A few weeks ago, I wrote a glowing preview for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided after playing for about seven hours. Now I wish I had waited a bit longer before writing my impressions, as it was around the eight hour mark that things started going drastically downhill. I can remember it, clear as day, dropping down into Golem City and going to talk to the leader of an Augmented Rights group. I remember walking up to a big Russian man with an eye that reminded me of a fleshy version of the Solid Eye from Metal Gear Solid 4. I remember the moment we initiated dialogue, I noticed that the game's story was falling apart at the seams. I couldn't believe it. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the latest entry in one of the smartest written series in gaming. Storywise, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is basically anything but.
Everywhere you go, you'll stumble into some unfortunate soul being crushed under the iron boot of the dystopian hell that is Prague - but the game's parallels to real world oppression and racism feel a tad off. The entire time I played, I couldn't wrap my head around why the developers would try to make the oppressed underdogs we're supposed to be rooting for powerful cyborgs, with bodies and limbs of metal. They have hands that could literally pop an average person's head open like a watermelon with just a casual grab. They can install all sorts of crazy augmentations - ranging from arm blades to the ability to dash around in bursts of light. The Russian I just mentioned has giant steel arms and can wield a massive rifle like it's nothing more than a derringer. To top it all off, they have shown that they are able to go berserk and start slaughtering indiscriminately with just the right radio frequency.
This isn't equatable to any racial segregation in history - an angle the game so desperately tries to push with 'Augs' and 'Naturals' signs and segregated lines that feel a bit too on the nose. I'm not saying games shouldn't try to tackle serious issues. Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution did so brilliantly, but I am saying that they should certainly be handled with more tact and care than the 'mechanical apartheid' the game features.
Another thing strangely missing from Mankind Divided is any sort of fairness from the verbal sparring. There's nothing here that quite matches the fantastic debate at the bar or conversation with Morpheus found in the original Deus Ex, and sometimes it feels like its not even trying to come close. The rigorous debates Jensen gets in are skin-deep at best, and it's very clear who is in the wrong from the get-go.
I've seen some people complain about how the story and lore are convoluted and hard to follow, and while I agree - I don't exactly think that's a mistake on the developer's part. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a game about conspiracies that are bigger than one man, one city, even one country. As to be expected from a game about international conspiracies and features the Illuminati as a prominent force, all of our star players are nothing more than pawns in a massive web of secretive operations. It's convoluted, yes, but that's the point. Jensen is just stumbling into a world he has no place in, and it's not until the plotline of the original that some of the characters and organizations will get some sort of conclusion.
While I will defend leaving plot threads that will get resolved by the time of the first game, I can't defend the game's own self-contained plot not wrapping up, in what feels like the most blatant 'buy our epilogue DLC' cliffhanger ending since Asura's Wrath. Despite spending many hours with it, the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided wraps up in a way that makes me ask "Really? That's it?"
Thankfully, as mentioned in my preview, where the actual story stumbles, the worldbuilding does more than enough to keep players interested. I spent a good chunk - maybe even half of my playtime - just exploring the dystopian Prague and helping out its residents. Mankind Divided's vision of Prague has to be one of the most well-realized and fascinating worlds I've ever seen in a game - one that even managed to make the boring hacking minigame from Deus Ex: Human Revolution bearable just to see what juicy info was on the other side.
Much like the aforementioned hacking minigame, basically all of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's gameplay is a carbon copy of that found in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. You sneak around using a mix of first person movement and third-person cover systems, occasionally getting into rudimentary gunfights if you
But while that's all very similar to the game's predecessor, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided manages to mix it up with a few new augmentations. While I never got the point of some of them (Why launch the blade out of your arm? It's perfectly fine right where it is), I did enjoy long range hacking and the Icarus Dash, which basically acts like a more offensive version of Dishonored's blink, allowing you to dash around and barrel right through anyone in your path. Still, nothing is anywhere near as useful than the original set, and at least those don't require you to complete a sidequest to use properly - and until I did that late in my playthrough, I was just content using the augmentations carried over from the original. And while the aforementioned two were fun to use, they didn't add much to my experience. When you get down to it, all the new augmentations feel like unnecessary baggage.
Speaking of unnecessary baggage, I can't help but wonder what the point of Breach Mode is - besides being an obvious ploy to sell microtransactions. In this spinoff mode, you play as a hacker breaking into digital 'vaults' with a physical avatar ala Tron using mechanics from the base game, but without any of the thrilling level design. It's a strange, arcade-oriented side mode that's not only completely forgettable, it bases itself on the most boring sequence in the campaign involving hacking into a digital world. It's boring, it's unnecessary, and it reeks of sleaze.
I walked out of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided feeling conflicted, perhaps more than any other game I've played this year. Its story is boring by any standards - and only made worse by comparison to the other titles in the series - and the gameplay just feels like more of the same with a few bells and whistles stacked on top. The game sucked me in, sure, but how much of that obsessive playing was really me having fun? And how much of it was just hoping, in vain, that maybe it'd reach the glory of its predecessors?
I don't know. And after playing through it, I don't particularly care.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer. It is also available for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
A mechanically solid game with some fantastic level design that sadly delivers a narrative that is ho-hum at best.