Set two years after the events of the critically acclaimed Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided once again puts players in control of augmented badass Adam Jensen in a dark and gritty cyberpunk inspired campaign. As the name Mankind Divided suggests, due to the events of Human Revolution, augmented people (Augs for short) are being ostracized, corralled and discriminated against. Aug sympathizers are pleading for augmented people’s rights, while corrupt politicians run on ani-Aug and discriminatory platforms. Terrorist groups carry out bombings to scare and control the public for their own agenda. It’s a scary time in the Deus Ex world, and the pessimist in all of us may be able to find frightening similarities in the social dissent of Deus Ex to the world today. Right off the bat, an optional opening cinematic catches you up with the Human Revolution storyline, introducing players to important characters and plotlines, something more games ought to do.
There is no series in gaming that nails a cyberpunk setting quite like Deus Ex. Set in the year 2029, Prague as depicted in Mankind Divided is dark and despondent. Corrupt officers walk the streets checking identification and extorting citizens while drones fly above head keeping a watchful eye. Homeless men and women, some suffering from withdrawals, inhabit sidewalks and stairwells while garbage and graffiti line the streets and walls, respectively. The desperation in the air is palpable, and it strengthens Mankind Divided’s narrative themes.
One of Mankind Divided’s biggest technical victories comes during one-on-one conversations and interrogations. Deus Ex has been known for its branching conversation trees, but the way Mankind Divided portrays body language, tone and microexpression is truly groundbreaking and immersive. Characters react accordingly to the state of the conversation. If Jensen is putting the pressure on someone for information, they may get agitated, frightened or angry, and those emotions are conveyed in their body language better than any game this generation, or perhaps ever. That being said, lip synching is atrociously inconsistent and outright laughable at times, which can do a lot to break the immersion.
An optional social augment upgrade enhances conversations further, allowing players to view characters’ heart rate, mood and personality traits while opening up hidden dialogue choices. Interrogations feel nothing like a mini-game like they appear in many other titles, and very often the most tense and engaging part of a mission. These body language ques, and especially the social enhancer augment, help with accessibility as well. Subtitles are small and unreliable, sometimes just not showing up. There was even a mission where the subtitles appeared as a single question mark for a few lines of important dialogue. The white font very often disappears into the background and leaves it very difficult to read properly.
Gameplay wise, Mankind Divided controls like your typical first-person cover based shooter. Stealth is a prominent aspect of the game, and as such can have a negative effect on accessibility. No controller remapping exists outside of a few presets, but as always, UI level remapping on your console is a good (albeit less than ideal) way around the limitations the game itself places on the players. There is an option for aim assist, but it is nowhere near as effective as snap-to or lock-on aiming, and there isn’t a drastic difference whether it is toggled on or off.
Accessibility in moment to moment gameplay changes based off of what augments you unlock and in what order, in the sense that some aspects of the game become easier. This is to be expected in most games with skill trees and unlockable upgrades, but game that feature stealth prominently experience this much more drastically. For example, there are augments that muffles footsteps or toggle temporary invisibility that make staying hidden much easier. If a player chooses to forego stealth and take a much deadlier approach, there are augments that increase player life, slow down time when lining up shots or just increase handling or recoil. Thankfully, augments can be unlocked in any order and upgrades come fairly quickly, but players with accessibility concerns might want to peruse the augment list and plan their choices ahead of time.
That being said, Mankind Divided handles difficulty better than most games of its kind. The lowest difficulty level is called “Give Me A Story,” which is recommended for players who play games for story and not combat. “Give Me A Challenge” and “Give Me Deus Ex” round out the default difficulty levels. After completing the game, “I Never Asked For This” is unlocked, which gives masochists and completionists the ultimate challenge: a perma-death, one save file mode that is gone for good if you die even once.
While the high end difficulty settings offer an interesting challenge, the “Give Me A Story” mode is what is most intriguing. The fact is that many gamers either can’t meet the demands of a specific games gameplay, or just want the story and don’t care about gameplay. It would be a monumental win for accessibility if anything from a “God mode,” spectator mode or “story only” mode, whatever the developer wants to call it, became standard with narrative based games. Eidos Montreal should get a round of applause for being one of the first big name AAA developers to recognize this.
Through it all, Deus Ex still has its issues with accessibility. More font size and color options are a must, while subtitle appearance and voice recognition needs to be drastically improved. For all Mankind Divided faltered on accessibility wise, they almost made up for with innovative difficulty modes and their augment upgrade system, which offers players the freedom to upgrade skills as they see fit, letting them pick the choices they need right away. The biggest blemish is the lack of full button remapping, and the sooner remapping becomes the standard for console games like it is on PC, the better the games industry will be as a whole.
Accessibility aside, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has one of the best narratives this generation, even taking into account how muddled the third act gets. The dozen or so side missions in the game are engaging and exciting, ranging from murder mysteries to bank robberies and political espionage, with some offering key explanations and draw in characters from previous Deus Ex titles.
While Mankind Divided is an excellent stealth-action game with above average accessibility, there is room for improvement, especially in terms of accessibility. The good news is that Eidos Montreal is an extremely capable studio, and the Deus Ex franchise is in great hands. If the next Deus Ex game improves on what makes Mankind Divided special, gamers are in for a real treat.