In-between my many WoW sessions, I have been working on Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The short version is that it is pretty much Human Revolution with new plot and Augments; if you enjoyed the first game, then you will enjoy this one as well.
But one of the things I have noticed over the course of 30 hours is that… well, it’s easy.
I am playing on the highest difficulty – Give Me Deus Ex – and just breezing my way through, even without Augments. Indeed, I spent half the game with 11+ Augment Points banked just waiting for a situation in which I needed to spontaneously develop wall-punching or remote hacking skills. However, this may be more a systemic issue with stealth games generally.
When we talk about stealth games, what we’re really talking about is extremely simplified, often binary, gameplay. If you are outside the cone of an enemy’s vision, you are hidden. The alarm is either raised or it is not. The enemy is fully active or they are incapacitated. This binary nature even extends to after the enemy is alerted, as almost every stealth game features the conceit that guards eventually completely forget that they watched their compatriots die, and go about their usual patrols.
This is not a criticism of stealth gameplay, per se. There is a good reason why “more realistic” behavior is not often implemented: it is less fun. Ever play a stealth game where the enemies patrolled randomly? It’s an exercise in frustration. Without a pattern to recognize and exploit, incapacitating/avoiding guards either requires RNG (which doesn’t feel good) or just attacking them straight out. And if the guards never reset after the alarm is raised, why wouldn’t the average player not simply reload their last save?
So if you are going to have “stealth mechanics” in your game, you have to make some concessions. This means it is incredibly difficult to introduce varying levels of difficulty with stealth mechanics without running afoul of annoying gameplay.
Still, I do have some suggestions. These mostly pertain to Mankind Divided – and especially at the higher difficulties – but I feel like they can be applied more generally as well.
1) Incapacitated Guards wake up.
Some stealth games have this already, but its lack seems especially egregious in Mankind Divided since you are in the same city for most of the game. Basically, once you knock out the guards, they are unconscious permanently. Since you already get more XP for using nonlethal methods, there really is no reason to not knock them out rather than use lethal methods. Yes, unconscious guards can be awoken if discovered by other guards. But considering how easily guards can be taken out – and no one cares about patrols reporting in – this is an irrelevant concern.
So… have the guards wake up, randomly. Not immediately, mind you, just over a period of a few minutes or so. This will still give you enough time to stroll through the area, but maybe not enough for a thorough searching of every file cabinet. If you want safety in your looting, you will need to kill the guards instead.
2) Nonlethal takedowns are more difficult.
In the last two Deus Ex games, you get the option of lethal and nonlethal takedowns any time you are within melee distance. In truth, there is just one rational option: nonlethal. Not only do you get more XP with nonlethal, but the actual nonlethal action is quiet, whereas the lethal one makes a lot of noise. Considering you can just shoot sleeping guards in the face with a silenced pistol afterwards, there is zero reason to go lethal initially.
How about we just reverse that? Lethal takedowns are quiet, but nonlethal makes some noise as the target struggles. This can extend to tranquilizer dart weapons as well, considering nobody really seems to care about a huge syringe poking out of their leg, even after it was fired out of a sniper rifle 50 yards away. Let them make some noise for the few seconds of consciousness they have remaining. Or, alternatively, make the tranquilizer take a random amount of time to fully go into affect, so that it’s possible they fall unconscious after walking to a less discreet location.
Because, honestly, the situation with the Tranq rifle in Mankind Divided is just silly broken. Headshots will instantly knock out guards, and body shots take a few seconds more. But, really? The delay is actually a boon. I can tag three guards in a row, all in the leg, and by the time the first dude hits the floor, the others start passing out before they have a chance to raise an alarm. That shit would be impossible with a regular sniper rifle, even a silenced one. Speaking of which…
3) Silencers not being silent.
This is one of those universal videogame/movie sacred cows, but silencers on guns don’t actually make them silent. As it turns out, propelling lead out the end of a metal tube by way of igniting gunpowder is still kinda loud. So let’s have those guns still be loud with silencers attached. This will shorten effective engagement range for stealth runs, thereby increasing the chance that a guard could discover you, e.g. making the gameplay a bit more difficult.
4) Guards check in with each other.
There is a level in Mankind Divided that sees you skulking about a research facility with a PA system. While I was taking out guards left and right, I got a little nervous by what I heard. “West wing reporting all clear.” “Brzezinski, please report to docking bay 12.” Did I already take out Brzezinski? Would he be missed?
Then I remembered I was playing a standard stealth game, and none of that stuff matters.
To an extent, having guards checking in (or being sought by other guards) is one of those realistic features that end up making the gameplay feel worse. After all, if you are going to be so actively punished for taking guards out, you may as well remove the ability to take guards out at all. But what if the mechanics were more nuanced than that? What if you could get some kind of guard manifest that lists which ones need to check in, or figure out when they already checked in such that you are free to take them out afterwards? What if their absence is noted and guards are sent to investigate, but they eventually disperse if they don’t find any foul play?
Basically, instead of having each guard be a puzzle individually, perhaps force the player to consider a more holistic approach to rendering a base unconscious.
5) Blood stains.
Just so it doesn’t seem like all these changes make nonlethal useless compared to lethal methods of infiltration, let’s have guards react to blood stains. And, you know, have blood stains result from wetwork, assuming specific methods are not employed. Moving bodies might still be useful, especially for distraction purposes, but it shouldn’t be a Get Out of Jail Free card either.
I will be honest with you here: I’m not even sure any of the above will result in a better gameplay experience. All I do know is that my current experience with stealth games (and Deus Ex in particular) has made all of them not only play the same, but play easily. If I choose the highest difficulty in a stealth game, that difficulty has to be a function of changing stealth mechanics and not just making it easier for me to die once a firefight starts. Because a firefight will never start when I’ve knocked out every guard everywhere with impunity.
No Legion impressions today, as I saved $10 by ordering the expansion from Amazon, who declined to ship it to me on launch day. Also, I technically had Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (DE) for the past week, but only got started playing it recently. Because Legion pre-patch free leveling.
Yeah, some weird-ass irony there.
So far, I have only gotten past the first 2-3 areas of DE and this is basically Human Revolution all over again. Including all the parts that lead me to make the game worse for myself.
For example, the hacking mini-game is back. Which means if you go through the trouble of actually discovering the password for a given computer, there is no reason to actually enter it. Because if you skip the mini-game, you lose out on the 100-200 XP, 100-200 credits, and occasional hacking software freebies that come from taking the scenic route in cracking security.
Why? Why don’t the designers just give you those things for free, if you actually went through the trouble of tracking down the Pocket Secretary with the password on it?
Another example: dropped weapons. Knock out two guards, each drop a shotgun. Pick up first shotgun, it goes into your inventory. Pick up second shotgun, it gets destroyed and you get +4 ammo. This is fine… if it were not the fact that shotguns can be sold to a vendor for like 1200 credits. A vendor that sells Praxis Kits, e.g. talent points, for 10,000 credits apiece. And so my gameplay arc now logically bends towards picking up one weapon type at a time and Fed-Exing it back to the (one) vendor until I can afford to buy all the things.
Hopefully this will stop once I exhaust the Praxis supply, but who knows.
Also, I feel slightly punished for exploring. I got to a new area in Prague, for example, and started exploring for an hour or two. At one point, I made my way through the sewers and into a restricted area with guards and such. After taking care of them, I noticed there were another group of hostiles hanging out in a room, all clustered together. Tightly packed enemies? Jackpot! I rolled a propane tank into the room, shot it, and mopped up the survivors.
As I was rifling through the pockets of the dead, I realized that some of these bodies had names. Names associated with a quest I happened to be on. My unceremonious slaughter did not prevent me from completing the quest, but I began to wonder whether or not I skipped an entire arc of interaction by killing them. Would there have been a conversation? Would they have given me a quest to complete in return for the item I needed? I arrived in their lair via a back route that I didn’t realize I was on; I was just screwing around looting shit in the sewers. I’m starting to think that I shouldn’t actually explore anything unless it happens to be an area for a quest I am actively on.
I am not sure whether the above examples can be considering minor annoyances or major ones. They are kinda major to me, but I’m weird like that. Beyond those though, the game is playing a lot like Human Revolution. If you liked that one, you will probably like this one. Time will tell whether or not the story holds up, or what other shenanigans might go down. What I will say is that whatever time I am not in WoW currently is being spent in Mankind Divided. So there’s that, at least.
Things are shaping up to be an expensive August, games-wise.
Tomorrow August 12th we have No Man’s Sky releasing. I won’t be there on Day 1 for multiple reasons, the primary of which this is one of those games I need to see other people play first. The premise? Super cool. But what about the gameplay itself? I am not especially an Explorer type, so if the moment-to-moment fun isn’t there, I’m going to be disappointed. Or not, having not actually purchased the game yet.
August 23rd is the surprise (to me) release of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Kinda snuck up on me there. As I mentioned last year, this one is a Day 1 purchase, Day 1 Embargo tags be damned. At the time of this writing, DLGamer is offering a preorder for $42, which approaches the point at which it almost doesn’t matter that it’s a preorder. I’m expecting Human Revolution 2.0 and anything more than that will be gravy.
Finally, August 30th is Legion, of course. As I have mentioned in the past, I am buying Legion at some point. Whether that point was going to be halfway through the expansion for half price as I did with Warlords of Draenor, or earlier, I had not decided. Note the past tense there. I have been very impressed with the Audio Dramas (or specifically the transcripts), the Harbinger series, the Illidan thing, and so on. While I understand that those things often bear no resemblance to in-game experiences, it is enough to get me excited just the same. This is the first time since Wrath, really, that I feel like there is a narrative worth exploring here.
Okay, so maybe there are only three games in August I’m looking at. Still, it has been months since I’ve felt the need to buy something Day 1, and now there are three options coming out.
If you have been reading this site for a while, you probably know I have an aversion to paying full retail price for videogames. So much so that I created it as a tag: Day 1 Embargo. Why pay $60 for something when it will be half off (or more) three months from now? It’s not like we don’t have 50+ games in our Steam backlogs anyway, right? Better to avoid the hype and save money.
Oh, hey, what’s this:
In the gibberish language of Twitch, let me say: H Y P E B O Y S.
Adam “I didn’t ask for this” Jensen is back. Michael “holy shit this music is amazing” McCann is back. Out of all the game worlds I have experienced in the last few years, the one presented in Deus Ex: Human Revolution has been the most authentic and immersive. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to state that there is something about Deus Ex in general that presses all the right buttons for me. Cyberpunk morality all day, erryday.
Seriously, have you seen the “movie” trailer for Human Revolution? Still gives me chills.
So, yeah. I shall be preemptively lifting my standard embargo on new games for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, whenever it is that it finally gets released. Because I want to believe. I want to believe so bad it hurts. Hurts like Neuropozyne withdraw.