I’m standing in the secret room behind the office of the Palisade Bank’s CEO, grabbing a particularly damning document that I obtained at great personal risk. It’s how I got here that takes the stable platform of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (my review from five years ago here) and elevates it to something so much better.
Following the events at Panchaea, millions of augmented individuals lost control over their faculties and launched into a rage. This is the canon ending to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The outcome was catastrophic as hundreds of millions of people died and almost as many were injured. That was two years ago. As you can imagine, fear and resentment have taken hold, and the “Mechanical Apartheid” trailer that Eidos and Square Enix released (seen below) becomes far more than just an evocative and controversial tagline.
Seats for “Naturals Only” dot the nicer parts of Prague, while train stations have queues equally segregated. Guards with a look and demeanor of German SS soldiers frequently halt people in the streets, demanding to see their papers. Those without are carted off to “Golem City” — a sort of augmentation internment camp. But it’s worse than that — people have to take expensive Neuropozine to prevent their augments from rejecting, and the poorest population has to resort to crime, extortion, and even violence to get it. People openly spit racial epithets (e.g. “Clank”) and demean the augmented. Hatred and fear threaten to rip the world apart, and behind it all are shadowy puppet masters pulling the strings.
Adam’s had a rough few years. After the events at Pangaea, he was found floating in the water and spent the last two years in an amnesiatic state, recovering at an unspecified base in Alaska. Ready for duty once again, Adam has left Sarif Industries to join Interpol in Prague. After a series of terrorist anti-augment activities, Adam sets off to uncover the truth about the source of the movement, as well as what happened during the two years he can’t remember.
Mankind Divided spells a retooling of a great many aspects of Human Revolution. The new Dawn Engine brings better cover controls, tighter shooting mechanics, cleaner balance between RPG, combat, and stealth, and all on top of the vastly improved visuals. There is a lot of polish going on here, and it’s not just the significant graphical upgrades.
Back to the Palisade Bank, I reflect on what it took to get here. Sure, there’s plenty of air ducts to crawl through, but in Mankind Divided things are not nearly as binary as they were in Human Revolution. In this particular case, I used some social engineering on the bank receptionist who bragged entirely too much. Using that information and some hacking skills, I popped a few locked doors and found my way into a boardroom with a weak wall. Using my strength, I punched through the soft wall and exposed the building infrastructure where I found the aforementioned vents. Climbing down, I stumbled upon heavily fortified vaults with lasers and turrets that were, at this point, impassable with my current augment loadouts. Reversing course, I used the maintenance spaces and ductwork to get to the third floor. Moving a grate, I was face to face with a heavy multifunction printer that I couldn’t move, so I backtracked until I found another vent that dropped me directly into the third-floor hallway.
At this point, I faced long sightlines, patrolling guards, laser fencing grids, and very narrow windows of opportunity for movement. Other than the energy-expensive cloaking augment, this area is 100% based on your skill as an operative, and provides a breath of fresh air. It is also very indicative of the rest of the game — it doesn’t feel quite so much like you are locked into a single path if you chose hacking over strength, or eschewed a particular augment altogether. While all of that sounds like it’s a big fat easy button, the opposite is true. Tighter level design means that while there are many different paths you can take, so it requires more planning and forethought. While you can, with the right augs, play the game run-and-gun, the game slants heavily towards careful study and pinpoint execution.
It’s not all sunshine and roses in this story, though. In my playthrough I ran into more than a few Havok engine-related bugs. While these normally manifest in people doing step-ups on their desk or jittering around in hilarious ways, I did have several instances where somebody jammed their head, arms, or legs through a solid object, preventing me from dragging them out of the path of other wandering guards. In a game built on stealth, that becomes an obvious problem.
The second issue that I encountered wasn’t until it was well past the point to fix it. In the scenario above I carefully knocked out cameras and guards alike to ensure no casualties or alarms. In a different mission I snuck through a crime scene and stole some crucial evidence. When I made my way back to Interpol, everyone was asking me why I murdered all of the police guarding said crime scene. Given that nobody even spotted me, and that I didn’t even knock anyone out, I was a bit mystified. If you are aiming for an entirely non-lethal playthrough, this is a bit problematic. It’s not a dealbreaker, but more of a scuff on immersion and adherence to the selected playstyle.
Thankfully these two issues are completely overshadowed by the sheer volumes of improvements.
If you enjoyed the C.A.S.I.E. (Computer Assisted Social Interaction Enhancer) conversation system that went all-but-unused in Human Revolution, you should enjoy Mankind Divided, as this system gets much more use, if you spent the Praxis for the augments. Without it, the conversations require paying attention to verbal cues and reacting, but with these augments you need only respond to the lights. This augment is a giant easy button, but I was glad to see it used more frequently this time around.
The hacking system has received a bit of an overhaul. Level 1 objects might reveal all of the nodes, firewalls, datastores, and ICE (the enemy AI), but higher level hacks will obscure the path to the objective in a fog of war. Additionally, the higher level hacks now have directional flow indicators that force you to follow a specific path. To mitigate, you have more tools like Overclock to speed up hacks, Reveal to pull back the fog of war, and more. As a result, hacking is more challenging than before, and ultimately more rewarding.
Adam receives a handful of new augments (it’s a story element, so I’ll let you discover it for yourself) that will require you to balance Adam’s power requirements against the familiar ones from Human Revolution. Similarly, you can augment your weapons, but new ammunition types, like EMP shotgun rounds and stun pistol rounds, make each system feel more versatile. Inventory management is still a struggle, but with far more vendors in the game, it’s less of an issue than before.
Speaking of vendors, the city hubs are far larger than Human Revolution, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The game is more vertical than its predecessor, making far better use of Adam’s leg augments and further expanding traversal options. Also, the levels are more alive and richly detailed than before. Familiar things like the “Augmentchoo’s” cereal boxes mix with pop-culture references like a vendor talking about Wierzbowski (a name drop from the movie Aliens) or magazines mentioning the H.A.A.R.P. satellite (from 80’s cult flick Remo Williams) to paint a more complete picture of the future world, but with a dash of humor to offset the otherwise darker tone. Dust motes fill the air in Adam’s apartment, textures are rich and detailed, and the city feels more complete. The contrast between main characters and secondary can sometimes be jarring, but it’s still significantly better than Human Revolution.
There is a crafting engine here, but I didn’t find that I used it very much in my stealth playthrough. Picking up crafting materials in the environment allows you to create consumables like Biocells (replacement for the various foods and candy bars from the first game) and ammunition. A more combat-focused run would likely use more of these resources.
If I had a disappointment, it’s that the game is over faster than I expected, and the story was a little less compelling than Human Revolution. Even tackling all of the side content, I was through my first run in just over a dozen hours. Human Revolution was easily double that number, featuring several massive locations to explore. Mankind Divided spends the bulk of its time in Prague. You’ll leave for a mission, and then come back and explore the same Prague, but at night. While this city hub is significantly bigger, It would have been nice to see more locations for Adam to tackle. Similarly, the Aug “ghetto” Golem City feels more like a ‘level’ than a city. It’s a common problem in the movie genre, and it’s no less true here — following up an origin story is always a difficult proposition.
Perhaps in place of additional content is a mode called Breach. Existing in a VR world, Breach has the player carefully navigating over 75 levels to hack servers and extract data. Their quotas filled, they then have to escape in a designated amount of time. Completing these extractions allows you to pick up Praxis kits and augment your avatar with new skills, some from the main game, and some unique to this mode. Each augment takes up ‘memory’ space for your avatar, so you’ll have to balance your loadout before tackling a new level. Leveling up gives you “firmware updates” that expand your memory capacity.
As you push further into Breach, the rules will change. Sometimes that means armored enemies, other times the countdown starts immediately. There are even boss battles. To combat this, you can collect and use single-use “cheats” to break the server rules. These cheats can increase run speed, multiply damage, grant additional health, and more. Eventually, you’ll uncover “Darknet” files, revealing story-related missions that you can tackle for additional rewards. These are loosely tied to the main story, so I don’t want to give away any details, but they provide a bit more connection to the virtual adventure. Weapon upgrades, crafting, and more await you in Breach. While we may not have asked for this, it’s a very complete and entertaining extension to the main game.
The biggest complaint with Human Revolution was the boss battles. If you spent all of your points on stealth, you probably found yourself outmatched when it came time to take on the big baddies in the game. Mankind Divided combats this with allowing you to talk your way out of nearly every conflict, if you are smart about the interaction. It makes the game feel less ‘segmented’ by boss battles, though the re-use of the Prague hub does little to make use of this improvement.