Five Reasons why the Deus Ex Franchise needs to make a comeback
This sci-fi RPG franchise has been on ice for too long. Here's how it can return to prominence
Sci-fi escapism certainly has its popularity while we’re all self-isolating. Over the last couple of weeks, I played through Deus Ex: Mankind Divided after missing out on it in 2016. After learning how the series was put on ice in 2017 due to disappointing sales, I couldn’t help but feel let-down. Four years on from its release and we haven’t heard much from the once revered franchise. While Deus Ex: The Fall took the crown for the worst of the series, Mankind Divided was a polarising title that boasted excellent design and miserable marketing in equal measure. There’s been no sign of a return to Deus Ex as of 2020, but here are my five reasons why it needs to make a comeback.
5. The series can grow into and progress the Dawn Engine
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was the first Square Enix title to make use of the new Dawn Engine and the results had their ups and downs. While the game ran well with the engine boasting a wide array of graphical effects that added extra detail to the game world, other elements weren’t so impressive. Mankind Divided’s wonky facial expressions and stiff animations ended up looking weaker than Human Revolution’s, a lack of polish that ended up undercutting an already weak story. The physics on display were also extremely stiff and unresponsive, particularly when moving incapacitated enemies. The technical presentation clearly needed some more time with the developers to ensure a consistent performance.
However, with a third entry and additional experience under their belt, the Dawn Engine can be tweaked and improved to form a top-class component to rival the likes of DICE’s Frostbite and Decima from Guerrilla Games. Deus Ex is arguably the best title to progress it forward as its detailed sci-fi world begs to reach its full immersive potential. Of course, this is also contingent on having an efficient development cycle that leaves plenty of time for all stages. Montreal shouldn’t be rushed to get the game out the door next time.
4. There’s potential to create a top-tier alternative to Cyberpunk 2077
What’s the one game everyone is looking forward to right now? Many would say Cyberpunk 2077. With CD Projekt Red’s high reputation and the smashing debut of Keanu Reeves at E3 last year, Cyberpunk 2077 has topped the charts of many anticipation lists and is shaping up to be a massive hit when it releases later this year. Be that as it may, there’s room for more than one AAA sci-fi RPG on the market and Deus Ex is a prime candidate for filling that niche. Riding off of this popularity, while taking some notes from a fellow developer, the Deus Ex franchise can sit alongside Cyberpunk.
Of course, keeping release dates apart and ensuring competition doesn’t get too heated will ensure Deus Ex’s survival. Plus, with its established lore and heavy focus on conspiracy theories and covert manipulation, the franchise can still set itself apart from other futuristic role-playing games. While Cyberpunk’s is looking to deal primarily with body enhancement and the wide range of issues it causes, Deus Ex offers a broader spectrum; bio-terrorism, corporate dominance, heated prejudices and the Illuminati pulling the strings to name a few. These thematic hooks maintain their potential for an engrossing story.
3. Mankind Divided’s dynamic design and gameplay blueprint needs expanding upon
In an age of gouging live-service games and frustrating micro transactions, elements of Mankind Divided’s core spoke to Eidos Montreal’s talents for development. While Human Revolution’s gameplay systems sat below its competitors, the sequel boasted a range of improvements; shooting was far more responsive, stealth and cover grew more precise and Jensen being able to clamber on top of things made the environments more engaging, allowing with more inventive ways to complete missions. In the current generation, only Dishonored 2 and Metal Gear Solid 5 can rival the game when it comes to options.
On top of this, the game world opted for a smaller scale with all sorts of nooks and crannies for explorations. Too many open worlds nowadays push for bigger scale and packing them with unengaging busy work; Mankind Divided was the exception to this rule and it set an example that other developers would do well to follow; focus on quality over quantity. Had Eidos been given the time they needed for further content and polish; the game would have overcome its rotten sales tactics. With a strong gameplay system established in Mankind Divided, the developer can take things to the next level with more augmentations to choose from and refining each facet of gameplay to compete with the biggest franchises in other genres.
2. Follow-up or remake? Eidos Montreal can go in different directions
While Mankind Divided left off on an abrupt and unsatisfying cliff-hanger, there’s no reason why the series can’t make up for it with a more standout plot in the third offering. The prequel series has so far boasted strong voice acting, oodles of intrigue and a compelling protagonist who draws you in, despite his gravelly voice. It’s notable that at the conclusion of Mankind Divided, the Illuminati focused their full attention on Adam who in turn sought to meet the elusive hacker Janus in person, setting the stage for a potential conflict between the three sides. With multiple plot threads hanging, there needs to be a follow-up to Mankind Divided at some point; the series shouldn’t merely fade into obscurity.
Then there’s the possibility of a remake; other contemporaries such as Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy VII Remake have gathered immense anticipation and massive critical acclaim in recent years. Could the seminal Deus Ex be next in line for a modern recreation? It could certainly use one; by consulting with series creator Warren Spector and former developers at Ion Storm, the original title could take a gargantuan leap in both presentation and overall design. Notable elements that could be rebuilt from the ground up include boss battles, which have rarely been the franchise’s strong suite, or reworked levels that incorporate additional augmentations while pulling elements from the newer games. The fans would be overjoyed to see the developer’s affinity for level design applied to one of their favourite games ever released.
1. Dump the unnecessary baggage and return to the franchise’s roots, twenty years on
The biggest reason of all stems from the franchise’s pedigree; the original Deus Ex will turn twenty this year; widely regarded as one of the best games ever made, the time is ripe for Eidos Montreal and Square to return to the series, take on feedback and craft a third title in the prequel trilogy. The fan base is there, Adam Jensen’s voice actor Elias Toufexis is keen to do another one and provided Square keeps away from the rotten business practices and gives the studio plenty of development time, the series can easily reclaim its place among the RPG greats.
What knocked Mankind Divided off the top spot wasn’t the game itself, but the way it was marketed and sold; with the terrible “augment your pre-order” system and infuriating single-use microtransactions for in-game items, Square Enix severely damaged the title’s success and ended up overshadowing the developer’s high efforts. In spite of all the sequel’s improvements, the off-putting nature of these practices caused the latest entry to fall short. The series slipped underground when there’s so much left to see and do with the franchise. Currently Eidos Montreal says that they’re willing to return to the series when they have the manpower and inclination, tentatively raising hopes for what the next entry could deliver.
We could see a firm conclusion to Adam Jensen’s story, build a bridge between him and JC Denton from the original while also offering the most engaging gameplay of the series. With the next generation on the horizon and the rebooted Tomb Raider growing stale after its third entry, there’s no reason why Montreal shouldn’t push to bring the series back once they’re finished with the upcoming Avengers game this year. No gimmicks, no added fluff, just a razor focused single-player RPG that lives up to the original title. That means tossing out breach mode (which judging by the achievement stats, very few people played) and pouring all the development efforts into the main campaign.
What do I want to see in a third entry? Let’s take the dynamic open world and player choice and carry through into the story and gameplay. The game could take some inspiration from Metal Gear Solid 5 and alter locations based on the player’s gameplay style; go in guns blazing and slaughter your foes? Their numbers should be multiplied and more highly armed. Use stealth and vents too often? The enemy can deploy drones to hunt Jensen down. Characters should also respond to these choices with more, possibly even branching off into different story missions. To keep up with the genre and compete with its contemporaries, the third Deus Ex prequel should keep these systems in mind, while also taking advantage of the upcoming next-gen systems. Until then, I’ll be awaiting the return of Adam Jensen with fingers crossed and high hopes that the series can return to prominence.