Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review
Seeking answers in a corrupt world tearing itself apart, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided follows cybernetically augmented specialist Adam Jensen as he shoots, sneaks and bluffs his way between police states and terrorist organisations.
Starting two years after the events of Human Revolution and its explosive finale forever changing the way augmented people are viewed, Mankind Divided is a big step forward for the Deus Ex franchise, continuing to follow our favorite augmented badass in a transhumanist world becoming increasingly divided.
A world at breaking point
At its core, Mankind Divided is a first-person cover shooter, placing you into the shoes of Adam Jensen, an augmented operative for Interpol’s Task Force 29 whose job it is to hunt down augmented terrorists. Set in 2029, the world is in turmoil after a series of catastrophic incidents, with a major schism growing between augs — people with artificial enhancements, such as cybernetic arms or eyes — and “naturals”, leading to segregation and violence on an unprecedented scale.
While Mankind Divided does continue on from the previous title, players new to the series have little to worry about — Mankind Divided contains a twelve minute recap video which covers the key characters and events from Human Revolution. There’s further exposition during Mankind Divided too, helping flesh out particular events for experienced Deus Ex players while helping ease newcomers into the lore.
Combat in Mankind Divided is solid — firefights feel dangerous, and weapons have a good weight to them. Making good use of cover is vital, both as a means of avoiding detection and as a barrier against the torrent of incoming bullets should you be discovered. You’re able to choose between lethal and non-lethal weaponry and takedowns à la Metal Gear; knocking out an enemy is quieter and less disruptive, but can be woken up by their comrades if found.
You’ll need to be smart with which fights you engage in, too — ammo is fairly scarce, and while you’ll have opportunities here and there to purchase munitions for a hefty fee, most of the time you’ll need to make do with what you have. I had a lot of “oh crap” moments where my ammo had run dry and there were still a dozen enemies in my path. You’ll need to be a little creative with your approaches.
While you’re free to stick primarily to the main storyline missions, there are a large number of optional sidequests for you to discover and participate in. While they’re not strictly necessary — and some can be very tricky indeed — you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts. These missions really help to flesh out the world around you, giving you a better insight into what’s going on and enriching your overall experience.
Mankind Divided is definitely a game that encourages and rewards creativity on the player’s part. You’ll often need to infiltrate difficult areas, and while sometimes it’s just a few thugs in your path, other times it’s a gauntlet of death and punishment populated by robots, well-trained security forces and turret defenses — but taking your time to plan and investigate the area will reveal multiple routes through.
While those who like straightforward Call of Duty style action shooters can simply run through, gunning everything down and hoping for the best (not advised on Mankind Divided‘s higher difficulty settings!), smarter players may find routes above or around the guarded path, bypassing most enemies entirely as well as finding some very useful secret goodies and collectibles.
In typical Deus Ex fashion, you’re encouraged to approach and execute objectives however suits you best. Action-oriented players can augment themselves with superior armor, leaping into battle and blowing enemies away with massive typhoon strikes; others may choose to sneak their way through, deftly avoiding detection through a combination of tranquilizer rounds and optical stealth technology. Mankind Divided is an improvement over its predecessor with this flexibility, having more routes and approaches to problems available for you to tackle.
While I tended to favor stealthier approaches, I never felt like the game was nudging me towards that route — or conversely, trying to get me to engage more in combat. Mankind Divided never tries to hold your hand, simply letting you know now and then that “hey, there’s something interesting over there, but if you want to ignore it that’s cool too”.
One of the key mechanics of Mankind Divided is your augments: using a resource called praxis, you’re able to customise and upgrade various augments in a tech tree in order to improve performance, unlock additional options or make life a little easier. You’re able to choose where you focus your upgrades, tailoring your augments to your playstyle. Where one player may go for health and armor upgrades, another may grab improved minimap systems or terminal hacking capabilities.
Hacking into security systems, private computer terminals and door controls is handled with a deceptively simple looking setup which’ll be immediately familiar to gamers coming from Human Revolution. You’ll be given a grid-like interface that displays your hacking entry point and end goal points connected by a series of lines and folders; you’ll need to sequentially capture folders along the path until you reach the registry.
This is complicated by the security systems noticing your intrusion, running their own traces and capturing folders themselves. If the trace captures your entry point before you’ve captured the registries, you’ll be booted out, and you’ll need to get out of the area before authorities arrive to engage.
Hacking can be a tricky endeavour, but thankfully you’ll find (and can craft) various hack tools that make it easier, such as stealth software to briefly cover your tracks and prolong your captures before the security system notices you and starts tracing. The rarest hack software is the worm, temporarily freezing any ongoing enemy traces and hopefully giving you enough time to unlock what you need.
One thing we found out the hard way: hacking into a terminal does not pause the world around you, and is a blatantly illegal move. Without preparation, attempting to crack a secure keypad in a public spot will lead to you being pulled out of the hack and obliterated by security.
Breach and clear
Besides the main story campaign, Mankind Divided has a loosely connected arcade mode called Breach. Here, you’ll take on the role of an anonymous hacker, joining a hacktivist group in orchestrating a massive virtual infiltration into Palisade servers. Gameplay is very similar to the standard campaign, but with a more arcade, competitive focus — you’ll need to run through virtual levels, stealing data and escaping before the in-built security takes you down.
Breach serves as the multiplayer, community focused side of Mankind Divided — each level has its own leaderboards for scores and clear times, and you’ll need to juggle perfect route planning, raw skill, and the occasional cheat modifier to tilt the odds further in your avatar’s favor. You can tweak your loadout with items such as weapons, ammo, consumables, as well as cheat modifiers to enjoy increased damage, speed or health. Patch mods are also available, which act like a reverse cheat modifier; you can choose to equip patches such as a constant energy drain or restrictions on item use, in return for a better final score. Effective use of both modifier types is essential for reaching the lofty heights of the leaderboards.
Progression in Breach taps into territory typically found in digital card games like Hearthstone or The Elder Scrolls: Legends — as you level, you’ll earn nodes which contain five cards, each of which can be a piece of gear such as guns, ammo, or stims, as well as modifiers or simply extra credits to spend. Besides levelling, these packs are your best bet for earning praxis in Breach, which unlocks various augments for your hacker avatar just as it does for Jensen. Tying into the arcade-esque virtual nature of Breach, some augments bend the laws of physics a little, such as double jumping.
On the technical side of things, Mankind Divided had its fair share of hiccups. Framerates seemed a little on the low side even on our best rigs, with our GTX 1070 averaging around 50fps on ultra quality settings at 1440p. Once DirectX 12 compatibility rolls out for Mankind Divided — expected as a patch sometime in September — performance should improve significantly.
We also had a few crash-to-desktop problems, mainly on booting the game up but a couple of spontaneous CTDs in-game, too. A bothersome bug we kept running into was some kind of problem saving graphics settings; often we’d adjust the settings, only to find that the next time the game loaded, it had reverted to the previous ones. Not a huge issue, but irksome nonetheless.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes a dystopian world filled with believable characters with unclear agendas and near-future tech, adds hints of social commentary and cyberpunk themes, and wraps it around a stylish, well polished stealth/action shooter. Despite some minor technical flaws and gameplay kinks, it’s a satisfying game that successfully captures and improves upon the Deus Ex formula.