SPOILER ALERT: I will be talking about various plotlines of the game, main missions and side quests. I'll be pretty well spoiling a bunch of stuff, so tune out now before it's too late.
Oh boy hot dog. We're here. After a long time, Deus Ex is back. Kinda.
Hot off the heels of Human Revolution, Mankind Divided puts us back into the augmented cybershoes of Adam Jensen, a heavily augmented(Though he never asked to be) ex head of security of Sarif Industries, and currently a new recruit of Task Force 29.
Honestly, I'm not even sure how to actually talk about this game. I am a big fan of Deus Ex after Human Revolution swept me away with its incredibly story telling and awesome "choose your own path" gameplay systems. I felt like the story was always awesome in Human Revolution. There was rarely anything that happened that I didn't understand, or that went over my head, or that was just boring. It was all good.
I must've played that game so goddamn much. I just enjoyed it. The art style, the stunning black and gold, the incredible(INCREDIBLE) music, the gameplay that rewarded you for playing your way.
When Human Revolution began, I started asking questions. Who is Adam Jensen? Who attacked that facility? What kind of conspiracy is going on here? Why me?
When Mankind Divided begins, we start asking different questions. Wait, who is this lady? Wait, we're spying on our organization? Wait, where is Pritchard and the gang? Where is anyone?
As I'm starting to see other people have problems with, Mankind Divided starts out... somewhere in the middle of some plotline. Adam Jensen is working with some sort of hacker agency called The Juggernaut Collective and spying(?) on his organization, Task Force 29, though you never find out why in the game(And no I'm not buying your fucking "tie in" novels to find out why, are you even serious). You've been recently recruited to Task Force 29, an INTERPOL agency set to investigate shit or something.
But it's the strangest thing... it's not really ever relevant. Your squad leader, Macready, is supposedly uncomfortable by the fact that Jim Miller, the head of Task Force 29, is the one commanding Jensen as if he were a private agent instead of just another one of the boys. Except the game never goes into detail on what any of this means. It's true, Miller pretty much treats you like his own personal agent instead of just one of the many capable agents they have right now, and who could blame him. After all, Jensen does have access to bleeding edge caliber augments.
It never goes anywhere. In fact, you never even see Macready past the first few hours of the game. For the duration of the entire game you are pretty much working with other people occasionally or just working by yourself. And by working "with" I mean "They contact you over the cyberphone in your head and command you around". Strange, considering the team of highly trained agents you currently work with. So, you know, great squad-leading, dude.
Another strange issue is the lack of notable globe trotting. All Deus Ex games have had a consistent theme: You go on a grand world wide adventure trying to uncover the truth of the Illuminati and other such conspiracies therein. For Mankind Divided, while you certainly travel to some other places, for the most part you are located in Prague, traveling from each district either by foot or train to get where you want to go. But unlike Human Revolution, Mankind Divided has levels that are very connected and very wide open. It maintains this level of craft and care from the previous game, leading you to search high and low for all sorts of interesting locations and ways to get there. Vents leading into secret areas, structurally weak walls allowing you to just bust right in to some other place. The entire world is filled with them. You're pretty much never impeded or prevented from going anywhere, including a nice lack of loading screens for most of the districts sans one that you must always travel to via train, loading in and out.
With Prague I just found myself bored. I didn't care for the location, but it's just the... plainness of it all. Prague looks great, don't get me wrong. It's got a beautiful classical architecture that stands out from the neon lights and see-through flat-screen TV's plastered everywhere. Also the police don't even look like police, but heavily armored cyber-knights. It meshes well and looks nice, but losing the black and gold paint-scheme from Human Revolution stripped the game of its unique visual identity, if you ask me. There was something so striking about it. There was a distinctive visual. For some reason Eidos have been trying to get away from that distinctive style ever since the Director's Cut release of Human Revolution. It sported a noticeably toned-down gold tint and just kinda looked a little more generic than the original.
The gameplay aspect is just really good here. It's like Human Revolution but much tighter, aside from the hacking. The new abilities, I'll be honest, I missed out on for most of the game, but feel like a great addition. I went in stealthily, not killing anyone, and with the augments I had chosen, and the skillset I was able to employ, I enjoyed every second with my mind on what was in front of me, just not when what was in front of me was story.
Hacking doesn't feel as great in this game as it did in Human Revolution. I don't mean difficulty or anything, I just mean fluidity. It used to be very simple switching from node to node, hitting inputs for what special software to use or to fortify or whatnot. In Mankind Divided, you have to aim your hacking cursor towards the top of the nodes and so for the first 8 or so hours of the game I just thought hacking was busted. I was constantly seeing nodes I had hacked not being hacked, because I thought I was on the node but in fact wasn't. Once I figured this out and was able to correct for it, hacking became the same breeze it was in Human Revolution. I was able to basically do it in auto-pilot, just going through and taking it all over and getting out.
Stealth, my weapon of choice, felt a lot more natural. I was able to get into cover a lot more smoothly in this game than in Human Revolution. Moving around cover is also very speedy so it kept the pace up well, allowing me to just hop into cover and zoom around corners and down hallways and whatnot. Getting around people also felt a lot easier now than ever. I feel like every level was able to accomodate different playstyles to such a degree that, by having all of the utility augs pretty much from the get-go, I was able to constantly branch out and move into different directions.
Although sometimes I began to wonder if there were too many different directions. It felt like, and this is certainly an odd complaint to make for something like Deus Ex, that there were just too many shortcuts around people. There were a lot of times where you have to find your way through an area filled with enemies, but most of the time it felt like that "convenient" air vent you found was just kinda everywhere. As long as you could survive the electricity you would occasionally run into, or the poison gas, you could basically go anywhere.
I feel like this takes a lot of the challenge out of the game. In Human Revolution, there was a lot of walking through hallways, down corridors and straight through doorways that had people right next to them. There was a lot of timing you'd need, but most of the time in Mankind Divided I just felt like, well, if I move around the corners over here or look up there, I'd probably find a way to bypass a lot of this area. And most of the time I was right.
There were also times where the stealth kinda bugged out entirely. There was this side mission I had to do, which actually seemed kind of bonkers. I had to sneak through an entire area absolutely filled to the brim with enemies, in a restricted area, find a certain individual, knock them out and drag them out of the entire area, through a city street filled with civilians as well as those same enemies, way down an alley and hide him in a garage. It was nucking futs, and a lot of fun. But there were a couple of runs through, right before I figured out how I would get through it, the stealth would pretty much break. Whenever I would stand near the door to the exit, the enemies could just... see me through the wall. I'd be in cover, hiding, not moving an inch, and then all of the sudden they'd run up to me, say something about how I shouldn't be here, and start unloading on me. It was quite peculiar, as nothing like this had happened before. But it was certainly annoying.
The story of the game. Oh boy. Human Revolution had a great story. Shitty ending. But we all agreed on that. Mankind Divided's story feels like a side-quest that's just gone on too long. Several quest lines end on questions, several plotlines never get resolved, just fading away into the background against the sound of "WAIT IS THAT IT? FOR REAL!?"
I honestly don't like constantly going back and forth from Human Revolution to Mankind Divided. They are different games and that's fine. They are allowed to do different things without being constrained by what their predecessor did before it. But it's just... hard. Human Revolution, as I had written about before was something special to me. It came out during a particularly rough time for me and it was a fantastic way to keep my mind on other things. Almost like therapy. Aside from the fact that it was just an all around wonderful game.
I just, I don't know, got it. I picked it up and loved it pretty much immediately. It was like some sort of western Metal Gear. Stealth based action that lets you choose to go pacifist, a gravelly voiced protagonist that wears a sneaking
Back to Mankind Divided...
As I said above, it felt like a side-quest that went on for too long. Gone are the days of globe-trotting conspiracy thwarting. Instead, we're just kinda doing things. For most of my playthrough of Mankind Divided I had hoped this game was Witcher-esque in that a general playthrough was 300 hours. Because I was just waiting for it to begin. I didn't care about what I was doing, and I picked all of the good augments because I was pretty much just walking through places with no issue. In fact, in my entire playthrough, not only did I not kill anyone(Which isn't that impressive, really), I didn't even engage into any sort of active combat. It just didn't happen. There was like, no conflict. Even the final(First?) boss was just a 30 second long "Wait until he un-shields himself and zap 'em".
The strange thing about waiting for the game to begin, as I felt, was that we were actively engaging in conspiracies. I mean Adam Jensen is spying on his agency for this weird fucking collective that ends up(At least in my playthrough) being entirely useless. I was seriously bummed out to not see Pritchard anywhere because he was the last semblance of an Otacon I had. Gone was my friend from the technical field who gave me vital information and slowly stopped actively hating me before ending up being bros.
That's another glaring issue I have with the game. All of the characters suck. I mean, there's no way to really put it any better. They have no personality and constantly do nothing. At the beginning of the game, your squad leader, Macready, is put into the cliche of "highly trained soldier with a chip on his shoulder and a bad attitude to match", but it... just... doesn't... go anywhere. He disappears shortly into the game and only contacts you over infolink for miscellaneous shit that doesn't matter. He doesn't do anything. In fact, during the one part of the game where he's actively doing something, he gets stuck and needs your help. So his entire existence is to talk a big game and then do nothing. He's like the fucking ending of the Sopranos.
Your Juggernaut Collective contact and side-friend-spy-lady that you have literally no information about also does very little. For most of the game her entire purpose is to wait for you to walk into an area before becoming un-invisible and sharing secret information, or talking about something, and then leaving.
Faridah Mallick, who supposedly died in Human Revolution no matter how you resolved that situation, was a great character. She had a great story, actually contributed, and also had great chemistry with Jensen. When they first interacted I could totally believe their connection. With most of the people in Mankind Divided, I either can't see it or don't care. They have lacking personalities and even less relevance when it comes to the actual plot and oh boy kill me now.
The plot itself I don't think is very good either. I don't mind that they are actively tackling issues that are so very clearly just substitutes of the issues we are facing today. I mean part of the reason of telling a story is to find the line and cross it in the hopes of providing valuable perspective on the matter. But here, the perspective is "Racism = bad" and it's like... That's your message?
Augmented racism was an understory to the overarching plot of Human Revolution. It was a throughline that lasted the entire way and made a lot of sense in how it was portrayed there. But now we've jumped into a new area where police literally murder augmented people in the street and no one cares. It beats you over the head with it to such a degree that it was honestly hard for me to believe.
They spend the entire game talking about it but they never actually touch upon it or dig deeper. It's just "aug's bad cuz they could be bombs I dunno LOL". Maybe I'm naive, but I just wanted more out of my social commentary.
At one point in the game there is a curfew in motion where people are not allowed on the streets after a certain point of day. No one. If you aren't a cop, you will be arrested, and if you run, you will be shot and killed on sight. Even Jensen, even if he does work for some kind of INTERPOL agency. Even if he's literally trying to solve some kind of major terrorist conspiracy. But whateves, right? Not like the head of the agency, the man who specifically utilizes your skills as his own personal agent throughout the entire game, can call and get shit done.
The Police in this game are so overly aggressive it's insane. They actively impede your investigation, prompting you to sneak into a crime scene and recover important evidence. Even though your investigation is to find the people responsible for a horrible act of terrorism, they tell you to fuck off. Strangely enough, I managed to sneak through this entire level and didn't get caught once, but upon returning from the mission, I was informed that they were attacked by some kind of suped up "aug". I thought, shit, that sounds like some kind of conspiracy cover up! Clearly they are trying to sway public opinion and shift the blame on those poor downtrodden augs, right? Nope, according to Jensen, he straight up went in guns a blazing. I mean, he didn't, but the game seems to think he did, so whateves amirite guyz. Apparently cops and INTERPOL are just allowed to kill the shit out of each other and no one cares.
At every turn, the game was testing me. Tempting me. There is this side-quest you discover fairly early in the game. Jensen finds out that he actually has a whole bunch of additional augmentations in his body that no one ever told him about, and hence forth he begins his quest to figure out just how and why this happened. It resolves very slowly over the course of the game, and when it does resolve, you're hit with a big "Well, I guess we'll never find out". I couldn't believe it. I actively investigated and tried to play smart to figure out just what kind of bullshit is going on, and in the end, I'm literally met with "FIND OUT NEXT TIME ON DEUX EX Z!" except next time is 5 years away in a new game that will probably have even less narrative cohesion and even more microtransactions to help you "augment your pre-order", whatever that means.
It wasn't until the final mission that I felt like it was truly becoming Deus Ex. You are sent to a large building in the middle of London to prevent a terrorist attack that probably could have been prevented if literally any of the competent characters from Human Revolution had returned for this game. In doing so, you find out that while you got here as fast as you could, the building has been compromised. The entire security staff has been replaced by terrorists. Outnumbered and outgunned, you have to work your way through the building, disarming any terrorists you find, avoiding the security systems that have been procured to work against you, and keep everyone inside safe.
I thought, holy shit, maybe my theory is correct? Maybe this game is like 300 hours and it JUST NOW started, some 30 hours into my playthrough. I was so excited. THIS was what I loved about Human Revolution. It's not all about conspiracy this conspiracy that. I'm in an unknown location, the odds are against me, I've got a clear and achievable goal if my skills are up to the test, I've globe-trotted, and now it's all up to me.
I had some of the most fun from my playthrough right here. It was so rewardingly fun, even if the mission itself was pretty short. I was just so excited. It felt like I had just reacquainted with an old friend, and it was glorious. Then I was met with a very interesting and moral dilemma; Rescue the hostages from this oddly-The-Dark-Knight inspired scenario, or just go straight to the leader, a horrible caricature of what Big Boss would look like if he existed in the world of Deus Ex, and was also wildly inept.
I struggled to decide. Murder is bad, the game told me that several times. But also bad guys are bad! What do I do I am Adam Jensen! Eventually I made my choice that Marchanko(The name of the antagonist, though in this game everyone is sort of an antagonist) isn't getting away, and so I rushed off to face Bad Boss. I knew I was most likely dooming the innocent people, and also that one guy I was sent to protect, to certain death, but I had to make a decision and so I made it. Time to get some revenge from all of the people killed as a result of this asshole.
I went in, watched the cutscene, played my trap card by disabling the explosives with a device I had earned thanks to my silver tongue earlier in the game, and fought the boss. By this point, this was my first boss battle in the entire game. Either I just did everything right to the nth degree, or there are like no bosses in this game. Either way, I could tell what was happening immediately. He triggers this armor set up so obviously I couldn't hit him. I waited for him to deactivate it so I could move in for the kill(Or, since this was a pacifist run, a stun). Weirdly enough he just kinda walked right up in front of me about 30 seconds in to the fight, started shooting a wall with his big lazer gun, then deactivated his super shield. I zapped him with my nifty new electro-fist-tazer-gun, then ran in and punched him. I was very surprised to find that it was over almost as soon as it began. I didn't know if I should praise them or curse them for making boss battles like this. It was certainly better than the first release of Human Revolution... but it was the final(first?) boss of the entire game. And it lasted, with cutscene, a minute and a half, two minutes, tops.
I was then told to run to the people I was sent to protect. Fearing the worst, I made my way towards them. Utilizing stealth technology I was able to pretty much make it there fairly quickly, even though there were a metric fuckton of enemies standing in the way. I ghosted my way around, got to an elevator where thankfully no one was looking in my direction even though there were like 4 or 5 people standing 10 feet in front of it, and I went up. Much to my surprise, I had arrived on time. For the first time in the game I was able to finish one part of a decision based quest and then rush to finish the other one. It was at this point that I was very excited to see where we - WHAT THE FUCK THAT WAS THE ENDING OF THE GAME!? NO RESOLUTION. JUST "HEY THANKS FOR SAVING US" AND THEN A FUCKING MID-CREDITS SCENE HYPING UP A SEQUEL!? DID MARVEL MAKE THIS GAME!?
The side quest was over. I had completed Mankind Divided. I didn't hate the game. I enjoyed the gameplay aspect of it. I did not like the plot, the characters, the setting, the set up, the conspiracy, the side quests even if they did encourage more freedom than the main quests, the resolution.
I am disappointed. They had their story on lock with Human Revolution. Gameplay there was a bit janky and needed a fine-tuning, which they absolutely did with Mankind Divided. But unfortunately the story this time was the janky aspect. I liked the game more when it was telling me that I was sent as the ONE GUY who can solve this FUCKED UP situation because of CONSPIRACIES. I did not like this game when I was sent in to TEACH PEOPLE TO LOVE and remind them that RACISM BAD, and that we should all just GET ALONG. I don't want to do that. I want to infiltrate corporate warehouses and find prototype weapons that match weapons used in some terrorist attack and like, have to drop in from a cool skyship and save the hostages and convince the bad guy that he's just misguided. That's what I want.
In the end, now at the 1 year anniversary of The Phantom Pain, I find myself pondering. The Phantom Pain was a game that I was so excited for that, had I gone back in time to tell my younger self how disappointing it would end up being, my younger self would have murdered me. Straight up. No diggity. No doubt. The hype was palpable. "Oh boy Outer Heaven!? Oh boy METAL GAERS!? OH BOY OH BOY!" but in the end it was some kind of weird misdirection and the game wasn't even about that stuff. In the end I asked more questions than were answered and I complained, cried a little, and moved on. Sure, the gameplay was fuckin' tight and incredible and GOTY 10/10, but gosh darnit the story sucked.
I find that between Mankind Divided and The Phantom Pain, there are a lot of similarities. They are both stealth action games. They both feature gruffly voiced individuals with cybernetic arm(s). They are both video games. They were both released seemingly out of nowhere with microtransactions and shitty add-on modes that really add nothing to the overall project. They were both meddled with before release and thus released with parts noticeably absent, leaving a massive disconnect with the story. They both have great gameplay hindered by their lacking narratives.
It's unfortunate. It was such a shame that it happened with Mankind Divided. I was so sure that the game would release as tight as possible, but now with the announcement of DLC that just so happens to release very soon, I find it hard to believe that it wasn't just cut out of the game and sold on the side for some o' dat profit.
After being left with a phantom pain not once, but twice now, you can be sure I won't be fooled again. While I absolutely loved the gameplay here, the narrative elements and suddenly "soon to be released" DLC makes it abundantly clear that they should have spent more time augmenting their game and not the pre-orders.
I give Deus Ex: Mankind Divided...