What is DD?
DD is an article in which I write my opinion about a game from a designer perspective, discussing it’s design and shedding lights on some design decisions “DDs”.
Since it’s release in 2016, I’ve wanted to play Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but I didn’t have the chance. Lately, it’s been available for PlayStation plus subscribers and I thought it was about time to give it a try. I finished the game, both main and most of the side missions. I didn’t really intend to write about the game, but having seen the reaction of the gaming community for CD PROJEKT RED’s decision to go with a first person perspective in Cyberpunk 2077, I decided I should write about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided as it took the same approach.
Please note this is not a review for the game, I just thought about the game and wanted to share my opinion about it’s design. I’m also no expert, so this is mainly done for discussions and share knowledge and opinion. I’m open to criticism.
First person perspective:
The first design decision I am going to discuss is the first person perspective and why I think it worked in Deus Ex. Firstly, Deus Ex is a known franchise since the beginning of the 2000s. Since then, the game has been using a first-person perspective, so it’s no surprise Deus Ex: Mankind Divided decided to go with the same approach. Bear in mind Mankind Divided is using the same approach that was first introduced in Deus Ex: Human Revolution in 2011. What I mean by the Human Revolution approach is introducing some 3rd person perspective elements into the game. This is done to both dialogues and in-cover mode.
Games usually use either first person or third person perspective, based on type of game, type of experience that the designer wants to give to the players, and the designer’s preference. For an example, when making a competitive shooter game, it’s usually done using first person perspective, as it adds more details to shooting when holding down sight, instead of just being a small dot that uses auto aim like in most third person games. On the other hand, designers usually like to implement a third person perspective when it comes to exploring an environment, as it gives you a better field of view to see the environment and how it’s designed. Deus Ex designers understood such a point pretty well that they decided to do both depending on what you’re doing in the game.
Why I think the first person perspective is better for Deus Ex is that you’re playing with an Aug -A person who has augmentations-, so you needed to see the world from the character’s own eyes, to see how he sees the world using his augmentations. This makes the game a little more realistic and adds more to the gameplay mechanics. As you can see enemies in the map in HUD, make upgrades to the map, and even see through walls. This only makes since as that is what the protagonist sees.
Eidos Montreal has been flexible though, as they introduced the 3rd person perspective when the character is talking to someone. This is an appealing decision as you see the protagonist more often, and helps understanding how he feels and understanding his intentions. It is also confirmed Cyberpunk 2077 will take the same approach when it comes to cutscenes.
The in-cover mode also uses a 3rd person perspective in which I think is an interesting decision. We’ve seen some games that implement a cover system while being in first person, although this is not the best decision when you’re developing a stealth game. The decision to go 3rd person helps you to be aware of the environment around you, helping those who are taking the stealth approach to know when to move and change cover, and when to tranquilize/stun enemies. They could’ve went with a first person perspective cover mode like Titanfall or Call Of Duty, but it would’ve ruined the stealth element, and would limit how you could move around the environment.
That’s why after I heard about Cyberpunk 2077, I understood why they went with the first person perspective decision. Now let’s move to the next point.
Two ways to play : Stealth Vs Action
One of the best things about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is that it doesn’t force you to play in a one way. You have the freedom to chose which approach you want, stealth or action. The type of augmentations you unlock, weapons you buy and dialogue decisions shape how you’re approaching the game.
This sounds great on paper, but in my opinion the game lacked a very important element, which is the reward system.
Don’t get me wrong, the game has a pretty good rewarding system for exploration, but what I mean is the rewards after each mission. My greatest problem with the game is that I generally intended to use the stealth approach. The thing is, in some missions I fucked up, and instead of being punished for this, I just completed the mission by shooting, running, just like if I were using the action approach. I guess this is fine to forgive those who make mistakes, but I feel the game should’ve punished me for not being able to play the right way. I know there is no “right” way as you can approach the game however you want.
One thing though, is that people don’t really prefer to be punished. One of the most known tricks in game design to differentiate between players, is not by punishment, but by rewards. This creates the kind of recognition for those who are playing the game in a perfect way, and at the same time doesn’t ruin the beginners experience.
I think this could’ve been done in Mankind Divided by rewarding those who play the game in a perfect stealth or perfect action approach. This could’ve been something like a timer in which if you play the game in an action approach, you’d finish the level before the timer stops, and then you get some kind of special reward. At the same time, if you’re playing the stealthy way, maybe you help some kind of prisoners, or get special weapons from a weapons locker, just if you don’t kill more than X enemies, in which X is a number. This idea was introduced in the first mission, as it told you to keep low so that you can help a prisoner before they kill him, but sadly it wasn’t introduced later in the game. I don’t really know why didn’t they implement this idea, although I guess it meant adding more details to the story and this would’ve been more time consuming as the game already is big enough. I guess they could’ve went with a scoring system like the one that exists in metal gear franchise though. This would’ve made the game far more interesting and maybe added to it’s replay value.
It’s been a design trend in the last couple of years to introduce an open world, even if it adds nothing to the game. Deus Ex designer didn’t fall in this trap though, and decided to go with what’s called city hub. That was an impressive decision as you can’t even use vehicles, so a larger open world would be useless.
A city hub, is a small city that you can explore freely, and contains shops and side missions. The city hub is designed in a terrific way, giving the city a special atmosphere that relates to the story, and rewards you for exploration. The city is active, you see different NPCs having different activities, and you can even try to interact with them and see how they interact with you, an Aug. You can also buy weapons and items from various shops, and you can even rob some of them. This made the city feel far more alive than other games and helped you to feel immersed in the game’s world. Later in the game your exploration for the city in the first half of the game comes handy specially if you’re approaching the game stealthily. I think this was a brilliant design decision that I really appreciated. I prefer a small city hub that is rich with details rather than an empty open world like MGS V : The phantom pain, but that’s a topic for another time.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a game which has many good design decisions, rewarding you for exploration, introducing a rich city and mixing the traditional 1st person perspective with 3rd person perspective. It lacked a very important rewarding system for missions though, and thus I felt sometimes bored, as there was no feel of achievement.