“Can’t Kill Progress”

Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher:
Square Enix
Format: 
PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: 
August 23, 2016
Copy purchased

There’s very little that goes unnoticed in developer Eidos Montreal’s return to the Deus Ex universe. Five years removed from the visionary Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mankind Divided welcomes Adam Jensen back into the fold of a world dealing with the catastrophic aftermath of the previous game’s augmented attacks. Akin to its predecessor, Mankind Divided is rooted in believable fiction, reinforced with rich narrative nuance and societal applications.

Eidos doesn’t turn a blind eye to themes of prejudice, corrupt leadership, or terrorism, tackling all with confidence and maturity. Despite a few overly “on the nose” sections of commentary, Mankind Divided presents itself with an even-keeled temperament that takes on complex issues with consistent assertiveness. Mechanically just as strong as its storytelling, taking control of Jensen’s abilities remains a highlight throughout the lengthy, yet focused campaign, lasting upwards of 30 hours. Fantastic writing, superb gameplay, and a strong understanding of world design, elevates Mankind Divided to a pedestal where the year’s best games reside. In defiance of its full potential, a small, though significant handful of problems arise in the face of Mankind Divided’s greatness. Greedy, ill-justified microtransactions, a superfluous gameplay mode, and an abrupt narrative conclusion, take chips out of Deus Ex’s robust armor of quality. However, the lasting appeal of Mankind Divided intensifies beyond its lesser traits, sprouting into a bold, rewarding, and smartly crafted piece of work.Deus Ex Mankind Divided (Braxton Haugen) Image 1Set two years after the “Aug Incident” that brought Human Revolution to a close, Mankind Divided picks up its narrative strings in the wake of the fallout. Costing the lives of millions on a global scale, the incident was an intentional attack that caused every augmented citizen on the planet to suddenly become savagely violent, viciously going after everyone around them. Social tension, unrectifiable mental wounds, and political unrest have arisen from the ashes, in turn, dividing mankind. The scars left on the world from the incident are found all throughout Mankind Divided, showing themselves within emotionally evocative and believable instances that conjure a sympathy for those involved. That sympathy transitions fluidly to Adam Jensen, Deus Ex’s hardened, well-realized protagonist. Stepping back into his shoes and wearing the title of augmented government agent once again proved a satisfying endeavor, one that continued to build off of Human Revolution’s strides with Jensen as a character. Wrapped up in a constantly thickening plot, Adam is once again faced with unweaving a complex conspiracy with global stakes and far-reaching implications.

MANKIND DIVIDED IS THE EVOLUTION OF ITS PREDECESSOR’S ACHIEVEMENTS

Notably smaller in scope than its predecessor, Mankind Divided drops you in the city of Prague. Broken up into various districts with their own unique identity, simply strolling about the streets is captivating and often intense. There’s a sense of defeat, cruelty, and disdain that hangs in the air like a plume of smoke, seeping into the lungs of its residents. However, even with tension and violence at fever pitch within the city, Prague maintained an unwavering spirt that called me to explore and learn more. Sending these signals is one thing, yet reinforcing them with the necessary substance to strengthen immersion, is another.

Fortunately, Mankind Divided’s expertise lies in its aptitude to convey depth within the smallest of touches. From dialogue interactions with NPCs, to richly crafted side missions sprinkled about Prague, never once did I find myself at a loss of what to do next. There was always the promise of something important to the broader narrative around the corner, instilling a level of agency that transcended into almost every other aspect of the package. In terms of overall world design, Mankind Divided quickly surpasses the highs of its predecessor, putting forth more interesting missions to partake in and narrative stones to uncover. Of course, little of this would matter if Mankind Divided failed to embody an enjoyable gameplay routine. Entrenching itself within choice-driven RPG elements and the astute capability to embrace multiple approaches to combat, Mankind Divided’s mechanics largely succeed with flying colors.Deus Ex Mankind Divided (Braxton Haugen) Image 2At the center of the gameplay’s many accomplishments are Jensen’s augments, providing a slew of customizable upgrades, gadgets, and newfound skills to better aline with your playstyle. Whether looking for a loadout of augmentations that will aid your efforts in tackling situations non-lethally and from the shadows, or opting for a more merciless approach, Mankind Divided offers the necessary tools to make both options feel worthwhile.

Catering augments situationally is also a joy, allowing for players not exclusively dedicated to a specific playstyle to experiment around with a grander arsenal. Finding an augment build that suits exactly how you want to take on a situation is rewarding and invigorating, a revelation that maintained its novelty until the credits rolled. Tinkering with augmentations isn’t where Mankind Divided’s gameplay strengths begin and end, however, instead acting as an important puzzle piece in synchronizing core mechanics with more eccentric abilities. Striking a graceful balance between the basic mechanics of traversal, cover, and gunplay, with the creative means of approach, is one of Deus Ex’s specialties.

Hacking into a keypad in order to unlock a set of doors to a restricted area proved more effective than engaging in a bloody gunfight with the same intentions to enter the area. The beauty of this is there isn’t one specific correct way to take on an encounter. Within in each new, highly detailed location the narrative leads you, a rich breadth of variety awaits, offering numerous paths seeking the same end. With a brief exception pertaining to an altercation that leans heavily toward one style of play over another, Mankind Divided never limits its mechanical scope. Welcoming a wide range of playstyles to flourish freely, combat and choice based encounters kept their freshness alive and well as the ensuing conspiracy played out around them. Mankind Divided’s gameplay is at its best when compiling everything it has to offer. With Jensen free to approach missions in any style he sees fit, a cohesive blend of stealth, combat, hacking and social interaction, potentially await. On the other hand, dedicating yourself to one specific approach opens up another door with a unique assortment of depth behind it. Completing tasks lethally or non-lethally, feels like two separate games unto themselves, both of which impress and satisfy in their own right. Flexibility is king within Mankind Divided, interjecting a great deal of replayability and shifting immersion that kept me captivated from start to finish.Deus Ex Mankind Divided (Braxton Haugen) Image 3Built upon morally gray lines and political turmoil, Mankind Divided’s story is focused, meticulously paced, and cleverly written. There’s a superb cohesion in the way Deus Ex’s world responds and adapts to the structured twists of its narrative. The world is expertly malleable, constantly shifting and working with your own actions to shape its character. This dynamic lends responsibility to the player, forcing them to take a hard look at the affects they’re putting into motion in the wake of their presence. It’s a brilliant touch and one that confidently backs up its potential with an infectious subtlety and realistic assertiveness. Apparent within direct social interaction with NPCs, as well as the story’s overall beats, Mankind Divided presents itself with an identity that allows it to adjust and even slightly reinvent itself, based off your impact. Extending tangible repercussion to the broader structure of the story, there’s a refreshing, inescapable agency pulsating throughout the world of Deus Ex.

Recognizing this achievement makes coming to terms with the sour taste left in my mouth by Mankind Divided’s abrupt ending, all the harder. As the credits began to roll, I found myself taken aback by the sheer nonchalant nature of the finale. Following hours of invigorating ramping tensions, plot threads, and character strides, Mankind Divided jarringly pumps its brakes, leaving desirable story threads dangling messily. Poorly justified and coming from out of nowhere, the resolution, or lack thereof, provoked audible exclamation as I was sidelined by its bluntness. The wonderful pace that had led the project until then ceased to transition over into Mankind Divided’s idea of a conclusion. Instead, closing the curtains with little warning, let alone providing answers to the plethora of questions raised throughout the game’s substantial amount of story content. While the sudden denouement certainly diminishes Mankind Divided’s lasting narrative impression, it doesn’t considerably harm the excellent journey leading up to it. The rewarding gameplay, creative world design, and smartly crafted missions maintain their luster, even in the face of a finale that doesn’t do them the justice they deserve.

THERE’S A CRAFTSMANSHIP TO DEUS EX’S CLEVER, OPEN-ENDED DESIGN

After completing the largely fantastic story, Mankind Divided puts forth a multiplayer-focused gameplay mode titled Breach. Not long after diving into the mode did it become abundantly clear Breach had very little to offer or even much to stand for, outside of its financial incentive to dip into your wallet. Negatively surpassing the underwhelming narrative climax, lip syncing issues, and infrequent, yet noticeably janky animation, Breach is an unnecessary addition to a package that would’ve been better off without it. Rooted within a virtual reality setting and presented with a visually minimalist art style, Breach sets its sights on giving players various missions to take on with the idea of topping leaderboards.

While mechanically competent, Breach shares little in terms of quality with the rest of Mankind Divided. In practice, missions function as a set of tasks to complete, usually consisting of hacking into data storage pillars and proceeding toward the extraction point as quickly as possible. On top of simply being monotonous, Breach feels like it exists solely as a means to encourage additional spending. Constructed upon a shameless free-to-play model, Breach constantly elbows you into looking at its purchasable in-game packs. Worse yet, the predatory inclusion of microtransactions within the mode isn’t where Mankind Divided’s use of them ends, bleeding over into the campaign’s ecosystem where non-renewable packs including weapons and currency can be purchased as well. To put it candidly, these incorporations are exhaustive, offensive, and entirely unnecessary components to Eidos Montreal’s valiant efforts.Deus Ex Mankind Divided (Braxton Haugen) Image 4ConclusionDeus Ex: Mankind Divided is an excellent exercise in refinement. Proudly running with its predecessor’s torch, Eidos Montreal’s builds off of the highs established by Human Revolution five years ago. Save for a few notable rough patches throughout, Mankind Divided captivates with its meticulous design from start to finish. Whether it be the stories gleaned from its maturely crafted world, or the invigorating gameplay home to ample variety, Mankind Divided is chock-full of nuance and gratification that consistently impresses. Supporting a wide range of playstyles backed up with the tools to make them feel rewarding, Deus Ex conducts itself with an admirable open-mindedness and motive to follow-through. Rarely did Mankind Divided feel as if it had overlooked something, constantly prioritizing an astute attention to detail that lent its starkly portrayed world a believability that had me enraptured from the opening cinematic. Carefully crafted writing, presentation, and mechanical modeling, raise Mankind Divided to the same highs as its superb predecessor, a feat that shall not be taken lightly.

Connect with me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Find me @BraxHaugen.


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