Preview: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided brings refinement over revolution

Mankind Divided looks like more of a good thing

When you interview a game developer, there are always these kneejerk questions that pop out. They’re the basic bullet points — how many players does it support, will it have DLC, is it coming to Wii U, how is it pushing the new consoles? — they’re often softball questions leading up to the more interesting stuff. And usually devs have an equally kneejerk answer to these types of questions. So it was a bit of a surprise when I caught Eidos Montreal executive game director Jean-Francois Dugas off-guard when asking how a new console gen would make Deus Ex better.

“I have no idea! I’m a designer, I just tell people to do things and they do them,” he joked. Of course he pulled together an answer in the end, describing how having more space on the disc allows for more art, and that the new environments can be more intricate and support many more NPCs. There are obviously engineers at Eidos Montreal looking to take advantage of modern PS4s, Xbox Ones, and PCs, but my read on his response is that tech innovation isn’t the focus. This isn’t the next game that will revolutionize crowd technology or dynamic weather or whatever new buzzwords are hot right now.

In fact, Mankind Divided looks a whole lot like Human Revolution. The demo I was shown at a New York Comic Con Square Enix press event had more complicated environments with more enemies to deal with, but it was also an early build of the game with some rough edges. I wasn’t blown away by the look of it, but I was impressed with the level design. When Jensen climbed to the top of a building I expected dead ends and invisible walls, but he got over to an adjacent building to procure the remnants of a sniper perch. From there he entered his target building through a rooftop window I didn’t even expect to open. Dugas told us that verticality was a big addition to the game’s environments, and he wasn’t kidding.

In more broad strokes, though, Mankind Divided seems like more Deus Ex. Jensen has a bunch of augments, including new ones and returning favorites. The game still bounces between third and first-person views depending on what you’re doing. And it still emphasizes player choice and freedom, with the ability to sneak, negotiate, or attack guns blazing.

Preview: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided brings refinement over revolution

“There are more consequences this time around,” Dugas told us. With Jensen splitting his time between two different factions, there are more opportunities for choices that may help one while hindering the other. There will always be the small choices, like hacking into security systems, killing opponents, non-lethally dispatching them, or simply ghosting your way through the level, and all of those choices will come with rewards and consequences. However, it sounds like Mankind Divided will also have more far-reaching decisions that can impact scenarios much later in the game.

Those who were disappointed with Human Revolution’s boss battles will be happy to know that Mankind Divided supports full non-kill playthroughs if you can pull it off. I always wonder if fans’ insistence on no-kill runs is a limitation for devs, so I asked:

“A challenge,  yes, limitation, no,” Dugas said. “It’s part of the experience, it’s part of the franchise. It is a challenge because it requires a lot of work and testing — especially since the relationship between the stealth and the AI and combat is really intricate. Especially in this case where stealth and non-kill is not exactly the same. A lot of people want to do everything at once, but you could not kill anybody but still go into combat using all the non-lethal stuff. Or you could go full stealth with only cloaks and stuff like that but then kill people. We try to support it all.”

Our demo bounced between all of these different dynamics, with Jensen stealthing his way inside before going loud with guns and augmentations. One ability allowed him to use a burst of forward momentum for a charge attack, or as a way to navigate across scaffolding, almost like the blink move in Dishonored. You could get a sense for how some of his augmentations have value in both stealth and combat. Others were more destructive, like the Typhoon, a returning ability that allows Jensen to jump into a crowd of enemies and unleash a storm of death upon them. I doubt there is an added stealth application to this ability in Mankind Divided, but it looks cool nevertheless.

My main takeaway from this presentation is that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a refinement, not a revolution — and that’s okay. Tossing out everything that made Human Revolution great to take advantage of advancing tech is the troublesome path that made Assassin’s Creed Unity such a disaster. In that sense, I’m content with a careful step forward, instead of a risky leap. Mankind Divided seems like a game you can safely get excited for.