Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the sequel to the successful 2011 “reboot” of the Deus Ex franchise, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The franchise was started in 2000 when Deus Ex was released, a PC game widely considered one of the greatest games of all time. I use the word “reboot” because the series had not seen an installment since 2003. Chronologically in the Deus Ex universe, Human Revolution and Mankind Divided are both prequels, taking place in the late 2020s. Mankind Divided takes place two years after the story of Human Revolution, which basically ended with the “Aug Incident.” Mankind Divided is a first/third person action/stealth game with a riveting story, great atmosphere, incredible level design, and fun and diverse gameplay.
Story, Environment, and Background
The player follows the story of Adam Jensen, a Detroit native who was a SWAT officer before working for David Sarif and Sarif Industries, a company focused on the science and application of human augmentation, the replacing of organic tissue and organs with synthetic ones. I will not spoil the events of Human Revolution, and the player can watch a 12-minute video when starting a new game in Mankind Divided. The video summarizes the events and atmosphere of the first game; it does a wonderful job of introducing the franchise to new people, as well as reminding veterans of Human Revolution the events of the story. In Mankind Divided, Adam Jensen now works for Task Force 29 (TF29), a UN anti-terrorist group with wide-ranging jurisdiction, after being pulled from the Artic at Panchea, the last area of Human Revolution. Jensen is almost completely augmented, as was necessary to save his life at the beginning of Human Revolution, and is one of the few “Augs” in TF29. He also works with The Juggernaut Collective, a hacker group with connections all over the world. The game starts in Dubai in the year 2029, and there are large amounts of tension between “naturals” and “augs,” causing many countries to enact legislation to segregate and regulate the Augmentation industry and the people who are augmented. The UN, EU, and other international organizations are heavily involved in world affairs as well. Promotion material for the game called the current state of the in-game world, “a mechanical apartheid.” Recent terrorist attacks, reportedly carried out by augs, further cause fear and anxiety among the people, and only a few million augs are left by the time Mankind Divided starts. At Dubai, Jensen believes that everything is not as it seems when his group is attacked, the attackers somehow knowing when and where TF29 would be. The rest of the story mostly takes place in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. I won’t go into the story further, but it involves many players and organizations ranging from hacker groups, world news organizations, mega corporations, international government agencies, state police, underground news conspiracy theorists, organized crime families, and world string-pullers. Aside from the main story, there are various side quests involving a variety of situations, consequences, and plots in and of themselves.
The story is well written and brilliantly executed, albeit with some issues of pacing and resolution. The game ends with a lot of cliff-hangers and loose ends, which it obviously sets up for a sequel. Because of the delivery of Mankind Divided, I will be content with the ending as long as everything resolves nicely in the third installment. The game could have done a better job with establishing more villains or bosses, as it seems as the game strives toward nothing, as in a natural conclusion or progression of events, until halfway into the story. The main story also seems to be missing part of Act II or Act III, which could even make another full Act all together, and it is difficult to determine from which act parts of the story would be missing.
The game naturally falls into three acts, with the first act mainly being expository and establishing, and the final two acts rise in stakes and tension. I found the first act to be the broadest with actions and quests, and the latter two acts narrowed and tapered. This might have been a narrative tool used metaphorically to diminish availability of time the characters possess, but if this were the case, the game would have let the player know a little more explicitly of this narrative technique. Nevertheless, my qualms about the narrative structure are minor compared to the praise I have for the execution and direction of the story and the message. I highly recommend trying to play through all of the side quests, as these are the hidden gems of the game. The side quests are immersive, personal, engaging, well-paced, and wide-ranging in characters and situations. Some storylines of certain side quests even bleed into different acts, offering follow-ups and continuations of events. The culmination of events in both the main quests and the side quests is a variety of arguments Jensen will have with NPCs. I found these to be one of my favorite parts of the game, as the arguments discuss practical, ethical, and philosophical issues that can even be applied to our real world. The results of these arguments also impact the entire questline, and even the ending of the whole game.
Story Summary: Mankind Divided takes place in an apartheid state, mostly in the Czech Republic, following the life and perspective of Adam Jensen, a highly augmented anti-terrorist task force operator, who has somehow been involved in the biggest events in recent global history. The world of Mankind Divided is filled with tension, fear, and cover-ups, and has the air of conspiracy and collusion. It is a fascinating world filled with incredible events and interesting characters. The game does a frighteningly good job of depicting martial law and a police state, but the game is also able to juxtapose these chilling elements nicely with the benefits of science and technology in the Deus Ex world. The main questline and the side quests are both engaging and fulfilling, with a slight longing for more from the second or third act. The arguments Jensen have are a jewel of the game.
The gameplay of Mankind Divided is similar to that of Human Revolution, but with a few upgrades. I would still consider Mankind Divided a stealth game, as the base Adam Jensen is fairly fragile, and thus cannot take a lot of damage in a firefight. The developers have tried to appeal the game to a wider audience, and they have succeeded with the new augmentations Jensen can acquire. With the right augs, and perhaps on a lower difficulty, Mankind Divided can be played like a 3rd person shooter. However, the game rewards players, either through experience or achievements, who take the stealth route. The game functions as almost as a hybrid between 1st and 3rd person. While walking, running, jumping, crawling, and shooting while not in cover, the player is in 1st person. However, most actions that deal with the environment (takedowns, breaking walls, descending from heights, dialogue) are done in 3rd person. This transition is performed seamlessly, and a first-time player will get used to it quite quickly. Aside from the stealth, another core element of gameplay is a variety of augmentations Jensen can use. This can range from blade projectiles, a portable stun gun, an area-of-effect knockback, small teleportation/blink, invisibility, a psych profiler, and many other useful augs meant for stealth and/or combat. Unlocking these augs requires praxis kits, which can be obtained rarely in the open world and mainly in leveling up. The levelling system is lenient, so any style of gameplay and quest completion can easily net the player enough experience to obtain and upgrade quite a few augmentations in one playthrough.
The use of augmentations as abilities is a great touch of immersion, and the augs themselves offer a large amount of choice in the gameplay for the player. The power Jensen has an interesting curve, as there is no gradual increase in Jensen’s power: he either is incredibly weak or incredibly strong. Once the right augs have been obtained, Jensen can be incredibly effective at stealth or combat, or whatever gameplay style the player wants to follow. Augs and weapons can be equipped through an inventory wheel, but the more items and augs Jensen has, the more cluttered the wheel becomes. Perhaps a list or hotkey system used, for example, in The Witcher or Fallout would have made equipping different items and weapons slightly more fluid.
The main mechanic involved with stealth and detection is a meter that fills with a different color depending on the state of awareness from the NPC. While no system has proven to be the best, the yellow (suspicious) and red (hostile) meter filling for detection works well for Deus Ex. Guard patterns, body discovery/hiding, and searches are all used in the game. While normal patrol routes are not that extensive, an alarm or search state for the guards changes some of their patterns. These patterns could involve a little more searching in difficult-to-reach areas on the guards’ part, but it is enough to elicit tension from the player.
One of the main mechanics of the game is hacking, which is done via a capture and fortify minigame. Hacking can be tedious at times, but a high hacking investment in the augs is not necessary for a clean, no detection run. There are some moments in the game where hacking is necessary for the sake of continuing the story, but these do not appear frequently, and the minigame itself is not long individually. While not the most exciting minigame out there, it offers a different choice in where the player can invest, and some of the rewards for the nonessential hacking can be quite beneficial.
Moving bodies is in the game, but it is erratic. The body moving system in Dishonored far outclasses the one in Deus Ex, and the developers could have used a different mechanic to avoid the problems with moving bodies. Moving bodies is actually somewhat of a liability, and I tended to avoid incapacitating people and moving them just to avoid the mechanic. Jensen can also move objects and throw them. This mechanic is used very little in the game, and when it is used, it is used briefly and only as a means to an end. The mechanic itself feels robotic, and the object just appears in front of Jensen, with the ability to see through the object if it blocks his line of sight. Fortunately, the player does not need to rely upon moving objects a great deal. Objects maneuvered in the inventory, however, such as grenades and mines, are accurate and reliable.
Gameplay Summary: The gameplay is solid and great in that it fits with the whole experience and immersion, even if some mechanics aren’t perfect. Augmentations, cover, movement, shooting, aim, and the dialogue tree are all fantastic and appeal to both veterans and newcomers. Augmentations especially offer a wide variety of gameplay choice in how the player must execute the objective. Moving and throwing objects, the inventory wheel, hacking, and stealth detection are all good enough not to frustrate anyone to point of even being irritated. The most anyone can be of those is annoyed, but most of the errors are from the player him or herself executing the mechanics incorrectly. Any other instance is minimal, unnecessary, or forgettable. The worst mechanic is moving bodies, as they sometimes cannot be placed to where the player wants them to go, and the erratic nature of the mechanic itself. There were multiple times where bodies would be stuck in a wall or piece of furniture, prematurely dropped, or would clip through an object. The experience and praxis system is fair, and, once more augmentations are obtained, Jensen and the player easily have all the necessary tools to succeed at any point in the game.
I’m just going to rattle off different aspects of the game technically and give a one sentence description of my thoughts on it:
Frame Rate- runs at around 30fps, usually consistent, drops slightly after loading Prague and after loading a save file
Lighting- good lighting throughout the game, although sometimes bright spots will occur during cut scenes, but nothing distracting
Detection- can be inconsistent at times, especially when grabbing ledges, can be frustrating when needing to do a specific move quickly without a lot of room for error; in regards to shooting, projectiles generally go where the player aimed them, and any issue with it tends to be operator error
Input lag- minimal, the only issue I had with it was inputting numbers on in-game keypads, menu input lag is noticeable, but not a deal-breaker
Rendering- Like before, slight issue when first loading Prague (mostly during the day), nothing else distracting
Loading times- anywhere between 30-50 seconds when loading a save file, can be frustrating when at a high difficulty part
Sound and balance of sound- only had one issue late in the game where Jensen’s voice was quite while everything else’s was normal; Jensen’s phone calls with NPCs have good volume that doesn’t take the player out of the experience
Control Functionality- all the controls are solid, some cancels after assigned movements can have some lag, but nothing frustrating
Spacing- Depth and spacing was great, I didn’t encounter any issue where I ran into someone unexpectedly or didn’t run into someone or something when I was expecting to
Aesthetics – aesthetics and art style are fantastic, the art team really focused on immersion, and they blend together the wonders of technology with the fear of a police state really well
Score- really can set the mood, and subtle changes in the score elicit different reactions like suspense and urgency, the score overall has an uneasy style to it, with moving suspended chords sustaining with interjections of resolving notes and chords, usually minor, creating an atmosphere of suspense and illusion
Menus- menus and fluid and easy to navigate, and overall they are not a hassle
Mini-map- the mini map is great for detection and spacing, and it is much more useful than the extended map in the menus
Particles and effects- effects with the augmentations look fantastic, and the player can always recognize the difference between which augs are being used, colors easily identify the alertness of cameras and turrets
Quality- always HD, pre-rendered cut scenes look great, but there are great segues from pre-rendered to in-game cut scenes, high improvement from Human Revolution
Drops/crashes- the game has crashed for me one time in my playthroughs
Animations and variety- animations have slightly remained the same since Human Revolution, and some of them can be repetitive, this is especially true when performing takedowns and body motion of characters during dialogue, takedown animation is noticeable, and the gameplay would have been more interesting with a larger variety of animations
Level Design- arguably the best part of the game, there is almost never just one way to accomplish a task, and there are even multiple ways to accomplish a task even with similar play styles, the placement of vents, vertical paths, and hidden passages add a great amount of control and freedom for the player, and the player can almost always find another way to do something if one way isn’t working
Voice acting- does a great job of immersion, it felt like many native speakers of different languages (Czech especially) were involved in the voice work; Jensen’s voice can seem rigid and bland, but it generally fits with his character and experiences, but differences in tone, intonation, and emotion really come out during arguments or when Jensen is really trying to make a point
Replay ability- high, there are multiple augs, pathways, play styles, difficulties, achievements, and self-induced challenges that can keep the gameplay interesting and engaging
Technical Summary- Animations can be repetitive, there are slight frame drops when loading save files, loading times are somewhat long, but the effects and designs of the augments are distinct and interesting, and the game is fluid, and incredibly well designed, both in a gameplay way and aesthetic way, good voice acting and high replay ability
Online/Multiplayer- There is a new Breach mode in which hackers try to break into servers of the bank based in Prague, and the mechanics are very similar to a particular part of the main Mankind Divided story. One can tell some work was put into it, but ultimately, it was not designed to be a draw to buy the game. It can be a nice distraction from the main story, but the slight repetitiveness of Breach mode and similar mechanics to the main game are not enough to keep people playing it for long. I will not rate this mode because I see the mode as an extra fun mode that the developers added in to add more features. Overall, Breach mode is a nice distraction from the main story with interesting design and aesthetics, but the main story of Mankind Divided is far superior to it in every way. Players will not be playing Breach Mode once they feel that they have exhausted the main game.
Achievements- One can easily attain 600+ Gamerscore off of one playthrough of the game, especially if the player knows which ones to unlock ahead of time. One can attain 900+ Gamerscore off of two full playthroughs and careful saving. Another 60 Gamerscore is attainable via Breach, and dedicated players who want to 100% the game will not find it too tedious to do so.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a fantastic stealth/ action game in a well-designed world, creating the atmosphere of fear and opportunity, with a high amount of immersion built into the game. The wide range of augmentations Jensen can have, as well as the great arguments he has with NPCs, really attracts a large audience of gamers, both casual and veteran. Although somewhat on the short side with cliff-hangers and leaving the player with a somewhat empty feeling in regards to story progression and resolution, the main story is a good follow up from Human Revolution, the previous game in the Deus Ex franchise. For gamers who love story, atmosphere, and choice, Mankind Divided is a great game to learn and follow, and new fans of the franchise can easily catch up to the events of Human Revolution within the first few missions. The level design is fantastic, and the player really has an abundance of pathways and styles to achieve the goal to progress further into the story from which the player can choose. The score and visuals really capture the atmosphere of Deus Ex, and there are not enough frame drops, crashes, or lag really to be bothered on a technical scale. Abilities, controls, and shooting all blend together well, which create an experience well worth the investment. While no game or work of fiction is perfect, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has well lived up to the expectations set by Human Revolution, and it will be seen as one of the best and most enjoyable games of 2016.
9.5/10 or 5/5
(My scale for score:
5/5 all gamers should consider; 4.5/5 all fans of the genre should consider; 4/5 all fans of the franchise should consider; 3.5/5 all dedicated fans of the genre should consider; 3/5 all dedicated fans of the franchise should consider)
(Feel free to leave a comment, and please do not repost without my permission)
Changed score to 4.5/5 after going back to the game after a break. According to my scale for scoring, it falls more into a game that fans of the rpg/stealth/story genre should play, not all gamers.