Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a game of diverse decisions and the freedom to tackle missions exactly as you see fit. Let me give you an example.
An early mission has you infiltrating the scene of terrorist attack to steal back evidence. You start in a foyer before a massive hall. It’s guarded guarded by around a dozen well armed policemen, one of them in a machine gun toting exosuit, a lot more like a mech. On my first playthrough of this mission, I snuck into the hall an Icarus Dashed my way from cover to cover, sneaking into vents, and killing anyone who spotted me with a silenced shot to the head. I explored the level, found a hidden server room with lots of hacking software, and wound up escaping with the evidence and a bounty of extra ammo.
On my second playthrough, I went non-lethal and totally non-augment. Again, I snuck from cover to cover until an officer turned around and caught me, just before I shot him with the stun gun. I hid his body, made sure to be more careful, grabbed the evidence and escaped, a ghost.
On my last playthrough, I decided to play things a little differently. I had been spotted both times before, this time, I moved the vending machine and crawled through a ventilation ducting, taking things slowly, but also using my leg silencers and invisibility cloak to sneak past patrols and take others down with ruthless blades through the chest.
This is the kind of freedom Mankind Divided gives you in nearly every element of its design. Missions never follow a defined path; if you can think of a way to complete the objective, you can probably do it. There are no boss fights that force you into combat, no rigid expectations of who your Adam Jensen is. Even the simple task of exploring the city is riddled with opportunities to go off the beaten path. Hack into apartments, climb across rooftops or down sewers, jump from ledges, and crawl through ventilation ducts because no “RESTRICTED” area is ever truly restricted enough to keep you out. Breaking convention rewards you with money and items, sometimes allowing you access to weapons and mods that would otherwise be hours down the line. Even being skilled in your conversation choices can change the course of gameplay and have lasting implications down the line.
The same freedom exists in the augment system. This time around Jensen has access to a number of experimental mods which can drastically gameplay. Icarus Dash lets you teleport forward and Titan armor even temporarily immune to damage, for example; powerful stuff. You can buy and upgrade these almost immediately regardless of order or level. It’s refreshingly open, though for at least part of the game you’re limited in the amount of augments that can be activated at one time.
Really, the only rigidity in the game comes from the storyline. You can explore and pick up side quests, but the campaign has a defined story that moves in a set order. But even within that framework, the world itself is the great, non-linear storyteller. Every area is littered with e-newspapers and e-books, laptops and personal secretaries that reveal a little more of the world and the character’s in it. The world here is better realized than any game in recent memory, and I was desperate to know more after my first hour with the game.
Mankind Divided is a healthy evolution of the Deus Ex formula Human Revolution advanced. Gunplay has been vastly improved, making fire fights a satisfying option when you want to wreak havoc, and you’re no longer penalized with less experience for going lethal. The cover system is tight, and both first-person and third-person shooting are just as satisfying as games who make it their sole focus. Weapons can be modified on the fly, allowing you to pause combat to change ammo type or weapon mods. Every gun feels good to fire, but none more so than the shotgun, which has to be one of the best in recent video game memory.
You’ll still be hacking, still finding creative ways around obstacles like poison gas and electricity. The latter is what really interested me, though beating the timer in a challenging hack was always satisfying. Mankind Divided, like Human Revolution, feels a bit Metroidvania and I longed for an ability to add notes to my map to remind myself of places where I’d been previously blocked. Instead, I made a mental note and hoped the story would lead me back around to that area.
The story also has a lot in common with Human Revolution. Mankind Divided takes place two years later after the augmented went haywire in a violent frenzy. Adam Jensen exists in a different world, one that fears and reviles him, and the true story here is that of the segregating of the pure and the augmented. You’re still reacting to a tragic event, one where the true perpetrator is ever higher up a conspiratorial chain. Eidos Montreal did a wonderful job of crafting a compelling story, even if it is clearly smaller in scope than its predecessor. It’s a testament to the world building that it’s so much more interesting to be out in the world than to sit through cutscenes. Even though I enjoyed the story, I enjoyed the characters and situations it introduced me to more, the Secondary Missions and Points of Interests it exposed me to more.
The art style is fantastic. The central hub of Prague feels icy and inhospitable. When you travel to a ghetto for the augmented, the structures feel so piecemeal and ramshackle that they might collapse about you. Everywhere, armored police forces oppress civilians for no other reason than their being “clanks,” the in-game equivalent of a racial slur.
Mankind Divided also features two additional modes: New Game Plus, which allows you to return with all of your items and augments to explore everything you may not have taken the first time, and Breach mode. Breach is the second beating heart of Mankind Divided’s long-game. Within Deus Ex’s version of VR, you take on infiltration missions to expose the dirty secrets of corrupt corporations. These are short missions that task you with infiltrating servers and stealing information. Sometimes there are modifiers or secondary objectives, but the core is always the same: beat the clock to get in and out with the data.
Breach changes the progression system in the game. Completing missions gives you experience to unlock new abilities akin to those in the campaign and currency to buy weapons, ammo, and card packs. These packs contain items and modifiers for bonus speed, health, or damage. You can buy these with in-game funds or real cash. Purchasing basic packs is easy enough to do for free, but for a chance at higher quality modifiers and items, you’ll need expensive packs that quickly deplete your funds, pushing you to spend real cash to stay competitive on the leaderboards. The short missions make retrying levels to beat your own best time a lot of fun, however.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an excellent game. There are few cyberpunk RPGs available, and none that offer such freeform stealth, and because of that it almost always feels novel. Though the game did suffer some issues with stuttering over time and the rare, brief audio drop out in dialogue, those issues couldn’t hold a candle to the sublime experience of immersing myself into that world. With numerous ways to complete every mission and two rich and satisfying secondary modes, it’s a game that begs to be returned to. In fact, I’ll do just that.
Gameplay - 10 | Missions are freeform. Sneak or go in guns blazing, kill or stun, Path A or Path B, this is a game that embraces choice. Experimental augments are great and can be purchased right away. Improved gunplay.
Visuals and Sound - 10 | Graphics are excellent with some excellent, immersive lighting effects. Voice acting is exceptional. The world tells its own story through countless small details and a wonderful art style.
Longevity - 9 | There is a lot of game to experience when NG+ and Breach are factored in. Completing everything takes about 30 hours but the main story can be done in less than 10, but returning for different tactics easily adds hours.
Polish - 8 | Occasional sound drop-out in dialogue, hitting enter in skips multiple lines of conversation, some performance stuttering over time.
Value - 9 | There are few games that offer the level of freedom that Deus Ex does and fewer RPGs. Combined with its natural replayability, Breach mode, and New Game Plus, it more than justifies its price.