Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Choice in Deus Ex: Invisible War

I mentioned Deus Ex: Invisible War in my last post. Invisible War is an interesting game. A lot of reviews panned it as being worse than the first Deus Ex, but I thought it was actually a superior game.

The thing is that where the first Deus Ex made choices obvious--usually through RPG elements like skills--Invisible War stripped out all extraneous choices, and built them into the gameplay itself. You could handle almost every situation multiple ways. But you never really saw all the different possibilities, because your first plan, your chosen playstyle, would usually work, and you never had to consider playing the game differently. If you approach every problem from the stealth perspective, you see the stealth solution first, and don't even consider the "guns blazing" option.

From a game design point-of-view this is very clean work, to build multiple solutions for every problem with such elegance. But the player ends up only seeing one facet of the game. RPG elements make the different paths obvious. If I can assign points to certain skills, I am chosing to *not* assign points to other skills. If the player never even thinks of using a rocket launcher, does the rocket launcher exist?

I suspect that Deus Ex: Invisible War would have gotten a lot higher ratings if two different reviewers had sat down and compared their experiences, and realized that they may have approached the game in two completely different styles and yet each style worked perfectly and seamlessly.

The lesson that Deus Ex: Invisible War taught me is that if you want people to appreciate their choice, you have to make obvious the fact that that there was a choice. People need to not only see what they are choosing, but also what they giving up.


  1. I don't really know if there were multiple routes (I played it once, it annoyed me), too often the choices seemed obvious (like the bio mods, in the original there were multiple choices in each slot, in this game there was often one clear winner).

    The game felt very much like a console port, small levels, very confined by loading screens with very inaccurate controls (hitting the one weak spot on the guards armour for example) with a lot of non-useful weapons (pistol vs rifle vs sniper in Deus Ex was a real choice with the skills and mods to make the weapons better, in contrast in Deus Ex 2 it felt so much more like a case of which weapon gives me the best ammo / damage ratio and run with that).

    The story line also seemed to want to converge too fast, drawing together all the loose ends from previous games, perhaps I am wrong but it didn't all have to tie together so nicely.

    Overall I found the game pretty, but lacking choice, in Deus Ex as you note the choices were obvious, you could consciously make a decision to go another route, hiding the choice in your play style makes that more transparent, but so much harder to make a different choice in game as there is no point you can easily start to change without fundamentally altering how you play. Deus Ex i played multiple times, deciding to be pistol / rifle mad, stealth or such, and it made a difference, but I could always know I made the choice, in 2, it often felt that even if I went stealthed mobs could see through walls and target / wait for me forcing me to go into a route I didn't want to go.

  2. Exactly. The point is that the "obvious" choice depended on your playstyle. Two different people, with two different playstyles would have two different "obvious" choices.

    For example, I played Invisible War completely in stealth. The stealth/hacker solutions always seemed "natural" to me.(Admittedly, I believe I played in the Realistic mode.) It sounds like you played the game in a different manner than I did.

  3. Probably, but thats where Deus Ex: Invisible War failed, it might have given each player the game they wished to play, but at no time did it really give you the choice to play differently. What Deus Ex did was let you rather obviously make a choice, and go with it, exploring that path or moving away from it, by making those choices invisible they cease to be choices and instead the game becomes flatter, not because it may lack content, but because that content is not easily accessible.

    Look at WoW, there are multiple paths (9 of them, with 3 different talent trees each). The game is the same, the content is the same, but the way you play the game changes for each class, your role in a fight. There are not many games that give you choice and make it transparent, because doing so makes 90% of people never see that choice and simply see the game as rather simplistic and lacking. WoW, Deus Ex, Command and Conquer all make your choices blatant (and often close to the start eg: picking your faction). Deus Ex 2 with more obvious choices would have made a much better game as you could have seen the other path, and chosen to take it rather than being blinded by the path you originally chose to take (Diablo 2 vs WoW talents, in WoW the choice is free and clear, you can reset it any time and go a different path, in Diablo you stuck with it, you could change but doing so involved some great cost - in this case rerolling).

  4. Are you talking about the same DE:IW I played?
    The one that I played indeed had the ingame decisions to handle situations differently but they were the same 'talk, sneak or shoot' choices that many games already incorporated, even its predecessor the original Deus Ex. DE:IW did not feel ground breaking in that aspect. Indeed I remember that choices were more plastic and obvious because the game failed due to multiple reasons to emerge me into the game-play. 'Oh look a turret console, here is the stealth option.'

    Instead I have great memories about for example the original Deus Ex which I played multiple times forcing a different play style on myself each time. And the fact that there was a supportive RPG system that made you make appriopiate choices how to develop your character added depth for me. I sorely missed that in DE:IW.

    Indeed the main problem with DE:IW was you didn't care what choices you made. The story was interesting if you delved into it, but the game hampered your will in doing that. The levels were cramped and .... ah well let's say many design decisions to 'simplify' the game mechanics made playing it feel plastic, shallow, grey, non impressive.

    Like you said it may have been an interesting experiment from a game-desiging point, but as a gamer I felt that they stripped away almost everything that could add depth to my gameplaying experience for this. As a gamer I was left with a stripped bare dull game.
    No real character development, no packratting, no ammo/gear decisions, cramped non-immersive levels ect ect all turned it into 'just another game' but nothing worth remembering. The story was interesting but I had to forced myself through the game to experience that.

    The point I am trying to make is the feel of an open ended gameworld where the player has the choice of multilpe unique decision paths to solve game-situations is icing on the cake. If you have an average cake, that icing will make that cake delicious.
    If the cake is dry the icing is not going to save it.