Side quests are the optional objectives that help flesh out the main experience. They allow game devs to tell a different flavor of the main story and change the pace. Your character’s main goal might be a pressing need to save the world, but along the way they could take a little break and simply run an errand.
Like most RPGs, the Deus Ex franchise features a large amount of side missions. Deus Ex is all about choice, so it makes sense to let the player also choose which tasks they deem worthy.
At the best of times these missions tell you more about the protagonist, supporting characters, and environment. Mini arcs that run parallel to the main story and further explore the main themes.
Mankind Divided often fails to provide two key elements: Motivation to care for the characters you help and any kind of tension.
Characters are introduced, you run a few errands, and then they disappear forever before you’ve had a chance to care about why you’re helping them.
In terms of tension, often the goal is known too early and the experience is reduced to walking around until the conditions have been met. Other times this pendulum swings so far the other way that the player doesn’t receive enough answers, only mysteries upon mysteries.
Near the end of the mission Fade to Black you meet a french aug named Olivie. She is arranging to smuggle herself out of the area. The player listens to her for a few minutes before encountering the gangster responsible for smuggling her. You are given a few choices on how to deal with her and the smuggler but so little time to decide how you feel about it or Olivie. You risk your life for an illegal that you’ve just met. A few minutes later and I sent them on their way happily ever after, but felt empty about the whole thing.
Where it succeeds
I crap enough on this game that I must highlight an instance where it truly provides a killer Deus Ex experience.
In the early hours of the game you encounter several characters also providing illegal passage for Augs wanting to escape Prague. The game hums along as you’d expect but after spending enough time getting to know two characters you are hit with a surprise decision at the end of the arc to choose which character will be allowed to leave. There is no warning that this is coming and very little time to decide. I was thoroughly impressed with this curveball and am hoping to encounter more of the same.
If the player doesn’t care about the objectives the game is reduced to the excitement of dropping off your dry-cleaning.