Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review
We totally asked for this. Chris Capel is an electronic old man
When pressed for what game I think is my favourite of all time, I invariably come back to Deus Ex. There have been games that have done parts of it better, shooting, stealth, open world exploration, but no game had done them all at the same time wrapped in a world that responds to your actions right down to chastising you for going in the ladies restroom. Eidos Montreal’s third game in the series, Human Revolution, was a wonderful continuation of that ethic. The story didn’t gel as well as it could’ve, and the less said about the boss battles the better, but otherwise it was a great modern Deus Ex. Now 5 years later Eidos Montreal have finally finished their sequel. Does it stand up to the legacy, or is it disappointing like the last even-numbered Deus Ex game?
To save you skipping to the end: I’ve played the whole thing through to the end credits and can say that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a triumph, a great return to the series, and anyone who enjoyed Human Revolution in particular will love it. There’s potentially a few significant disappointment that I’ll get to but the reasons for them make the game better. After the entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying Thief sequel/reboot I’m relieved that Eidos Montreal have managed to pull off another Looking Glass/Ion Storm feat.
It’s 2029, two years after the cataclysmic events of Human Revolution. The Incident at the end of the game, where Augmented people across the world were sent into a murderous rage, has deepened humanity’s mistrust of the mechanical superhumans in their midst. With anti-augment laws coming into effect and Augs seen as less than human, fear and terrorism is on the rise. Adam Jensen has joined TF29, a branch of Interpol dedicated to stopping Augmented terrorists. While doing that job he is still seeking to expose the Illuminati, the secret organization seeking world control. And things will get worse before they get better.
The story is actually really effectively told, far better than in Human Revolution where it didn’t really kick off until two-thirds of the way in. You get the big picture and the overall epic tale but you also get to see how pretty much every citizen in the places you go to are effected by the events, which is really cool. There are themes of segregation, terrorism, fanaticism, religion, haves and have-nots, corruption, crime, rich vs poor, all areas that many games struggle to address and yet Mankind Divided casts them all in shades of gray.
I’m sure everyone has also forgotten that Human Revolution and Mankind Divided are actually prequels to the original Deus Ex. It’s really difficult for any prequel maker, they have to carve their own part of the universe out yet still honour the canon, which is very hard to do, just ask George Lucas. With both games Eidos Montreal have managed it with aplomb, setting things up wonderfully for Deus Ex and yet still having their own wonderful world where you have no idea what’s going to happen. And I mean that: I was expecting twists all over the place and still things rarely went the way I expected. I expect people to have a few problems with how the story develops (see ‘Additional Thoughts’ below) but I was definitely satisfied by my time with it.
If you haven’t played a Deus Ex game before, they’re first-person cyberpunk RPGs and their main appeal is about choice. Not just in terms of narrative consequences like The Witcher, Deus Ex gives the player gameplay choices too. You can investigate every nook and cranny or go the direct route. You can be a master hacker, an unstoppable tank, or an invisible assassin. You can play it like a first-person shooter, a third person cover-shooter, or you can avoid killing entirely and play the entire game in stealth. If there’s an objective there’ll be multiple ways to accomplish it – always. Deus Ex is about giving the player choice, and Mankind Divided is arguably the best yet at doing so.
I’ll get to the main part of the gameplay, the exploration of the world and your choices within it, in the next section. Firstly I wanted to focus on the more action-y half of the game. While a lot of Mankind Divided is free exploration you will get into situations where folk plan on shooting Adam on sight, at which point it’s up to you how you proceed. Do you kill them all, take them out non-lethally, or avoid combat altogether?
My preference is always for stealth. There’s vents, plenty of cover, Augs to turn you invisible or do a Thief-like dash, and yet stealth is still challenging. The slightly more open level design and the lack of videogame-y nonsense like Cones of Sight means that if you’re in view of an enemy, a camera, a security bot or a turret – they’ll see you. They might just get suspicious at first and go and investigate, but if they spot you again all hell could break loose. There are a lot more enemies in every encounter, making confrontations as a stealth-focused Jensen more difficult. Of course escaping firefights is fun too.
Then again maybe combat is the way to go for you. There are a lot of weapons to play with, from pistols and shotguns to secret hidden ultra-powerful battle rifles and grenade launchers. Stick some Praxis upgrades into your health, armour and weapon aiming, maybe with a few left over for a Titan aug (that makes you practically invincible for a little while) and the ability to fire your Nanoblade at people and a good time is had by all. You can even adjust ammo types and weapon upgrades on the fly instead of messing about in the inventory.
While neither are the focus of the whole game, both stealth and gunplay encounters play as well as any game dedicated specifically to either. They’ve all been fun but a little spotty in all three previous Deus Ex games but now finally I feel like every gameplay avenue works the best they possibly can. I also like how you can choose to play both gameplay styles in pure first-person if you want, or use the cover system, or focus on Takedowns… and you can play non-lethally with all of them! Fortunately your inventory is easy to use and easier to organize this time around, and the wide range of grenades and mines (again, lethal and non-lethal) help you out a lot.
Hacking is the final pillar of gameplay, and yet like the others it’s totally avoidable if you don’t want to bother with the minigame. It plays much like Human Revolution except slightly prettier. There are a load of nodes and you have to capture them in order to reach a green node before you’re detected by the system. Nodes take different amounts of time to capture, from 0 (near instantaneous) upwards. There are various goodies and “helpful” nodes to capture, and often you’ll have to choose between the easiest path and the one with all the fun stuff. There’s software Jensen can use to “cheat” the system but mostly it’s you versus the machine. I actually really like the hacking game and stuffed all my hacking Augs full of Praxis points, but if you don’t like it? Fine, don’t touch it. Shoot the door down instead, or search around for a Pocket Secretary with the code or password on it. That’s Deus Ex.
The World and Choices
The most important part of the Deus Ex gameplay though is the exploration, the world-building, and your choices within it, which is why I’ve given it a separate section in this review. Deus Ex is about giving you a place and saying “right, now play the game how you want” and Mankind Divided manages this well. But first, let me break the bad news…
In Deus Ex there were three cities you can explore at will, with many large areas separate from these hubs to visit. In Human Revolution there were only two cities, Detroit and Hengsha. In Mankind Divided there is only one city hub, Prague. Jensen visits Dubai and a few other locations I won’t spoil, but they’re only levels. It’s divided into three separated areas, such as the ghetto-like Golem City, but you’ll spend 90% of the game in Prague. This does rob Mankind Divided of the globe-trotting epic feel of previous games a little, but it ends up a good thing.
By concentrating on a single city hub Eidos Montreal have made one of the most detailed, well designed, fun, personal and believable locations in gaming. Every street is recognizable. Most buildings can be entered. There are a load of interesting shops and all have secrets to discover. All civilians feel like they have something to say, and there are a lot of them. But most importantly, everywhere feels real. Every apartment is unique, from the crazy cat lady to the lonely watchmaker to the slobby drug-dealer. The office of TF29 is amazing, a constant hive of activity with dozens of employees chatting, running around, getting stressed or commenting that you really shouldn’t be in the women’s bathroom, with constant unique chatter at all times and every desk feels lived in. I’ve never seen a videogame with believable amounts of clutter and mess everywhere but Eidos Montreal have really gone to town with the detail.
And that’s just the surface. The actual design of Prague (and all the extra locations) is superb. You never get lost as the layout of the streets just makes sense. No matter the area there is always more than one way to get there. I spent a good hour hunting for evidence to dismantle an identity documents scam that was blocking my way, then when I finally got through I discovered a secret entrance round the side that I could’ve snuck through instead. Eidos Montreal makes sure that experimentation and exploration are rewarded. No matter how crazy or far out or hard to get to a place is there will very probably be treasure waiting at the end of it. As such it’s tremendously satisfying to explore every corner of Mankind Divided, more so than every other Deus Ex game I’d say.
The only real disappointment in level design compared to the original game is that yes, locations are still narrower than they perhaps should be. Locations are a lot bigger than Invisible War or Human Revolution at least, but there’s still the odd claustrophobic or linear moment - especially compared to most other open world games these days. Nevertheless I still feel happy with the design since the sense of exploration and discovery kept me as happy as Fallout 4 without having to walk an hour to get anywhere.
Missions are generally superb, with absolutely plenty of side quests to discover, sometimes in the strangest places. There are some really truly memorable missions in Mankind Divided and it’s stunning how easy to miss some of the best ones are.
It’s the choices though that truly make Mankind Divided great. I’ve mentioned gameplay choices of course. What Aug upgrades to get is an agonizing choice, as unlike Human Revolution you will not be able to get all the good ones this time, and almost certainly not all the new ones. There will be plenty of storyline and character choices too, and I was pleased to see when my choice had an impact on the world around me. Sometimes you’ll have to choose a whole questline over another, or one person living and the other… not, and Eidos Montreal do a great job of making each choice feel weighty and meaningful. Plus it makes for great replay value. It’s a shame you still can’t really choose your side, though.
Performance & Graphics
- OS: Windows 7 SP1 64-Bit
- Processor: Intel Core i3-2100 or AMD equivalent
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 660 GTX (2GB) or AMD Radeon 7870 HD
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 45 GB
- OS: Windows 10 64-Bit
- Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K or AMD FX 8350 Wraith
- Memory: 16 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 970 GTX or AMD Radeon RX 480
That Minimum will get you a game that looks much like Human Revolution with none of the upgrades. I ran the game on my AMD-FX 6300 Six-Core Processor, 16 Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 960 4Gb, and Windows 10 64-Bit and I had most of the settings on High with DirectX 11 (12 hasn’t been implemented yet). I had to turn a couple of the more advanced graphics settings off however. The PC version also boasts proper keyboard/mouse controls and UI, the ability to assign any item to number keys 1-0, loads of gameplay options including being able to turn off waypoints, and most importantly to me: a quicksave key. It’s sad that this previously essential feature is almost a novelty these days.
Graphically though Mankind Divided looks utterly stunning. While character animations are still very animated locations are gorgeous with incredible amounts of detail. However I do have to report that I experienced occasionally really long load times and a lot of crashing, mostly right as the game opened but sometimes during long play sessions. I’m hopeful this will get sorted in a Day One patch but I’d hate for it not to be and I didn’t report it.
Audio / Voice Acting
While the voice acting in Deus Ex games can be variable I was mostly really impressed by Mankind Divided. There are a huge amount of characters and NPCs so compared to something like Skyrim I’m pleased how individual most people sound. Adam Jensen still growls his way through problems with the emotional range of a Clint Eastwood waxwork model but everyone else comes off well. The soundtrack from Michael McCann (Human Revolution) and Sascha Dikiciyan (Mass Effect 3) is gorgeous synth work that provides a great backdrop to the events… although there’s sadly even less of the amazing Deus Ex theme tune this time around.
I will not spoil anything, but there will definitely be people upset by the main story in Mankind Divided. Perhaps due to being confined mostly to Prague the game tells a more personal, slightly less epic tale. There are still lives on the line and a war brewing between “Naturals” and “Clanks” that Jensen and his allies are trying to avoid, and I loved my time exploring it… but we only get one Deus Ex game a generation and there are major plot points that Human Revolution introduced that get danced around here. The Illuminati in particular are kind of left to their own devices and Jensen never really meets them or messes with them. In this regard the original Deus Ex still remains the most epic, as you get the terror plot and you expose and dismantle the entire organization behind it. In Mankind Divided it’s just the terror plot with hints of other elements at play. I say again that I still loved the story, but despite all the advances in gameplay and world-building the original still ends on a more satisfying note.
One additional thing I want to mention before I end this already over-long review is the new Breach mode. Separate from the main game (although there is a crossover with one mission), Breach takes place in a VR world where you play a hacker entering a computer system and trying to mine data. It plays much like the main game except it looks like a shinier version of Tron 2.0 and is based around getting a good score. It’s quite fun but I’m not sure I’ll be playing it a lot.
Oh, okay, and DLC. There are a couple of DLC missions available already under the banner ‘Jensen’s Stories’ and, while they’re pretty fun, they should have been part of the main game. Not just not being paid extras, I mean they are part of the main story and yet literally segregated from the main game so you have to play them separately via the title screen. I’ve no idea why these couldn’t have been implemented naturally into the game itself, and as such they feel clunky.
DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED VERDICT
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an amazing game and a worthy fourth entry in arguably the best videogame series of all time. It took me 30 hours to finish it and I loved all of it. While Deus Ex fans might be a little disappointed that there’s only one city hub, concentrating on Prague has allowed Eidos Montreal to create one of the most detailed, believable, and well designed locations in videogames, one that rewards exploration every time. The stealth and combat sides have been buffed and polished so that each are as good as the best games dedicated exclusively to each, and the hacking is as fun as it was in Human Revolution. The story is a little less epic than I’d hoped, but makes up for it by feeling a lot more concentrated and personal and features loads of wonderful side stories. Mankind Divided is a game that gives players full freedom to choose how they’d like to play and every choice is both valid and extremely fun. Even the boss battles are good. Eidos Montreal have taken Human Revolution and made it even more Deus Ex. And that is a very Game of the Year good thing indeed.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Some of the side missions are incredibly memorable. The murder mystery is my particular favourite. No, I didn’t work out who the killer was.
Good vs Bad
- Choices in every aspect are well implemented. Don’t just choose story beats, choose your whole gameplay style
- Combat and stealth, lethal and non-lethal, are totally valid options and all are equally fun to play… and each have different consequences
- Rewards exploration and experimentation at every turn
- In focusing on one city Eidos Montreal have made it extraordinarily detailed and fun to play. There’s three cities worth of content in just one place
- But there's still only one city, and that makes the story feel a little less epic than previous games