The Deus Ex series is one of gaming’s most transformative franchises, often cited alongside such titles as Half-Life as being important for gaming in general and PC gaming in particular.
Though few would guess it from looking at Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the series has had a profound impact on video games.
While Half-Life popularized contemporary notions of first-person shooting and interactive environments, Deus Ex took things a step further by introducing story choice and far-reaching social interaction.
The game also came about because lead designer Warren Spector was bored of all the high fantasy and sci-fi games dominating the industry at the time, and wanted to create a game that he felt could take place in the real world. The jury’s still out on whether humanity will have nano-augmentations by the year 2052, but lord knows that mankind has terrorist organizations and conspiracy theories down pat.
Deus Ex also helped revolutionize gaming by combining several strictly separated genres together. The game aptly threw first-person shooting, stealth gaming, role-playing and adventure gameplay into a single cyberpunk pot, making for a production that’s surprisingly smooth even by modern standards.
Until that point, few devs had the courage to even attempt to throw so many subgenres together, but developer Ion Storm proved that certain disparate gameplay elements can make amazing bedfellows.
Deus Ex’s tale of cyberpunk abilities and worldwide conspiracies caught the gaming world by storm back in 2000, and the series’ legacy seemed cemented. Designer Harvey Smith was given the opportunity to create a sequel: Deus Ex: Invisible War, which launched in 2002.
In sharp contrast to its predecessor, Invisible War was heavily criticized for its sub-par narrative, short length, and myriad of system performance issues. The original game’s message about transhumanist ethics in an ever-changing world was drowned out by these concerns, shuttering the series for about nine years. Plus, the cover art looked like a Backstreet Boy on angel dust. Not good.
It’s a shame that Invisible War didn’t do better, because Deus Ex’s depth of storytelling hadn’t really been reached before. No game had given players such freedom over determining the narrative until that point, and in that way the game was just as revolutionary as Half-Life or Super Mario 64. The game conferred an unprecedented level of agency, made all the cooler by high-powered weaponry and ludicrously beefy cyborgs.
In 2011, though, Deus Ex saw the pendulum swing back into its favor with the release of Human Revolution. This is the title most contemporary gamers are familiar with, as Adam “I Never Asked for This” Jensen sneaked his way around yellowy dystopian cities in pursuit of bad guys and Praxis kits.
The game was rightly praised for returning the Deus Ex series to form, espousing the same focus on stealth, story, and shooting that made the original title so popular. Once again, Deus Ex was back in vogue, and publisher Square Enix was quick to capitalize. Meanwhile, the Internet ran wild with “I never asked for this” and “they cannot stop the future” memes, which are still trending to this day.
If last fall’s release of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is any indication, though, Squre Enix might’ve been a little too quick to capitalize on the franchise’s sudden revival. It’s a pattern that the series saw with Invisible War: a sequel to an amazing title was created but was itself far from amazing.
Mankind Divided suffered a massive slew of bugs and it came up substantially shorter in story length than Human Revolution. Even though Mankind Divided took five years to build, it was built on a smaller scale than Human Revolution and felt skimpier on content.
So, what happened? Judging by the title’s short length and pseudo-cliffhanger ending, Square Enix most likely split a hypothetical Human Revolution 2 into two separate titles. That decision helped spur Mankind Divided’s downfall, and the planned third installment in the Adam Jensen trilogy has been canceled because of it.
Deus Ex is hardly the only major series to suffer from corporate greed, but is perhaps its most tragic victim. It’s hard to believe that the studio that built Mankind Divided has any respect for the amazing world and deep philosophical questions Deus Ex brings to the table. (as an ironic aside, Mankind Divided’s story DLC proved more cohesive and enjoyable than the main game itself).
Deus Ex rose because of its uncommon focus on story and philosophy, and fell because its publishers deigned neither subject worthy of more time and effort. The series now seems to be on an indefinite back burner, especially as Square Enix has allegedly shifted its focus to a Rise of the Tomb Raider sequel.
Even though Deus Ex never asked for this, players owe it to themselves to at least play the original Deus Ex and 2011’s Human Revolution. Both are important pieces of gaming history, even if their larger series has fallen silent.
Oh well. Even if Adam Jensen can’t live on in new games, at least the Internet will keep him never asking for things for the foreseeable future.