So I just beat the game for the first time. Finished it on medium difficulty. The fourth ending is the only ending for me (and I imagine it’s the canon one, for what it’s worth). I won’t talk much about the plot in the post though, so spoiler-averse folks can read on. All I will say is that I found each of the Old White Men distasteful in their own right.
I plan on playing the original again, after this, to see how my memories live up to a ~11-year-old game at this point. But I will say that having Paul in the game did a lot. He’s the cool older brother. The role model. And when he gives me shit for killing a lot of people, I pay attention.
DXHR, meanwhile, has no such character. No one cares if you kill a million people in the call of duty or not. So I did. Curiously enough, the only time I felt bad about killing in-game to not kill was in the last level, against those crazy people. So I just did the group non-lethal-takedown over, and over, and over again, even though I had plenty of Heavy Rifle ammo to mow them all down without breaking a sweat. Curious, isn’t it? It was actually kind of a pain in the ass.
Only once I had finished the game did I feel like I had a good handle on How To Play DXHR. There were plenty of rooms that had me stuck for an hour or two, dying over and over again trying to wipe out the entire hit squad of augmented soldiers calling me an asshole. In a fun (if somewhat frustrating) way, naturally.
So why am I compelled to kill everyone in a game that makes everyone else want to do the non-lethal sneaky approach? The lack of a Paul Denton, I’m sure, is part of it. But I think it also has to do with how the actual game is designed.
I quipped on Twitter last week that I thought Adam Jensen’s greatest ability was the Save and Reload functions. Allow me to unpack that.
DXHR is designed to allow you to complete the game with (mostly) non-lethal means. If you are cunning, stealthy, and patient enough, you can finish the game with very little blood on your hands. That is the obvious challenge, of course–the tension between lethal and non-lethal (and consequently, stealthy vs. guns blazing) was there in the original Deus Ex as well. So if you’re craving a challenge, that’s the immediately obvious one.
However, if you’re committed to a zero-kill / stealthy run, it means you’re committed to saving, and reloading, and saving, and reloading, over and over and over again. Which is, frankly, a kind of gameplay I’d rather not play. Because we’ve all seen that particular mode time and time again in the games of a previous generation. I call it “X-COM Syndrome”, after watching a friend of mine play X-COM and noticing that his two favorite keys happened to be the Save and Reload hotkeys. You want everything to be perfect–no ammo wasted, no squadmates lost, nothing. So you play the game to the best possible outcome amid thousands of aborted attempts. We did it then because we were scared that we’d get stuck. Now we do it because we’re encouraged to be perfectionists for other goals–no-alarm achievements, for example.
The hardest difficulty mode in the original Deus Ex was called “Realistic”. I don’t want to play through DXHR as though I’ve got the Sands of Time covering my back. I want to play the game with Jensen’s death as something of consequence. So I’m working on a no-death run. Because, to me, is the challenge in DXHR.
So far, I’ve reset perhaps half a dozen times, each in the first not-tutorial segment. Once, I completed that level only to accidentally perform a lethal takedown on Leticia. Oops. Now, I’m at the last part of the first Detroit arc.
I probably won’t attempt a true no-death run yet. I’m going to save at the beginning of each major level and use those as my reference points until I don’t need them any more.