Conspiracy theorists take note – Adam Jensen has returned.
The Deus Ex series has always carried a certain kind of cult-like reverence, even among fellow RPG shooters of its ilk. The combination of conspiracies and sheer range of choice, distilled into a mysterious world with endless layers to explore, helped elevate it among the typical riff-raff of its time. Even Deus Ex: Human Revolution took the reins of this neo-noir conspiracy fantasy and presented a fresh take on stealth with it. By comparison, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is more evolutionary than revolutionary. It’s an extremely well-crafted experience that further expands on what the player can do, presenting numerous solutions to problems you didn’t even think of yet. Intuitively, there are multiple ways to experience the narrative even if it’s not something you’d think to revisit after your first time around.
"As noted before, you’d think that with so many stakes and conspiracies floating about that the narrative would be more compelling than it ultimately is."
Which is somewhat disappointing when you consider the game’s legacy. After the events of Human Revolution, Augs are pretty much discriminated against and segregated from the general populace. It’s a grim setting but not quite as wholly suffocating as the pre-release trailers led me to believe. There’s still plenty of threat though – a rogue terrorist organization is committing atrocities and seemingly ruining Augs’ reputations even more. But they operate under the Illuminati, another organization which has been pulling its fair few share of strings over the years. Adam Jensen now works with Interpol but also moonlights for the Juggernaut Collective, yet another mysterious organization, to find and stop the Illuminati before a social powder keg erupts.
As noted before, you’d think that with so many stakes and conspiracies floating about that the narrative would be more compelling than it ultimately is. This isn’t to say the story is terrible but it feels like the pacing could have amped things up a little further down the line. Mankind Divided still presents a very competently told tale with great voice acting, memorable characters and strong mission design. It’s just a shame that it isn’t nearly as enveloping as the first game’s twisted rabbit hole of lies and deceit.
The side missions are a different matter though. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided features a wealth of side mission content that can be discovered by exploring the city of Prague where much of the game takes place (multiple districts help break up the monotony but it’s still not quite as diverse as Human Revolution). Like its predecessor, missions open up by hacking through emails or meeting the odd character here and there who needs a favour.
Several of these side missions tie into the main objectives but the real diversity starts when you go about completing your story tasks. An early example sees you trying to bypass a checkpoint to investigate an unruly area. Bribing the police guarding the checkpoint is possible but you can also find alternate routes to sneak past them. Another instance sees you robbing a bank and the overall plot behind this one side mission was compelling enough to be its own separate story.
"Deus Ex: Human Revolution wasn’t exactly renowned for its gunplay and while Mankind Divided does help polish it up a bit more – firing feels more responsive and fluid, for instance – it’s not going to attract the Call of Duty crowd."
When you throw in skills like hacking, movement options like the Icarus Dash (opening up alternative routes through these meticulously crafted environments) or even the new Multi-Tool, a craftable item that lets you bypass any locked computer immediately, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided becomes a playground of possibilities. Each hidden nook and cranny might be hiding something useful. Sometimes you’ll be blocked off and need to return later with the right abilities but you’re never not rewarded for taking the road less traveled.
Do you want to play it safe and continuously sneak through environments, non-lethally taking down guards? Do you want to hack computers to disable turrets and other threats to safely make your way through (with the new hacking mini-game significantly revamped over the old)? Do you want to explore other potentially lethal or out of the way areas by making use of Jensen’s new experimental abilities? The choices are yours but those who want to take the most straightforward of routes are welcome to do so as well. You don’t have to witness the same animation of Jensen taking down a guard though. Sometimes you can eliminate a number of enemies from a safe distance with that nifty taser in your mechanical fist.
This is one of the cooler parts of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. While some of the more risky abilities seem to gravitate towards hardcore players on their second or third playthroughs and itching for something different, the core abilities strike that perfect chord between deadliness and utility. Thanks to the new energy bar, where energy refills slowly over time, you’ll be able to tank gunfire with body shields or simply Icarus Dash away from danger when the situation calls for it.
What about the gunplay? Well, Deus Ex: Human Revolution wasn’t exactly renowned for its gunplay and while Mankind Divided does help polish it up a bit more – firing feels more responsive and fluid, for instance – it’s not going to attract the Call of Duty crowd. Regardless, it’s entirely possible to take a more assault-heavy approach in this game. The ability to change weapon attachments in the middle of combat, from scope and ammo type to barrels, also significantly opens up your tactical options. There’s a certain thrill in combining your weapons with Augmentations to dispatch hordes of enemies.
"Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a worthy sequel to Human Revolution. Fans of the original should be advised – this is pretty much more of the same thing and that too with a less interesting, though still entertaining, story."
With a more intuitive cover movement system, enemy mini-map locations revealed by default and better awareness about your overall stealth level, there are more options for play styles than ever before in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. More importantly, the story will change depending on your actions so keep that in mind when you’re mindlessly killing anything that moves. Even basic choices throughout Mankind Divided require a fair bit of thought and you’re never really sure what kind of consequences your actions could have (which is of course the beauty of such freedom).
And though Prague may not present as much visual variety as the previous game, Mankind Divided is still pretty good looking. Environments are lush with details, ranging from unique characters to segregated trains for Augs and humans. Characters seem much less stilted with their animations and more “human-like” than before. There’s a certain atmosphere that Mankind Divided carries, one that’s more down-to-earth and natural. This may take away from the cyberpunk noir of the first game, especially with the pacing, but I felt perfectly at ease dissecting this world and learning its multitudes of secrets, experimenting with the Praxis system and finding intriguing new ways to handle missions. One thing is for sure though – if you enjoyed the boss battles from the first game, then you’ll be disappointed with the conspicuous lack of such encounters in the sequel.
A new addition to the experience is Breach, an entirely separate mode which sees you completing various objectives in a virtual reality world. From a gameplay perspective, Breach is acceptable – if you want to quickly hop in for some stealth-shooter action with separate abilities and progression, then it’s a decent time-killer. However, even with the “Boost Packs” and cards, it feels more like a novelty than anything that really facilitates extensive play-time.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a worthy sequel to Human Revolution. Fans of the original should be advised – this is pretty much more of the same thing and that too with a less interesting and inconclusive, though still entertaining, story. The new abilities and systems are still tons of fun to play around with. Exploring the environments, taking up new side missions and interacting with the world around you make up the most fun you’ll have throughout. Players who couldn’t really get into the stealth or gunplay of the first game might want to hold off simply because it may not suit them. However, with its deftly crafted environments teeming with possibilities and unique lore, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is another strong addition to the franchise and yet another compelling argument for turning to the Aug side.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Distinctive visual style and strong environmental design. Plenty of interesting side missions, characters and areas to explore. Awesome abilities with enough options to play however you wish (and even in ways you never thought of). Improved gunplay and on-the-fly modification allows for better combat approaches. Strong writing over its lengthy campaign.
Breach amounts to nothing more than a distraction. Story can be underwhelming compared to Human Revolution. Not a lot of boss encounters this time around. Visual design of Prague doesn't feel as diverse as previous game. Even with improved combat, it still feels less comfortable as a pure action title.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided isn't going to reinvent the wheel but it does present some truly great mission design, writing and gameplay with a plethora of options for any kind of experience. The story could have been improved but Adam Jensen's world is still extremely compelling for RPG/shooter fans and stealth enthusiasts.