Deus Ex: Mankind Divided - Brutal Backlog

December 7, 2020
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Well, I guess I’m in one of those moods again. About once a year, I crave a good sci-fi game, and because there’s still about three days until Cyberpunk 2077 launches, it looks I’ll have to settle for a different game to fill the neon yellow hole in my soul. The problem is that I’ve already tried all of my futuristic go-tos and I wasn’t able to get into any of them. Star Citizen desperately needs more time in development hell, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare still isn’t great, and Destiny 2 is a lot worse than I remember. I can’t think of anything else that’ll satisfy me, so it looks like it’s time to make a mistake. It’s time to play Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

One Hour In

See, unlike most people, I’m not actually a fan of the Deus Ex games. I’m perpetually fascinated by their settings, especially when I want a good sci-fi game, but without fail I end up hating their gameplay and stories a few hours after I boot them up. Somehow, I have managed to complete most of the games in the franchise, but I also can’t say that it’s ever been an enjoyable process. I always end up powering through them just to see how the world changes because of my actions while playing on the easiest difficulty, and after getting through the first two levels of Mankind Divided, it looks like that’s what I’ll be doing this time around too.

Just like in every Deus Ex game I’ve played, I’m already in love with the game’s backdrop. Most of my time is going to be spent in Prague, which is a fascinating city historically, and it’s proven to be lots of fun to explore. It feels properly alive, and more importantly, it has plenty of the cyberpunk vibe that I’m looking for right now. Between the diversity in buildings, the presence of police and the interesting news snippets scattered all around, it’s a lot more bleak than what I was expecting, but I’m also digging it. I can’t wait to explore the city more, and I’m looking forward to reading more flavour text as I progress throughout the game.

The problem is that I can’t stand the plot or the gunplay. The story isn’t offensively terrible yet, with the focus being more on ordinary humans than the Illuminati, but it’s also incredibly dull to the point where I’ve spent every single cutscene on my phone toying with my Instagram. I’m fairly certain that it’ll end up getting worse as I continue on my journey, but at this point who knows, maybe it will become engaging later on.

BRAND is my favourite clothes company

I have less faith in the gameplay, though. So far, it feels a bit better than in Human Revolution, but the animations look and feel so dated that it’s simply not enjoyable. Guns don’t sway when you run with them, bodies just ragdoll when you land a headshot and none of the weapons have visually satisfying recoil. It’s possible that this was intentional, with me being a cyborg with machine arms and all, but it’s still insanely strange and very lacklustre. 

I’m also very disappointed by the game’s technical performance. My computer can run most newer games on high to very high settings, but for some reason, Mankind Divided needs to be turned down to medium for me to be able to get a stable 60 frames per second. This wouldn’t be that big of a problem if the game actually looked good, but doesn’t in the slightest. For a game that was made four years ago, there’s no reason that it should look this bad and run this terribly.

Six Hours In

I’ve played through a bit more of the game, and my opinions haven’t changed yet. Over the past few hours, the only interesting thing that’s happened is with the story, which managed to turn from “not offensively terrible” to “bordering on moronic”. I’m sure that I think this way largely because I’m not invested in the franchise’s universe, but I can’t understand how anyone can enjoy what’s going on during cutscenes. It’s become the standard Deus Ex story of being about the Illuminati, and there’s been a ton of jargon in each scene. This is really disappointing, too, because the first few hours of the game showed some real promise that’s since been wasted.

On a similar note, I’m starting to become annoyed with the game’s main theme. The game revolves around augmented humans being turned into second-class citizens after the events of Human Revolution, which is clearly supposed to be an allegory for racism. The problem is that it’s too in-your-face for me to be able to take it seriously, just like in Watch Dogs: Legion. You play as an augmented human, for example, and you’re always searched by police whenever you enter a metro station and you’re also insulted by almost every NPC that you come across. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if these were one-off interactions, but they both happen so often that I quickly became numb to them. Maybe that’s the point, but this feels like it’s more lazy writing than intentional repetition.

‘Cause I’m free fallin’

Plus, this allegory doesn’t make any sense when you think about it. Augments are expensive to install, and they make their users insanely powerful, yet for some reason augmented humans are the ones that are being oppressed. Why don’t the augs rise up and kill the non-augs? Why don’t people just not get augments and instead spend their money on other things? What happens to kids from augmented parents — are they treated like second-class citizens too, or how does that work? One could make the argument that the augments are supposed to represent drugs instead of race, but considering that about half of the world is augmented, it doesn’t feel like that’s the case. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but considering that the gameplay is still perpetually boring, I need something to latch onto. 

Twelve Hours In

I’m one or two missions away from beating the game, and I’m honestly relieved. Not because the story became interesting or intense or anything, because it didn’t, but because I’m bored out of my skull. At this point, most problems with the game have turned into annoyances more than anything else, like problems in an overly long homework assignment that needs to be submitted by midnight. 

Don’t do this, by the way, unless you want to have a really bad time.

Between the gameplay, the story and the poor technical quality, the game has become little more than an obligation to play. I don’t hate the game as much as I did when I was just starting out, but I also haven’t had any real fun in hours. The exploration and worldbuilding that I loved when starting out has all but been replaced with quasi-linear missions, the gameplay has continued to be stiff but not offensively terrible, and the story is way too confusing if somewhat well written. To me, Mankind Divided has become forgettable, just like the recent Call of Duty titles or that one Trollhunter game I played a while back.

Final Verdict

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the most okay game I’ve played since Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The game definitely has some technical issues that should’ve been sorted out, and the game’s main theme is dumb as all get-out, but outside of these things it’s hard to say that the overall experience is objectively bad or good. The combat gets the job done, the story is somewhat well-written despite being a bit too jargon-heavy for its own good and the worldbuilding is enjoyable. It manages to somewhat fill the sci-fi itch that few other games do, but considering that the almost certainly fantastic Cyberpunk 2077 is just around the corner, I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone buy the game unless you’re insanely bored.

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Worth playing? MAYBE - if there's nothing better on your shelf.
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.