With the first half dozen hours of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided under our belts, it’s quite easy to say that if you enjoyed Human Revolution, this game should be high up on your wish list for next month. There’s the same brand of semi-open world design, and an emphasis on player agency and choice as you explore, talk to people and take on missions, and it’s just as compelling as ever.
Adam Jensen’s now working for Interpol’s Task Force 29, a unit geared toward tackling augmented terrorist groups that have sprung up in recent times. It’s understandable as, in the wake of a global catastrophe, augmented humans are being forcibly segregated from the un-augmented, as part of the mechanical apartheid. Except that it’s nowhere near as clear cut as Task Force 29’s virtuous sounding goal sounds, with shades of grey to groups like the Augmented Rights Coalition, the background machinations of the Illuminati and Jensen’s efforts to uncover conspiracies as part of the Juggernaut Collective hacktivist group.
The start of Mankind Divided doesn’t hold back on the story in any way. If you’re not familiar with the last game in the series, you could quite easily feel lost in the several parallel plot lines that the game opens with. At least Eidos Montreal have, in lieu of any form of save file transfer, decided on a particular path through the tumultuous events at the end of that game, leading to the point in time, two years later, where we meet Jensen again. It means that, as numerous as the opening plot points are, everyone has the same starting point.
That quickly fades into the background though, as you step outside onto the streets of Prague after a terrorist attack at Růžička Station. That’s the catalyst to the main thread of Mankind Divided’s story, but you’re given free reign to explore and root around in the city. Well, as free a reign as an augment can have, even if he does have all his papers in order. Though you can skirt the law – and there’s plenty of fun to be had in toying with their AI at times – you’re meant to use the augment carriage on the city metro, have to present papers when demanded, and so on.
Naturally, you can follow the main story, visiting the hidden Task Force 29 base, engaging in some light skullduggery for the Collective, but there are plenty of side missions out there as well. A particularly lengthy one has you unravelling an extortion racket hiding behind the ostensible rule of law, another has you head to a different part of town, trying to help some other augs from persecution by amending their records. Even with these, there are multiple ways to go about things, whether it’s trying – and most likely failing – to brute force your way in, or spotting an air conditioning vent that’s perfect for a quieter approach. Personally, I tend to kick myself when I find the quieter option on the way out.
Prague is a nice looking place, as it basks in the early morning sunshine, looking very much like its namesake, even with the clashes of the old, historic buildings and the alien touches of this tech heavy future. It’s a stark contrast to the oppressive, maze of squalor that is Golem City, where the vast majority of augments have been sent off to live. It’s here that there’s a return in the art direction to the yellows and golds that dominated so much of Human Revolution, which only adds to the inhumane feeling of the seemingly entirely metal construction.
There’s a quite nicely worked twist early in the story that, as a consequence of being caught in the bomb blast, allows Eidos Montreal to not just reset many of Jensen’s abilities, but also give you new ones to play with. Yes, it’s a somewhat contrived method of giving everyone the same starting point and balancing the gameplay, but it works well here and immediately opens up new doors and potential gameplay avenues.
Among the new abilities, you have the PEPS, which fires out a concussive force to knock things about, new NanoBlade attacks that can be fired at people and pin them to walls or used as remote area of effect attacks, remote hacking, and even the Icarus Dash, which lets you zoom forward, closing down the distance to an enemy or jumping across much wider gaps. There’s a tradeoff and these new abilities cost more than just Praxis points, actively forcing you to permanently disable abilities to keep power levels low enough for Jensen’s augmented body to handle. In other words, choose carefully, so as to create a character that you enjoy playing with. I must say, it still feels more natural to me to play in a stealthier, non-lethal fashion, and there are extra toys to play with for that style as well.
Just as in previous games, it also caters to a more… unusual style of play. Playing with the kleptomaniacal tendencies of your average RPG player, it feels like there’s alcohol tucked into every nook and cranny of Prague. I’d have to assume that one of the many things that Jensen didn’t ask for was an augmented liver, because it took quite some effort to keep the screen just a little bit fuzzy with booze, as I enforced my own peculiar brand of prohibition laws throughout the city.
That’s the real joy of Deus Ex games, with the story shifting and flowing around your decisions, as you dive in and explore the world as you please, even if you decide to play like an alcoholic who’s gone on a mate’s international stag do.