over a lack of political sensitivity despite its relevance to the themes of the game, to some absolutely appalling pre-order practises that were eventually canned. One thing to know right off the bat is that Square Enix London and Eidos Montreal were on different pages when it came to how this hotly anticipated sequel would be delivered. The game is shamelessly riddled with DLC, micro-transactions, and a mode called Breach which is essentially a free-to-play game tacked onto the core experience. It stinks of corporate greed, but the good news is the core is fully realised without it.
The most significant change from the last Deus Ex is that Mankind Divided is not a globe-trotting adventure driven by cataclysmic stakes. The game is set almost entirely in Prague (capital of the Czech Republic), and is presented with a semi-open world that has several large areas connected by a subway system. There are a few international locations you visit during missions, but they mostly just serve as a pit stop. For the most part, this shift serves as a positive step forward for Deus Ex as the game world feels more dense and alive, and the result is more meaningful exploration. You can essentially get into anything if you have the right augs installed, and there is a new sense of verticality which adds more depth to the gameplay overall. But in saying that, you can’t help but notice the experience feels a lot smaller too.
If you’ve played Human Revolution or any Deus Ex title, most aspects of the game are going to feel very familiar. There are some new augments, as well as general improvements to how the game plays, but it’s very much the same tried and true experience with a new layer of polish, refinement, and a couple of fresh ideas. It’s still as great as ever, with each mission being a sandbox where you can play the way you want. There are few games I feel genuinely offer such a polished sense of freedom, though I have to admit it’s ludicrous there aren’t any trackable player statistics. The fact remains, however, that the game feels shorter, and that’s not just because the stakes are lower or that it’s set mainly in one location. It’s definitely smaller, and I’m not so sure it was always intended this way. The game reeks of cut content.
Mankind Divided picks up two years after the incident in Panchaea where Hugh Darrow sent out a modified signal to all augmented people that sent them into a violent craze—the “Aug Incident.” Regardless of how you chose to handle the cleanup at the end of the game, the world has become a very different place. The tension between “Naturals” and “Augmented” has reached breaking point due to constant fear-mongering, so the United Nations security council now seeks to pass a “Human Restoration Act” that would see augmented people segregated from society. The pre-release trailer “The Mechanical Apartheid” did a phenomenal job in conveying the current condition of the world, but we know what’s really going on and who’s behind it—the control-obsessed Illuminati, whom Jensen pursues from the shadows.
Narratively, Mankind Divided is the middle piece of the story to a fault. It’s not like Human Revolution which stands up well on its own. Be prepared for more questions than answers, and for many plot threads from the first game to be left unaddressed while new threads get left unanswered as well. There are entire side missions which simply stop without anything definitive having come from them. Prague itself is brimming with depth, characters, and smaller stories, so it’s very easy to get invested in. However, world building is not the issue here and neither is the writing–both are excellent. It’s all in the plot. The story sees Jensen working for Interpol as he secretly works with the Juggernaut Collective to get closer to the Illuminati. In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s save the day once again and take one step forward.
What has me concerned is the first episode of the “Jensen Stories” DLC. It’s unmistakably a mission that would have been included in the main game at some point. There’s no real reason why it was sliced away as DLC, let alone that you can’t carry your character across and must play with limited augs and compromise a playstyle that you’ve spent hours developing. As I mentioned, some plot threads are left unresolved, and more concerning yet is the game closes on a bit of an anti-climactic note. There needed to be just a little bit more, and now I’m stuck wondering if the ending, as well as some side missions, will be expanded upon in paid DLC that was originally intended to be part of the game. I hate thinking this as it’s a fantastic game otherwise, but something smells off, and it damaged my overall experience.
Despite my concerns, I really want to emphasise how much I enjoyed my time with Mankind Divided. The gameplay and writing quality is top notch, and at no point did I find myself feeling bored. In fact, I found it refreshing to dive into a game full of depth where I didn’t feel as if I was being funnelled through layers of filler content. The game world is full of fascinating themes, characters, and dialogue. The conversation system is still one of my favourites of any given the social augment system and how differently each can play out. There are also quite a few interesting “grey area” moral dilemmas to consider. Although, much like Human Revolution, it’s important to be aware that it’s all still just an illusion of choice. Apart from some ending variations, all the choices you make will ultimately lead you back on the same path.
Most importantly, though, Mankind Divided fixes the boss issue of Human Revolution. There are no jarring gameplay elements that ever pulled me out of the experience entirely. I was able to utilise my non-lethal skill set to overcome the final encounter without firing a gun and it was amazing. There are still a few small immersion breakers to contend with, such as selective interactivity and how items are handled in general. Visuals are also a bit of a mixed bag overall. The PC port isn’t too bad despite being resource hungry, but what I found to be consistent across all versions is atrocious lip-syncing and dreadfully rendered cutscenes that look vastly inferior to those rendered in-engine. It’s not serious, but it is annoying as much about this game looks and feels great. The soundtrack and voice acting is as solid as ever too.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a good game that had potential to be one of the greats, but it didn’t work out that way. It has too many caveats, and that ultimately lets it down. In saying that, though, Eidos Montreal took everything that was great about Human Revolution and refined it into a smaller yet more fleshed out experience. The gameplay is better than ever with a greater sense of verticality, fun new augs, and the ability to fully embrace a non-lethal playstyle. Not to mention the writing is top notch. It’s more of the Deus Ex we know and love, and based on those merits alone, I can easily recommend it to fans of the series. However, it’s also evident that the game has been interfered with, and I just can’t ignore that. I’m used to looking past rubbish DLC content, tacked-on game modes and micro-transactions, and fortunately, none of these inclusions have a meaningful impact on the experience. It’s the story I’m concerned about—there are a lot of loose threads, and all signs point to paid DLC to fill the gaps. I sincerely hope that won’t be the case.