Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS4
To talk about games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, it would be helpful if we had an established term to contrast with "open world." Open world games like The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 are a dominant force in the RPG/whatever hybrid genre. But then there are games like Dishonored and, yes, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which don't offer giant areas to explore and endless side missions to tackle, but which instead provide texture and depth and intricacy, and which reward repeat playthroughs using different tactics and abilities. Mankind Divided is a "dense world" RPG, and will have you backtracking and exploring areas that over time feel recongizable and familiar, in between excursions to more exotic locations you only visit once.
Mankind Divided takes you through a gripping cyberpunk future in which you progress using stealth, lethal or non-lethal attacks, and your superpowered augment abilities. You'll talk, craft, and customize your character, along with completing story missions and sidequests. Mankind Divided isn't a surprising game and doesn't reinvent the wheel in any particular way, but it does provide players with a detailed world to explore and a narrative full of satisfying twists and turns. If you've liked past games in the Deus Ex franchise (the good ones, anyway), you can be assured this game meets or exceeds what you've come to expect.
The future is a rough place
Mankind Divided is an interesting direction to go for the Deus Ex story. While there have always been dark elements to the future portrayed in the games, this latest title is the darkest yet, with the battle over "augmented rights" forming the center of a story that concerns prejudice, terrorism, and assassinations. Cybernetic enhancement has often been portrayed as a wonderful thing in science fiction, allowing people to achieve the kind of feats dreams are made of. But in Mankind Divided we see a grim and pessimistic world. We see a world rejecting, hating, and fearing augmentation. We see augmented humans suffering as their bodies reject their implants.
Adam Jensen, the game's protagonist, enjoys a full suite of augmented abilities for the game's opening tutorial section, before events conspire to take away most of his enhancements in a way typical of sequels. You'll need to pick and choose what upgrades to prioritize, and your choices will depend on whether you plan to sneak, shoot, or talk your way past obstacles. Stealth is probably the best way to play the game if you're looking for a highly polished experience, as the experience of moving from cover to cover, performing stealth takedowns, and activing abilities to become invisible or silence your footsteps always feels great.
Gunplay is more of a mixed bag, though it's improved over what we saw in Human Revolution. You'll have pistols, rifles, shotguns, and non-lethal weapons at your disposal, most of which can be enhanced through craftable upgrades (such as silencers or scopes) and various ammo types which can be changed on the fly. The actual aiming and firing is fine, for the most part, but lacks the visceral punch of a dedicated shooter title or the pure limb-crippling fun of Fallout's targeting system.
You don't need to kill everyone
It's tough to say if you'll get more out of Deus Ex taking your time and trying to see everything in a single playthrough, searching every drawer and hacking every computer you can find, or if you'd be better off progressing along the main story with occasional diversions, then diving back in after you've beaten the game (an experience that will likely take players in the neighborhood of 30 hours, give or take 10 depending on how often you save and reload). You'll definitely want a chance to try out different augmentations in a second play-through, and every big action set-piece offers tantalizing glimpses of different ways you could have beaten it, if you just had the right abilities or equipment.
My review playthrough was mostly a stealth-focused affair, though like many Deus Ex players over the years it was frequently the case that I tried stealth until things went sour, at which point I either reloaded a quicksave or hastily shot my way out of things. Happily, the game does a good job of providing you with non-lethal alternatives just as effective as your lethal options, and I appreciated the chance to make the moral choice of when to use deadly force without hindering my progression too much.
Mankind Divided offers a complex moral landscape painted in shades of grey, and it was great to see that complexity actually reflected and supported in the gameplay mechanics. For most of the opening third of the game I was facing off against enemies like police officers or members of the Augmented Rights Coalition, and while these foes were happy to kill me if they found me sneaking around, I didn't feel right killing them in return—and I didn't have to.
When I went up against gangsters and terrorists later in the game though...then I finally got a chance to try out the game's sniper rifle.
Many ways to play
Mankind Divided does a good job of providing you with enough augments and equipment options to enable many different loadouts without giving you so many that you feel like you're missing out. It's likely you'll focus on a handful of your favorite powers and weapons in a single playthrough, but the generous XP progression system rewards you for practically everything you do, and you'll find yourself with access to "praxis" points often, which enable you to unlock and upgrade your skills.
Mankind Divided deserves credit for steering clear of the RPG "vendor trash" trope, and its detailed environments actually avoid having countless containers to loot and items to pick up. There's some of that, sure, but this is an RPG where you'll maybe visit a shop a half-dozen times in the entire playthrough to unload a few items clearly labeled as "sellable," and you could in fact ignore the game's few stores entirely and do just fine. Money is rarely a limitation for anything, and you'll be much more concerned with how you're going to fit a sweet new gun into your limited inventory space than saving up for something shiny in the shop.
When you need a break from the traditional story experience of Mankind Divided, the game includes Breach Mode as interesting diversion. Breach Mode is a hyper-stylized, stripped-down take on the Deus Ex experience, offering players a chance to take on the role of a vigilante hacker in the same sci-fi world. Though the look of this side-game is distinct from that of the main experience, the mechanics are mostly the same, only now players need to use their skills to succeed in self-contained levels, employing abilities earned through a kind of collecitble card interface in-between missions.
Breach Mode will have a lot of appeal for players who like indie first-person puzzlers and time trials, and who enjoy repeating levels in search of perfection and high scores. For many, Breach Mode will be something they barely touch as part of the bigger, "real" Mankind Divided experience, but those who find they like it will be getting a fun stylistic side-game along with the high-quality RPG/shooter they were expecting.
Technically stable, graphically impressive
My experience not too long ago with the work-in-progress PC version of Deus Ex left me with concerns about the game's stability, but happily I experienced no bugs or crashes during my extended playthough with the review code, which will itself be updated before the game's launch. There are telltale signs of this game being built for consoles and ported to PC that will annoy some dedicated PC fans
(please don't make me click buttons on a virtual computer keyboard with my mouse to enter a password when I'm literally touching a real-world keyboard!) UPDATE: This was fixed in the final launch code for the game. Thanks!), but nothing serious, or even really worth grumbling about.
If PC players can accept these few nods to console players, they'll be rewarded in turn with one of the finest-looking graphical experiences yet released, period. The environments in Mankind Divided are overflowing with detail, and around every corner you'll be slapped in the face with lighting effects, reflections, and transparency tricks that will make you gasp. It might make your computer gasp a little too, and while the game's system requirements aren't backbreaking, you'll need high-level hardware to crank up the visual tricks. I played the game for the most part on an Acer Predator system with a 980m graphics card in it, and averaged around 50 FPS with all the settings maxed out.