Although it was greeted with near-unanimous acclaim upon release, there were things about Deus Ex: Human Revolution that Eidos Montreal wasn’t completely happy with.

The boss fights were one, of course, but there was also a feeling that the game’s combat wasn’t quite where the dev team hoped it would be. It certainly wasn’t on par with the game’s other pillars of stealth, hacking, and social interactions.

“Combat is one thing we wanted to tweak a little bit,” says Mankind Divided gameplay director Patrick Fortier. “We felt it wasn’t quite on par with the stealth in Human Revolution. So we took time to make it a little more visceral… reactive.”

Some of these changes were simply the inclusion of small visual effects that better sell the feeling of intense combat, but there’s also a better cover system, and some of the game’s new augmentations promise to make the combat route a much more enjoyable one.

As the first game released by the Canadian studio and the first Deus Ex in seven years, Human Revolution was a big learning process for Eidos Montreal overall. “The team kinda learned how to put all these pieces together,” says Fortier. “[Deus Ex] is a little different from other triple-A games out there in that it’s still handcrafted. It’s not like this department is doing this and we’re doing that – we have to be really tight because we’re a smaller team and we have to communicate with everything, because every asset has to tell the right story.”

With Mankind Divided, Eidos is pushing itself again, coming up with levels that can be approached in more of a 360 degree way, rather than just being a succession of boxes. The E3 gameplay demo showcases this nicely, with several areas accessible from above on catwalks, below through basements and vents, or the usual direct way at street level.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided promises even more choice, better combat

The new level design philosophy made it challenging to program the game’s AI, and also tricky from a pacing standpoint, but Eidos was keen to extend the game’s signature of player choice to everything it could. As such, the story branches much more often this time around as well. “Even some of the choices you make early on in the first hour of the game could have repercussions on which ending is available to you,” says Fortier. “It’s a really intricate thing.”

Mankind Divided takes place in Prague of 2029, two years after the events of Human Revolution. Adam Jensen is back, and working with an international anti-terrorist coalition put together by Interpol called Taskforce 29. However, believing that the task force has been infiltrated by Illuminati agents, Jensen is also working with a more clandestine group to get some real answers on who’s pulling the strings.

Many humans are strongly against augmentations thanks to the Panchaea Incident of Revolution, so a “mechanical apartheid” of sorts has begun. However, Jensen is now more active in the story, leading the charge rather than lamenting his position (“I didn’t ask for this”, and so forth).

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided promises even more choice, better combat

Much of sci-fi is steeped in political criticism, and apartheid of course evokes all sorts of things from our own history, but there isn’t one single point being made, says Fortier. “We’re not pointing the finger at any one particular situation, but it’s all over our world isn’t it?” he says.

“Reasons for it to segregate and separate, create walls and divisions between groups of people for religious reasons, ethnic reasons, all kind of reasons. It’s a difficult theme and that’s what we like to explore. I think that’s one of the beauties with this franchise is we can tackle some of these topics and rely on the intelligence of some of our players and say ‘We’re not going to insult you and dumb it down, we’re going to go straight into these real issues’.”

The game already has one discerning fan in Warren Spector, creator of the original Deus Ex, who was given a look at it a day before us. “He really liked what he saw,” says Fortier. He's not the only one.