Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review

There was a point at which I was terribly, terribly disappointed with Mankind Divided. Up until that moment, it was everything I loved about Human Revolution dialed up to eleven. Until that point, I had precisely zero complaints about the game and then Mankind Divided dropped a big one right in my lap.

Also, this one requires some mild spoilers about the nature and context of missions, but I’ll do my best to be as vague as possible so as to spoil as little as possible.

At a few points in Mankind Divided, you’ll be presented with a choice. You’ll have two competing missions and will only be able to complete one. Outside of these moments, the game has no time pressure at all. But the first decision point is very badly executed. You’re required to choose between breaking into a bank or investigating a cult.

I chose to investigate the cult, completed the mission, and the game continued onwards from there. The problem was, even before the game asked me to, I had broken into the bank and completed that specific objective already.

An early side mission in Mankind Divided sends you into Prague’s Palisade Property Bank to get incriminating evidence on Picus. It’s a fairly quick affair if you stick to the objective – get in, get your stuff, and get out – but, as I wandered around the bank and realised how much there was to it, I was overcome by the urge to unearth all of its secrets.

In some ways, the Palisade Property Bank was my Everest. I needed to conquer it because it was there. The place had vaults for Talon Security Services, Tai Yong Medical, and Picus. I was practically drooling at the thought of finding everything that those companies felt compelled to hide away from the world.

So I did. It took me a few hours of wandering, but I scoured the place from top to bottom, learned every password, opened their executive vaults, found storage deep underground, and stole every credit they had. The only thing I could not do was access the underground storage itself – I had bypassed every security measure up until that point but opening the final set of doors required a keycard which I did not have, could not get, and was not anywhere in the bank.

Still. Palisade claimed their security was impenetrable and I had poked all manner of large and unpleasant holes in that story. I was very pleased and reasonably confident that, over the course of the game, those keycards would turn up if I looked hard enough and then I would open the last set of hidden doors. I would have defeated Palisade.

And, sure enough, I found the keycards. I needed to progress a little in the main story to get it but, after I left Prague on a story mission and returned, more poking around revealed a second keycard. I made my way into the Tai Yong Medical vault. And I was done. Palisade had no more secrets from me.

But then, at a critical juncture, Mankind Divided asked me to choose between two story missions – one to investigate a cult and another to break into the Tai Yong Medical vault at Palisade. This was the first and only time I was genuinely disappointed.

The fact that I was able to break into a plot-relevant area well before the game asked me to was testament to how much freedom was built into Mankind Divided. I felt like I should have been rewarded for initiative, ingenuity, and Robin Hoodery. When I broke into the Palisade vault, I should have found the mysterious plot thing that the game was now telling me to go after.

That was when I started to wonder if Mankind Divided would do this again. Force me into an arbitrary choice simply to advance the plot, rather than allowing me to use my ingenuity and the tools at my disposal to circumvent the choice itself.

Happily, Mankind Divided did not do that again.

The other choices felt meaningful, necessary, desperate, and in one of them I actually managed to circumvent the choice by being both fast and clever which is exactly what I expected of the game. In short, barring one very significant – in my eyes, at least – misstep, Mankind Divided is basically a triumph.

It flips the script

In Human Revolution, the world is poised on the cusp of something extraordinary. Human-controlled enhancement, the ability to augment your own body to make up for your (real or perceived) physical or mental shortcomings are taking the world by storm. By the end of Human Revolution, that storm hits and the consequences are devastating.

Following the ending of Human Revolution, the ‘Aug Incident’ was a global catastrophe that changed the way the world saw augmented people and the companies that enabled their controlled evolution. Conglomerates went bankrupt, augmentation clinics went out of business, life-saving drugs that prevent augmentation rejection are hard to come by, and governments everywhere are fiercely debated whether to segregate, regulate, rehabilitate, or electronically control augmented people.

Mankind Divided is, to put it simply, really bloody complicated.

Set in Prague, which is one of – if not the most – anti-Aug country in the world, Mankind Divided drops you into a city that hates and fears you and everyone like you. There are separate queues at train stations, for augs and ‘naturals’, separated by tall fences and barbed wire. If you ride the train, there are separate carriages for augs and naturals. If you ride in the aug carriage, you’ll be stopped by cops the moment you step onto the platform and they’ll demand to see your papers. Hell, if you’re just walking down the street you might run into a cop who’ll demand to see your papers. You’ll hear muttered insults in Czech as you walk by, unaugmented civilians will refuse to talk to you, some will tell you that you’re the problem, others will blame you for all their problems, and plenty of people are all too happy to derisively  mutter ‘clank’ as you walk by, while some of the braver folks – cops especially – will just insult you to your face.

I found myself reacting to the world. At first, I rode the natural’s car. It’s a train, goddammit. I may have metal bits, but I’m still a person. But after I was stopped for the third time and had to deal with cops asking for my papers over and over, telling me repeatedly to remember my place … the fourth time I went to the aug line and took the aug car. Just to avoid the trouble. Then a couple of times after that, I was distracted and in a hurry and not really in the mood to deal with cops – and also worried about consequences, like aggression or arrest because I was on a pacifist playthrough – so I took the aug line and car again. And then, somewhere near the end of the game, I realised that I wasn’t taking the other paths any more.

Even when the platform was empty, even when there were no cops, I would walk like a good boy to my side of the platform, stay on my side of the barbed wire, and leave the naturals’ side of the platform for the naturals who weren’t there.

It was terrifying.

Everything good about Human Revolution, dialed up to eleven

I said this at the beginning of the review and I want to touch on that for a moment. Human Revolution tried a lot of things. It tried to create a meaningful, evolving space with Detroit and Hengsha. It tried to create interesting side missions that served as both expansion of and accompaniment to the main story. It tried to create interesting characters whose stories you’ll carry with you long after the game ends.

But Human Revolution only set those things in motion. It’s Mankind Divided that elevates them.

To get this out of the way, the game certainly isn’t perfect. It’s occasionally buggy, physics are sometimes hilariously broken, and it did make the one enormous mistake that I have still not entirely forgiven it for. But the rest of the game is so good, so rich, so deep and ambitious that it’s hard not to be utterly enraptured by it.

Mankind Divided’s David Sarif is trying to find his way back. Sarif Industries is gone, first bankrupted by the Aug Incident, then swallowed up by Tai Yong Medical. Sarif himself is dealing with the loss of everything he built and guilt over what he did to Adam. He’s a far cry from the overly ambitious, secretive CEO from Human Revolution – he’s more human, both in the way he sounds and in what he chooses to say.

If you so choose, you can help an underground newspaper take on Picus. You can solve a murder. You can help a mob boss. You can end the production of an illegal, lethal drug. You can stop scum who are preyed on augs without paperwork. You can set an old acquaintance free.

And each of the side missions is not only fantastically well written and developed, but also a little glimpse into life beyond the main story. It lets you see how other augs live. What it’s like to be someone who doesn’t have Jensen’s advantages – like his job at Interpol, or his body’s acceptance of his augments (which means he doesn’t need Neuropozyne). It broadens and deepens the world so meaningfully that every single one of them is worth doing, just because they’ll linger for a little while after you’re done with them – as all good stories should.

More augments, more flexibility, more approaches to everything

Another good thing about Human Revolution was the flexibility you had in approaching each mission, and that has continued in Mankind Divided. My Palisade Bank story from earlier is an example. It was there and I conquered it because I wanted to – by sneaking through vents, climbing up and down elevator shafts, hacking open doors, taking over security cameras, (occasionally) knocking out security guards, and basically subverting every single mechanism that had been put in place to keep me out.

However you want to approach a mission is entirely up to you and, unlike Human Revolution, you can talk your way through the entire game. Not one single person has to die and there’s even a pacifist achievement (which I unlocked, yay me) for completing the entire game without killing anyone. On the other hand, every single person can die if you so choose and – admittedly, I haven’t done this myself – I imagine the game will adapt to your murderous rampage.

Deus Ex has always been about playing the way you want and making the choices you want to make, and Mankind Divided feels like a very pure distillation of that design philosophy.

So, to sum this up …

I love it. God, do I love it. I realised I was close to finishing the game on a Sunday night so I just said ‘screw it’, played through the night, and was rewarded with the credits (and the mid-credits scene, which was also great because I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that woman) at roughly 6 am.

It takes a very special kind of game to make you want to forgo sleep and walk into a Monday all bleary-eyed and fuzzy, but Mankind Divided is simply that remarkable and then some. If you haven’t yet, consider playing it. If you like RPGs, consider playing it. If any of what I’ve said sounds interesting, consider playing it. We all need stories and worlds we can lose ourselves in from time to time. And Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is right up there with the best of them.

Trevor Coelho
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