First, let’s just get this right off of the bat: I have yet to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I do have a copy sitting there in my Steam backlog, but there’s also about 57 or so other triple-A games picked up in Humble Bundles and elsewhere that I have yet to get around to as well. I am, however, aware of its reputation as having botched its boss battles. Compared to the original Deus Ex where you had a number of options to take down each boss in order to fit the differing varieties of skills the player has obtained, Human Revolution just had more straightforward combat for each one, disappointing a lot of players.
Mind you, the Director’s Cut re-release of Human Revolution solved the issue, but it was still a bit of a heavy blow. Square Enix had to outsource development of the boss battles to a different team in order to get the game out on time, but thankfully they had seemed to learn their lesson now, as they announced that the sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, would bring back the options to defeat bosses in multiple ways.
I had the honor of viewing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided at E3 last year, and it blew me away. The graphics were astonishing, the augments looked like they would be a blast to play with, the stealth elements were done incredibly well, and it just looked like there would be a ton of variety overall. But a part which definitely stood out to was when Adam made it to Talos Rucker and confronted him in a social debate.
A rush of glee ran over me there. Maybe its just my particular fondness for adventure games, but I do like a game that allows me to confront and even take down an enemy with knowledge (not that taking them down with guns isn’t fun as well). It was mentioned that your choices in dialogue can vastly affect the outcomes of future encounters, and when it was later revealed that bosses can be defeated with your words as well, it sounded like it would make the game even better!
…Up until a couple of months later, when the developers revealed that what they went was certain interactions with other characters and various sidequests can end up aiding you against certain bosses down the road. Furthermore, the social debates apparently didn’t count towards “classic” bosses, which they used to refer to the ones you have to visibly confront.
While this is in no means a deal-breaker when it comes to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, one can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Especially since the initial idea reminded me of one of my favorite bosses in recent video game history: Legate Lanius, from Fallout: New Vegas.
The battle with Lanius takes place at the Hoover Dam, where he is basically backed up by an entire army. He is one of the most feared characters in the game, and can easily rip you to shreds in an instant. So how did I wind up taking him down?
Simple: I flat-out explained to him why the Legion’s plans wouldn’t work. I basically gave him a speech, dropped the mic, then he agreed with me and walked away, even complimenting me.
It gave me a feeling of being a badass in a completely different way, the knowledge that I mastered my speech skills in New Vegas up to the point where my words could help end entire wars. Of course, other Fallout games have done this with their final bosses as well, and defeating Lanius in combat is an equally impressive feat too, all of this just demonstrating the importance of allowing the player to use such a large skillset.
See, if you defeat a difficult enemy in Mankind Divided with guns, it proves how much you mastered gunplay. Defeat them with stealth, in proves how much you mastered stealth. Hack a device to attack them, you’ve mastered hacking. So why not have an option to prove how well you’ve mastered the art of debate? It just seems like a missed opportunity in a game like this. Sure, being able to have your other debates influence the conditions of battles is a compromise, but I don’t get why the social debates and “classic” boss battles had to be separated, especially in a game all about providing the player with a multitude of options and a heavy dose of exploration. If a great boss battle is meant to be a test of what the player has learned, why not test their diplomatic skills as well if it has the opportunity to do so?
Granted, I can accept that for story purposes, some bosses would have to be confronted the old-fashioned way no matter what. And maybe the ability to help take out bosses by dealing with other characters will work out fine as well. Still, this can’t help but feel like a slight ding on what otherwise looks to be one of 2016’s finest games. But we’ll see how things play out come August 23.