Almost all of the worldbuilding in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided sucks. I played through the whole game mostly out of spite to see how bad it could get, and taking notes where I found something particularly bad. Don’t get me wrong, though - at its core, the game is fun, and the levels are really well designed. You have a lot of ways to approach any given situation so you can play the game your own way, but you are never locked out from doing something by picking the wrong build. There is always a hidden vent, a level 1 computer, or a bribe you can make that lets you progress through, but each skill you use makes you feel clever for picking it. The combat is...passable. I found myself playing how I would naturally - I killed most mobsters, all the terrorists I could find, but I stopped taking on the guys in Golem city after I promised no more harm, and I didn’t attack the gestapo like police because that felt like a gray area. A silenced weapon makes you a god of death to the point where its better than almost any aug you can buy. With that out of the way, though, I want to get into the real nitty gritty: the worldbuilding.
This costs 50 dollars and holds all of recorded human history. Its sitting on top of modern kindling.
Two of the biggest offenders are newspapers and books. Let’s take a look at the game’s newspapers, scattered in most of the environments: a single page, digital piece on a thin, presumably flexible screen. First of all, in today’s society newspaper are already dying out, and been replaced by their respective websites, available on every single piece of technology available to us. You don’t have a separate computer/tablet/phone/kindle just for looking at news. In addition, the cost of having a thin screen foldable newspaper which is presumably connected to the internet is never going to be more practical for the reporters or the readers. Then you have the digital books - they are single volume tablets which are about 5 pages each in game. In ten years we will have tablets that can contain all books ever written, yet somehow in thirty years, we are back to having five pages? I don’t buy it. I’ll give you some suspension of disbelief here - it would be difficult to write hundreds of pages of backstory fluff, so I get that they aren’t all Moby Dick. But what if they all were Moby Dick? What if instead of having (useless) triangle codes as collectables, the books were the collectables, and each one was a public domain work of Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, and Ray Bradbury? Or just pay for the rights for them! This way you have meaningful collectables that you can go and read up on if you feel so inclined, and a way to tie in themes from better media!
To solve for the newspaper, take a look at the computers - the only thing they are ever used for in this world is email. Instead, give each computer a mini desktop with some kind of browser on various sites that give you miniature information on each person you are hacking. The techies are browsing the latest augs, the mob is looking at porn, and different people are looking at various news sites, with sensational headlines relating to what is going on in the world. Now, instead of having an archaic concept transformed into a relic of the modern day past, you have some real worldbuilding! There could be really interesting micro insights as well, like maybe someone in your taskforce is reading Samizdat, so you start to wonder if they are a conspiracy junkie. Maybe a political figure who is spoken against augs is researching what would be the sweetest ones to buy or on a forum to look up complications to his existing secret augmentations. One thing that I will say about the future that I do like is how secure everything is - everybody locks their computers when they leave. My work has regular meetings about that, and most of us ignore that anyway. Don’t even get me started on pocket secretaries, though.
Look at that stocked bar! I'd better ask what they have, just in case
Next, every interaction feels like the folks at Squeenix looked at two chat bots talking to each other, and filtered that through five languages. Every dialog has an awkward pause as the camera moves to the other character, or as the loading kicks in. Your character almost always responds to his boss with “copy that” in an unironic military tone, even if its something like “hey, let’s grab a drink”. There was one moment where I walked into a bar, went up the bartender for information, and the first thing Adam asks was “what have you got”. Christ, Adam, its a bar. At the very least, you have seen no less than 50 beers while wandering through the city, so you know what the local beer is, and the bartender is standing in front of three racks of clearly labeled hard alcohol! You could substitute this with literally anything that any person who has even set foot in a bar would ask like “any specials tonight?” (to which each different bar could have specials creating a micro economy or unique drinks with different effects), or even a simple “hello”. After a 2 second pause, the bartender responds “only the best”. This writing is atrocious for a game which spends half its time talking to people. Another thing to gripe on, and this is super trivial, but beer was 10 credits, and a shot of anything is 50. Now, you could argue that all the stuff they were selling was top shelf, but even still, a beer at a bar out here (Iowa) is between 3 and 6 bucks, so that shot is between 15 and 30 dollars in the game. A semi automatic pistol is worth 300 credits, which means it’s like 100 dollars. What a war economy they live it.
Also, one drink of anything makes your screen blurry. I guess if you removed your arms and legs and replaced them with machines, you have a lot less blood to soak up the booze, but still, holy shit, I wish I was that kind of lightweight.
It isn’t the worst that I noticed, though, the worst that I noticed was all related to the key story point of a train bombing (don’t worry, this is the first hour of the game, not a big spoiler). A bomb goes off in a train station while Adam is there, and his response is a deadpan, monotone “Let’s get out of here”. I’ve never been in a terrorist attack, a military firefight, a bar fight, a football game, or a game of red rover, but I’m pretty sure there is some adrenaline associated with some of those things. Its a great time to show how gritty our protagonist is by letting out a “shit, we need to move, now!” as he grabs his partner by the arm and they rush through. Or it could be an interesting opportunity to see him spring into action and use his augs to identify potential suspects or survivors. Instead Milquetoast Jensen casually saunters over to what is supposed to be a heart wrenching Call of Duty styled trauma. Later, you get the option to watch TV in your apartment (I think, its been a week since I saw it, but bear with me here) and the main story is the train station bombing, naturally. They mention that they think it was the work of augs, and how uptight everyone is about them after the “Panchaea Incident 2 years ago. This incident was where all augmented people went on a crazy killing spree, leading to the greatest amount of lives taken in a terror attack the world has ever seen.” This isn’t the exact quote, because its near the start of the game and I couldn’t be bothered to find it online, but it is something very similar in that they explain why people are on edge with a callback to the previous game, but then continue on in a gross amount of detail. If something were to happen today, no one on the news would say “it is a similar attack to that of 9/11, the global act of terror 10 years ago today where terrorists flew two planes into the Twin Towers and killed thousands of people in New York”. You just say “Its like 9/11”. I understand that the incident they are referencing was in a previous game, but they give you the option to watch a TWELVE MINUTE VIDEO to catch up on what happened in the last game if you didn’t play it, so they should assume everyone should be caught up to speed, here. It feels insultingly condescending to assume the player wouldn’t remember, and it’s just so sloppy writing that it takes me out of the world to flip off the monitor.
There were a few other incidents that make me throw my hands up in frustration or disbelief. One was where I heard an explosion off in the distance, and all the police began to run. I followed it, not knowing what to find - there was no mission, or indication that something could be happening. After I followed them for a block, they all just kind of...stopped, and wandered about. It would have been a great opportunity for an organic storytelling moment to have happened, and then it just didn’t. This happened again where I was doing a side quest, and was investigating someone’s apartment. They weren’t there, but they had a key to the vaults in the bank. The mission marker went away, so I figured it was just one of many glitches. Or maybe, I could find a secret if I went to the bank and used the card in his vault to retrieve the secret information. In actuality, though, some side quests just fade to black until the next act, and you have to just work them as they come. The worst case of something like this came from a late game mission, where I had to evade a patrol of guards to meet a confidant in secret. As I approached their patrols, ready to hide behind some chest high walls, mark targets, and stealthily infiltrate the building, the game went to a cutscene showing me sneak past the guards as they were distracted by a citizen. In a stealth game, they literally took the control away from me so I could sneak. Its dumbfounding.
Finally, there are the minor complains about the main character himself. The one who always wears his mechanical sunglasses in the dark, and is the only one in the universe to abuse his godlike powers of modern medicine. Every single person with the means can buy a Monster upgrade where they can punch through walls. You can jump fifteen feet high, breathe through gas, control the recoil from guns, silence your footsteps, or turn invisible. So, to a certain extent, I understand all the hating on augs that happens in the game. These are people who can voluntarily turn themselves into the Grim Reaper, while simultaneously belonging to what apparently is the largest mob in the country, and they somehow the ones who are feeling oppressed. For that matter, it surprises me that there isn’t an aug uprising where they are taking to the streets and breaking necks like you are (but without the moral high ground that comes from being part of the super police). Think about all the places and things you do as a player in the game: you hack the security for a paramilitary operation, you spy on the illuminati, you hack into the safes and computers of every member of the international police. On the other hand you kill mobsters that you were able to see through walls with your magic eyeballs, and if they try and shoot you back, your skin turns to diamond or some shit. Nanomachines, son! Any person with any two of your augmentations would be a national security threat, and there are supposedly thousands of these folks in Prague, alone. Back to Adam, though, who in their right mind would hire or trust this man? None of your secrets are safe, and if you betray him, you are instantly dead to an invisible cyborg. No one who knows who he is would ever trust any of their secrets to be on any piece of technology, or any piece of paper, yet so often his bosses try to screw him over in secret. Its asinine.
Also, I went to the red light district and there wasn’t a single tiddy.