“The promise of a golden age is over!” — Viktor Marchenko
I might be late to the party, but I’m still the life of it- the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo was back in June, and has been one of the more solid ones in recent history, showcasing titles such as Star Wars Battlefront and DOOM. However, for me, the pièce de résistance was easily Edios Montreal’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the sequel to 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolutions. When I completed it last summer, Human Revolutions took the spot as my favourite game of all time. Here was a title that had a very compelling story about the implications of technology, a richly developed world and abundance of choice. Players were free to complete the game in any manner of their choosing without penalty, and the game rewarded players for exploration. These elements together formed a title that was superbly memorable and entertaining. The ending I received for completing Human Revolutions was satisfying, so it did surprise me to learn that there was a direct sequel in development. Set after Human Revolutions, Mankind Divided deals with a world where augmentations have been viewed as harmful, and augmented individuals have been segregated from the remainder of society. Adam Jensen returns as the protagonist, assigned with stopping terrorist attacks and all the while, confront the individuals responsible for guiding the world into its present state from the shadows.
From the E3 gameplay alone, I’m already anticipating Mankind Divided. The developers explain that, as with Human Revolutions, their game can be approached from a multi-path, multi-solution perspective. This allows players to approach a situation in the manner of their choosing without penalty, and also encourages exploration. The footage also shows Mankind Divided as having superb graphics. While the new graphics are a bonus, they also enhance the sense of immersion: clutter in the environment and subtle details, such as the items in a room, really give the sense that Jensen is moving through a ghetto for augmented individuals. Features to gameplay not present in Human Revolutions include improved hacking, and all-new augmentations that allow for new approaches towards a problem. Adam Jensen can now lock onto and stun four individuals using stun darts, knock electronic enemies out of the air with a hand-mounted PEPS, and even fire explosive nanoblades to engage enemies behind cover. Hacking also appears to be given an upgrade; it feels familiar enough, but there are nuances that will make it a more engaging, challenging experience. In showcasing some of these new features, the E3 demonstration does much to build my anticipation for Mankind Divided, which is set for a release somewhere in “early 2016”.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The first bit of gamplay shows that the UI’s been given a complete overhaul. It’s much cleaner and simpler than before, with key augmentations being accessible by shortcuts. There is a trove of information about Mankind Divided: it’s to be set in 2029, two years after Mankind Divided, and apparently, Adam Jensen’s found a new employer: he’s a part of Task Force 29, an Interpol Department that specialises in counterterrorism. However, Jensen does not fully trust them and occasionally leaks information to the Juggernaut Collective.
- We recall that in Human Revolutions, combat was underwhelming in comparison to stealth. The developers state that combat’s been improved, so hopefully, that means firefights will be much more enjoyable. Similar to Crysis, it is now possible to customise weapons on the fly, and here, the developers switch to EMP pistol rounds to quietly disable a security camera.
- Similar to the original Deus Ex, players can now receive conflicting missions and will be forced to make their decisions as to whom to trust. Boss fights will see improvements, which hopefully means that under some cases, there will be opportunities to negotiate with bosses, rather than forcing players to kill them in a straight-up fight. This was one of the few limitations in Human Revolutions, and was somewhat remedied in Director’s Cut, but it will be nice to have the full spectrum of options.
- Several new augmentations were shown in the E3 demo: these are tesla darts that can lock onto up to four targets at once to silently stun them. Because augmentation abilities now figure greatly in the game, the notion of batteries have been dispensed with. Instead, there is a single bar for energy that gradually refills to a certain level, and consumption of certain resources can allow for the battery to recharge fully.
- Improved spatial options are also available, allowing players to rapidly profile their environment for threats, pathways and resources. This tool could be especially useful for full stealth runs, allowing players to immediately figure out where enemies are and plot a path accordingly. However, Edios Montreal also states that a full-on combat approach will be a possibility, as well.
- Remote hacking was one of the coolest new features to be implemented: with it, it’s possible to take control of and override elements from a distance. Successfully hacking something remotely will be intended to unlock shortcuts, allowing for stealth as Jensen bypasses heavily patrolled areas to minimise combat.
- The ICARUS system makes a welcome return, and as with before, can be used to produce a hard landing that stuns everyone within a certain radius. It was one of the most useful augmentations in Human Revolutions, allowing Jensen to drop from heights without fear of death.
- While there’s remote hacking, traditional hacking also makes a much welcome (and necessary) return. The new and improved hacking system sports visual improvements, but also is said to have additional tricks that make hacking more engaging and challenging. In Human Revolutions, hacking alone yielded substantial experience bonuses that made it easier to purchase praxis points for unlocking new augmentations. I wonder what augmentations will be available in Mankind Divided right off the bat, and which ones will need to be unlocked.
- The updated graphics in Mankind Divided look amazing, featuring dynamic lighting, better textures and reflections. Human Revolutions excelled in its gameplay, so when I went through the game, the slightly older graphics were not a concern, but if Mankind Divided is able to match or surpass the story and gameplay of Human Revolution, this is going to be a title that will be remembered. Of course, if the graphics prove too much for my aging GPU, it might be time for an upgrade.
- Most of the enemies featured in the E3 demo were themselves augmented, contrasting the unaugmented guards and soldiers that comprised much of Human Revolution‘s enemies. The presence of augmented enemies means that the possibility for combat diversity will be much greater. Some enemies have exo-skeletons, exotic weapons and unique abilities that is sure to liven up direct engagements. Given that Jensen has upgrades of his own, this could make fights more interesting, and here, the demo shows off the explosive nano-blade, which provides a means of engaging enemies behind cover.
- According to some sources, all of the setpiece events in Mankind Divided will occur dynamically in response to the different decisions and choices that Jensen makes; nothing is scripted. Here, Jensen is using a shield that protects him from all harm for a short period: it was first showcased back during the March reveal trailer.
- If the E3 demo is to be believed, combat will handle like a proper first person shooter now: besides the boss fights, I always felt that the combat rifle and shotgun in Human Revolutions were woefully underpowered, taking entire magazines to down a basic guard.
- Remote turrets also make a return: here, Jensen makes use of an EMP grenade to disable it, before finishing it off with AP rounds from the combat rifle. I never did bother with the augmentation that allowed me to take control of turrets and robots, preferring to either sneak by them or using EMP grenades to stop them.
- Being able to switch up a weapon’s attachments on the fly is going to be an immeasurably useful ability, allowing players to immediately react to different events and threats on the battlefield. Weapons customisation could very well be a large part of the game, enabling players to tailor a weapon towards their combat style, and admittedly, it will be nice to be able to swap between different sights and attachments for the different weapons.
- Edios Montreal has stated that while the events of Human Revolution might not be entirely canon, they are planning to continue expanding this universe. There are no plans to make an MMORPG out of the franchise, but truth be told, that’s for the better. The Deus Ex franchise excelled in giving players choice and a highly immersive story, so an MMO with fetch-quests and mundane side missions could undermine the immersion.
- While I’m ordinarily a somewhat impatient gamer and skip cutscenes, the conversation and social system in Human Revolutions marked the first time I was interested in listening carefully before making a choice. Whenever these conversations occurred, I strove to deliver responses closest to how I would personally react. Such an element contributed to Human Revolution‘s immersion, allowing me to project myself into Adam Jensen’s character, and it looks to make a return in Mankind Divided.
- The HUD in Mankind Divided no longer has a golden-yellow finish, and also dispenses with the MMO-style inventory displays. While the weapon status and health/energy displays are still in their usual sports, the mini-map’s been moved into the upper right hand corner, and the lower left hand corner is now dominated by a display for augmentation shortcuts. It appears that augmentations will replace items as the elements in the game, although one would imagine that collecting things could still be important.
- The amount of detail in the environments is quite stunning, and it’s sections like these that lead me to wonder whether or not my aging rig can still run it. As the demo showcases what would happen should Jensen fail the conversation, much combat ensues. The weapons sound much more powerful, and feel like they could actually cause some damage now. If this is indeed the case, then Mankind Divided will merit at minimum two playthroughs, one each for the combat and stealth.
- This short demo has not given too much of the story away, but in the trailers, several characters make an appearance, including Victor Marchenko and a mysterious augmented youth responsible for a terrorist attack. The story is set in the Czech Republic, and much of the E3 demo is set in a decrepit area reminiscent of the Kowloon Walled City, a lawless settlement in Hong Kong that neither Britain nor China wanted to claim responsibility for. The ghetto showcased in Mankind Divided is composed of shops lining the streets and temporary housing units are stacked on one another, reaching upwards toward the sky to create a very claustrophobic atmosphere similar to that of the Kowloon Walled City.
- Michael McCann will return to compose Mankind Divided‘s music: the trailer already features a fantastic piece that captures the dark, brooding feel of the Human Revolutions universe, and with the game set to come out in early 2016, I’m über-excited about this title’s release. In the meantime, there’s still plenty to do (read “Metro 2033 Redux, Dead Core and Sakura Angels still need to be completed”), so for the present, my initial impressions of Mankind Divided have come to an end.
Because of my overwhelmingly positive experience with Human Revolutions, I am considering pre-ordering Mankind Divided. The decision to pre-order a title does not come lightly, and my typical modus operandi is to wait until a sale before picking up a new title. This way, I have time to determine whether a title is worth my while, and the savings are quite good. However, Mankind Divided appears to be a completely different beast: if the E3 demo is anything to go by, Edios Montreal has shown that Mankind Divided will be the a finely-crafted combination of story, gameplay and visuals. Most titles in the present age excel with two elements at the expense of a third, but Mankind Divided appears to have all three in abundance. These elements mean that the cost of pre-ordering would be offset by a title whose value justifies the launch price: fully exploring this game’s areas and playing through twice (once for stealth and once for combat) could yield some 70 hours of gameplay if the campaign was as long as that of Human Revolutions, a reasonable amount of gametime for a title costing an anticipated 70 CAD. Of course, it’ll be on me to finish my not-impossible Steam backlog before Mankind Divided‘s launch date is announced, before I’ll make a concrete decision.