Deus Ex Mankind Divided vs Dishonored 2 (Part One?)

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I wanted to finish both Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Dishonored 2 before I wrote this post, but I didn’t have nearly enough time before I had to start thinking about 2016 end-of-year recaps. I managed to get through a healthy chunk of Mankind Divided but only part of the first real mission of Dishonored 2 as of this writing. Still, even from that much I can sense some subtle but important differences between the games.

Dishonored 2 and Mankind Divided are worth comparing because they come from the same roots. The level designer for the first Dishonored was the level designer for the original Deus Ex (I don’t know if he also did the sequel). All these games are about letting players solve problems in tightly designed but open-ended levels by choosing from a variety of methods and playing around with a multitude of tools and systems. In Deux Ex it’s cybernetic augmentations, in Dishonored it’s supernatural powers.

After just starting Dishonored 2 the one difference from Mankind Divided I can immediately sense is its level design, even from just seeing basically one and a half zones. Both games have level design that focuses on what video game marketing currently calls “Play Your Way.” It’s probably not the smartest way to sell emergent gameplay and I’ve already seen some people get sick of it but I honestly don’t think we get enough games with “Play Your Way.” Each of these two games does it in a different way though.

To simplify, I’d have to say the environments Mankind Divided more often feel like those of an obvious video game. A big part of that is its cover system and how the levels are designed around that cover system. The zones where you have to sneak around a lot of enemies in Mankind Divided are filled with obvious patterns of cover to accommodate the system through which players slide along and roll between cover. It’s basically the system from Splinter Cell: Conviction, which itself pulls heavily from Gears of War. It’s basically the Gears system of cover-based traversal but focused on avoiding enemies.

Laid on top of that in Mankind Divided are the systems and paths by which players bypass locked doors and other obstacles. I think people pretty quickly pointed out the game seems to be full of massive ventilation shafts, which seem to be the answer to a lot of the problems it presents players. It’s usually either that or hacking something. Stealth in this game feels like the old kind of console game stealth derived from the older Metal Gear games. Watch this guy’s patrol pattern for an opening, slip under the field of view of that camera, crawl under this laser grid, etc. In some ways navigating the level design in Mankind Divided feels like a puzzle game.

That game-like feeling is harder to detect in what little I’ve seen of Dishonored 2. For starters the game doesn’t really have a cover system. Cover still matters when avoiding enemies, but stealth and combat aren’t built around slipping between obvious patterns of cover. There tends to be more open space in the first mission of Dishonored 2 I’ve seen as opposed to the corridors and relatively small “arenas” of Mankind Divided. Overall, there’s just a more organic feeling to Dishonored 2. Like the first game, it feels more similar to the original Deus Ex than new Deus Ex does. The more you play the more you start to notice some clear video game building blocks like chandeliers you can stand on top of, balconies with unlocked windows, window canopies, or tunnels to traverse while possessing a rat, but they’re less obvious than the vents and electronic door locks in Mankind Divided. Both games go to great lengths to create a sense of place in their levels, making each environment tell a story.

After around 30 hours of Mankind Divided though, I still really appreciate all there is in the game to explore. Hacking all those locked doors and finding all those vent shafts to get every upgrade point or piece of hacking software I can find still satisfies my thirst for exploration in video games. The game definitely has flaws that don’t really relate to this post but its core nuts and bolts make it a good game in a very good year for video games.

I might do some kind of part two to this post after I’ve finished both games sometime early next year, but Dishonored 2 very quickly made an impression on me.

BULLETS:

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