Deus Ex is currently biding its time as Eidos Montreal work on other projects—likely the Avengers project with Crystal Dynamics. It's reassuring to know that it the series could come back in some form, but will it be a continuation of Jensen's story, or a look at the post-humanist future from a different perspective? Either way, based on past form, there will it will have amazing ceilings, and people talking about the Illuminati in gravelly voices. If we're especially unlucky, it might even have a Greasel in it.
Here are some things we do want to see from the next Deus Ex game.
Travel is an underrated aspect of the Deus Ex fantasy. The conspiracies you expose are so vast you have to fly all over the world to unpick them. In the original Deus Ex you go from Liberty Island to Hong Kong, to Paris. In Human Revolution, in spite of the hubs cut from the game, you still end up visiting Detroit, Shanghai and Singapore. Even though Prague is the most detailed hub Eidos Montreal has produced, Mankind Divided still felt limited for being confined there for most of the game.
It’s a tough ask given the amount of work it takes to produce open areas with the density of interaction that we expect from Deus Ex. Hubs are central to the Deus Ex experience because they blend social and stealth spaces, and they give you the chance to absorb the world at your own pace. I want to really wallow in the dystopia. I don’t even need a mission prompt to infiltrate an apartment block, read emails and nick gang stashes. Like many, I robbed Prague’s amazing bank before the plot went there. Multiple hubs that feel different and exciting should be an essential part of a new Deus Ex.
This might make me a bad Deus Ex fan, but I am sick of vents. When I think about being a cool augmented future spy the idea of crawling around on my hands and knees in a boring grey tube doesn’t feature. There are always going to be some vents, I accept that. They are an essential path for stealthy players looking to slip behind guards. It’s a problem when ‘find a vent’ is a viable solution to every problem. I like vents that give me the chance to get an advantageous position on guards, but often they let you skip entire chunks of a level.
The vent problem is part of a wider issue with Deus Ex sandboxes. The approaches you can take are tightly defined for you. You’re the hacker specialist, or you’re the vent player, or your’re the one who shoots/arm-chisels your way through problems. These approaches are baked into each environment. If you come across a checkpoint, there will be a vent off to the right, a computer console to be hacked somewhere to the left behind a couple of guards. It’s hard to break out of these prescribed routes and be creative. Compare Deus Ex to Dishonored 2, for example, where interactions between guard AI and your special powers can be more inventive and there is skill in finding new ways to exploit the sandbox.
A more coherent conspiracy
What were the stakes in Mankind Divided? I still have no idea, really. The game went hard on the ‘mechanical apartheid’ angle but the plot obsessed over a virus called Orchid and power struggles between various groups trying to get an act passed, or not passed, or something. This is hardly a new problem for Deus Ex, and game plots can take a real hit when content is cut and rearranged during the development process. Nonetheless I’d like more clarity from a new Deus Ex, and more personality. Mankind Divided sorely missed big characters like Sarif and even Pritchard in central roles.
A new hero?
I'm torn on this one. I like Jensen, I really do, and normally I don’t care about gruff beardy dudes and their various dead/captured loved ones. Jensen has a good beard, though. And good jackets. And he uses his retractable carbon fibre radiuses to brutalise his enemies, which is novel. And yes, his “I didn’t ask for this” dilemma became a meme, but it was an interesting hook for the first game.
Mankind Divided did Jensen no favours. He was buffeted along by the plot with little personal involvement and after both this game and The Missing Link, it’s increasingly hard to rejustify rebooting his powers yet again. Plus, while I’m still not tired of his armblades, it feels like we’ve seen every possible permutation of that idea in Mankind Divided. You can heat them up, shoot them, and blow them up with the right upgrades. It's time for some new augmentations.
A new character would probably have to be a another commando/spy sort so you have an excuse to go on sneaking missions, and must have a cool coat—that part is mandatory.
Deus Ex and genre stablemate Dishonored both have reputations for delivering good, chunky, post-launch singleplayer stories in the form of DLC packs. The Missing Link was an excellent addition to Human Revolution, and Andy enjoyed breaking out of prison in A Criminal Past.
When the marketing first started talking about the "Deus Ex Universe", this is the sort of thing I was hoping for: self-contained stories that slot in around the main plot. In fact I would play the heck out of a Hitman style episodic Deus Ex that moved between hubs and facilities, developing a story bit by bit.
The new Deus Ex games imagine a world built on the humble triangle. Buildings, clothing, weapons, even lamps are made up of polygonal arrangements of tiny triangles everywhere, and this should continue. If we end up struggling to design a new protagonist for the Deus Ex series a mobile, heavily augmented triangle will suffice.