Deus Ex: Mankind Divided PC Review
It must have been a strenuous task for Eidos Montreal when creating Deus Ex: Human Revolution, especially when the studio announced that this would be their first game. Deus Ex has a legacy behind it. The original is regarded as a PC classic, and with the sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, not having the fandom the original still holds to this day, coming up with another sequel to meet fans expectations is no easy feat. Human Revolution surprised most people how it turned out – I don’t think many expected it to be as great as it was, with a strong story, interesting setting and its freedom in gameplay being a big draw for players. Five years later, the same studio is bringing a sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, to their prequel of the original, retaining the ideas of Human Revolution, but implementing smarter improvements to make a better playing game.
Mankind Divided follows on two years after the ending of Human Revolution (don’t worry if you haven’t played the previous game, as there is a 12 minute recap video that explains the major plot points to get players up to speed). The year is 2029 and the world is in a huge distrust with augmented people – humans who have cybernetic implants or limb replacements – after the the infamous Aug Incident made them become uncontrollably violent, which resulted in millions of deaths. This left a footprint in the memories of the world’s population, turning them to aggressively hate the idea of augmentation and going as far as to outcast anyone with an implant away from the “naturals”, leading to the game’s name, Mankind Divided, a world where augs are treated as lesser human beings, forced into their own quartered off sections in cities away from the rest of the population.
Over the past two years, Adam Jensen, the game’s protagonist returning from Human Revolution, who is once again packed to the rim with augmented enhancements, has joined Task Force 29, an Interpol force that was created to deal with augmented focused terrorism. Jensen finds himself in the middle of an illegal arms deal that goes south when a cloaked group of golden mercerises raid the deal and steal the kit. Having a hunch that this is linked to the Illuminati, Jensen works with a group of hackers called Juggernaut Collective to use their help in following the trace that pulls him into a conspiracy that can only come from using a group such as the Illuminati.
The divide between people can be seen on the streets of Prague – the city Jensen is currently living in – as this place is littered with signs pointing in directions where naturals and augs should be placed. The cops hang at patrol gates and will stop people to check for passes that enable augs to stay in the city, otherwise they are exported to Golem City, a place where illegal augs are forced to live in poor conditions and poverty, where the police don’t give a second thought about the awful treatment they give to them. The portrayal of a city packed with augphobia is present in a way that adds tension and atmosphere to the scenario of Mankind Divided, but as Jensen, I felt that while the cops did stop me and were taken back by my orange clearance card to freely walk around Prague, I never felt that I was threatened by the dirty looks given my way or the insults from passer-bys whispering about that “clank.” Jensen’s Matrix Neo look and intolerance to fear attitude makes the discrimination bounce off him, and overall, never made me feel I was one of the minorities that had gone through hardship, unlike some of the other NPCs that clearly have.
Looking at the story overall, it’s an enjoyable one, but doesn’t quite hit the heights of Human Revolution. It’s more of an generic tale filled with predictable outcomes across the game’s 17 main missions. What really damps the plot is the abrupt ending that follows one of the most lacklustre boss disappointments since Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. I can’t help but feel that the last bits of Mankind Divided were rushed, and now will be cared for with content in the season pass DLC that is planned for the following months, or a full sequel (which is the best outcome to not feel gypped). If it is the former, then it’s a bummer, but at least you can experience conclusive and interesting mini stories from the many side quests.
Even if the story doesn’t come across as spectacular, Deus Ex is a series that can get by with its core gameplay, its ability to offer the player a variety of ways to tackle a problem by building a world that encapsulates this concept. At its heart, Mankind Divided is a first-person action game with RPG elements. It’s also a shooter and a stealth game – it truly depends how you go about tackling the objectives set out. One of the major choices is how to approach enemies. Do you go in guns blazing with an assault rifle or shotgun? Do you calmly hide behind objects? Maybe sneak into the shadows and crawl around vents and bypass all the enemies, or if they can’t be dodged, knock them out with a KO punch. It is never one option, can you can mix them, as players are free to be stealthy, aggressive or use a mixture of both for each mission, which is often the scenario that happened to me. I would try to attempt everything through stealth and no lethal means, but if I was spotted, it was time to turn into Mac from Predator and cut down everyone like trees. There are situations where one approach is going to be harder than the other. I mean, you cannot exactly get away with shooting a police officer without consequences, but if determined enough, you could kill them all until there are no reinforcements left in the mission.
That is just one example, and Mankind Divided is not all about how you approach enemies, as missions can cover a range of objectives. An early side quest that involves going to a bank and stealing information from a safe to give to a newspaper writer for a scoop is another good example of the freedom. In this mission, you can either find out information about where a passkey is stored and go find it, you can hack the security door lock to get in, use the glass cloak augment ability and stealthily get pass everyone using vents, you could knock them all out and hide their bodies or you can go Rambo and kill people, grab the documents and run out like a crazy madman while drinking a bottle of whiskey to refill the health metre.
Helping make the task easier is Jensen’s access to augmentations to make him above what a human is capable of. An assortment of augmentations that can be unlocked by points gained from levelling up an experience bar – experience is awarded for a multitude of things big and small (completed missions, marksmanship, take-downs, etc.) A quick note for anyone wondering if the powers that Jensen has built up from Human Revolution are kept in Mankind Divided, well, no, as the game strips Jensen of his upgrades through a accidental reboot of his system, but it does unlock some brand new experimental powers, such as ranged nanoblades or Tesla stun, which adds overload issues to Jensen’s power core, meaning that other augmentations will need switching off to balance the power use. It’s added elements that make you think smartly about the play you are about to make, that is until near the end of the game where that restriction is lifted and Jensen can go all out without burning out.
Jensen backs up the player’s preferred play styles with his augmentation upgrades. An aggressive player might go for the Dermal Armor to reduce damage and Aim Stabilzer for better handling with guns. Going none lethal? Then go for the Glass Cloak that allows Predator-style invisibility, while adding x-ray vision to see the enemies through walls and to make use of the Tesla augmentation to knock enemies out without harm. For talkers, the Social Enhancer is perfect to evaluate the NPC to see what replies would be the best to get a positive response. Hacking is another big part of the Deus Ex world, so I would whole heartily recommend building upgrades for hacking, as it will make things easier to get past security or find passwords for locked doors. That is, of course, if it is your desire to do that, as you might want to use vents and ledges to get around. The choice is ultimately yours to come up with, but one thing these options build towards is a great way to replay the game in a different way than you originally did to see what changes occur, as it’s impossible to have every ability unlocked within one completion of the game.
With all the complexity, it’s good that the developers managed to improve on the quality of life. Every mechanic feels better here than its predecessor. Shooting weapons feels more impactful and heavier, with iron sights and grenade arcs used for accuracy, although, shooting is never as focused as a true shooter. The third-person view used for the cover mechanics snaps better and it now draws a line on the ground where Jensen can run cover to cover with the press of the space bar, much better than the frustrating issues with moving around in Human Revolution when trying to do the same. Augmentation powers can be assigned to the middle mouse button, and other keyboard buttons allow for quick access to switch them around when required, while context sensitive actions are performed without issues. Everything mechanically feels much more refined, even going as far as to remove boss battles that people had issues with before (lethal use was the only way to go about them), allowing the concept of freedom to be kept intact until the last moments of the game, which in turn produces the best feeling Deus Ex game to date.
A five year time span between itself and the last game also makes this the most beautiful Deus Ex game. It might be disappointing that Prague is the only major hub area – there are missions that take you out of it for a very limited time, but most of the happenings are in the capital – however, it’s one that players can become captivated by. It’s a stunningly beautiful place offering an early glance of a future pasted with technology embedded with ancient architecture. The game as a whole is a looker, being very sleek in presentation across from graphic fidelity to menu user interfaces, especially compared to Human Revolution, as character models are way more detailed, but sadly, the lip sync remains mostly awful, with only a couple of characters seemingly having words match their movement. Quite a beefy PC is required to run the game at maximum settings at 1440p without any use of MSAA to keep a constant 60fps, as the game does not seem perfectly optimised. You’re looking at a high end card to achieve those desired results.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided might fail on delivering a complete story that feels important or wide scoped, but that thankfully does not mean it falls flat. Gameplay is what truly makes Mankind Divided shine, and here, any problems with the racial story is made up by having a complex and immersive world with level design purposely built around the idea of Deus Ex‘s choice gameplay. It keeps everything mechanically from Human Revolution and improves it. This is an older, wiser Deus Ex, one that has been refined through experience and buttered up with rewarding gameplay that feels it can deliver a different experience in its Prague playground from person to person, a kind of freedom that is uncommon these days in big budget titles.