During my recent hands-on experience with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I chose to play things by the stealth book: non-lethal takedowns, staying silent and out of sight, and hacking my way past electronic gates. I endeavored to be the perfect ghost, and the game allowed me to make that choice. I completed my mission with resounding success, saving the life of a fellow agent while preserving his cover.
"Did you avoid the sandstorm?" producer Olivier Proulx from developer Eidos Montreal later asked. I’d taken my time sneaking my way through the facility, carefully knocking the enemies I encountered unconscious in order to remain undetected. Upon reaching my destination, a short cutscene revealed the onset of the sandstorm he was talking about.
I'd initially thought the weather event to be unavoidable. It was a key variable highlighted during the pre-mission phase, and it was ultimately beneficial, since it hindered my enemies' escape through the skies. But I was surprised to find out the sandstorm could’ve not happened at all, had I moved faster.
I asked Proulx if the team feared their efforts to differentiate mission outcomes would be missed entirely by players. It never occurred to me that the results could’ve played out very differently if the sandstorm hadn’t hit when it did.
"That's usually my initial reaction as producer,” Proulx said. “I'm always thinking, well, we're putting all that effort there, but a lot of players won't see it. I think it's part of the DNA of the franchise, and that's something that the dev team has to accept. I think that's what makes this game so different from others. There are so many little options for players to have agency in the game world.”
Proulx pointed out that the surge in popularity of online streaming has made fear of players missing out less of a pressing issue for developers.
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"We’re now in the era of Twitch and Let's Play videos,” he said. “I think people will share their experience and keep discovering new things. For us, it's really rewarding when people find out how the different little story elements come through in the game. We're fully embracing it, and that's part of how we plan for the production and budget of the game."
Concessions sometimes must be made, however. Ultimately, Proulx said the goal was to achieve an ending that felt like the result of a combination of choices, not a decision made in the moment.
"We cut things out a lot as we go through the development process,” he said. “That choice-and-consequence aspect of the game, we knew we wanted to invest a lot into it. So all these little moments...are being reflected in the game, and there's some big moments where sometimes, it's a question of life or death for a character. Everything that leads to the ending of the game is much more organic, not ‘push one of your four buttons at the end.’
To help players experience all these possible paths, Mankind Divided will also offer a New Game Plus mode, which carries over all unlocked augmentations. Proulx said that someone rushing through the game and ignoring side missions would be able to finish the main story in 20 to 30 hours, although game time could "easily go past 30 hours." And as a treat for dedicated fans, completing Mankind Divided on Hard difficulty unlocks a mode titled, "I Never Asked For This." In this setting, players will only have one life to get through the game. Progress can be saved along the way, but if the player dies, that save gets deleted.
"It's funny, because when we started, our executive narrative director Mary DeMarle thought about killing Adam,” Proulx says. “That lasted a few minutes, because we felt there was so much more to tell with Adam. He's such an iconic character, and it's difficult to create such a character in their story, how they look, so we felt that we had a great pillar to continue telling Deus Ex stories with. For this [game], we really doubled down on Adam. We gave him more depth. He's a character who's evolving, and he's much more comfortable with what he is.”
Proulx also revealed that the team is looking at "potential narrative updates" post launch, but nothing specific was ready to be announced. It isn't known whether these updates would focus on protagonist Adam Jensen or another facet of the game.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided releases on August 23 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.