Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review – All Augs (And Choices) Matter

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I’m sure if you read any other reviews of the new Deus Ex game, they’ll all start off with the reviewer announcing how big of a fan they are of the series. While I’m not contesting anyone who claims such a thing, I doubt anyone is as insane of a fan as I am of it. Not only is it my favorite FPS, but it was the game that, when I was finally convinced to give it a shot in early 2001, got me into conspiracy theory and so-called “tin foil hat” forums. It sparked my imagination and opened up so many ideas that it became less of a game and more of a guidebook for me. To say I was obsessed with the game would be an understatement.

The story, the setting, the music – everything about Deus Ex was perfect. Deus Ex even came out at the right time, during a transitory golden age in gaming where the lines between RPG and FPS were dissolving and storylines were becoming a more integral part of the experience. Yeah, sure, the fancy folk in the hobby love repeatedly chanting the “It’s about the STORY” mantra, but we all know they were late to the game…since Warren Spector’s Deus Ex introduced us to that idea a decade and a half ago.

Of course, Deus Ex’s sequel, Invisible War, forgot what made the first game so spectacular. Harvey “Witchboy” Smith’s insistence that the game be streamlined resulted in a very un-Deus Ex style title that lacked the sprawling levels and complex customization and inventory management that grognards like myself enjoyed about the previous game. Thankfully, 2011’s Human Revolution made up for it, and fans wondered if Eidos Montreal’s next Deus Ex sequel would continue that upward trend. So does it?

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First of all, the city in Deus Ex was, to borrow a phrase literary critics like to use, an entity unto itself. It had personality, it was a tone-setter, and it was an obstacle to both overcome and acquiesce to. As much as I loved Human Revolution, the areas in that game didn’t feel as organic or exciting as they did in the original one. They lacked that interactive feeling where you could literally stumble into a quest every few minutes just by casually walking through the environment.

Mankind Divided brings back that feeling with a futuristic version of Prague that is not only large enough to put the combined content of the first game’s Hell’s Kitchen and Hong Kong cityscapes to shame, but holds so many side quests and points of interest that I spent my first 8 hours filling all the optional goals instead of showing up for the first actual storyline mission.

Its red light district, its beaten people living in slum apartments, its high tech markets that border expensive cafes and high-rises…Prague is an amazing hub area and is easily one of the most amazing towns ever created in a video game. There is so much to explore, destroy, and get involved in that you can easily spend 10-15 hours just messing around with all of the optional missions without ever even starting the main quest.

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What’s great about all of these side quests is that they are organically introduced. Many quests are triggered by merely standing near a talking group of people and listening to what they’re saying. You could also just as easily stumble upon one by poking around places and going where you shouldn’t. While that’s certainly nothing new to the series, the city of Prague is so densely packed with hidden goodies and side quests that it outdoes anything the series has attempted before in this area. I believe I collected a dozen Praxis kits before I even hit the main storyline, so if you’re into exploring and subterfuge, you’ll have one hell of a good time with Mankind Divided.

When you do finally hit the main storyline of Mankind Divided, you’ll see a lot of parallels and call-backs to the original Deus Ex. Not to spoil anything, but many of the main characters from that game become major factors in this new game’s story, including Joseph Manderly and Bob Page. There is even this interesting repeat of history (Or perhaps since it’s a prequel, I should call it foreshadowing) where Jensen’s relationship with some of his allies deteriorates in much the same way Denton’s did after he left UNATCO.

Much drama has been made over the whole “Aug Lives Matter” aspect of Mankind Divided’s story, and while the game does use augmented people and the “racism” they deal with as a way to bridge it to our real world, the story is more about puppet masters and elites pulling the strings than some simple black & white political schism. Again, without spoiling much, you’ll learn as you dig through the main plot that augmented people are being used by elites to reach a certain end, and several rich and powerful people are all eager to manipulate augmented people’s anger in ways that best serve their own needs.

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If you compare it to what is happening in our own world, with political movements being egged on and fed lies to fuel their anger towards the right people by a corrupt media machine, then you’ll see why so many people were upset at the game’s ad campaign: Because it spoke of a horrible and painful truth about our modern world. Like the NSF terrorists said in the original game, it’s all about proxy wars.

One side quest – which you have to do a fair amount of work to stumble into – involves uncovering a lie started by the media that was meant to ignite the entire augmented rights movement. Once you find the real story and send it to the underground newspaper that wants to publish it, the parallels between the game world and our own start to become a lot clearer. It’s not about racism, it’s about manipulation and using the rage of the lower classes to control the citizenry and keep people oblivious to the real war going on behind the scenes.

Take my word for it: It’s a remarkably clever and enlightened tale they’ve spun.

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So what of the quests themselves? Well, as fans of the series know, Deus Ex is about finding a creative response to a difficult problem among several such viable solutions. It’s about having multiple ways to approach a problem and having several different outcomes that can happen as a result. It’s about choice and consequence as well as non-linearity and freeform exploration.

In my opinion, as good as Human Revolution was, it felt very limiting. The world was small, the side quests weren’t terribly exciting and the options given to you were either “crawl through a vent” or “kill the guard”. It’s a big part of why I only went through the game once and never bothered with it much after that. Though I understood all the praise people gave it, I felt a lot of it was due to the desire of fans to be able to wash the taste of Invisible War out of their mouths.

Mankind Divided does an excellent job of accommodating the player’s chosen “build”. Numerous times I found alternate pathways that required strength, air filtration, or enhanced leaping to make it through an area. There was even a shortcut through the “Rucker Extraction” mission that required the Icarus augment which would have allowed me to bypass the majority of the mission’s armed guards. To put it another way: If you are worried about certain choices of augments being unused or worthless, you needn’t worry – Eidos took their time with this one.

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I found myself utterly overwhelmed not just by the depth and amount of the quests offered, but how varied and branching they were. A good example would be the dealings you have with the Dvali crime family. While you can easily bypass them and never deal with them beyond telling their boss off and maybe popping a few in the head with your rifle, you can actually get quite a few interesting questlines out of the family if you feel like being a mob underling.

The Dvali family members give you a hard time and will call upon you for a few favors, but completing them (And the last one is the hardest mission I ever went through in a stealth game) can nab you a very powerful ally if you play your cards right.

One thing I was really impressed by with Mankind Divided is that feeling where I make a choice and spend the next hour or so of game time honestly upset that I made the wrong one. I could’ve shaved about 10 hours off of my playtime if I hadn’t kept reloading old saves and changing my choices. It’s the mark of a good non-linear, quest-based RPG, and the developers did an excellent job at recapturing that original Deus Ex feel that – in my opinion – even Human Revolution didn’t quite reach.

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I’m aware that’s some rather lofty praise, but when you play Mankind Divided, you’ll see what I mean. The writing, the open-endedness, the NPC conversations that trigger quests, the way missions weave interconnecting tales that branch off into new directions…it shows that the developers learned a lot from their previous game and took advantage of their publisher’s increased budget for the sequel. I was extraordinarily impressed with all they’ve achieved here. Any time I stay up until 6AM fretting over a quest decision and replaying the same mission three times due to uncertainty and panic is a good indication that I’m playing a rare gem of an RPG.

What I loved most was that none of the game’s quests felt tacked-on or cheesy. They all had something interesting about them that made them fun to undertake. My favorite was the murder of an augmented woman outside your apartment, which ends up with you working alongside a soon-to-be-retired detective that wants to hurry up and solve the case. You have a few different suspects to investigate and spend hours of real time going from one lead to another trying to pinpoint who is responsible. The twist at the end, if you can successfully trigger it, made it one of my favorite missions in the game.

It was also my favorite boss fight setup as well.

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Deus Ex has to be strong in the questing portion of the game, and Mankind Divided absolutely lives up to this. Many have told me they have heard the game is short and can be completed in 10 hours…which may be true, if you’re only doing the main quest line. Though if you’re like me and sit around listening to NPCs and poking into unreachable apartment windows, you’ll unlock a few dozen side quests before you even go to visit your boss at Interpol for the first time. My first complete play-through of the game was a little over 30 hours, which isn’t something I’d ever dare call “short”.

So we know the story, depth of the quests, and the non-linearity are all up to the original game’s standards…but what about the actual gameplay?

Mankind Divided keeps a lot of the same systems that Human Revolution used, including the hacking and augmentation systems. The only real wrinkle there is that hacking is made a little more intuitive with a cleaner interface and certain augments have to be turned off to maintain core stability. Though a quest halfway through the game will remove the need to worry about that.

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The only real change is to the gunplay, which is made a bit harder to excel in than any of the previous games. Guns seem to do considerably less damage than they have ever done before, with the maximum up-gradable damage capped at a very low level. What this does is encourage the player to be smart about bullet types and the way they attack, since simply lining up a head shot and pulling the trigger won’t always be the best solution to a firefight. Doubly so if the enemy has the titan aug, which gives them temporary invulnerability.

Mankind Divided relies heavily on setting enemies up with EMP bursts or bullets, then switching to armor piercing to take advantage of the enemy’s now prone posture. This combo of “EMP bullet to AP bullet” is one you’ll find yourself frequently using, since robotic or armored enemies will shrug off normal bullets like a tank would a toothpick. Of course, head-shotting an unarmored human enemy will kill them in one shot from any distance, but it isn’t long before drones and robot security guards make up the brunt of your opponents.

The gunplay reminds me a lot of the Crysis series, since it relies on swapping out different ammo types and upgrades rather than just mindlessly pulling the trigger and shooting at something until it dies. Straight up firefights simply aren’t a thing in Mankind Divided. You can hide behind cover, but the enemy AI is awfully brave and won’t hesitate to find a way to rush you.

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I learned this the hard way while evading a drone ambush and thinking I was smart by escaping the fight and crawling through the sewers. When I encountered more drones in the sewers I shot them down, only to curse the game when I noticed the ones I successfully ghosted away from several moments earlier had in fact been crawling through the sewers behind me the whole time. The AI’s perfectly planned pincer-style attack ended my run quickly and caused me to rethink every fight from that point forward.

On the other hand, if you want to avoid fighting, Mankind Divided gives you plenty of ways to live out your ninja fantasies. My own character heavily invested in the cloaking and silenced footstep augments and spent almost the entire game dashing through enemy nests without alerting a single soul. The option to maintain cloaking even while attacking makes invisibility even more powerful, since you can combine that with the multi-takedown option and just keep gulping down batteries as you insta-kill entire floors of terrorists without having to fire a single shot. Investing in these augs and the tree that improves energy recharging can make the game incredibly easy…which may or may not be what you want your first trip to feel like.

Overall, Mankind Divided is an excellent game that is not only an extremely worthy sequel, but also can stand on its own as a singular title. While there are some odd bugs that pop up in the NPC scripting from time to time – like panic mode and search mode getting stuck and never going back to normal in certain areas of the city – they are small hiccups and don’t really affect the game as a whole.

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If you thought Human Revolution was a worthy addition to the Deus Ex name, then I feel you’ll love Mankind Divided even more. Perhaps even enough to hold it up to the original Deus Ex as a near equivalent to that game. Though it lacks the dark, oppressive and lonely feeling that the original captured, this new chapter manages to succeed at being its own story. Mankind Divided does a great job at acting both as a bridge between the prequels and Deus Ex as well as a thought-provoking tale about the media-driven manipulation of political movements and the oligarchs that benefit from the chaos they create.

You have more options in combat, more augments to choose from, more choice & consequence in dialog, and a supremely detailed hub area that lives up to anything else the genre has ever produced. I highly doubt anyone could walk away from this game without feeling like they’ve just played the perfect Deus Ex sequel.

Even the ending is handled better, with the “Press one of three buttons” problem from the previous game no longer tainting the experience. The finale in Mankind Divided is dependent on your actions through the game and how well you perform in the final mission. In my opinion, the ending scenario here is done better than even the original game, with the last few moments of the game doing a great job of hiding the mechanisms that decide your eventual outcome. They even show a Picus broadcast in Jensen’s apartment during the finale that reveals what each one of your choices during the game’s many quests did to the world.

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As for downsides, it’s honestly difficult for me to come up with any. I suppose I would have liked to have had other hubs as large as Prague was, but I have a feeling that future DLC will grant that wish. Though even without it, Mankind Divided is an amazing game that is just as clever, well-written, and non-linear as the original Deus Ex.

And in today’s gaming climate where everyone merely tries to cash-in on popular names, that’s a refreshing thing to see.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a digital copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict 9.5

The Good

  • Detailed cityscape that allows for exploration
  • Thought-provoking storyline with modern parallels
  • Choice & consequence gameplay
  • All augments are used, none made worthless/weak
  • Long quest, lots of content even in the basic game

The Bad

  • Some weird scripting errors involving NPC panic mode
  • Some areas of the city cause the framerate to drop (PS4)
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Carl is both a JRPG fan and a CRPG'er who especially loves European PC games. Even with more than three decades of gaming under his belt, he feels the best of the hobby is yet to come.

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