I did a brief bit on Deus Ex: Human Revolution back when it launched in… August? Has it really been that long? Anyway. I got to playing it again recently and spending more time thinking about its ups and downs, and the proper impact that Deus Ex (the original and its legacy) had on gaming. Or that it should have had, I should say.
Although it wasn’t the first to do so, the original Deus Ex gave the player choices in how to accomplish things. It also wasn’t the first (but definitely the first-best, if that makes sense) to give those choices some form of meaningful consequence. As you started the game, your character’s brother reminded you: try not to kill the terrorists, you’re police, after all. If you did, or didn’t, it had subtle ramifications down the line. Using non-lethal means was also just the right thing to do, if not the easiest.
DE:HR follows in that trend. Whereas other games would give ‘moral choices’ and would reward or ‘punish’ you for them, most of the results of your actions wouldn’t last, or wouldn’t hold significance. For DE, it sends shockwaves throughout the rest of the story. Do you help this person, or leave them to fend for themselves? It may matter, later on. Do you talk the political-attache-turned-terrorist out of suicide? The man planning to crush society as we know to rebuild it… might he be right?
It’s also unfortunately easy to blow off these decisions and not care about the story, by which I mean to say “screw you people” to those gamers who would do what is expedient and ignore the subtext of what’s going on. Choices like this give a game an epic sort of depth for which the greatest novels and movies humanity has created are renowned.
It often seems odd that other games held up as having epic stories miss this opportunity. Mass Effect and KOTOR, both incredible games with incredible stories (and by the same developer, I might add), do have a sort of morality-meter built in, but the primary difference for KOTOR is a different ending, and there really isn’t that large a difference for ME. Not to disparage them, mind you, both are incredible games.
But it’s this subtlety in the storytelling that makes DE and DE:HR (the lukewarm-at-best middle game, Deus Ex: Invisible War, was a crap sequel unworthy of mention at all) incredible. If I were one to bother naming a game of the year, DE:HR would almost… almost be it. It’s been a bumper year for other incredible games, though, and the gameplay on others trumps the storyline here.