My chronicle of returning to Deus Ex fifteen years later, to see if I'm right when I tell anyone who comes near that it's the best game ever, is nearing its end. You can read the whole saga here.
In this fifth part I contemplate the significant change in approach in the last third of the game, and then make my choice for the ending.
I think, had Deus Ex ended in Paris, I’d have been happy. Er, clearly with a lot more story crammed in there, but length-wise, that felt like a good time to wrap up. The six locations that follow are each excellent in their own ways, but goodness me, it does go on.
Complaining that a game is too long is rarely met with applause, but in Deus Ex’s case, there’s a strong shift in its approach come everything post-Paris. Until this point, the game has been about locations – exploring towns, meeting contacts, finding ways into specific buildings, negotiating, and of course, learning the over-riding story. But from Chateau DuClare onward, all this is gone. It then becomes a much more straightforward process.
It’s vital to point out that these locations – the Chateau, the Cathedral, Everett’s home, Vandenberg, the MJ12 Sub Base, and Area 51 – are each superbly delivered. If only all first-person games could be so intricately designed. Each has multiple approaches, pioneering the concept at the time (or perhaps evolving it from System Shock and Thief) and unimproved upon since, letting you approach a situation as the set of tools you’ve created for yourself allows. The levels all feel extraordinarily bursting with possibility, and you’re always certain that you’ve missed at least half of what could have been found.
And yet, they feel so different from Hell’s Kitchen, Hong Kong and Paris. The latter levels feel like playing. Those earlier hub levels felt like living.
Forgive me for glossing over those last few hours of the game so briefly, but this series has already gone on quite long enough. Will shall, as a wise man once said, skip to the end.
Here’s a nice moment where my memory of the game was a lot worse than the reality. I’d come to believe, I think a lot because an awful lot of people have said it since, that DX springs three different endings on you at the last minute, forcing a trinary choice without warning. Which is complete nonsense.
The three endings offered by the game are:
1) Joining the Illuminati – killing Bob Page and teaming up with Everett, and using Area 51’s tech to RULE THE WORLD.
2) Merging with Helios – joining the AI to create a three-part benevolent dictatorship that RULES THE WORLD.
3) A new dark age – Tong’s plan to destroy all global communications and NO ONE RULES THE WORLD.
And yes, the absolute nature of each is established in the final mission. But the truth of them, the reason you’d make any of those choices, was developed since the very first moment.
The game is always about philosophy and politics, and the more you read, and the more bar staff you talk to, the more deeply you’ll sink into that. (Although not nearly as deeply as I remembered, but I’ll get back to that in my final piece.) If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have heard a lot of opinions about the positives and negatives of meritocracies, dictatorships and feudalism. And less subtly, you’ll have heard the rantings of Bob Page, Morgan Everett, Tracer Tong, Walton Simons (whom I dispatched rather ignominiously with a single tap of the magic sword), Paul Denton and Gary Savage in your head as you went along, each arguing for different resolutions.
These three endings are certainly extremes, but they’re justified throughout, deeply established, and bearing in mind just how complex that final Area 51 section is, certainly not rushed. I’d ended up remembering a moment of almost having to click on one of three dialogue choices. The reality is having to complete a selection of a number of different tasks in a huge, meandering level.
I went for merging with Helios. It felt right. I think it’s fair to say that the fairest form of governance would be the impossibility of a truly benevolent dictatorship, and since this is fantasy, I figured I’d let that be a thing that worked out.
However, I remember that fifteen years ago, aged 22, I picked Tong’s far more romantic reset to a dark age. I’m not sure why, now. Tong sells it well, certainly. But to suggest that communication is the great evil is utter madness – and removing communication, severing the world into microcosms, is to damn billions to misery and death. Not cool, Tong. Not cool.
And Everett was a prick, lying to that poor old man and torturing him with false promises. He certainly wasn’t going to get any power from me, then or now.
So it’s finished. It’s an awful lot longer than I remembered, and I had certainly forgotten huge chunks of it. Now I need to get my thoughts in order, take this wealth of new evidence and experience, and address the question that’s titled all these entries. Is Deus Ex still the best game ever?