Something Peculiar About Deus Ex Mankind Divided

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I’m pretty far behind on the big games of 2016. I let go of always having to stay on top of the latest thing, so I only started Deus Ex Mankind Divided around the end of September I believe. As I take my time through the game though I’m noticing an odd oversight Eidos Montreal made that some of the reviews don’t mention.

I imagine the reviews don’t mention this because the critics had to run straight through the game’s critical path to get it done in time. For the same reason I don’t have to play all the big games right as they come out I, like most normal consumers, have been able to just mess around in the sole hub area in Mankind Divided. As of this writing after about 15 hours of gameplay I haven’t even started the first mission of the main story.

You could maybe call it a miniature version of “Elder Scrolls Syndrome” where players just end up ignoring the main quest for long stretches of time, but what I’m seeing in Mankind Divided goes beyond that in terms of where Eidos Montreal let me go and when they let me go there. Like a lot of modern open-world games, the entire main hub of Mankind Divided is available to you as soon as you finish the tutorial mission. You can go anywhere your cybernetic upgrades allow you to. A couple pockets might be locked off until later, but the amount of space I can explore this early is pretty overwhelming.

For a lot of other games that’s definitely a design choice — an emphasis on total player freedom, but in Mankind Divided I’m finding places that look like they’re designed for quests that aren’t available yet. The whole hub area is unlocked from the beginning, but only a few side quests (some pretty elaborate) are. This has resulted in my visiting large but empty buildings that look like they’re supposed to play host to gunfights or story events that occur later in the game.

Once I broke into an apartment just because I could get to it, and raided every secret inside. Later, I found a note that started a small quest that involved breaking into that same apartment. I simply went back, opened the front door which I’d unlocked earlier, and the quest automatically completed. I think this might end up happening again for later quests and objectives. In another situation  I broke into an apartment that appears to belong to a main story character, and found a secret computer inside that had nothing on it. I imagine I’m going to go back there at some later point to find what’s on that computer.

Other games like Elder Scrolls have better handled the possibility that players might stumble upon quests and items in a non-traditional order. There are parts in Skyrim where someone might task you with finding something and the game will give you a dialogue option basically saying “Oh this? I already found it.” Mankind Divided doesn’t do this, allowing its quests to break for anyone sufficiently thorough in their exploration. Elder Scrolls and Deus Ex are part of the same family tree of game design, but the latter goes for a slightly more focused and linear structure. Mankind Divided has kind of muddled that.

This hasn’t severely damaged my enjoyment of the game for me though. It’s just revealing a lot of seams in how Eidos Montreal put it together. What exploration and quests are there I’m enjoying immensely. The level design is definitely this game’s strong suit. I like how it’s set up the way games used to be before they overloaded players with information.

Earlier I compared Mankind Divided to open-world games that quickly dump huge amounts of terrain and activities on players like Ubisoft games. Mankind Divided however doesn’t drop a bunch of icons on that map or tell you where all the secrets and quests are. You have to actually go out, investigate the world, and find them, which is what I miss about open-world games.

I’m gonna go off on a bit of a tangent, but when Nintendo revealed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at E3 back in June, I heard some people wondering what was so special about it since it looked incredibly similar to games like The Witcher 3Far Cry, or the upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn. I think the amount of information given to players at the outset is going to be one of the main differences. One of the Zelda series’ most appealing aspects is the sense of mystery within each game. The secret caves or mini games aren’t all marked on the map, and when you find one it doesn’t tell you “one of 50 secret caves found.” You never quite know what’s left in the game which makes it more enticing. Right now we don’t expect Nintendo to divert from that path. That sense of mystery combined with the vast world and gameplay systems we saw in the hours of E3 footage is what has Zelda fans excited about Breath of the WildThe Witcher 3 mitigates this problem to a degree firstly by making all the points of interest question marks and secondly by giving players the option to turn them off, but they still aren’t really designed to be easily found without those map markers.

Maybe the issue is size — that Eidos Montreal can more carefully determine how what’s in Deus Ex is hidden because it’s a smaller and more focused game. I’m not keeping count but it feels like that level of world design is a bit rare when you’re talking about games with top-end production values.

BULLETS:

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