How to have the best Deus Ex-perience today

Deus Ex cover art
(Image credit: Ion Storm)

It is accepted internet law that if someone mentions Deus Ex in passing, another person will reinstall it. Despite some clunkiness, it remains one of the strongest examples of the immersive sim over 20 years after its debut. A sprawling spy-fi adventure that offers multiple solutions (intended or otherwise) to almost every problem, and a surprisingly reactive story despite each playthrough taking you through all the same locations.

Its grungy cyberpunk world—deep with urban decay even as mega-corporations rule and security robots patrol the streets—feels as relevant now as it did back in the day, although some of the more paranoid conspiracy theories it presents might feel a little uncomfortable considering recent headlines. On the whole Deus Ex has aged gracefully, despite not being the prettiest of games even when it launched.

While the patched-up version of Deus Ex available on digital storefronts plays relatively well on modern hardware, a fresh play of Deus Ex deserves a more intricate tune-up—or even a complete overhaul.

Install this one

What's the best version of the game?

There are two commonly available versions of Deus Ex that you can pick up today. The GOG and Steam versions are both the patched-up 'Game Of The Year' edition and nearly identical.

The only notable difference is that the GOG version features cloud saves, while the Steam version of the Deus Ex Revision mod (more on that later) uses Steam Workshop hosting for one additional feature.

Either is good, and during sales the game frequently drops to under one dollar.

If you've still got an old CD-bound copy of the game, you'll need to patch the game up to Version 1.112fm. Fortunately the PC Gaming Wiki hosts this old but essential file, along with an assortment of other small fixes. While the patch is a must-have, the other items can be skipped as there are some faster and easier all-in-one options available, which we’ll be covering below. 

First steps

Deus Ex GOTY

(Image credit: Ion Storm)

Before you do anything else:

Being well supported on both major stores, there’s very little to be done in preparing Deus Ex for mods and upgrades.

1. Just run the game once after downloading and installing to make sure that all the system registries are pointing to the right place and that it’s functioning normally.

2. Get modding. While you could dive right in, the UI doesn’t scale too well on modern monitors, and the best resolution it can run at is 1600 x 1200. So, what can you do to augment your Deus Ex experience? 

Well, you've got three options (all of them thankfully easy to install, just download and run), depending on how much you want to change.

Mod option 1: "I Didn’t Ask For This"

Deus Ex modded to include a female JC.

(Image credit: Ion Storm / Xriborg)

1. Deus Ex Community Update: a mostly vanilla touch-up

⭐ Install: Deus Ex Community Update

First up is the Deus Ex Community Update. A modular, easy-to-install package of minor fixes, drawing on the entire modding scene’s knowledge and effort to buff out the last few issues with the game.

In its most basic config, DECE installs some basic engine-level fixes while leaving the game fully intact 'warts and all'. If you want a few more fixes, click the tick-box for Hawkbird’s Deus Ex: Transcended during installation. This will hammer out hundreds of tiny little bugs and oversights in the game, although most of them are minor enough that you may not even see the difference.

The least vanilla option provided here is integration of the recent Lay D Denton Project, as we wrote about here. Through a vast amount of new audio recording, plus script and sound file edits, you can now augment JC's gender and play as a woman. Aside from the addition of a couple minor NPCs, the game otherwise plays exactly the same. 

Mod option 2: "My Vision Is Augmented"

2. GMDX: a more polished dystopia

⭐ Install: GMDX

For those wanting to give Deus Ex a bit of spit n' polish and a quick tune-up, there's GMDX. The title is short for Give Me Deus Ex, referencing the Hard difficulty mode from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and also the mod’s statement of intent. Here's a short version of what it adds: 

  • Two graphical overhaul mods: HDTP and New Vision
  • A variety of gameplay tweaks that still feel authentic.
  • DirectX 9/10 renderers and a more powerful launcher

The graphics mods, paired with a series of map tweaks, add a little more detail and clutter where appropriate while tuning up the lighting. While overall a bit darker and grungier looking, it’s a handsome update.

The suite of mostly-subtle gameplay alterations is too extensive to list here, but you can find a comprehensive rundown on the official GMDX site. The biggest changes are listed in the Game Mechanics pages, including mantling (letting you climb over previously impassable torso-high barriers), a secondary sidearm slot, additional hotkeys for easier inventory management and more.

Enemy AI is also a bit smarter (especially on higher difficulties), and there are some new weapon modifications and ammo types to play around with. Individually it’s nothing dramatic, but it adds up to a fresher, slightly newer-feeling Deus Ex if you’re familiar with the game already. Given that many of the tweaks are quality-of-life improvements or just make the game feel a little more modern, new players should be fine to start out with GMDX.

Mod option 3: "Inventing God"

3. Deus Ex Revision: The most extensive overhaul

⭐ Install: Deus Ex Revision

If you've already had your fill of Deus Ex in its original form but still want to re-experience JC Denton's adventure with fresh eyes, Deus Ex: Revision is what you want, developed by mod crew Caustic Creative. Officially endorsed by the game’s publisher (although who that might be is a point of debate now) and natively published on both GOG and Steam, Revision rebuilds the game from the ground up, pushing the venerable Unreal engine to its limits.

That’s no exaggeration. The developers struggled at some points because they’d added so much detail and scale to some of the city maps that the game started to break. Areas that were previously just a single set piece have been expanded into sprawling, highly explorable levels. For example, look at what they’ve done with Area 51; fully quadrupling the amount of playable space.

Revision is designed with replay value in mind. As well as an enormous list of Steam/GOG achievements, there’s a bundle of optional challenge modes unlocked after a first playthrough, plus gameplay mutators and even alternate rulesets to use. You could play it mostly vanilla and just experience the new maps, but that’d be missing out on half the fun.

There’s an astonishing amount of customizability to Revision. You can do things like:

  • Enable or disable the bespoke new soundtrack
  • Customize which characters use new models
  • Create your own customizable difficulty setting, eg cranking up the number of enemies but lowering damage taken for a more action-packed run...
  • ...or turning it into a tense stealth experience where death comes quickly

The most striking changes come from several alternate rulesets, which you can pick from Settings\Game Options\Gameplay Style in the main menu.

Shifter and Biomod (my personal pick) both introduce random loot, new weapons, alternate fire-modes for guns and plenty more. Biomod also overhauls the augmentation system, making augs only drain power when in active use, rather than when just idling. Lastly, the Human Revolution ruleset tweaks gameplay to be more in line with the recent sequels, merging Skill and Augmentations into a branching skill tree.

While development of Revision has slowed down, it’s still actively supported. A minor update rolled out just this May, and last Christmas saw Revision integrate two more mods: Lay-D Denton (as seen in the Community Update) and Greasel Of The Year, unlocking an acid-spitting, corpse-devouring lizard monster as a playable character after completing the game once. Who needs sunglasses when your very species is augmented?

Some (especially GMDX's most outspoken fans) say that if you’re new to Deus Ex, you shouldn’t go with Revision as your first experience with the game, or at all for that matter. I say that life is short, and you should play whatever version catches your eye most. Just be aware that Revision is a very different experience to playing the original release, even if the story remains unchanged.

Visible War

Major new mods

All done with Denton, but still have a hankering for Deus Ex? While there aren’t an enormous number of new campaigns available for the game, the community seem focused on quality over quantity. Here’s a trio of alternate adventures well worth playing:

2027 - A relatively short new campaign set some time before Deus Ex proper. It clocks in at 3-4 hours but is quite replayable, and more focused on gunplay than the original game, giving you plenty of modern-day firearms to play with. 2027 doesn’t have voice acting or too many gripping plot hooks, but if you’re after a beefy new mission, you could do a lot worse.

Deus Ex: Nihilum - A beefy new adventure set in a slightly different timeline to regular Deus Ex. As tensions heat up in Hong Kong, threatening the city’s partial autonomy, UNATCO agent Mad Ingram is sent in to investigate. Of course conspiracies are afoot, and the (fully voiced) 8-12 hour campaign will take you as far as the White House and Siberia before the credits roll. Make sure to check out the Training and Epilogue missions as well, as they further flesh out the story.

The Nameless Mod - The only Deus Ex mod to be featured in Richard Cobbett’s brilliant Crapshoot column. It is a truly massive mod (easily as long as the original game) set within a far future virtual reality version of the (now defunct) Planet Deus Ex fansite forums. It is every bit as weird, magical and 'cringe' (as the kids say) as you'd imagine that to be, while still being a shockingly good Deus Ex campaign full of complex, involved missions. Originally released over a decade ago, there’s an updated version in the works, with the latest build available via Deus Ex Revision’s Steam Workshop page

Nanotech dos & don'ts

(Image credit: The Nameless Mod)

Deus Ex tips & tricks:

⭐Don't skip the tutorial! As much fun as it is to bumble around Liberty Island like some kind of hapless (if heavily armed) tourist, Deus Ex’s tutorial mission is comprehensive and teaches a lot of finer points. It’s one of the few things unchanged by Deus Ex Revision, too.

Rebind your controls. While Deus Ex came out after mouse-and-keyboard became the default for FPS games, it landed before anyone had really decided on a standardized control layout, and there are some strange defaults in place if you’re used to a modern WASD layout. Depending on preference and which mods you’re running, you may also want to rebind the Right Mouse Button as something other than ‘use’.

Choose a modern renderer. Several of the mods offer multiple renderer options that play nicer with modern hardware. DirectX 9 & 10 are the smartest choices, but the screen-space reflections enabled by default in the more experimental DX11 mode are impressive to see. It's just that thanks to Deus Ex's world being surprisingly shiny by default, you’ll be seeing reflections in almost any surface, including seemingly matte walls.

Lasers solve everything. Aiming guns is painfully slow in Deus Ex. Upgrading your weapon skills helps, but a laser sight bypasses this problem altogether, giving perfect accuracy so long as it’s turned on—make sure to bind the laser hotkey. There are only a handful in the whole game, but one is in a supply bunker on the opening mission, Liberty Island. Grab it and use it on a stealth pistol or (otherwise useless) assault rifle, depending on your playstyle.

Silent takedown? Take the GEP Gun. While it's possible to complete almost all of Deus Ex non-lethally, that will limit you to using just a handful of the game’s clunkier, tougher-to-use weapons. While a couple characters bring it up, you generally won’t be judged too harshly if you kill everyone that points a gun your way. Explosions are fun, so watch out for crates of Boom.

(Image credit: Deus Ex Revision)

Don't worry about seeing everything and opening every door on your first playthrough. Depending on your character build, some routes and strategies might just not be an option, and that’s okay. Just gives you something to look forward to your next time through.

Don't neglect Athletics. If you're playing GMDX or Revision using the BioMod rule-set, the largely useless Swimming skill has been swapped out for the vastly more useful Athletics. It’s a superbly useful stat which enables you to run faster, jump higher and climb stuff more easily, as a proper bionic secret agent should. It’s highly recommended to take a level or two in it, especially in Revision as it'll make navigating the larger environments that much faster and easier.

City hubs are absolutely packed with secret nooks, crannies and sometimes entire side missions. In Hell’s Kitchen, talk to every NPC at least twice, and help out Smuggler when you can. The sewer level here is more worthwhile than you’d think, and provides a taste of things to come later on.

⭐Lastly, have you ever tried playing Deus Ex completely wrong? It's surprisingly rewarding. Almost every mission objective can be solved in less-than-intuitive ways, and while a few quest-centric characters are immortal, a surprising number can die in mysterious exploding crate-related accidents and not trip up the story. For inspiration, check out Sunglasses at Night, an old-but-gold 'anti-walkthrough' by Doug the Eagle. As an amusing aside, he's still at it decades later, doing terrible things to the Ultima series on YouTube

Dominic Tarason
Contributing Writer

The product of a wasted youth, wasted prime and getting into wasted middle age, Dominic Tarason is a freelance writer, occasional indie PR guy and professional techno-hermit seen in many strange corners of the internet and seldom in reality. Based deep in the Welsh hinterlands where no food delivery dares to go, videogames provide a gritty, realistic escape from the idyllic views and fresh country air. If you're looking for something new and potentially very weird to play, feel free to poke him on Twitter. He's almost sociable, most of the time.