Five years ago Deus Ex made quite the triumphant return in the form of Human Revolution. Five years to the day later, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided arrives, taking the events of the first as a leaping point to offer players a world where the hope of an augmented future is gone, and humanity is left playing catch up in the wake of the devastating ‘Aug incident’. But how does it stack up to the widely acclaimed precursor? From the first ten or so hours I’ve spent with it, the answer is very well.
In the first few hours you’re introduced to Jensen and the core pillars of stealth, combat and your augmentations. As tutorials go, the opening is pretty cool, pitting you against two major factions within the game and setting up your play style for the rest of the game.Thanks to consequence-free tutorial modes at each action point, experimentation is encouraged, meaning you’ll spend less time in the actual game trying to work out how you want to play Jensen, and avoiding any major re-augmenting woes. By the end of this section you’ll have likely settled on the things you like, giving you time to follow up the story as it kicks into full swing.
One of the biggest changes this time round is the story and its tone. After the action-packed introductory mission in Dubai the game opens up, but gets immediately more complex. Gone are the political troubles of Human Revolution, and this time round Jensen finds himself right in the middle of a world in fear, ravaged by terror and segregation alike. It’s near impossible not to draw parallels between the issues of Mankind Divided and our real world climate, which is something I found that made for a really engaging narrative, as far as I’ve progressed.As an augmented human, you face the treatment of much less capable ‘clanks’ – as they’re derogatorily referred to – and it really spurs on the desire to help and engage with the people of the world. The city hub, Prague, helps with this too by offering different suburbs that feel unique, from the rich and sleek skyscrapers of the city to the slums and sewers teeming with riff-raff and danger.
There’s plenty of side missions activated simply by exploring and interacting with the world. It’s really easy to get wrapt up in infiltrating offices, hacking for intel and shutting down local thugs as you make your way around Prague, and hunting for upgrades to keep your Jensen feeling powerful. The main story missions thus far have been engaging, but I find myself waiting for the next drop of story twists and action sequences after the strong opening.As I mentioned earlier, customisation and the way you ‘build’ your Jensen is fairly varied. You can equip yourself with a wealth of offensive and defensive augs that play into the way you approach missions. While there are a few musts, the ability to hack or use smart vision for instance, the game lets you run free, especially when you begin to experiment with overclocking.
This basically gives you access to experimental augmentations with a great deal of power, but others must be sacrificed due to high power consumption. It’s an interesting way to allow players to balance skills how they want in order to be prepared for most of the game’s challenges.
Challenge is no joke, I’m currently tackling the game on the standard difficulty and I’ve had to redo multiple sections after being punished for rushing in or clumsily in stealth. The puzzle of the environment itself can be quite tricky, but in a good way – once you find that vent or access point you’ve been searching for it’s satisfying more than frustrating. While I am playing stealth as much as I can, so far it feels like that’s the more complex option.Diving into combat is usually not the wisest option, but sometimes it’s by far the most straightforward. That being said, I wish the combat controls were a little tighter. I often found aiming to be a bit sluggish, and the cover system can yield some hit and miss scenarios when trying to take down enemies.
Overall though, the game is stunningly presented. A funky cyberpunk score underpins the different parts of the world, and visuals like medieval knight inspired Prague guards and sleek cities realise the futuristic world well. I can only speak for the PS4 version of the game, but load times have been short and I haven’t encountered any serious bugs or issues.I’m yet to try out Breach, Mankind Divided’s online experience, opting to wait till the release patch drops to add the final tutorial points and ensure all the online dependant sections run smoothly. The solo experience was much more of a draw for me, and a priority here in the review in progress, so expect more on Breach and the extended parts of Mankind Divided when I revisit the review next week.
A week on I’ve sunk quite a bit more time into Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Exploring the city hub, completing branching side missions and infiltrating almost everything I see. Thankfully this time around the boss battles or Human Revolution (something that made it hard to enjoy for me) are gone, opting for more interesting investigation and infiltration missions to drive the plot along in a tense, slow burn.
One of the best things about the game is the drive to explore the nooks and crannies of Prague. Finding gear and upgrade parts is nice, but the NPC’s that populate the world, its design and the side missions you discover off the beaten path are something special. In a way here, the game reminds me a lot of the work of CDProjektRed – the polish, attention to detail and amount of personality crammed into the space makes it very enjoyable to explore.The decisions, actions and interactions you make as your Jensen are what’s important, and Eidos have made it quite the immersive experience to be in his shoes. Whether you choose to shoot your way out of everything, stealth it or sweet talk the world, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a blast.
As for Breach, Mankind Divided’s online only competitive mode, this is where the game falters a little. Taking a very different tone to the core experience, Breach takes the gameplay of Deus Ex and asks you to run fast and wild through polygon styled simulation worlds, chasing down high scores.
It’s an interesting change from the weighty decisions you face at each encounter in the campaign. It’s not about being stealthy or going all out, rather the fastest way to complete the objective becomes your focus. You’ll be able to equip a limited amount of augmentations before jumping into a scenario, as well as gearing up via drops from the game’s levelling and booster pack system. This addition was easily the most jarring, offering you a randomised selection that can cause hindrance in getting through missions due to unlucky or momentarily useless drops. Even though it’s optional, booster packs can be bought via microtransactions, as well as other Breach items, which takes some of the fun and skill out of that leaderboard climb it hopes you’ll get invested in.
In the end I spent very little time in Breach, it’s pains and jarring tone having a hard time outweighing the atmosphere and exploration of the main game.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a stellar title, working in a lot of the real world and mixing that with the signature cybernetic twist of the series. Stealth is undoubtedly the most rewarding playstyle and while I have a few qualms with all out combat’s smoothness, it makes a fun alternative at times. With an immersive world and story, Deus Ex sets the bar for sci-fi RPG’s high, worthy of a look in from any fan of the genre.
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed) and PC
A review copy was provided by the publisher.