So this past week I’ve been playing Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. I don’t know if it was my subconscious memory (Deus Ex 3‘s teaser trailer was recently released back in November or December) triggering a newfound interest in the games or just coincidence that made me think about playing them again.
Deus Ex start screen
Deus Ex: Invisible War start screen
Anyway, I wanted to remember why I liked the first game so much and why I was disappointed with the second. Upon playing them again, I fully remembered both these things but I was also struck by how complex the story was in both of the games. The problem with the second game is not limited to the general dumbing down of the RPG elements that made the first game so great (see [A] below). I think I saw hints of a deep, deep story, just as in the first, that they only superficially were able to convey, making references to the first game without explaining what those references meant. They didn’t go deep enough to elaborate the complexity of how everything is connected and how the previous generation’s actions profoundly affect the situations the current generation found itself in. (Many characters in the second game are either descended from characters in the first or are in fact the same people from the first game.)
Deus Ex dialog
Deus Ex: Invisible War dialog
Yet, there were nice gems in the backstory. For example, at the beginning of Invisible War, it seems the world was plunged into a dark age called The Collapse when global communication stopped working for some reason. It so happens that a possible ending for the first game was to destroy the AI facility that was the secret network hub for the world, killing global communication and its exploitation for control from a centralized power.
Another possible ending, however, was to merge yourself (JC Denton, a biomodified/augmented human) with the AI (Helios), thus bringing the world into a new era of equality and justice without self-perpetuating social class systems. The neat trick about DX:IW is that JC Denton did merge with the AI, but then he/it was unable to reach a stable state thus plunging the world in darkness as if the facility had been destroyed. When I played the second game again, I had forgotten this and incorrectly assumed the game’s premise was that JC Denton destroyed Helios.
Deus Ex screenshot (sorry about it being so dark)
Deus Ex: Invisible War screenshot (yes, that’s Tracer Tong!)
In DX:IW, the result of JC Denton/Helios having to postpone his global mindmeld is that the Illuminati retains its secret behind-the-scenes power and manipulates the rebuilding of the world through fake opposing puppet factions, The WTO and The Order. As a clone (sort of) of JC, your decision in the sequel is whether to complete JC/Helios’ transformation to godhood enforcing a completely transparent utopia or to side with the Illuminati.
Actually, the first game had two other possible endings (join the Illuminati or join MJ12, a splinter group led by Bob Page who was attempting to merge himself with Helios–apparently, the merger would have resulting in a dark(er) future–a despotic rather than a benign superbeing/overlord). The second game also had two other possible endings (join the Templars, a zealous splinter group of the Order, which again was just a puppet organization of the Illuminati, or to kill the leaders of all these different factions). Kind of complex. Not conveyed well. My paragraphs probably butchered it, too, so you can read up about Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War at Wikipedia.
Deus Ex inventory screen
Deus Ex: Invisible War inventory screen
[A] The dumbing down of Inivisible War:
- no skill point system and thus no XP system (This and the next one basically kill any sort of character development kind of decision making.)
- fewer biomod slots with a plethora of biomod cannisters
- one health meter rather than hit locations (If you lose your legs you perma crawl!)
- combining lockpicks and electronic hacking devices into one tool (Makes sense given there are no longer lockpicking and electronics skills to have to consider leveling.)
- fewer datacubes lying around providing a lot less text to read (A bad thing.. They should let players decide how much they want to delve into the story.)
- universal ammo
- no more keypads and computer logins with clever codes that the player has to figure out (all hacking is automatic in DX:IW)
- very confined level designs with few open spaces and very few ways to approach an objective. (The whole game felt like it took place in a large building.)
- no log of dialog for some strange reason
One theory why all these were changed from the first game was that this game came out as a console game, too. Damn those console gamers! Actually, damn those developers who thought console gamers were dumb 5 years ago! Or maybe the publishers…
Deus Ex biomod screen
Deus Ex: Invisible War biomod screen
Anyway, the large levels and freeform play tied to how a player chose to develop their character in Deus Ex was great and lacking in Deus Ex: Invisible War.
There’s a healthy discussion board around Deus Ex 3, set to come out in 2009, I think. Not too far away considering we’ll have Fallout 3 to busy ourselves with some day. Or if you want to play the first two again (or maybe for the first time), it turns out there’s still a modding community for Deus Ex and some high-res textures for Deus Ex: Inivisible War. Check Planet Deus Ex and ModDb.
Deus Ex goals screen
Deus Ex: Invisible War images screen
Deus Ex skills screen (no corresponding screen for DX:IW)
Deus Ex health screen (no corresponding screen for DX:IW)