As someone who not only considers the original DEUS EX to be a cornerstone of his gaming and storytelling life but also as someone who let his enthusiasm for the potential of a transmedia universe get the better of him and blow up in his face, the news that Square Enix’s DEUS EX franchise and intended transmedia universe is being consigned to the backburner after MANKIND DIVIDED’s disappointing sales is painful; it would seem that DEUS EX is now the latest victim of unrealistic expectations in which anything but total domination is inevitably viewed as a failure.
To ascribe failure to any part of the DEUS EX series is a tragedy; to consider MANKIND DIVIDED one is particularly so: while it feels and is undeniably incomplete, a component to a larger story, it may be the best game (setting aside the visionary original) in the series.
The key to franchise improvement lies not in expansion but in the deepening of world and the tightening of focus: MANKIND DIVIDED takes everything that it’s predecessor, the great though self-consciously epic HUMAN REVOLUTION did right, and, with the exception of missed characters, (mostly) underwhelming new ones, and initially confusing controls, takes the franchise to a whole new level through tighter storytelling (unresolved setups notwithstanding), a more consequential focus on both choice and on stealth, and the effective utilization of the processing power of next-gen systems — from blinding sandstorms in the ruins of a Dubai hotel to back alley crime scene investigation and basement secrets to the raindrops that linger on Jensen’s cybernetic body after the nighttime downpour of a rain-soaked Prague under martial law — to craft an heir worthy of the mantle of its revolutionary namesake.
In a perfect world, we would get not only the final installment of the Jensen trilogy, but a remastered, new version of the original featuring the gameplay advancements of the Jensen iteration and the full power of next gen systems; it’d be spectacular. But, alas, the standards by which we judge success are hopelessly skewed and by putting the cart before the horse in service of grand designs and plans that may never come to fruition, a peerless franchise seems to have reached its end.