Review #23: Deus Ex Mankind Divided

I didn't imagine that it would be this long since the preview till I came up with the review, but such are the vagaries of life. Having said that, Steam puts the play time for my first playthrough at a little over 60 hours at the 'Give me Deus Ex' level with the 'Desperate Measures' DLC (not including the Breach Mode). This length is simply a reflection of my playing style which involves a stealth only approach and exploration of the complete map the first time I enter it, including hacking all doors/computers and finding alternate paths. I must add that this style of playing might only be for fans of the franchise since it really tends to get tedious after a while. It has exceeded the time I spent on Human Revolution only on account of the larger, free-roaming maps. For those playing through the main story alone, I can't imagine the game length even extending 15 hours.

So what's the verdict on this one? On the plus side, the gameplay has certainly been improved if you consider the changes to the cover system, hacking, health and bioelectric energy systems. The game stays true to the Deus Ex template of having alternate quests, conversation choices and alternate pathways. However, this is not necessarily good as it feels really stale in its implementation and seems to be there just for the sake of it. Also, the decisions made in conversations, especially concerning high profile characters like Miller seem to have little effect on the overall story as against the situations with Paul and Jock in the first game of the series. The developers have tried to bring in some degree of freshness through experimental augmentations but I didn't need or want to use any of them apart from Remote Hacking. I have a particular gripe with the way the side missions are handled which are more of a "go there and do this" kind of a thing. An open-ended approach (as in the original game) wherein you discover and choose your path without worrying about a checklist would have certainly been more engaging. To me, it seems that the developers have put too much focus on unessential aspects at the expense of a good story which has always been Deus Ex's strong point.

The game's marketing did a great job of hyping up the game's premise through the live action trailers but the game fails miserably to deliver on that front. The game stands a notch below Human Revolution and quite some way away from the original game in terms of its story. The previous game epynomously focused on the idea of human evolution through augmentation. Even then, Purity First depicted the fracture in the society as not all conceived augmentation to be an evolution of humanity. Mankind Divided, on the face of it, takes this concept to the next level where the society is already deeply divided with the "evolved" beings being on the side of repression after the Panchaea incident. One can draw analogies to the current state of society which is divided on race and caste rather than augmentation. However, this tension is never really felt through the game. It tries to enforce the feeling through police checks throughout and poverty at Golem city but none of them really strike an emotional cord. In fact, the variety across the locations is sorely lacking, especially when the original Deus Ex managed to convey much better ambiance through its rudimentary graphics but awesome soundtrack. There is just one antagonist who appears at the end and even then I inadvertently defeated him in seconds with weapon misfire that brought him right next to me. What's worse is that the game has been left open for a sequel without a proper ending. The Marvel-like in-credit cutscene makes it even more unbearable since the game could have definitely used a conspiracy story arc and if it was thought of, it should have been part of the main game rather than DLCs or sequels. I am not too enticed at this moment about playing as Adam Jensen once again only to have the story tie up somehow with the original game and JC Denton. This is pretty much evident by the desperate attempts being made to put in to play all the main characters from the original game.

Moving on to other extraneous aspects of the game, the pre-order consumables turned out to be absolutely unnecessary since the game is benevolent with XP if you engage in exploration. Also, the micro-transactions are thankfully unneeded. Stealth gameplay does not require any ammunition, so you are left with a lot of cash as well. As far as augmentations go, hacking and invisibility are the only ones I ever needed to explore the entire map at a decent pace.The Breach mode also deserves a mention here since I am least enamoured by it having experience it partly during the main game. This makes it pretty evident that there is hardly any depth to this game and as I mentioned previously, the developers are blindly following the Deus Ex template without proper thinking and integration. I almost forgot to mention DX12 which was unusably buggy till recent patches and just as it has finally reached a level of polish, it is essentially useless since the game doesn't offer much replayability and I am not inclined to spend on DLCs unless there is a bargain-basement sale. A post-game check revealed that I missed just one side mission - " 01011000" and hence I am satisfied with my gameplay. Also, there is only one "either or" mission selection scenario in the game and a properly timed save allows one to try out both, even though you have to eventually select one of the options.

To conclude, on its own, this would be a "just above average" game. Being part of the Deus Ex universe only makes it even worse and is more or less a slap on the face of long term fans. For the sake of the franchise, I hope they abandon the protagonist and somehow complete the story arc (even if through DLCs) before the next iteration so that we can have a Deus Ex game that doesn't have to follow the shadow of the original game and fail miserably while doing so.