Deus Ex: Mankind Divided review

'Deus Ex: Mankind Divided' is a great game, but a muddled political statement

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided delivers on the franchise's classic cocktail of open-ended, action-stealth gameplay.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided delivers on the franchise's classic cocktail of open-ended, action-stealth gameplay.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided delivers on the franchise's classic cocktail of open-ended, action-stealth gameplay.


  • Tense narrative with a strong sense of player agency
  • Slick cyberpunk noir presentation
  • Fun and flexible Action/Stealth RPG


  • Attempts at topicality fall flat

Cyberpunk should be having a moment. The 1980’s sci-fi niche — defined global megacorporations, omnipresent surveillance, rebel hackers, and an increasingly blurred line between man, machine and information — envisioned a dystopia increasingly similar to the world as we know it.

Ion Storm’s original Deus Ex (2000) is both a hugely influential video game and a stellar example of this prescient genre. With a controversial marketing campaign employing charged phrases like “Mechanical Apartheid” and “Aug Lives Matter,” Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the latest entry in the series, seems intent on invoking that history to make a bold entrance. It promised to be more than just an entertaining and well-crafted action RPG — a game that will make you think about real world issues. In the former it unquestionably succeeds; the latter is more complicated.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided excels as an evolution of the franchise. It intelligently moves the series forward, improving upon its predecessor, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, in nearly every way. However, while its attempt to address real world issues is admirable, like Icarus flying too close to the sun — an image used prominently in the game — the game fails in its ambitions to deliver the topical, zeitgeist-defining cyberpunk narrative we deserve.

The aftermath

Mankind Divided is set two years following the events of Human Evolution, which climaxed when nearly all of the world’s cybernetically augmented people were suddenly triggered to go temporarily insane and attack everyone and everything around them. The attacks, colloquially referred to as “the Incident,” have pushed the tension between augmented people (“augs”) and unaugmented people to its breaking point. Prague, where most of Mankind Divided is set, has become a brutal police state, with augs restricted to certain parts of the city and treated as second-class citizens.

Into this mess walks protagonist Adam Jensen. Human Revolution’s gravelly-voiced cyborg protagonist has left his private security job at augment manufacturer Serif Industries, for Interpol, where he’s part of Task Force 29, a special unit dedicated to dealing with the rising tide of augmented terrorists. A mission gone awry in Dubai and a terrorist attack in Prague send Jensen in pursuit of ARC, the Augmented Rights Coalition. However, unresolved questions about the illuminati from the previous game, along with his connections in the underground hackers of the Juggernaut Collective, have given Jensen a healthy skepticism that not all is what it seems.

You, Robot

Mechanically, Mankind Divided plays very similarly to Human Evolution. Most of the action is set in Prague, where Task Force 29 has its secret underground office and Adam lives in a messy little apartment that’s more than a bit reminiscent of Deckard’s digs in Blade Runner. Jensen stalks around the city investigating the inciting terrorist incidents, occasionally flying elsewhere for a one-off story mission. Sidequests litter the city, pulling Jensen into all kinds of misadventures, such as hunting an aug-targeting serial killer, digging into Prague’s criminal underground, and even investigating his own superiors at Interpol.

Mankind Divided improves on one of the Deus Ex’ core tenets, the ability to approach any situation with guns blazing, or by slithering through air ducts and hacking computers (or some combination thereof). More than many of its contemporaries (looking at you, Fallout 4), Mankind Divided does an admirable job of facilitating multiple approaches to working through a given objective. Whether you want to shoot, sneak, hack, or talk your way through a situation, Jensen has upgrades that will expand his options, allowing you to customize your playstyle effectively.

Jensen’s system of cybernetic upgrades is in many ways the perfect framework for this sort of action-RPG character progression. Earning experience (or the occasional item found in the world) gives him Praxis points to spend unlocking or improving his abilities. Except for passive boosts and a couple that use discrete ammo charges, Jensen’s cybernetic abilities draw from the same energy pool. Though his energy recharges, each use drains the battery’s recharge cap a little bit on top of the expenditure, until you use an item to refuel. It creates a tight, elegant economy of action that forces players to use your abilities deliberately.

In addition to his signature skills from Human Revolution, Jensen has a series of powerful new “experimental” augmentations. Uncovered early in the game, these add impressive abilities like wireless hacking, a wrist-mounted ranged electrical shock, or a sleek adaptive armor. These come at the cost of adding instability to Jensen’s system. In order to balance out these new abilities, he has to disable another. It’s a nice additional layer that adds balance, without overly complicating an already-solid system.


The shooting mechanics have been generally tuned up since and fleshed out since Human Revolution, with more combat-focused augs that give Jensen a more robust and effective range of options for violence, including special ammo types to swap on the fly (EMP, armor piercing), and new combat-oriented augs, such as the time-slowing Focus Enhancement, or the powerful Titan armor.

While Jensen has similarly fine-tuned features for enabling stealth as well, playing that way feels less impressive. While Jensen’s sneaking feels solid, many stealth missions suffer from weak enemy AI. Most guards are just a bit too predictable, and seem incapable of searching for you outside of their prescribed patrol routes. Games like Dishonored and Metal Gear Solid V had levels that felt like living entities existing independently of the player, with guards that would adapt and respond to them. Taking the non-lethal path is still challenging and enjoyable, but Mankind Divided never quite shakes that mechanical rigidity of guards that exist for the player’s benefit and are easily outwitted.

Secret agency

Player choice plays a central role in Mankind Divided’s story, as well. Trying to decide whether Jensen trusts his superiors at Interpol or instead confides in a contact for aug-activist group the Juggernaut Collective creates a general tension that shapes your decision-making throughout the game. In a few key junctures, he’s forced to make tough either/or choices where neither is clearly a “better” option.

Prague has a pleasing density of people, places, and activities that feels organic and lived-in. Much like in the Fallout series, there is a lot of fascinating incidental storytelling to be found in hacking strangers’ email and other out-of-the-way places. The narrative substrate this creates goes a long way to making the world feel like more than just a series of levels designed for the player. The game is decently long, but not so overwhelming that playing through again on New Game Plus to see how different choices play out is an unreasonable proposition.


At the same time, Mankind Divided is emblematic of a general tension in contemporary AAA games: The desire to produce entertainment that appears politically engaged, but does not take a stance that might not sit right with some fans. In the struggle to be taken seriously as works of culture, games have been pursuing meatier, more complicated and topical themes. However, as corporate products aiming for mass appeal, they seem held back by a timidity about offending.

It promised to be more than just an entertaining and well-crafted action RPG…

By co-opting the language of real world racial oppression as a shorthand to turn augs into an oppressed underclass, developer Eidos Montreal has made Mankind Divided a story about racism on some level. Race is something people are born with, however, and the game seems to ignore the socio-economic reality of who would be able to afford cybernetic enhancements. One of the merchants in game sometimes greets Jensen with “Do you have any credits? Usually you people with the robot arms and legs don’t have credits.” While internally consistent, the comparison lacks the nuance of seminal cyberpunk stories, such as the 1995 anime film, Ghost in the Shell, which also deal with the ethical and social implications of human augmentation.

When asked by Polygon about whether the player should feel sympathetic to the oppressed augs, or if other people were right to be so wary, given the circumstances, executive art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête said: “We never say in the game if we’re on one side of the debate or another. If you think they deserve it, that’s perfect. If you don’t think they deserve it, that’s perfect.” Art requires a point of view, though. Leaving choices in the game open to interpretation is not the same as using important and topical issues to draw people in, then refusing to take a stance. It’s more reminiscent of the enforced and artificial neutrality of American media on “debates” such as the existence of climate change.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided 0001-Alt

While there seems to be a genuine desire from the developer to address meaningful issues, whatever political message may have existed early on feels uncomfortably muted after going through the development process of a risk-averse AAA publisher. Many gamers rail against the injection of politics into games, which they feel should serve purely as entertainment. Discussing the politics of Mankind Divided, however, is unavoidable. You can’t be both political and apolitical at the same time.

Great game, mediocre art

While its desire to draw parallels with real-world issues lacks teeth, that criticism wouldn’t be worth making if this weren’t an enjoyable game. As an intricate, entertaining, and genre-bending action-stealth RPG, Mankind Divided lives up to the Deus Ex legacy. It may not quite meet its larger narrative ambitions, but it’s still a hell of a good time. 

This game was reviewed on Xbox One with a code provided by the publisher.

Product Review

Something's rotten in Days Gone, and it's not the zombies

Days Gone’s predictable story is littered with repetitive missions, shoddy stealth and gunplay, and needless survival mechanics. It’s riddled with performance issues, like janky animations and consistent framerate drops.

Google Assistant for Android and iOS wants to tell you a story

Just in time for National Tell a Story Day on April 27, Google has added the ability for Google Assistant for iOS and Android to read you a story. So now there's no excuse for not catching up with a good book.

25 awesome indie games you should definitely be playing right now

These days, some of the best video games are made by independent studios. Here are 25 of the best indie games, whether you prefer grueling dungeon crawlers or otherworldly, meditative adventures.
Movies & TV

These are the best movies on Hulu right now (April 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.

Anthem Act 1 features and content delayed, including Cataclysm world event

The features and events from Act 1 in the Anthem road map are taking a backseat as the developers work on the game's direction while bluntly stating that the online shooter is a long way from being the game they want it to be.

15 Nintendo Switch games you should play in handheld mode

The Nintendo Switch's handheld mode is more than a convenient way to play games -- it's also the preferable way for some titles. Here are 15 Nintendo Switch games you should play in handheld mode.

Days Gone will receive free post-launch DLC starting in June

Days Gone launches this week and the developers are already setting the stage for post-launch content. Starting in June with the Survivor mode, Bend Studio will begin releasing weekly free updates that include various challenges.

These are all the games we want to see from Square Enix at E3 2019

Square Enix will once again hold its own press conference for E3 2019. These are the games we want the company to show during the event, including the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake.

These gaming monitors will transport you to another dimension

What are the best gaming monitors you can buy right now? We select five that are all priced under $900 packing premium technologies like G-SYNC and FreeSync, high resolutions, and fast refresh rates.

Jump on your hog and use our guide to fast traveling in Days Gone

Days Gone has a large open world set in the Pacific Northwest, with the main means of travel being Deacon's motorcycle. Fast travel exists, but it's not as simple as it is in some other open world games. Here's what you need to know.

Tips and tricks for beginners entering the postapocalypse in Days Gone

Days Gone has finally arrived on PS4 after multiple days. After more than 35 hours spent in the post-apocalyptic vision of the Pacific Northwest, we've learned a lot. Here are ten tips and tricks to help you get started.

How to raise your trust and earn a good reputation with camps in Days Gone

Days Gone stars a drifter named Deacon St. John in the post-apocalypse. Since he's somewhat of a lone wolf, the people he comes across are leery of him. That's where the Trust system comes into play. Here's what you need to know about it.

Corsair’s Ironclaw, Glaive gaming mice are tuned for performance and comfort

Corsair is adding wireless capabilities to its Ironclaw gaming mouse this year, while the Glaive RGB Pro has been updated for maximum comfort with thoughtful ergonomics. Both mice feature accurate tracking and durable buttons.

These awesome free-to-play games might be even better than the ones you paid for

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially popular League of Legends.