In the future, science is the new saviour. It heals those crippled, and grants blind people their sight back. Those who would once have been cast aside to an existence in the margins, shall rise and they will indeed inherit the Earth. But are these people really a blessing, or are they a threat to the rest of the world, to those without enhancements? The may be super human, but they undermine society's stability and security. Cue a modern take on apartheid, with these augmented individuals banished to ghettos. That's the vision of the future that Divided Mankind offers.
Deus Ex is a massive franchise, from the original classic, to its sequel, and then beyond to Eidos Montréal's modern games. These days all things Deus Ex fall under an umbrella that Square-Enix refers to as the Deus Ex: Universe. We were given a glimpse of what's in store in the form of books and comics that will tell stories that play out in parallel with the core games. Support characters will feature in their own stories, and characters who may start out in the expanded universe could find their way into the games. But the Deus Ex: Universe is not simply about expanding the narrative; there will also be a clothing line, and they have even collaborated with a company that manufactures prosthetics, edging us closer to the future Deus Ex promises/forewarns. It may simply be a marketing stunt, but it does give this slice of science fiction stronger foundations when viewed through the lens of today's world.
Mankind Divided takes place a few years after Human Revolution concluded. Revolution ended in a great tragedy, and many people died as a result. Now augmentations are no longer seen as something positive for the future of humanity. Society is divided and augmented humans are seen as second-class citizens and a potential danger to society. Adam Jensen, who returns as the protagonist, is somewhere in between this conflict. He has not been thrown into the ghetto, but he is also looked down upon by ordinary people. He has gradually learned to accept the new man he became in Human Revolution, and he acknowledges his own role in the middle of all the chaos. He wants to catch those behind the attack. We were not given many details about the plot, but like the last game it involves large-scale conspiracies and many difficult moral conundrums. These decisions can potentially have major consequences later in the game, but the way you play will also change people's immediate attitude towards Jensen. The game puts a lot of focus on how your play-style and the choices you make will shape the world and the story.
The powerful narrative of Mankind Divided is not only delivered through the events that take place before your eyes. The underlying universe shines through and adds depth to the atmosphere. In the short time we spent with the game it was obvious that the story is being told through the little details as well as via cutscenes and the like. Every design choice is there to support the story and the universe. News broadcasts and newspapers speak of the state of the world from a wider perspective, and they change according to the events in the game, and how Adam Jensen opts to handle them. The game offers, at least from what we've seen, a strong cast of characters with strong acting to support them. The game oozes high production values. The visual design offers the same atmosphere as its predecessor, but the graphics are clearly a couple of notches higher than those of Human Revolution. Everything has a distinct cyberpunk feel to it, and the dark colour scheme edged with gold makes a welcome return.
The areas you visit aren't huge, but they are dense with content. Each NPC has something to say or a role to play in the environment. Eidos doesn't use a crowd-system to randomly generates pedestrians. It may reduce the sense of scope and scale, but instead it provides the devs with the opportunity to focus on the quality of the interactions you experience. That isn't to say that the areas are small by any means, and they're also more cleverly designed than the ones in Human Revolution. The developers have created many more routes through each environment, and they've given the player the opportunity to use more verticality as well. More routes to choose from means that player freedom, something that has always been core to Deus Ex, improves.
Mankind Divided, like its predecessor, offers different play-styles, mainly cover-based combat and tactical stealth, and you can alternate quickly and efficiently between them. Adam Jensen is easy to control, although mastering the range of options that he offers takes a little time getting used to, but once you've got the hang of things you will feel fully in control and powerful. His augmentations are assigned to the D-pad and are easy to access, which allows for fluid and deliberate actions, essential in this sort of game. We jumped out from hiding into an all-out firefight, and then returned to stealth when the opportunity presented itself. Your play-style also has a moral dimension: will you rescue hostages or pursue a terrorist? Will you bring your weapons and kill people, or use a nonlethal approach to ensure that no-one gets hurt? These choices also have implications on how other characters react to Jensen throughout the game. Eventually you'll get the opportunity to upgrade his abilities, and here you can choose to focus on a particular style of play, but the developers promise that you will never be locked down, and that all paths will always be open to you.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided adds a completely new game mode called Breach, which will not be part of the main game, but is in essence a Deus Ex take on an arcade mode. In Breach you play as a hacker who, using an advanced VR system, attempts to steal important information from a server. This is set in a colourful pixelated virtual world where encryption and antivirus software takes the form of enemies and puzzles. Breach takes the battle system from the main game and presents it in a highly distilled version, making it more about high-score chasing than narrative exploration. There is, however, a story that binds it all together, but it's a mode for those who love the game's combat system, and who want to test their skills against other players. We were not entirely convinced by what we saw, but it's more a piece of bonus content that could potentially appeal to some players and add longevity to the package.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided appears to be the most ambitious and expansive entry in the series to date. The production values are stunning and it offers what looks like a strong plot with plenty of interesting characters. The gameplay is largely as we remember it, but it now offers even more options thanks to its enhanced level design. The controls are streamlined and the various combat systems gel together nicely. As a player you're constantly faced with choices, not just in terms of the story, but also in how you handle a situation, or how you can make your way from A to B within the world.
If all goes according to plan we're in for a brilliant yet dark future as Mankind Divided launches in August on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.