The phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” implies that attempting to service too many tastes at once results in a bland execution across the board. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided attempts to defy this with a design that caters to action lovers, stealth enthusiasts, and passive diplomats alike. Following up on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, this stealth-action RPG series steps out of the shadows with a return to its roots of multi-faceted gameplay in the popular framework of global espionage.
Adam Jensen returns from Human Revolution complete with his grizzled, macho whisper and his collection of sleek mechanical augmentations with which he was involuntarily equipped. In this futuristic dystopian society, the schism between those with augmented body parts and those without threatens to reach a breaking point following the “Incident”—an event which resulted in the deaths of millions after augmented people all across the globe went into a berserker rage. This catastrophe, which occurred at the end of the previous installment, incites most of the plot developments throughout the course of Mankind Divided. Jensen is stuck in the middle of the conflict in a personal and professional sense. Both his augmentations and his new job with an Interpol anti-terrorism agency place him square in the middle as a new terrorist attack drives a spike deeper between the social classes.
Mankind Divided’s story is essentially split between two fronts: a pseudo-racial divide threatening to disintegrate social order, and a conspiracy plot puppeteering every plot twist. Neither is quite novel or compelling enough to be considered the game’s central hook, but each have their moments that push the story onward with the desire to understand the greater picture eclipsing more of its incidental shortcomings.
Even more intriguing, however, is the character of protagonist Adam Jensen. This is not because he is particularly deep or congruous, but because he lands in that very distinct persona format that fits an open ended narrative such as this very well. Jensen is an established character in his own world, with a personality and lifestyle, but his actions and conversations are often directed by the player. Instead of being a faceless mute that we are expected to “project ourselves onto,” the game offers an emotional connection to a real, sympathetic individual who simultaneously features a hint of the player’s disposition based on choices they’ve made.
The world of Mankind Divided is relatively confined, but is ultimately better for it with the crux of the game taking place in Prague apart for a few instances in which the player travels to other plot-important locations. The primary setting is split into a number of small, free-roaming zones which can be fast-traveled between by metro. These zones are littered with collectibles, secrets, and NPCs to interact with, all of which can bolster both an understanding of the narrative as well as aid the player’s progression with bonuses found hidden around the areas.
Story missions, side missions, and points of interest make up the structured objectives that players will tackle in various areas, each offer their own degree of rewards. Some side missions must be discovered through organic exploration, while others are basically thrown in your face. All of them can be passed up by just bee-lining the story campaign, but the game’s quantity of side missions is curiously finite, so completing them is advisable as they are often enjoyable and complex, plus will reward the effort with useful supplies. NPCs, both on missions and roaming around the world, tend to have a rather rigid, unrealistic quality about their movements and conversations, but as the game is more about the overarching story than any individual interaction, it isn’t too much of a detriment. The rigid presentation also presumably serves the conversation mechanic which is just one of many systems that Jensen’s augmentation skills can affect.
The game’s various skills are focused around three pillars of gameplay—combat, stealth, and diplomatic espionage—giving players freedom to play things their way. There is no level limit for unlocking abilities, so gamers are invited to take any playstyle for a spin right from the get-go—and this freedom of choice makes the system a much greater asset to the game than it would be otherwise. It lays out all of the most enjoyable tools before the player and invites them to play as they see fit without restrictions that would reign in the entertainment value. Skills are now divided into the body parts that they effect (like eyes, arms, nervous system, etc.), and these various augment abilities can be upgraded by using Praxis points earned experience gains. Thankfully, the upgrade system doesn’t come off as complex for complexity’s sake, like many other comparable experiences.
The abilities provided by the augments amplify every playstyle in their own unique way, starting first with open combat. Gunplay in Mankind Divided is focused around cover-based shooting, and while the general weapon selection is relatively limited, a variety of ammo types and craftable gadgets make nearly every situation manageable. The other side of the same coin involves tackling objectives via more covert methods. The invisibility augment is something of a cornerstone to this method, as are upgrades to the player’s battery quality so cloaking won’t suddenly turn off in a sticky situation. This is certainly a slower and more monotonous style of playing the game, but it is also the process by which one could preserve most of their gear. The slower pace additionally facilitates more exploration, and there is something indisputably gratifying about picking off a massive crowd of enemies through careful positioning and planning. Both the stealthy and combative approach can be executed in a lethal or nonlethal manner depending on the weapons and abilities used, but not every playstyle has to ruin the enemy’s day. The final avenue by which players can engage with their environment is through diplomacy and digital infiltration. An extensive conversation system directs many of the discussions that Jensen undertakes throughout missions, plus the ubiquitous hacking mini-game that reaps rewards of both information and goodies.
The combat and stealth effectively leverage each other through an enjoyable experience when played at either end of the spectrum. Movement and aiming can be a little stiff, but a well-executed cover system allows for seamless traversal around the terrain, something that comes in particularly handy when sneaking past enemies. Even botching the stealth doesn’t feel like a punishment, as the satisfying precision of the combat makes either alternative enjoyable whether the transition was intentional or not. The denseness of the enemy AI is present on both sides, but it is often as beneficial as it is detrimental when enemies fail to pursue the player after a minute of searching, or don’t notice their friends loudly dying one room over. The conversational and hacking elements aren’t highly intricate, but their frequency and delivery create a whole other side to the game that is enjoyable in a more thoughtful sense, while developing a deeper connection to the setting and characters beyond knocking enemies around.
Mankind Divided can be conquered almost entirely with any three of the gameplay pillars, but exclusively experiencing it through only one of these lenses can be restrictive. The game is best enjoyed with a balance of all three styles, but the ability to generally focus on one is there if players so desire. This flexibility is one of the sequel’s most significant evolutions after the previous title, which could be more stubborn in its procedure. Similar to the prequel, however, Mankind Divided has a surprisingly short runtime as far as RPGs go. This may sound like a problem, but I think it actually works in its favor, considering the available new game-plus feature. Depending on how players progress and allocate their upgrades, a lot of content can be missed out on the first time around—so the second playthrough offers a chance to experience the full breadth of what is offered without feeling like a slog through a story that took eons to complete.
The concise nature of Mankind Divided is further supplemented by the game’s Breach mode. Set in a low-poly visual style, Breach plays essentially identically to its campaign counterpart, challenging the player to a variety of combat and stealth scenarios for the sake of earning points, upgrading one’s character and gear, and trying the challenges again to get the best score possible posted to the online leaderboards. Or better yet, directly challenge friends to complete missions with higher scores for an addictive back-and-forth. The narrative association to the main game is tangential, and most will likely prefer to spend time with a character they’re already invested in, but it is a pleasantly intricate experience for something so ancillary.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a return to form—but using a jump-off point as solid as Human Revolution was certainly a successful decision. Little is wasted in this clandestine RPG, and this compact adventure shirks some contemporary RPG practices to focus on its strengths. The story may be somewhat hit and miss, but if you’re here for gameplay, it’s tight, it’s diverse, and it’s fun.
In a game that needs to balance so much, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided finds a way so nearly every feature meets a high-quality standard in this action-RPG
M - Mature
|Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Nick didn’t start gaming until mid-2006. Once his parents finally allowed a console into the house, it was all uphill from there. Starting out with a PS2, he grew an affinity for Sony consoles and moved on to the PS3, and now the PS4. He keeps his gaming palette wide, but, gun to his head, he’d have to say shooters are his genre of choice.