A new form of race war, terror plots, subversion of a minorities movement, and picking up two years after the disastrous events of Human Revolution, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided thrusts players into a world on the brink of breaking down. Yet, despite providing a great world to play in, even more than it’s predecessor, Mankind Divided has to constantly pull it’s narrative punches due to the nature of it being a prequel - leading to what feels more like an awesome part one of two tale.
Building perfectly on the groundwork laid in 2011’s Human Revolution, Square Enix and Eidos Montreal have honed the gameplay to make it feel close to top-of-the-genre, no matter your play style. Be it stealth, long range, close combat or run-and-gun routes, gameplay is smooth and responsive - moving fluidly between first and third person cover based action, with plenty of options for customizing your weapon and augmentation loadouts.
The only real gripe I have with the augmentation system is that a few missions in you basically have to start from scratch. This led to my spending more than a few hours building up the skills I had when I started the game, rather than trying out some of the new, cool (but less important for my playstyle) augs, which was a little disappointing.
This could have been made worse had the amount of experience points required for a praxis kit (the upgrade points) been too high, or increased in cost too drastically to incentivise the praxis kit micro-transaction, but it wasn’t. I found I was naturally gaining the upgrades in short order by habitually exploring every environment I came across, and skillfully dispatching the many foes littering the maps.
The globe spanning adventure aspect of past Deus Ex titles has taken something of a backseat this go-around in lieu of telling a more focused story. While there are technically five worldwide locations you’ll visit, only two of them are in any way similar to the city hubs that fans of the franchise would be familiar with - the exception being Prague (the city you’ll spend most of your time in), which is split into two sections, and is likely denser than all the locals in any DX title to date.
Free-roaming through the different game hub environments I noticed they’re jam packed with little details that help bring them to life. People wandering the streets, couples engaging in conversation, or police detaining augmented citizens with extreme prejudice - it all helps sell to illusion that this is a lived in world, and while you can’t access every building or room, the number of interactable locals is rather vast, and exploration is certainly rewarded.
Upgrade your strength augmentation so you can punch a hole in the wall, move a heavy crate, or vending machine and suddenly you’ve opened up a new path. Upgrade your hacking skills and look at that! You’ve now gained easy access to hackable laptops for world building and information gathering, also granting you access to previously inaccessible places, discovering hidden stores of loot, info, or even missions.
Map layouts are also something of a highlight. Each play space you enter gives every type of player a way to go about completing its challenge exactly the way they want. I found this lead to fewer “Boss Battles”, and more options to complete the quest in a successfully non-lethal way - speaking of which, I loved using the Social Enhancer augmentation in conversations. Best of all, the choices you make result in different conversations and end results.
The few times I did encounter a person I had no choice but to fight, I found the environment contained more than enough ways for me to avoid damage and gain the upperhand. In this regard Mankind Divided is leaps and bounds better than it’s predecessor, my only wish here would be for there to be more of these types of events.
Which brings us to the story. The Deus Ex titles are masters of blending all manner of conspiracies together and weaving interesting tales of people attempting to control the world with hidden strings, and in that Mankind Divided falls a little short of those that have come before - but that’s not to say it isn’t good.
You still have a number of organizations, groups, and power hungry people, all with their own motivations and points of view that protagonist Adam Jensen, has to navigate his way through. The problems I found came from limitations built in by the nature of it being a prequel. The tale of prejudice against augmented people being told can get pretty heavy at times, but as an augmented member of Interpol, even when I was being stopped by authorities to have my ID checked, I always felt a little separated from those experiencing this mechanical apartheid.
Don’t get me wrong, everything about it feels wrong (in the right ways), and I wanted nothing but to help those in need, but I constantly felt like my hands were tied. I could see from early on that this game wouldn’t really get to a point where I could help affect a better future for these downtrodden souls.
The problems come from the developers not really diving in and providing any sort of worldwide solution to the evils, or granting the ability for players to fully lean one way or the other. As a fan of the franchise I got a kick out of seeing references to, or younger versions of big names from future titles, but with their appearing the way the were, I knew that I wasn’t going to get the real payoff I was hoping for - my only real consolation is that I also know there are events that have yet to occur between where Mankind Divided ends and the original begins, I just hope we get to eventually experience them, and that the sequel isn’t another 5 years away.
Packaged in with the game is also a form of competitive leaderboards for a challenge room style experience called “Breach”. This is a neat no ramifications way to blow off steam if you’re trying to complete a non-lethal run, or just compete to get the highest score, but the visuals are pretty basic, and I’ve yet to feel much of an urge to rush back to it.
The Deus Ex games do something that few other games manage, and that’s make it so that I can choose to go in guns blazing, or take the stealth route, all while providing a convincing reason to do either option in every situation. Few games successfully give me the sort of experience that a Deus Ex game gives, and in Mankind Divided’s case, I think the developers have created the best entry in the series to-date.
However looking at the story and overall picture, if Human Revolution was the gaming equivalent of an awesome cinematic movie, then Mankind Divided was more akin to a great episode of television - awesome but not the whole story. I would happily suggest this game to newcomers, fans of replayable games, and veterans of the franchise alike as it hits all the points gameplay wise to fill everyone’s needs. As far as the story goes, be warned that to get the whole picture, you’ll have to wait on the sequel. Please don’t let the wait be too long.