Game Overdose: 4 Missteps of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Howdy all, I was recently semi-commissioned to do an article but the company in question pulled out before it got published, as such I’ve instead decided to share it with you. Yes, it’s another Deus Ex Human revolution one, but it’s far more in-depth than my last one. This is not a review, it’s a close analysis, and while I’ve tried to keep plot points out of the equation… well, there might be some semi-spoilers, so you’ve been warned!
Five missteps with Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Put down your torches and pitchforks ladies and gentlemen, I am not saying that Deus Ex: HR is a bad game. I loved it, genuinely, I thought the writing was superb and the gameplay immersive, I enjoyed exploring the game world and loved the level of detail in it. However, as any true fan should be able to realise, nothing is perfect. So here are a few of the slight imperfections I perceived.
1) XP for everything
Probably the main issue I had with the gameplay and the levelling system was the manner in which you gained the necessary currency to upgrade Jensen. In the original DX you were rewarded XP for the completion of missions, with bonuses earned by achieving certain optional objectives, like not being spotted.
In DX:HR XP is still earned in this way, but they also included xp for things like taking down an enemy, hacking a door, going through a certain vent and certain other “individual” bits, and even greater rewards for non-violent takedowns, capturing certain nodes in hacking etc. This essentially means that playing a certain way will net your more experience, and as experience generally increases the capacity for what you can do (and often ironically increasing your ability to earn experience) it tends to mean you’ll weight your play style towards that. So even though I might have had a door code, I’d probably hack that door anyway to get the experience. I could just sneak through an area, but if I go back and take-down everyone non-violently I’ll get even more XP.
It made Jensen act slightly non-sensically, and sure you could ignore the XP and just play as you want, but the fact that the game actively encourages a certain style of play is slightly disheartening in a game that’s meant to encourage freedom of choice.
2) Path Choice
As a continuation of the above… Did you know you can shoot down doors? Not just blow them up with a grenade or exploding rounds, you can actually just empty a clip into a door and it will probably crumble. Same with breakable walls. Except you probably wouldn’t choose that option because hacking gains you xp, and bullets are a finite resource.
More importantly, in the original Deus Ex you had to expend so many resources to lockpick a door (or the micro-wave emitter equivalent for electrical objects). While staring at a progress bar is the highest definition of “boring” it did mean one thing: whenever you encountered an obstacle, you often had to weigh the cost and benefit for getting around it. ‘I’ve only got one lockpick, but a grenade might alert people that I’m here.’
Because hacking is free and energy regenerates, there’s no sense in wasting finite resources like grenades and bullets when you can punch down walls and hack doors.
While I’m not saying I would have liked to see hacking “cost” something, it would have been better if it was more than just an arbritrary “you need hacking level 3 to defeat security level 3 door”.
Regenerating energy had the same issue as regenerating health has in most games. You do something that costs energy and then you sit on your ass until you can do it again. It can be upgraded but even then it’s 20 seconds before a complete refill, and yes there’s nutrient-bars that give an instant boost but they only one that can be purchased is the huge fat one that takes up loads of inventory space, all the others must be found.
Ironically as well, takedowns occupied the same role as lockpicking did in the previous games. A button press, something that requires no player input and uses up a resource, the only difference being that the energy will eventually regenerate.
As much as I’m loath to say it something like a QTE would have been welcomed here, with various levels of success resulting in better effects, maybe even no energy loss? Anything to not take the control away from the player.
Couple this with the XP gained from taking certain paths and defeating certain obstacles a certain way, getting around tended to mean completing the obstacle one way, and then going back to collect all the XP from doing it the other ways.
If you only received experience at the end of a mission, and only got bonuses for things like not being spotted etc. Then the game would have had a lot more freedom in choice.
3) Praxis points and Augmentations.
Again, in the original DX, there were 2 parallel systems of Augments and Skills. Augments gave you “super-powers” and were upgraded by found or rewarded objects in the game, enforcing explorations. Skills were purchased with experience points. Conversely, both systems are combined in DX:HR, which mostly isn’t a problem. However, Praxis points are rewarded every time you get 5000xp or find/buy a praxis kit, and these are used to directly buy abilities.
There’s several problems with this system…
Firstly, by using Praxis points you’re severely limited the ability to create a “worth” to certain abilities. Everything costs 2 Praxis to unlock and 1 to
upgrade (with the exception of those already unlocked or 2 hacking skills). If you were to apply this system to the Original DX it would mean that the cost to upgrade your swimming skill (highly situational) would be the same as to upgrade you primary weapon skill, infinitely more useful. They did semi-rectify this by placing the most useful augments further along a skill tree, but again it limited what Jensen could be. Would it have been such a hassle to make everything cost so much XP (rather than praxis) and make found praxis kits give you a 1k, 2k or even 5k boost to your XP pool? It’d still make thematic sense and allow for a more flexible system.
Secondly, and related to my Pathing point above; some of the fun of the original DX was that sometimes JC just couldn’t do something. He didn’t have the necessary skills to fire a rocket launcher or to lockpick a door (due to finite resources). Jensen conversely tends to have the ability to do nearly everything (with the exception of the arbitrary limit placed on hacking), it’s only how well he can benefit from it that affects it. So all Jensens can get around stealthy, but only those with the better stealth augments will be able to milk all the XP out of the guards. But the main difference is that in the original DX it didn’t matter, so long as you got to the end you’d benefit more or less the same amount as the guy that could defeat that obstacle. Try that in HR would and you’d miss out on a big stack of experience.
4) Story Focus
There’s really 2 Jensens that you play as. Long-coat Jensen, who walks around doing detectivey things, interacting with with characters etc, and Combat-gear Jensen, who spends his time trolling guards and working towards a specific goal, basically a cyborg Solid Snake. Now I enjoyed the Combat-Jensen, but the bits of the game that really hooked me were the Long-coat bits. Character development, finding out about the world, Jensen’s past, his implications in everything, it had this beautiful subtlety. Basically walking around like cyber-armed Batman.
But no, the game had other plans. It forced me into combat bits which grew tedious and tired, and I had to entertain myself with the few scrapings of plot to be found in emails and notes left around the world, looking forward to when I could next chat with your sarcastic techy rival.
That’s not to say the combat isn’t fun however, it’s just that it tended to be lacking compared to sections that involved both combat AND story.
The plot felt like it suddenly fast forwarded towards the end, with all Jensen’s stuff put on the back-seat in order for the barely-existent main plot to come to light, and some tentative connections between it and Jensen. In the last area (before you decide the fate of humanity… apparently) you’re actually told to go and meet up with the 3 main faction leaders, who are; a dude that’s only just been introduced properly, a dude you’ve only met once before who had a secret agenda, and finally your boss, who’s been betraying you for most of the game. So 2 barely fleshed out characters and someone you can no longer trust. And these are the guys you’re meant to choose to support…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for human shitness, but they needed more screentime. Sarif (your boss) is the only one who’s fleshed out and actually has any reflection on Jensen, but due to his betrayal his ending becomes a difficult one to choose, even though it’s the only one that really has any gravitas or moral deliberation, the others are just “this guy’s kinda evil but well meaning” multiplied by two.
This is something Dragon Age 2 got right. For all its shortcomings, the characters at least had depth and satisfying arcs; and they both subtly and directly affected the plot. The entire story for DX:HR feels like it was happening towards someone else, but because they didn’t show up it suddenly shifts onto Jensen. Worse still is that all his interesting story, character development, friendships and history are all abandoned about 70% of the way into the game and are never revisited.
5) Boss Fights
These are probably where the story issue rears its ugly head most. There’s no depth or character to them, they’re just another obstacle. From a gameplay perspective they’re awful as well, as any chance of multiple-choice pathing goes at the window in favour of pray and spray shooting tactics.
But their story? They did something bad to you 6 months ago, and now you’re fighting them. That pretty much summarises it, you don’t find out anything about their characters, one of them doesn’t even speak, and if you’ve hoarded your ammo, weapons and used your weapon mods correctly you can probably defeat most of them in one clip. Horribly lazy.
This also ties into my points on pathing, xp and augmentations. One argument I’ve heard is that “if you want to play a certain way you only need certain augments” which is fine. Cloak is only really useful if you don’t want to be seen, and hacking if you want to hack, but because ALL boss fights revert to the same shoot’em up bullshit, the pure hacker and pure stealth will find himself severally outnumbered, meaning their selected play-style is essentially wrong?
6) The Credits
Ok, so there’s 6 things but this doesn’t directly impact on the game itself and deserves a special mention.
So you’ve just completed the game, gone through the disappointing ending, but heard Jensen’s awesome speech on humanity (different one for each of the 4 endings) each of which is in itself a work of art. So the credits role, maybe they’ll show some of the outcome of what your choice dictated? Maybe you’ll see the characters and what happens to them? Maybe they’ll use this 7 or 8 minutes of dead space to give proper rounding to the story, or even just display some of the concept art for the game, I mean the entire thing looks like a Renaissance Painting.
You get to see pictures of the staff.
Acting like idiots.
There’s even a fat bald guy with his top off at one moment.
They’re trolling, right?
I did not just complete this amazing game, get intellectually cock-teased by the story and left begging for more to watch the Eidos-Montreals Facebook gallery role during the credits!
Thing is, this isn’t a good begging. This is the uneasy dissatisfaction of the gaming equivalent of blue-balls. I pray to god that this isn’t the end of Jensen’s story, I need more of him and his life, more of his future or at least some of the ramifications of his actions. I know Deus Ex continues on but I don’t care about the global implications, I care about Jensen and his life and friends.
Take heed Game Developers, it’s almost worse to make a good game that disappoints than a bad one.