Deus Ex: Mankind Divided won’t have a “ending vending machine”. Warning: contains spoilers for Human Revolution.
“Originally we had a plan for the ending of Human Revolution where it wasn’t just standing in front of a board and picking one of four. But we ended up running out of production time.”
It’s the end of Human Revolution. Adam Jensen has fought his way to the top of the Panchaea installation in the Arctic Circle, dispatched Hugh Darrow, and taken control of the global broadcasting signal. After the blood, sweat and bullets, and endless hours of making decisions, it’s time to face the consequences… or not. Instead you get a console with four buttons to push, and all your actions since the start of the game are essentially meaningless – lost in time, like tears in the rain.
Every man and his robot dog have had a go at Human Revolution for the boss battles. You can barely mention the game without somebody bringing them up as a point of contention. But the ending of the game was an equally out-of-place decision, leaving the player wrong-footed just as everything is supposed to be coming to a world-changing conclusion. Heading into Mankind Divided in 2016, Eidos Montreal’s narrative lead Mary DeMarle looks back and admits that things could have been better.
“We actually didn’t plan to go with that,” says DeMarle to us in the crowded halls of PAX Australia “Originally we had a plan for the ending of the game where it wasn’t just standing in front of a board and picking one of four – you had to go and do things to make the ending that you want happen, within the level itself.”
“But we ended up running out of production time, so it ended up having to get simplified and streamlined into that. So we didn’t plan that, but it did end up happening like that.”
This was the first time anybody outside of Warren Spector had been entrusted with the Deus Ex license, and DeMarle and team were extremely conscious of doing justice to what she describes as “a series about choice and consequence”.
“But it was only after we had a first draft, we were like ‘Wait, where are the choices for the player?’. Then we had to go back in and start building more and changing it. So I think part of it, too, is that we were learning along the way.”
DeMarle promises that things will be different for Mankind Divided, and that the lesson has been taken to heart. Critical path experiences will be completely different based on your choices, and the ending you receive will be generated from your actions throughout the game – no “ending vending machine” will pop up at the last minute. But what makes Mankind Divided interesting, and what some players may take issue with, is that all four possible endings of Human Revolution are canon going into the sequel.
The signal Jensen sounds out at the end of Human Revolution was supposed to be world-changing – but when you’re up against the globe-spanning Illuminati, you can expect that they’ll do everything they can to muddy your message. According to DeMarle, Jensen’s broadcast was just one of many, and whatever ending signal he chose was only as useful or meaningful as the public made it.
“When people are caught up in a global tragedy they’re not paying attention to the news,” observes DeMarle. “They’re focused on the intense emotions of that moment and dealing with it. At the time, it was so chaotic that a lot of competing messages got out, and other forces were quickly able to counter it with disinformation. So by the time anybody was really able to listen, they heard so many different versions that they grabbed the one they feel is right.”
“As they do, we believe what we want to believe.”
At the end of Human Revolution, augmentation pioneer Hugh Darrow his horrified by the knowledge that his work is being used to cement power for the elites and literally control the very bodies of the world’s poorest and most in need. It’s hard to look at the events of 2015 – where pharmaceutical companies are jacking up the price of life-saving anti-AIDS medication by 5000% – and not worry that we might already be on the path to the dystopian nightmare world.
I asked DeMarle if she ever feels any conflict writing about how beneficial technology is out of the reach of the masses, while working for a large company that’s flogging a full-priced AAA entertainment product. “Sometimes,” she says, sighing a little. “Sometimes.”
“To be honest a lot of the time I’m not thinking about those kind of things, because I’m fighting against the cliche. I’m one writer on a team, I’m overseeing all the writers, and a lot of times what my biggest struggle becomes is ‘Don’t take the easy way out. Don’t go for the simple explanation.’ So instead of focusing my angst on what you’re saying, I focus my angst on ‘Why can’t we make something meaningful?’ But now you’ve given me something really hard to think about!”
“(Technology) is a mixed bag,” DeMarle continues. “I saw something the other day and it did actually make me very depressed. It was saying that social media, the great social media, gives everyone the power to suddenly have a voice. And that’s great, so many people who never had a voice have a voice now through social media, through tweets and everything.”
“But what it’s actually doing is causing more people to not speak up any more, because the backlash… like, I tweet something out and suddenly I lose my job because of this huge backlash. It’s causing us to become more conservative.”
“That’s a scary thought.”
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out February 23 on PC, Xbox One and PS4.