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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Unifies the Canon, but at the Cost of Trust


Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Unifies the Canon, but at the Cost of Trust

Choices matter…right?

In just a few days, Square Enix and Eidos will release Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the sequel to the 2011 hit Human Revolution. For a game about uncovering a global conspiracy, there’s appropriately a lot that we still don’t know about the game, but there is one thing that we do know about, and that’s how it picks up from the first game.

Major spoilers for Human Revolution, and minor ones for Mankind Divided ahead.

At the end of Human Revolution, Adam Jensen infiltrated the geo-engineering plant Panchaea, where he discovered ties between the Aug Incident that drove anyone with enhancements into a murderous frenzy and the shadowy Illuminati. He was given four choices to make: blame Taggart’s group, rig a broadcast to place the blame on the Humanity Front so augmentation progress continues, expose the truth, or just simply keep it all under wraps.

Those are all pretty interesting choices to make, and one would think that the sequel would address whichever ending you took. Unfortunately, that’s not the case; while speaking with Game Informer for a feature in their Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare issue (Issue #279), the folks at Eidos revealed that Mankind Divided will keep Adam’s choice from the last game intentionally vague. As narrative director Mary DeMarle puts it, the canon choice is still whatever you personally made, and only three people–the player, Adam, and Eliza Cassan–will know the truth. DeMarle said it was like 9/11: “People will believe what they want to believe. As you play the game, you’ll find that there are differing theories about it.”

Ignoring the fact that of all studios, this one should probably quit comparing their own game to real world events, since that’s clearly not doing them any favors, the game addresses this almost right away. Adam has lost pieces of his memory in the two years between the two games. As for the Aug Incident, well, something has happened to where no matter what he chose, augmented people are still outcasts to normal humans and mistreated. Anyone who believes that it was a cover up is trying their best to expose things, but well…it’s the Illuminati, they have ways to write that person off as a crackpot.

On one hand, it’s easy to see why Eidos took this particular route. They’ve openly admitted that they weren’t 100% sure if they were going to make a sequel for the game until 2013. Mankind Divided’s story can certainly still work with this new “canon” beginning, if it’s handled correctly without feeling like it’s twisting pretzels to ignore what was established. It’s certainly not the first game to do so, especially as one that’s part of a series that jumped to a new console generation. XCOM 2 went with the ending where the titular organization failed hardcore at protecting Earth from aliens, and Infamous Second Son used trophy data to determine the new starting point for the series.

That being said, it is more than a little disappointing that they weren’t able to go all in. Part of the fun of having games with multiple choices is for you to make that decision and see how the events unfold, either in the same game or in a sequel down the line. But that fun is undermined when you learn that none of your decisions really add up to anything and the wishy washy “it’s whatever you want it to be” answer is given. Yeah, Mass Effect 3’s original endings weren’t perfect, but the adjusted endings made sure to acknowledge the choices that you made. Mankind Divided’s approach, to some, may feel like a poor follow up, erasing the meaning and impact of what came before.

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What’s weird about this choice is that it didn’t have to be like this at all. When Dragon Age: Inquisition came out two years ago, BioWare recognized that console players would want to see their choices reflected in the world, given the switch to new consoles, and came up with Dragon Age Keep. Through the website, you could make all sorts of choices that would later be imported into Inquisition, from the relatively small stuff (who killed the Archdemon?) to the very big, major choices (who did you fall in love with?). There was a three year gap between Dragon Age II and Inquisition and BioWare managed to get that done, but Eidos couldn’t set something up during their three years of development and use the “Adam has no memory” beginning for brand new players?

Again, they weren’t entirely sure if they would end up creating a sequel to Human Revolution for quite some time, but why not try to set something up when development on the game began in earnest? That your choices for the first game are more or less now regarded as your own personal head-canon doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence for whatever’s coming after Mankind Divided. If it turns out that the game has multiple endings like last time, there could be a niggling thought in the back of the player’s head that has them going, “so will my choices actually be worth a damn this time?” For some players, this won’t be a particular deal breaker, but others may not agree.

Should Eidos have had a completely branching story that varies depending on which ending you chose? That would probably end up being a complete nightmare of a thing to create, and the game more than likely wouldn’t make its release on Tuesday. But something better than cryptically talking about what a difficult choice it was would’ve been welcome too. This may be a series about conspiracies, but even those need to shed light on things sometimes.

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