The world has changed. Fear, anger, suspicion and oppression have taken over. Society as a whole teeters on the edge of a precipice, one of which that will engulf the world in pure chaos if fallen into. It’s been 2 years since the events of “Human Revolution”, but the wounds created by the Aug attack that day never healed…..in fact, they’ve only grown, festered and become infected.
Note: The “Aug attack” was an event orchestrated by the shadowy Illuminati group that caused the deaths of millions through augmented hands.
The player takes on the role of Adam Jensen, an ex-cop who received augmented arms and legs after being seriously wounded in an attack on Sarif Industries, a company he was once the head of security for. He now works within Interpol, under a covert group dubbed “Task Force 29”. As you play throughout the game, Jensen works to investigate “A.R.C.” (Augmented Rights Coalition), a rebellion that claims to be looking for a peaceful solution to the severe segregation against augmented humans. Jensen also secretly works with “The Juggernaut Collective”, a global hacktivist group led by a mysterious individual only known as Janus. Together, they take on the Illuminati in an attempt to reveal and stop their nefarious plans.
Choices and decisions are an ever-present theme in Mankind Divided. You decide whether you progress through stealth or destruction. Will you kill everyone in your way, or simply render them unconscious. Who will you save, and who will you condemn. All of these decisions are portrayed well and have a palpable weight behind them. During my playtime, I had to choose between two poor souls who were both on the verge of being deported to what was essentially a detention camp for the Augmented. I could only save one. When I went back to check on the person who lost my coin toss, they were gone. Not only that but their house had been torn apart; all the walls covered with pointed augmented slurs. Events like this were what continuously drew me deeper and deeper into this fascinating world.
When approaching a situation in Mankind Divided, there is never just one path to take. Several times, after clearing out an area of all enemies, I would do a little backtracking and discover hidden or alternate paths that could have been taken. Some of these choices would be either open or blocked to you, depending on how Jensen had been upgraded. This was very clever, for it never felt like there was a single catch-all approach and really helped with gameplay longevity. Each area was designed to cater to whatever play style chosen, which demonstrates this games excellent environmental design.
If one was so inclined, they could play Deus Ex entirely through without out killing a single person. This can be achieved by using non-lethal weapons that stun or tranquilize and using takedowns that subdue instead of kill. There are several areas that can be avoided completely just by sneaking around. However, none of these decisions are better than the other, they’re just different. If you want to play as a passive person who takes no lives, then it’s a lot of fun. If you want to play as a blood-thirsty maniac who leaves no witnesses ever, then it’s a lot of fun. I personally blended the two…….and had a lot of fun.
The upgrade system is basic, but efficient and satisfying. Jensen receives experience points for just about anything he does, from finding collectibles to completing missions. Once a certain amount of XP is reached, the player is rewarded with a Praxis Kit, which is essentially and upgrade point. However you decide to play, whether it be with stealth or deadly combat, there are plenty of options available. Once an aug is unlocked, most can then also be upgraded. It was an absolute blast testing out all the augmentations I attained, for all of them worked well and were useful. It is more than likely not possible to unlock every single aug in a single play-through (unless Praxis Kits are purchased with real money, but we’ll get into that later), but this is a problem quickly negated by New Game +.
New Game + is an excellent feature that allows the player to take their upgraded character, and start the game over again on a harder difficulty. In the case of Mankind Divided, this works especially well since maxing out Jensen on 1 play-through is mostly impossible. This gives the player something more to work for, and is another element that increases the longevity of the game. Furthermore, playing through again is appealing for the simple reason that experiencing everything in one go is impossible. A second play-through will give the player a chance to see how much the game changes when different decisions are made.
Deus Ex is not an open world game. It instead resorts to more of an interactive hub/sandbox world set in the city of Prague. Most of the game is spent here, but there were 3 or 4 instances where the player is deployed elsewhere for a mission. It is not overly large but is largely explorable. Hours could be wasted trying to discover everything the city has to hold, the sewers in particular. Rarely have I seen a game that rewards you so frequently by just poking around. One could get through the campaign a lot quicker if the beaten path is not strayed from, but it would be far more difficult, and their wallet would suffer for it. Unfortunately, when traveling across Prague, the frame rate would dip horribly. Simply running from one end of a street to another would give the player a very choppy performance. I suspect the root cause being behind the scenes loading that was occurring as Jensen traveled from one part of the city to the other. The map system used when playing in this hub world also seemed very outdated. No custom waypoints could be placed, and the mini map was very bland displaying nothing but a rough outline of the buildings around Jensen. This was all very frustrating when trying to navigate to a location not indicated by a mission waypoint.
For the most part, Mankind Divided is visually stunning. Jensen’s design is fabulous, as well as some of the other main characters in the game. However, it was obvious that less time was spent on some of the less seen characters, for their design came across as dated and not necessarily even worthy of this generation. Fortunately, all of the environments looked great. Square Enix did a wonderful job of expressing the world’s current situation through the player’s surroundings. This holds especially true for Golem city, an overpopulated cesspool where augmented humans are sent to rot. Traveling through this area, one simply can’t help but feel sad and helpless for all the poor souls unlucky enough to be stuck there.
The story here is deep and engaging, if not somewhat hard to follow. Yet another feature that encourages a second play-through….it’ll be difficult to fully understand the narrative the first time around, especially if the player hadn’t played the earlier installments. Square Enix did try to alleviate this somewhat with an optional 11-minute recap video at the start of the game that was helpful. It also didn’t help that during cut scenes, where the most dialogue and exposition is delivered, the music continually drowned everything else out. There was no way to improve the audio through in-game options, so I had to turn the subtitles on just to follow along.
Microtransactions have become somewhat of a dirty word in the gaming community. Most are attached to barebones games that nickel and dime the player for what should have been included in the first place. So, the bad: micro-transactions are present in Mankind Divided, and worse, they mainly contain in-game currency, upgrade points, and even augmentations that aren’t attainable in-game. The good: they are in no way necessary or invasive. Never once did I feel like the game was designed to hold back the player until they finally caved and bought their way through. By my games end, Jensen was very powerful and loaded with credits. DLC would have been far better suited for a game like this, where as I can fully imagine players wanting to take Jensen on further adventures.
Building to the conclusion of the final act, tensions were high. Decisions, yet again, had to be made and the consequences inevitably lived with. The sequences leading up to the final boss battle were intense and stressful, but in the best way. The stakes were impossibly high, and the player felt every bit of it. Taking on the final boss was both challenging and rewarding. He had an answer for just about every augmentation the player could have unlocked, forcing you to innovate and change tactics. As with the theme of the game, one could decide whether or not to take his life, and either decision has an effect on the story’s end. In the last few moments of the game, every choice (just about) made throughout are reflected upon in either a negative or positive light. Mankind Divided has multiple endings, none of which have a sense of finality, leaving the series open for another sequel. Personally, I can’t wait to explore what comes next in the Deus Ex franchise.
Breach is a separate mode from the main story where the player works as a hacker to unlock the evil secrets of the Palisade bank. Basically, this is a challenge mode with a few extra features. Every challenge completed is a dirty little secret unlocked. Darknet Files add a little substance and background to the stories. For instance, one had me investigating the unusual death of a small girl. As I completed the designated challenges, more pieces of the puzzle were revealed. All the gameplay mechanics are the same, but it takes place in the virtual world (inside of the virtual world already being played). The hacker can even level up his avatar to increase his abilities….just like in the campaign. Leaderboards are also attached to this mode, adding in that competitive edge that so many people desire. For what I thought would have been a tacked on mode, Breach is surprisingly deep and lengthy. Players who love the core gameplay mechanics and time-based challenges will get a lot of mileage out of this mode.
Being thrown into this world where oppression drips from every aspect was shocking yet mesmerizing. Every decision the player makes is thoroughly thought through first because one quickly learns that the consequences can be severe. The combat and stealth mechanics are fluid, fleshed out and just plain fun. The world was a joy to explore, even if some quality issues arise from time to time. The story was fantastic but was often a little hard to follow. Deus Ex is largely re-playable with New Game + and the unexpectedly great challenge mode, Breach. Even though the micro-transactions are far from invasive, they are completely unnecessary in a single player; narrative driven game, and should not have been included. That being said, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided overall was spectacular, and an experience I would strongly recommend.
Final Score: 9.0