Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Some thoughts by yours truly

On Twitter, someone recently mentioned that they bought a PS4 just to play Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and I found myself smiling in sympathy, because I bought a PS3 just to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of my most favorite games ever. And while I swore to myself that I would wait until summer’s end before I played the sequel, I, of course, ended up playing on August 23rd already…

I have just finished my third playthrough on “Give me Deus Ex” and here are some of my thoughts on this game, which I have been very much looking forward to these  past few months.

In the beginning
“Oh, how the mighty have fallen.” Two years ago the Augmented were the spearhead of self-controlled evolution, augments themselves served as status symbols for the rich. Now, after the Aug Incident initiated by Hugh Darrows, Augmented people find themselves victims of a paranoid society that condems them all as potential terrorists.

In short, things don’t look good. And since  we all know that both Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided are set before the original Deus Ex, it isn’t necessarily getting any better.

For those who haven’t played it, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided offers a well-done recap of the previous game, right before we literally dive into the tutorial mission in Dubai.

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Adam Jensen, plunging head-first into his latest adventure…

So, after the world-changing events that ended Deus Ex: Human Revolution on an incredibly bitter-sweet note, the Augmented are fighting a losing battle for keeping their rights. And Adam Jensen? Does not really fight at all. Not for the cause of the Augmented, that is…

A reluctant hero and no allies in sight
“I once thought I could save the world…” Adam Jensen’s opening line perfectly fits his character at the beginning of this latest adventure and I think it’s almost as good a line as the iconic “I never asked for this.”. “This” being military-grade augmentations that turned him into a stealthy killing-machine. What caught my attention is that he has apparently accepted the Aug-Natural conflict and its consequences. As a cop, he realises that Augmented, especially ones as capable as he is, are seen as threats. And so he submits to the segregation, to my mind, all too willingly.

When we first meet him it becomes clear that he’s joined an anti-terrorism-unit of Interpol, though how and why is left unclear at first. As the only augmented member of the team he’s an outsider. But then, he’s been a loner ever since we’ve known him. So, no change there.

But…

But, remember Francis “Frank” Pritchard, chief of cyber security at Sarif Industries, that nagging little voice in Adam’s head that used to accompany him on his missions in Deus Ex: Human Revolution? I loved how their relationship developed and changed over the course of the game. At some point, Pritchard even seemed to have come to care for Adam. So I am happy he’ll be back for the System Rift-DLC.

And, remember Faridah Malik, Adam’s pilot? Man, I nearly cried when I lost her in Hengsha the first time! I was grinning hard when Adam found a cereal box with a little VOTL inside and with a message from Faridah in Mankind Divided. (I think you need to complete the Helle-quest to trigger that one.) So, maybe we’ll see her in the second DLC.

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Graffitis in the sewers of Prague. I absolutely loved this one!

The Aug Incident and its consequences
Deus Ex: Human Revolution explored the question of whether or not augmentations dehumanize a person. I refused to accept that. Adam Jensen, though heavily augmented, was still a human being, and a caring one, the way I played him.

In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the struggle the Augmented face, the terrible injustices committed by the state, are ever present. It is therefore a relief to be able to help some people at least, even if that help is mostly restricted to handing over Neuroprozyne to those who need it.

Convinced that bringing the Illuminati down is the only way to change things, Adam is collaborating with the Juggernaut Collective, a group of activists under leadership of the mysterious hacker Janus. Turns out they were the ones who told him to infiltrate that particular unit, since they believe it’s an Illuminati front. I had been actually looking forward to the possibilities such an alliance at the end of The Missing Link. I believe that this potential could have been used better, storywise. Actually, there is much potential going to waste in the overall game.


The good, the bad and the ugly

So, we have Adam Jensen playing double agent, beautiful locations, awesome, athmospheric music, neat stealth, hacking, exploration and a ton of little details to be found all over the city of Prague and the other locations. Which is a fat plus.

But I need an engaging storyline too. So, after a few hours into the game, I sat back and tried to find out what exactly it was that bothered me. Then I got it: This time, it was not personal. There was no ex-girlfriend to avenge or save. The bombing at the train station did not really involve me, emotionally, not even that rather cheesy scene with that poor little boy and his mother. I had been looking forward to exploring the conflict between Augmented and Naturals and Adam’s role in it. After all, he is torn between two worlds, a “Clank” with privileges, a government agent dealing with an underground collective. Yet Adam’s “embrace what you’ve become”-attitude and his focus on the Illuminati and Janus take center stage and there are too many things left unclear for too long to make that storyline that interesting. So I set my hopes in the side missions, which are extemely rewarding.

As in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the side missions are what flesh out the story. They are always linked to some character in need and their stories are never easy and most of their problems not what they seem at first glance. They, I think, are what truly bring the story alive, because they point you toward places, people, factions and secrets that build and complete the narrative and the world itself.

I confess that I enjoy the side missions also because here Adam is more like the cop he used to be, doing things because he believes it’s right. I actually think that’s what makes badass Adam Jensen so human and likeable.

I also love how they affect the game at a later stage. For example, there is one side mission where you can agree to do someone a favor. If you do, he’ll ask another favor. If you complete that challenge also – and that one really was a challenge! – the otherwise pretty demanding infiltration mission into Dvali territory during the lockdown becomes a walk in the park.

What is also great is how the devs have created multiple possibilities of infiltration. For example in Golem City, where I continue to find new ways of sneaking past the ARC guards. One level which I have yet to explore fully is the Palisade Bank. It reminded me a bit of the excellent Bank Heist-mission in Thief, only ten times bigger.

So that’s one more challenge I am looking forward to. There are, frankly, not many others.

For two things really bothered me about this game: first, the main story is far too short. But then, I felt the same way about its predecessor and that actually is both complaint and compliment, since what it means is that I enjoy the world and would have loved to spend more time in it. The second complaint is that the differences between the difficulty settings are laughable. Once you’ve mastered the game on “Give me a Story”, both “Give me a Challenge” and “Give me Deus Ex” will be just as easy. I tried to make it harder for me by being a little more aggressive, more in the open, but to no avail. So, no points here.

Storytelling and Missions
As mentioned above, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided tries a different approach, storywise, and I appeciate the effort. While there is no personal investment, this time Adam can choose whether to  trust his unit or the Collective, who are represented by Jim Miller, his unit’s director, and Alex Vega, an ex-Belltower pilot-turned-activist, respectively. This will frequently lead to your having to decide which objective to follow: the one given by Miller or the one Alex wants you to follow. Which can be a tough choice, really, and will lead to  some surprising turns of events.

This facet lends a new dimension to the familiar mechanics and I think it is awesome. With Adam dropping hints about his stay in a facility in Alaska after the Aug Incident, a place he does not want to remember, and with Rifleman Bank Station of The Missing Link in mind, I suddenly started suspecting everyone of being an Illuminati spy. There are plenty of suspects, certainly. For example: What is Janus’s agenda? And is Miller really unaware of his orders’ purpose? Who do you trust? Whose cause do you want to further? Alas, I sometimes had the feeling that some decisions have no impact at all. For exampe, if Adam keeps the evidence handed to him by Talos Rucker rather than handing it over to either Miller or Alex Vega, nothing changes at all.

As before, paying attention to all the details is key for being able to appreciate the story fully. Breaking into apartments is therefore my favorite past time in the game. There’s even an equivalent to the suicidal tenant from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though that little story, set in Golem City, is truly heart-breaking… There are many more.

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Some discoveries are heart-breaking, like this apartment, that I found only after the mission to the Church of the Machine God. It made me feel so sad!


Prague and other locations
While Detroit and Hengsha, the major hubs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, certainly differ in terms of environment, this time the designers have gone out of their way to give us more diverse and awesome locations. There is, of course, Prague with its four distinctive districts, its old-world city style and very modern, otherworldly Palisade Bank Blades that hover above the river like some alien mothership.

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If you hop onto the roof outside Adam Jensen’s apartment, you’ll get this view. I think it’s stunning.

There is Golem City, the bleak “Clank” ghetto, which looks like it has come straight out of Blade Runner. There are the Alps, which make an impression even though its a very brief mission, really.

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My thoughts on this view in the Alps? O-M-G.

And there is London, which is like I always imagined a future city to look like. Of course, gameplay there is also restricted to one location, but the views are just beautiful.

Also, I loved how we were able to stroll through Prague in daylight (!). In Deus Ex: Human Revolution I found Detroit and Hengsha by night so oppressive that arriving at Panchaea actually was a relief, even though I knew this was the last mission of the game.

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Daylight! Yeah!


Augmentations

I like to play stealthy and I’m a pacifist (I even got the Achievements to prove it!), so for my first playthrough I opted for improving my hacking skills, the glass-shield-cloaking, Icarus Dash and Tesla. Although Icarus Dash is actually Blink from Dishonored, I think it’s great they included it, because the verticality improves the game experience for me. Especially in Golem City. There cannot be enough Blink in the gaming world! I simply adore it.

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Remote hacking? Count me in!


Soundtrack

No words. Just listen.

Verdict
The game is beautiful, the main protagonist badass as ever and the story and the world are intriguing, but Deus Ex:Mankind Divided feels unfinished. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s a great setup for what is to come, but I expected something different.

What really got me, though, was the secret ending. That had all the potential for a very great story and could have really upped the ante of the main game, had it been used to full extent.

My thoughs on the ending
(Major spoilers ahead! Don’t read unless you’ve finished the game and sat through the secret ending!)

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He looks so lost in this scene!

Let’s start with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I loved The Missing Link, the DLC which was later incorprated into the Director’s Cut-version of the game. For those who haven’t played it, here’s a short recap. On his way to Singapore aboard a Belltower-ship, Adam is discovered and captured, but manages to escape thanks to a Juggernaut Collective agent, just before the ship arrives at its destination, a black site called Rifleman Bank Station. This is where Belltower is conducting secret experiments and witnesses are very unwelcome. Needless to say that Adam chooses to investigate the station’s secrets nevertheless. Once his escape has been discovered, he is being hunted by the station’s commander, one Pieter Burke and, of course, manages to defeat him and his cronies and escape to continue his adventure. The Juggernaut agent then complains to Janus that they’ve let a potential asset slip away, but Janus is convinced their paths will cross again.

I think it’s quite surprising that the story of Mankind Divided hinges so much on events of the Human Revolution DLC. Makes me wonder what kind of story we’d have had, had the studio decided to bank on the central conflict of that game.

So, while Burke at first has no clue who Adam is, he soon finds out and I, conscious of Belltower’s role in the overall conspiracy, found myself thinking: What would happen, if Burke actually managed to lay hands on Jensen again?

There were three possibilities:
1. He’d be killed, the way Burke vows as he sets his men on hunting Adam down.
2. He’d be imprisoned, never to resurface again, which is what Burke’s second, Lieutenant Keitner, threatens Adam with in the opening sequence.
3. He’d become the Illuminati’s brainwashed inside agent. Burke actually confesses that he’d considered recruiting Adam. Before he pissed him off enough to decide to see him dead, of course.

So when, in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Adam first mentioned he’d escaped some special facility in Alaska, I was instantly alert. What exactly had happened there? Why could he not remember? Or rather, why did he not want to remember?

From that moment on, everything and everyone felt fishy somehow. I grew paranoid, even suspected the psychiatrist. But she managed to divert my attention later in the game by sending Adam on that side mission involving Vince Black. After that, I eliminated her from my list of suspects, and boy, what a mistake! Kudos to the writers, this was the perfect setup! I also suspected Chikane of being the mole, especially when he sided with Adam when Miller refused to let him go investigate G.A.R.M., because Adam had ignored his orders. And Adam’s distrust of Janus’s motives, his desire to meet with him, never bothered me. I mean, he’s got to have had enough of conspirators hiding in the shadows, right? But Janus can’t be an Illuminati agent, or can he? After all, the mythological Janus is known to have two faces… (For the record: I haven’t played the Deus Ex games before Human Revolution,  so I really have no clue.)

Of course, the game’s big bad, Viktor Marchenko, who I mistook for the sleeper agent the Illuminati were talking about activating in the beginning, is the last boss Adam has to face in London and there are a few scenarios how the game can end. During my first playthrough I triggered the worst of them and, with Adam sounding more world-weary than ever, I felt both “This can’t have been it”-frustrated and empty. Much like Adam had to be feeling right in that moment. After all, he’d promised to never let it happen again. And matters just got so much worse…

And then, there was the secret ending.

That one was chilling, to say the least. When it is revealed that Adam Jensen is the sleeper agent, who was programmed in Alaska to take out Janus, I was completely taken by surprise. Yes, I had read the files TYM were keeping on him, but that was… Unexpected. So this is why he is collaborating with the Collective and why he wants to meet their leader face to face! Well. Since I somehow suspect that Janus is an A.I. much like Eliza Cassan and since I know he’s alive and kicking in the later games, I have a feeling that Adam is in for a surprise.


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