TLDR: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a bigger version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – without the horrible boss fights.
There is more here that didn’t change than did, or at least that’s what it appears to be. Hacking is here, identical to before (like lockpicking for the past 10 years in Bethesda games). Shooting, stealth, jumping up, punching walls, turrets, sentries, alarms, vents, picking up boxes, pocket journals, PRAXIS, stealth, CASSIE (for influencing conversations). All of it – pretty much identical to last time. There are new augments to use, but aside from remote hacking, none seem to have any real dramatic impact on gameplay – unless you want to go Rambo that is.
What has changed is the scope. Where the previous game felt like chapters in a story, now you’re in a large hub (split by subway trips that take way too long), and run around finding new side quests and leaving to other zones for the main quest. The maps feel bigger, and much more vertical than before. There are at least 2 paths, if not more, to each goal. It makes the non-combat aspects much more appealing because you know that there’s a way, you just need to find it.
Simply put, it is not possible to play this game at level 1 and complete it without combat. Going the combat route is a challenge, since anything other than a head shot means you need to empty a full clip. And nearly every room has 2-3 enemies, and another 2-3 around the corner. It takes about 4-5 solid shots and you’ll keel over. So you need to invest points to get stronger.
I’ve personally found this as a weakness in the games, in that the foundational elements are so poor, that you need to pick a customization from the get-go. Unless you want to ignore more than half of the game, you need to invest in hacking above nearly everything else. CASSIE, the system that lets you detect human reactions in conversations, is the only way to get through some areas without shooting a gun. Need that. Rebreather so you don’t die in the numerous poisoned alleyways – need that too. Actual power levels to be able to knock out more than 1 enemy per 30 seconds – need that.
It makes it feel more like the old WoW talent trees, where everyone has to take the same talents and the true customization is two or three real choices.
What usually ends up happening is that I judge an encounter and look for alternate routes. Oh, this one needs me to jump 3m? Get that upgrade. I need to hack level 5 terminals? Get that. Punch through a wall? Get that. I am never taking talents because they sound cool, or expand the game. I am taking them because I need them to progress, making them not a choice at all.
Maybe it’s just the timing, but the overall themes of oppression because of differences seems to hit the mark just right. You play as one of the oppressed, working for the oppressors, trying to figure out who is black/white/grey in the whole mess. It generally works, but the limited (almost binary) dialogue choices stiffle any creativity. After having played Tyranny, I miss the opportunity to take a different approach to a conversation.
Sure, some people may live or die, but I end up at the same spot regardless.
The writing is good, the voice acting solid, the themes are relateable. That part is fine. It’s the investment in choice and character that’s missing.
It’s a thousand times better than before, but that’s like comparing a generic brand of cracker to a brand name. It’s not a hard hurdle to pass.
This part works, and it works well. Enemies see you from farther and come searching in smart places. They look down more than up, which is logical. It’s entirely possible to sneak through a giant complex of a hundred enemies and never need to touch a single one.
It honestly feels as it the entire game is based on this single premise. How can we get Jensen from A to B, acting as a ghost. It takes thinking and coordination. You can throw a box to distract a guard, turn off cameras, put them to sleep, punch holes in walls to bypass sections… it all works and works well.
And that’s really it, isn’t it? A really good stealth game, with a myriad of tools that serve little to no other purpose than to move the story forward. I find no joy in doing anything but the stealth aspects. After hacking the 10th computer in the same room, why do I need to prove I can do it again? Why do I need to shoot 20 people to open a door to have a talk with someone? Why do I need to sit in a subway loading screen for 2 minutes in order to walk into an apartment for the quest to complete?
For all the work done here, this game is a rather large disappointment. If fixes nearly all of the issues I had with the previous game, but it replicates the stale gameplay even further. The stealth portions are incredible and only Dishonored really comes out above. It’s too bad, since there’s so much potential here…