When I played Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for the first time, I infiltrated a semi-constructed hotel in Dubai in order to rescue a confidential informant. As it turned out, this was the game’s first stage. Last week, Square Enix invited me to yet another preview event so that I spend more time (six hours, to be exact) with the game. Despite a few blackouts that plagued the event space (and San Francisco in general), I was able to discover more of what Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had to offer.
Specifically, I was going to play the game’s first few hours wherein protagonist (and new Interpol agent) Adam Jensen tracked down a new threat while also dealing with the growing conflict between humans and "Augs" (those who have been "augmented" in some way). For those worried about missing out on the story, there's no need to worry. When I started the demo, I had the option to watch an 11- to 12-minute demo that recapped the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Once again I started with the Dubai mission and its tutorials. As with any game that offers stealth-based gameplay, I employed my Metal Gear-esque modus operandi: no alerts and kills, unless I was spotted. For the majority of the level, I sneaked past patrols and knocked out isolated guards. I was once again impressed with the way the developers created a new tutorial experience, which allowed me to perform new moves and skills rather than watch the tutorial as a short clip. Producer Oliver Proulx said that the mechanic took some time to develop:
"This is one that we had a lot of iterations throughout the last year and a half of production where the game was there but all the mechanics weren’t coming through yet...and Patrick [Fortier, the gameplay director] came up with the idea of 'Can we just freeze time a little bit and give the player the option to try things without a consequence?' So I can go through the holograms, do some stealth action, and if you miss it, it’s okay. You can restart without the stress of breaking up your stealth gameplay."
The Investigation Continues
After Dubai came Prague, or "Praha" as it’s known in the game. I watched a custscene that I initially saw at E3 last year: I arrived by train to meet a contact who had more information about the surprise attack by the gold-masked enemies in Dubai. However, the busy station turned chaotic as a series of explosions rocked the area.
A few days passed in the game, and I was ready to control Jensen again. It’s at this point that I realized I had two objectives to push the story forward. As an Interpol operative, I was supposed to investigate the recent explosion and figure out the perpetrators. However, I also wanted to find out more about the Dubai attacks. With that in mind, I stepped out of the apartment in Prague and began my journey.
As always, the main focus of the game was on my augmentations. Considering the overarching conflict between natural and augmented humans, my augmented abilities were considered a threat to everyone around me, but at the same time, my position in law enforcement ensured my safety. The ol’ Cyberboost Proenergy artificial food packs that recharged my augmentation powers in Deus Ex: Human Revolution were replaced this time around by so-called “biocells”.
Normally, I wouldn’t point this out, but the biocells can do more than replenish your power. As I explored Prague, I noticed a few construction lifts on the streets. These lifts would allow me to explore areas that would otherwise be unreachable, but they’re missing a power source. By giving up a biocell, I could activate the lifts and explore off the beaten path to gain experience and rewards. Proulx said that these “hidden” paths are where I had the opportunity to make choices that benefited me or others:
“We talk a lot about choice and consequences, and that goes with the big themes of the game... but these are those small moment-to-moment decisions that you have to make. You find Neuropozyne bottles--they’re pretty difficult to find in the environment--but if you find it, you can go to a shop and sell it for a lot of credits. But you’ll have a lot of options in the environment to help people. [Someone will say,] ‘I need Neuropozyne!’ Should [you] give it? So that’s where [we put] these reward options in front of the player, in the exploration aspect of the game.”
The issue of choice also comes up with augmentations. In addition to all of the abilities from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there’s an extra layer of hidden augmentations that surfaced after the explosion at the train station. I could use these new-found powers, but at a cost: I had to disable one of my old augmentations to activate the new ones. However, if I found the right person, I could install a modification that allowed me to use all of my augmentations without the need to disable any of my powers. That part wasn't mandatory, but it could make my progress easier if I had it installed.
Mankind Divided also came with some crafting mechanics. As I explored each level, I found “crafting parts” that I used to craft mines, additional ammunition for the powerful Typhoon Explosive System, or even biocells to keep recharging battery power. In addition to creating more depth for the game’s role-playing game side, Proulx said that crafting encourages exploration:
“We didn’t want to go and put a complex crafting system with ingredients and things like that. We wanted to keep it pretty simple, with just the crafting parts that you find in the environment. You can build biocells, weapons or a multi-tool, so we wanted it to be flexible, and it’s a great way to encourage exploration in the game. You find this obscure apartment, you get experience points, but you’re going to potentially find crafting materials there. It came together pretty naturally...but we dialed it down to something that makes more sense for our game.”
Sneaking (Or Shooting) Around
In regard to the overall gameplay experience, I approached the Prague level in the same manner as the Dubai stage. There was one mission where I had to meet up with a contact who could repair my augmentations. However, the contact's hideout was surrounded by gang members who were trying to capture him because he owed them money. I was able to sneak in through a small alley, to get past the guards in front of his hideout. I then jumped up to the roofs to enter the building from a second-story window. After taking out the enemies on the second floor, I met up with him to fix my augmentations.
Of course, I could have taken a more aggressive approach in the same situation. Instead of sneaking through the alley, I could have shot the enemy guarding the gate to the area and entered the building guns blazing. Both methods are completely acceptable, and the augmentations, whether they’re meant to be used for lethal or non-lethal purposes, can work in my favor.
“All the mechanics can be used in various ways,” Proulx said. “[With] the nano-blade, obviously you can use it to kill an opponent, but maybe you can use it to shoot a wall and create a disturbance and open up a stealth path.”
After I exhausted my exploration of Prague and completed a few of the main missions, I traveled to Golem City to track down a prominent member of the Augmented Rights Coalition. If there was one thing that I appreciated about the look of Prague and Golem City, it’s that both locations felt different from each other. In the previous game, it seemed that most of the levels looked the same with small variations. The streets of Detroit looked the same as the streets of Hengsha, except that Detroit's roads were slightly wider. Even with a few cosmetic touches, some of the structures in both cities looked similar, as well.
Compare that to Mankind Divided’s levels. Prague was a mix of classical and futuristic architecture. With the exception of an overhead bridge, most of the city was on one level. In contrast, Golem City looked like a shanty town. It was hard to tell where one house ended and the neighboring property began, and these structures were piled on top of each other like a metallic house of cards. People were packed in like sardines, and it looked like a hastily-made city. Still, it was more than enough to stand out from previous levels, and I felt more immersed in it as I tried to find my objective.
The PC Side (And Some VR)
Similar to previous Square Enix titles such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dutch studio Nixxes Software is developing the game for PCs. For the team at Eidos Montreal, the decision to use Nixxes was based on the allocation of Eidos’ available staff as well as Nixxes’ expertise in PC development.
“It’s a question of having all the engineers split on these things. I think Nexxis has the expertise of supporting the hardware and supporting all the configurations. I think they’re really good at what they do,” Proulx said. “So for us, it makes more sense that our engineering group [is] focused on the engine, the toolset, and building the features of the game. [The game] is built in a way where if you have better hardware, you can run at higher frame rates and you can have higher quality assets, and we want to make sure to reward the PC players that have the rig to support it.”
As always, PC players will also get some extra content for the game, specifically a benchmarking tool so they can see how their current build performs with the game. Proulx also mentioned that it will also have a VR benchmark suite. At the preview event in Santa Monica before E3, the developers showcased a tech demo in VR. There wasn’t any gameplay involved, but I could walk around a few levels from the upcoming game with an HTC Vive.
Naturally, this raised some questions as to whether or not Eidos Montreal was looking into VR development for a Deus Ex title, but Proulx wants to wait and see how virtual reality expands in the future.
“As a player, I’m pretty excited about it. As a developer, it offers new possibilities for the future, so it’s great for us to work in an environment where eventually we might be able to work with it,” he said. “It would take a monster of a computer to run [a Deus Ex game in VR]. There are a lot of constraints that are specific to [VR], and the interaction with the game world feels different, so I think it’s still emerging.”
The Final Stretch
There are now five weeks left until the launch of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and the developers are putting the finishing touches on the game. At the moment, the game is currently in the approval process for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, and it’s being tested for compliance and stability. Nixxes has more development time available as it doesn’t have to worry about testing on the consoles. In fact, I was told the the PC build I played at the event was already a few weeks old; Proulx and a small team of developers have been traveling to gaming shows and preview events to show off the game to fans and media.
Nevertheless, my reaction to the game was similar to the Santa Monica event in May. I was still satisfied that I could play an entire level without setting off an alarm and without the need to kill a single soldier. I didn’t get to use the new augmentations as much, but they should be useful down the road in the later and tougher missions. Crafting parts were a welcoming addition, and I know for a fact that it’s going to make me search every nook and cranny in the game.
Even though the event I attended ended at 10pm, I didn’t want to leave. For a few hours, I was enamored with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I tried to explore as much of the level as possible and challenged myself to sneak past enemies to reach my objective. It was an enjoyable experience for a brief six hours;.at this point, five weeks seems too long of a wait.