Just as night follows day, just as pudding follows main course, just as Westlife follows Boyzone, so too is Steam flooded with negative reviews following the release of a highly-anticipated new game. This time it's Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [official site], which was released yesterday to a mostly good critical response, but a cooler reception from PC players. Those who pointed their mecha-thumbs downwards are divided between complaints about performance, and being very upset about the inclusion of singleplayer microtransactions.
I did a quick poll of Team RPS to see how well this sucker is running on our many and various systems and, yeah, it seems like it's not exactly Captain Smooth From Smooth Town.
Steam reviews are deemed 'mixed' (not, tragically, 'divided'), which breaks down into 1,591 positive and 878 negative at the time of writing - and, of course, many of the latter are absolutely bloody furious. FYI I am not going to do that vogeuish thing where one includes hyper-sweary quotes from extremely cross people here, because to do so would be to falsely pretend that the noisiest voices are representative of how the mass of PC gamers think and behave, but I just want to try and take the pulse of reception to DXMD generally.
One source of online argy-bargy is performance. Mankind Divided is a pretty game and we shouldn't expect to max out settings on mid-range hardware, but it does seem more taxing than it perhaps should, which is particularly galling to those who are having to turn many settings off or down even on top-end GPUs.
Our own John had a very low frame rate at Ultra settings ("it staggered horrendously") at 1440p on his honking great GTX 1080 and 4GHz i7 6700K, so decided to try and sort it out with the GeForce Experience auto-optimiser. Happily, it runs well subsequent to that, but Cloth Physics, Contact Hardening Shadows, Depth Of Field, MSAA, Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, and Volumetric Lighting were all turned off, while the likes of Level of Detail and Shadow Quality are on Very High rather than Ultra.
Granted, he might well end up with very similar performance if he manually raised a few settings, but that so much is turned off or down poses the question of just how much PC you need to max this thing out. Does its Ultra (and even Very High) setting have future-PCs or triple SLI silliness in mind, or is something going a bit wrong?
On my own PC, getting more than 30-40 frames on an R9 Nano at my silly 3440x1440 resolution was pretty much out the window unless I dove close to rock bottom, but if I dropped the res to 2560x1080 I could have most everything on Very High and get 60 - and in some scenes sitting at my monitor's max 75 refresh. (Though screenshots reveal some small blackbars at either side of the screen, so it's not running at true 21:9 either, dagnabbit.)
Now, I don't expect max settings at that res on a Nano, but by and large it's not far off in other games. I certainly don't tend to require quite this degree of compromise. And I'm particularly curious about why it runs so much better at (effectively) 1080p - obviously higher res invariably means a significant hit, but in this case the frame rate damn near doubles when I drop the pixel count. This implies to me that some under-the-hood part has gone a teeny bit haywire, but I am no expert.
Adam, with a rather more everyman GTX 960 and a 1080p screen, reports "50 with occasional drops when there are lots of effects in play and 60 on very rare occasions" on High settings with volumetric lighting and cloth physics additionally turned off. This is far better than I can achieve on the far superior Nano at same settings at 3440x1440 (and the hatefully long intro splashes also claim this is an AMD-optimised game), which once again seems to point to fancy resolutions as a factor.
Graham, meanwhile, reports the following from his review: "GeForce GTX 780. Ran steady at around 45-50fps on mostly high settings. 1920x1080. I didn't bother changing the defaults on anything and I was running an older driver at the time."
Square Enix recently put up a forum post attempting to explain that even those with fairly high-end systems should not expect max settings. To be specific, we should expect "an average of 30 fps, at 1280*720 resolution at the low quality preset" from minimum spec systems (that being an HD 7870 2GB or GTX 660 2GB, paired with an Core i3-2100). "At recommended spec, which is a RX 480 4GB or GTX 970 4GB, paired with an i7-3770K, our target is to offer you 60fps average at 1080p, but at the High quality preset." I.e. Very High and Ultra are for far beefier systems than that - but even so, John with his 1080 seems some way off Ultra. Squeenix claim that the highest settings are for those "well above recommended spec or those who wish to trade framerate for image quality."
Many of the pertinent Steam reviews are particularly upset that MSAA anti-aliasing - yer best way of achieving clean, crisp edges - takes an enormous hit, but Squeenix argue that "these can have a very severe performance impact, so only use these when you have plenty of hardware power available relative to the resolution you are running at (for example with SLI)". I.e., we may be looking at a situation whereby only multi-card folk can get anywhere near the top here, which is galling for folk with high end single cards such as 980 Tis and 1080s.
Many too report freezes and crashes. I've had a few of the latter myself, although frankly that is not uncommon on a PC that I have overclocked like billio in order to delay upgrading it, though its tendency to restart my PC shortly after loading is particularly infuriating. Reviews report that crashes are especially prevalent following cutscenes. And, sadly, said cutscenes tend to be on the long side and are unskippable. (I've personally found them quite boring too, but that's just me speaking).
Add to that a few bugs such as clipping errors, textures going haywire and, in my case, having to restart the game after the UI for a storage drawer disappeared and I could not exit it, and there's a simmering sense that the PC edition of the game may not be in tip-top shape.
Furthermore, even mild-mannered sorts like our Adam have noses out of joint about the mandatory and treacly mouse acceleration, a constant bugbear of modern PC gaming, and which cannot currently be disabled. What a shame.
Performance is one thing, but a quick browse of Steam reviews suggests that a majority are primarily distressed by the presence of microtransactions and an in-game store for the singleplayer campaign, as well as DLC bought via Steam. For instance, £3.99 for a pack of tranquilizer rifle items. The ammo and grenades are pretty readily found in-game, but this is the only way to get the rifle skin.
Then there are the Praxis kits, scattered through every piece of DLC and also available as in-game paid packs. These enable you to unlock or upgrade Aug powers, so they're highly tempting and potentially game-changing, even if they don't offer any extra content. Similar is true of in-game cash, or Credits, again available as part of DLC bundles or as real-money packs of their own. Ugly.
These purchases aren't even remotely essential - the purchase option wasn't even visible to our Graham in our review code, and he did not feel that anything was lacking or gated in the game in that respect. But one might argue that their very inclusion is against the spirit of a Deus Ex game - find your own path, painstakingly construct your character and all that.
Paying to shortcut directly to a Super Adam seems to render the whole exercise somewhat pointless, to my mind, but there are people who, for reasons of time or impatience, will cough up for speed-ups, and that's why it's here. I dearly wish it was not, but at least it can be ignored - in my couple of hours with the game so far, I haven't seen it push any of this stuff on me, beyond the 'Shop' option always being visible in the pause menu. Though the nudging about unlocking yet more stuff via a pair of mobile apps has been more noticeable, and I bristle at that. Mostly because I barely have time to play the base game, let alone all this other cruft.
There was also some crossness that, at first, DLC was locked to one savegame, so if you started a new campaign you would not benefit from the goodies you'd spent extra cash on. As I understand it, this has now been resolved, so at least monied cheaters will continue to prosper.
Hopefully a patch - and new drivers from the green and red teams - will show up before too long and give DXMD's performance a kick up its aluminium arse. Expect the microtransaction controversy to roll on for a while though, especially once we get to find out what the Season Pass expansions really contain.