Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Currently Deus Ex: Human Revolution is running in the background. I tabbed out to write away my anger. That having said, the only reason I would like to do that is because Deus Ex is a good game. Bad games get discarded, not cursed at.

There's a lot Deus Ex does right. And I won't list it, because the post would grow much too long. The reason I'm angry is that I just discovered that I cannot trust the game to lead me to the fun. Instead I need to actively ignore where it leads me.

More specifically, I criticize the character power progression, CPP. In Deus Ex you gain the usual experience for doing quests or disposing of enemies. These experience points are automatically invested in upgrades of your nano su .. erm, augmentations. In addition to that you can buy some augmentations if you have the money, which you have.

So as I venture into the world of Deus Ex I am tasked with missions. These are really fun. You can reach the mission goals in many ways. I really feel like a special agent. I try to stay silent whenever possible, if there's no other way I dispose of an enemy silently. Great fun. But wait ..

I realize that killing in silence gives more experience. And knocking them out instead of killing them gives even more. Just before I finish the mission, I realize that there are a lot of enemies left. Sure, I could finish the mission now, but enemies are a rare resource. There are only so many in the game. If I want all my augmentations as soon as possible, I figure, I should knock them all out silently. And irrespective of the mission goal.

Some hour later I realize that I am not having any fun. Instead of playing special agent I am farming experience points. I don't fear enemies, but welcome them. The simulation has been turned upside down. Also, I should restart the entire game, because I didn't maximize my experience points from the beginning. DAMN.

Now, I already know that some commenters will tell me that I have a choice and choice is good. Well, no. Choice is not always good. Some choices are bad. For example the choice between playing like the game was meant to be played and maximizing experience points by knocking each enemy out with my fists. Actually I'm not using my weapons any more: That would be inefficient. And even at hardest difficulty it's just not necessary.

I don't understand why games like Deus Ex have a character power progression when the incentive it induces makes the game less fun. CPP is all right, but the incentives that are created by the CPP have to align with playing in a fun way, or at least in a reasonable way. Trying to find the last enemy in the mission isn't fun - can't be fun. But it is incentivised by the CPP.

So, you say, I should ignore the CPP. Yeah, right. I intent to do this. I just decided to ignore it completely and play from the beginning as if I were a special agent. I hope I am strong enough to resist the temptation to gain extra experience. Anyway, I already know that the constant resistance will make me enjoy the game less. I should be able to focus entirely on the game, and not on gimping myself.

Last but not least a few other points:
- The energy is a terrible game mechanic. The game would even be better if they had removed it completely, let alone iterated it a bit.
- How many air shafts can a police station have ??
- Police starts to fire at me if I try to hack into their computers, or pick their doors, but if I jump into air shafts inside the police station in front of their eyes they couldn't care less ...
- Gather weapons to sell them for easy money. But only do it if you don't want to have fun.
- My pistol is about as good as my sniper rifle and much better than any other rifle at a distance. Since the pistol is the only weapon in the game that can be upgraded to ignore armor, it's even better than the sniper rifle when headshotting helmed enemies.
- If I'm head of security .. where's my team ?
- I like Deus Ex. It is a good game. Yes, really !!


  1. It's interesting because you can kind of see the design logic that created that scenario.

    1. If you go in shooting, more enemies attack and you end up killing more enemies.
    2. If you go in stealthily, you encounter less enemies, but each enemy requires more work.
    3. If each enemy gives the same XP, then Step 1 gives up with more XP than Step 2.
    4. To balance this, defeating enemies stealthily gives more XP.

    Unfortunately, they did not follow this to the full conclusion:

    5. Thus to maximize XP, a player should seek out and defeat all enemies stealthily.

    The real solution, imo, is only to give XP for completing quests/tasks, and not for the actions taken while completing the task.

  2. Rohan, that seems to be the reasoning. On the other hand, this kind of problem ist't exactly new. Nor is this kind of game new.

    For some reason the developers don't seem to care. And I have a hunch why: They want everybody to be able to play the game the way he likes.

    If you want to explore you can just ignore the fact that you are on a time critical mission and instead explore the entire map. If you want to achieve, you can kill all enemies in the optimal way. If you just want to just kill stuff, you can do it, too. You can play Deus Ex with guns blasting frontal assault or the sneaky way. Actually I found guns blasting easier on hardest difficulty ...

    And that, the developers believe, is worth it. And they might be right. After all I bought the game and will play it through.
    So I am a 'sufficiently happy' consumer, am I not?

  3. I totally agree. I've done so many side missions and hacked so much stuff and tried to max everything like you, and I'm at the point now in the Hengshua missions (the ones after Detroir), that I've almost "completed" my character build. I don't need any more praxis. I have 8/8 hacking, upgraded fortify and hacking stealth, energy at 4 batteries, stealthed movement, increased jump and lift, and cloaking.

    And I think I'm only halfway through the game.

  4. The real solution, imo, is only to give XP for completing quests/tasks, and not for the actions taken while completing the task.

    If enemies are worth zero XP in a game with XP, then the "full conclusion" that follows is skipping enemies. You a relying rather heavily on the fun of the gameplay itself (like any other non-XP game), which leads to arguably worse outcomes in XP games. For example, can you imagine a traditional RPG like FF6 or FF7 where random battles had zero apparent function other than simply draining your resources? The "game" would turn into trying to Escape every battle. In fact, if you played FF6 and got the Moogle Charm (turns off random encounters), that is exactly what I did.

    The amazingly easy fix is what happened from the transition of Diablo 1 --> Diablo 2: (smart) enemy respawn. In Diablo 1 there were no respawning enemies so, much like it sounds from Deus Ex, if you skipped exploring every nook and cranny there was a very real possibility that you would reach the final encounter and be under-leveled or under-geared. However, infinite respawning enemies (ala random encounters) makes exploring punishing. So Diablo 2 let you clear out entire dungeons and the enemies would only respawn if you quit the game and returned. This let you farm areas if you wanted, or clear somewhere out and explore, or just play normally and let you farm if you fall behind the curve.

    I realize that killing in silence gives more experience. And knocking them out instead of killing them gives even more. Just before I finish the mission, I realize that there are a lot of enemies left. Sure, I could finish the mission now, but enemies are a rare resource. There are only so many in the game. If I want all my augmentations as soon as possible, I figure, I should knock them all out silently. And irrespective of the mission goal.

    "While reading this something inside me cries out: 'Why don’t you just try to have fun??'

    You seem determined to optimize the fun out of it."


  5. Yes, optimising isn't to be confused with winning. If you can beat the game with only a quarter of your stuff upgraded, then if your a play to win guy your happy with winning. While an optimiser is frustrated as hell.

    For example the choice between playing like the game was meant to be played and maximizing experience points by knocking each enemy out with my fists.
    The way it's meant to be played...?

    When were you told the way it's meant to be played?

  6. Azuriel, you are very right! I am optimizing the fun out of the game. Against my own will! Look, I love optimizing, just as much as I love the simulation. That's why games like this rip me apart.

    Callan, following the tutorial instructions and tips I got the feeling as to what was expected. (E.g. "find hidden routes", "think outside the box").

    Besides, running through all the 'hidden' airshafts after all enemies are dead, just to get the exploration experience, is so much against the simulation - and so annoying, that it can't be the way the game is intended to be played. It's just encouraged to be played this way.

  7. The interesting thing will be to see if you get sick of the game entirely when you max out your skills long before the game's conclusion. If that happens, it is arguable that whatever you thought was fun was simply your desire for XP, leveling, and so on.

  8. Absolutely, Azuriel. And that might very well happen, because the gameplay if you sneak through everything can become really boring.

  9. I find that Deus Ex is good at forcing player to unlearn metagaming habits (including the desire to optimize everything).

    For instance, I had to restart the game after I discovered that I could avoid the death of eight innocent characters in the first mission simply by acting as Jensen would do (and not as an old-school gamer who rummages through every room and desk before continuing on with the main quest).

  10. Ephemeron you mean the countdown of the bomb? I hate to break it to you, but it starts a few seconds after you first entered the room ..

  11. Wait, wait!

    Am I wrong in believing that knocking out an enemy (non-letal) is worth 20 xp? Whereas you need to get like 5k for one praxis point. And you get way more than 20 for 'stuff' -- e.g. hacking and completing missions (you get hundreds and thousands).

    With that in mind you still feel compelled to spend a lot of time just to get, I don't know, less than 10% bonus xp on a mission?

    If so, I feel for you, really! Or else my math is wrong.

  12. Solf, there are about 40 enemies on a typical mission in Deus Ex. (That's just a guess).

    If I circumvent them they don't give any exp. If I kill them they give 10 exp. If I stun them, they give 10+20=30 exp. And If I stun them with my fists they give 10+20+20 = 50 exp. That is about 40x50=2000 exp per mission.

    In addition to that, I gain another 2000 exp if I clear every enemy on the map. And in addition to that I gain all the money that they carry and that is lying around where they are. And all that equipment there. That can be sold. And I can hack all the computers there to get exp.
    (Of course I never use the passwords I find, because using a found password doesn't give exp).

    Do a run-through just sneaking past everything and then stunning everything with fists + walking through all the 'hidden' tunnels + hacking all computers. I did that with the starter mission. It makes a huge difference.

  13. Okay, even at 50 xp I bet it is much faster to just shoot everyone using silenced pistol.

    You still gain the loot if you're interested in that etc.

    You'd probably earn much more xp per hour that way.

    Granted you won't be *that* overpowered for main quest line, but...

    I mean, I understand where you're coming from. I just (still) think that the gain from stunning everyone by hands is not critical enough that one should feel forced to do so. But of course YMMV and everyone has different preference for color & taste of felt-tip pen (pardon the poor translation of Russian joke).

    So in summary I think you've picked not great subject to rant on in Deus Ex. I'd rant on e.g. critical voice-comms that are not recorded anywhere (you know, those that tell you that 'so and so would like to meet you at such location that is not marked in any way on map anyway').

  14. Solf, I wrote down what annoys me about Deus Ex. I can't write down what annoys you, because I am not you.

    For example I really liked the fact that not everything is recorded. Sure, it took me a while to get it. But then I liked how immersive it was to really try to listen to what people tell me, instead of letting them talk and then checking the objectives in the journal.
    Of course, I could have predicted that a lot of players won't like that ;)

  15. Excuse me? Immersive? In which way?

    For a very specific example in a very early game a person you know very well calls you (on your implant) to let you know that old acquittance wants to talk to you 'over there'.

    It would be immersive if I could ask back 'where exactly is that?' or 'could you repeat that?' or for call the guy back later to ask for a repeat. No dice. The way it stands right now it is not immersive, it's just plain old poor interface design.

    Or for another example, in the very first mission you get information about where roughly hostages should be. And it is NOT recorded. Everything else (possibly much less useful) *is* recorded and this critical piece of info is not. That simply doesn't make sense, it's not "immersive" in any way I can see.

    I would agree that listening in to hobos chat between themselves and finding useful piece of info that way would be immersive and in this case it can justifiably not be recorded (so that you only 'get' it if you pay attention).

    Oh, and by the way, if the above sounds overly confrontational or hostile -- I'm sorry, it's not really intended that way. I enjoy reading your blog and your opinions. In this case I simply think you might be somewhat off the mark though :)

  16. Your last paragraph was appreciated ;).

    Solf, I don't really want to argue about this. I, personally, like this feature. It is not 'frustrating' to me. But I know very well that other players can feel differently. If I were the developer I would not have implemented it this way.

  17. Hmm, I agree in part. The experience point awards do sometimes feel arbitrary. For example, I usually hack computers even when I have the passwords in order to get the experience and extra loot.

    But on the broader issue of maxing out your experience, doesn't every RPG have essentially the same problem? For example, in Baldur's Gate and other classics, you can in theory max out your experience by grinding wandering monsters over and over, or by running around killing every NPC in the game. But I can't imagine most people play that way. And the original Deus Ex gave experience for finding hard-to-reach areas in the same way that Human Revolution does.

    The main difference that I can see is that DXHR announces experience gains very prominently and shows exactly what you did to get them. Other RPGs don't do that. But otherwise, I'm struggling to see the difference.

    I agree that it's a great game though, at least so far (I'm halfway through atm).

  18. Ephemeron you mean the countdown of the bomb?

    No, a bit earlier than that.

    If you spend more than 15 minutes getting to the helipad (for instance, because you were too busy eavesdropping on NPC conversations, gawking at the scenery, reading ebooks and searching offices for hidden loot and clues), the terrorists will automatically kill the hostages - and everyone will blame you and Sarif for it.

  19. Didn't know that, Ephemeron. It didn't cross my mind so early in the game to waste so much time getting to the helipad. Lifes were at stake :)

    But this shows wonderfully the power of player expectations. Different expectations and different 'attitutes' can lead to drastically different gaming experiences.