I wasn’t the biggest fan of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It had peculiar pacing, and some mechanics that felt like they were there “just because”. It didn’t help that my initial playthrough of the game was stealthy and non-lethal. Upon initial release, the game had several moments that necessitated lethal combat, preventing me from actually progressing through the game.
Eventually that changed, allowing me to return to the game and proceed further. I’ll admit, my opinion of the game took a serious turn at that point. I was able to continue my playthrough as a shadowy ghost, leaving only unconscious bodies in my wake, and it felt good. Despite the rough beginning, I warmed up to the game and quite enjoyed it. But there was still something about the game that felt a little off.
I bring this up because those same issues are unfortunately present in Mankind Divided as well. The game opens with a dense, enemy-heavy tutorial level that is mostly linear and gives you almost your entire collection of augmented abilities. Following this is an exceptionally long cutscene and several hours of slowly investigating several disparate plot threads in a sprawling open world.
Saying the pacing is a bit off wouldn’t necessarily be fair. There’s clearly meant to be moments of high pitched tension to punctuate long stretches of film-noir style detective work. Which is fine by me; I actually enjoyed the investigation sections of the game far more than the sections that involved wading through enemies.
The problem is the dichotomy gets off to a rocky starts and never quite hits the balance I feel the developers intended. The game opens by making you feel like a lethal, augmented, weaponized soldier, then strips those abilities away and makes you a beat cop. Again, I liked being a beat cop more, but why start us off with something so jarringly different than the rest of the game?
Compounding the issue further is the imbalance of options presented in the game. Both of the modern Deus Ex games have expounded upon their ability to offer player choice. If you come across an obstacle, there are usually two, three, or even four ways to subvert it. Maybe you use strength and agility to find a way around, talk your way through it using the social system, hack it open, or just shoot your way through. This is really cool, and on the surface something I love about the game.
Except not all options are created equal. Reliving my glory days from Human Revolution, I opted to play stealthy and non-lethal. This worked remarkably well, to the point that I never once felt like I was particularly in danger. Later in the tutorial everything hit the proverbial fan, and I decided to switch it up and go full combat.
At which point I was murdered over and over again until I decided to revert back to stealth. I then successfully completed the level on the first try.
Now obviously stealth is more suited to my tastes than combat, but the imbalance there is jarring to say the least. And it’s an imbalance that shows up again and again throughout the game. Very, very rarely is there a meaningful reason to kill somebody instead of simply knocking them unconscious. The latter is rarely harder than the first, and often easier. Plus, people react to you better if you’re not a murderer.
Hacking is an incredibly critical part of the game. It isn’t terribly difficult, but it requires a lot of your upgrade points and is crucial to access important, if optional, areas. I began the game trying not to hack, but quickly grew frustrated by the number of things I couldn’t do without it. Social interaction, by the same token, allows you to bypass certain sections of the game. That said, they require only a single upgrade point and participation in a mind-numbingly simple mini-game.
Now, readers might get to this point of the review having arrived at the conclusion that I don’t like Mankind Divided. As it happens that would untrue. I actually very much enjoyed playing this game, though I haven’t yet finished it. The game plays best if you’re being a pacifistic, stealthy beat cop, and as already explained, I like being those things.
It’s something I want to stress, but Mankind Divided is by no means a bad game. I had a lot of fun playing it and I would definitely recommend it. But at the same time, it disappoints me. It doesn’t come close to living up to expectations of diverse player choice and multitudinous options. It also doesn’t do much to stray from the previous game mechanically, though the level design is more open and vertical. Many of the potential augments players can access aren’t terribly useful, while others are frankly crucial, leading to a strange sort of imbalance.
Overall, the varied frustrating weaknesses of the game are more from missed potential than anything truly bad about it. Fans of the first game will still definitely enjoy this one. I look forward to finishing it, but I admit, I doubt I’ll revisit Mankind Divided anytime soon.