Deus Ex – Invisible War:
A Disappointing Success

By Shamus Posted Friday Apr 18, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 48 comments

After my praise for Deus Ex, a few people solicited my opinion on its successor, Deus Ex: Invisible War. Never one to turn down the opportunity to over-analyze at length, I offer the following:

The biggest flaw with Deus Ex: Invisible War is that it was a complete departure from what was established in the original. Invisible War was weak in precisely the ways that its forbearer had been strong. This alienated fans, and probably earned the game a worse reaction than it deserved. It wasn’t a terrible game, it was just a terrible Deus Ex game.

Deus Ex – Invisible War.
Deus Ex had a nice list of skills which could be leveled up. You earned skill points by completing goals and exploring, thus rewarding players for doing sidequests and seeking out secret areas. It also made it possible for the player to customize their character to fit their style of play. Invisible War unceremoniously dumped this gameplay, removing much of its RPG appeal and making it more or less a straightforward shooter.

Deus Ex Sr. was also famous for having a tremendous supply of real estate. Many levels were massive in scale. They didn’t always work aesthetically (the Hong Kong section of the game had some particularly awkward and inappropriately boxy level design) but they were always interesting areas to inhabit. While it wasn’t possible to actually build a working model of New York, the Hell’s Kitchen area was at least symbolic of New York, an abbreviation of the genuine article. In contrast, the world of Deus Ex Jr. was fleeting and consisted mostly of outdoor closets and corridors, connected by loading-screen airlocks. The cities failed to resemble anything of the sort, and the game never gave the impression that there was a larger world beyond the walls. The airport and subway station in particular were comical in their minuscule, playset simplicity.

About the only thing they did keep from the original was the one thing they should have remade fresh. The story in the original Deus Ex was a complete, self-contained entity. It wove together a lot of popular conspiracy theories to make a world of mysteries and revelations. Each time you uncovered a secret it led to a bigger, deeper secret. It culminated in the ultimate paranoid fantasy: A madman set on using technology to make himself a god. It was satisfying, but it was also concluded, and appending another story onto the end of it was a terrible idea. Like grafting an extra leg onto Selma Hayek, adding onto something great does not necessarily constitute improvement.

Invisible War tacks a new story onto the end of the original, and in the simplest and most uninteresting way: The secrets are all re-buried and you get to dig them all up again. All the old characters pop up and are trotted around as you work to re-unravel the conspiracy. Again. They’re all up to their old tricks, which is a shame because we’ve seen these tricks before. Everyone you meet goes out of their way to explain how they are related to characters and events in the original game, as if they were bypassing the character and trying to address the player directly. Look! Remember me? We met in the last game. We’re together again! Isn’t this fun?

It would have been far better to keep the premise and throw out the story. Start over with a new mix of conspiracies. You could even keep the character of JC Denton, but drop him into a different reality this time around. Instead of working for UNATCO, maybe he starts off as a cop or a bodyguard or a secret service agent. Instead of a plague, society is dealing with some new designer drug. Or weapon. Cyborgs. You know, whatever. The foes would be different and their goals would be different, but the process of unraveling a series of escalating conspiracies would remain the same. The first time you uncover the Illuminati is fun. The second time through, you begin to wonder how these guys ever kept their organization a secret in the first place.

Compared to other FPS titles, it was a fine effort and worth a look. But it never managed to escape the shadow of Deus Ex. In terms of scope, story, characters, and gameplay, it was a feeble attempt to capture that former splendor. It was a short game with tame aspirations, obliged to play the nostalgia card in an effort to cover up for its lack of depth.

I played it all the way through.



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48 thoughts on “Deus Ex – Invisible War:
A Disappointing Success

  1. Kanthalion says:

    I never played either Deus Ex game, but I am enjoying the mini comics you have been including with the posts lately.

  2. Andy P says:

    I played to the end of Invisible War (despite the fact I hated it compared to the first one) until there was the obligatory “decide which faction should win” choice and I realised that not one of the options was remotely appealling, in fact, I’d spent most of the game killing everyone in all the factions and they STILL wanted me to join them. So I stopped playing, never saw the ending, don’t feel like I’ve missed out.

    You didn’t mention that in DE2 you revisited some areas from DE1, but they were smaller, less detailed, more restricted and less interesting. So much for progress.

    Deus Ex? Great. Deus Ex by the numbers? Colour me bored.

  3. Retlor says:

    I liked IW to a point. The shooting was certainly cleaner and felt more natural than that in the original, but then I didn’t play Deus Ex for the shooting. I loved the exploration part of Deus Ex, and I still think that there are many things I haven’t discovered yet, even just secret cupboards and whatnot. As you point out, that was crippled in the second game.

    That’s not to say I didn’t play IW obsessively, but it didn’t entrance me the same way that the original did.

  4. Patriarch917 says:

    A Deus Ex prequel would be nice. Perhaps set in the middle ages, or earlier.

  5. Phlux says:

    Shamus: I love these game comics you’ve been doing. Your screen-cap-fu is still strong. Any chance of a videogame themed spiritual sequel to DM of the Rings if Chainmail Bikini doesn’t work out?

  6. JFargo says:

    I had high hopes for that game too, after everything that Deus Ex did so well. Too bad to hear that it’s not even worth picking up, from my point of view.

    And I’d like to echo Phlux: The screencap comics are awesome little extras. Thanks for including them!

  7. Ryan says:

    April 18th, 2008 at 11:55 am

    A Deus Ex prequel would be nice. Perhaps set in the middle ages, or earlier.”

    Yeah, maybe a medievalish steampunk environment. You could have your sneaky character hiding out and dodging the bad guys as best he’s able. Maybe throw in a few quasi-relgious elements as well.

    Oh, wait…


    April 18th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Shamus: I love these game comics you've been doing. Your screen-cap-fu is still strong. Any chance of a videogame themed spiritual sequel to DM of the Rings if Chainmail Bikini doesn't work out?

    Yes – wouldn’t a Shamusized Deus Ex screencap comic be absolutely awesome!?!

  8. ZeroByte says:

    There is a Deus Ex prequel in the works actually.

    Warren Spector did this series of interviews with game designers and in one of them he talks with Chris Harvey, his co-designer in Deus Ex 1 and 2. One of the things they talked about was how they tried to incorporate ideas that their video game designer friends thought would be good in 2 instead of actually listening to the fan base.

    Never played IW either. The reviews put me off it.

  9. Hal says:

    Put me in the “disappointed” group. Especially egregious in my mind is how Deus Ex gave you three different, and mutually exclusive, endings. Invisible War picks up assuming ALL THREE took place. Lame.

    While IW did include a measure of customizing for your character, I just didn’t like how it was done. Since there was so little progression to how your character grew, it was possible to max out your powers very, very early on if you knew what you wanted. That was the first third or so of the game for me. I spent the rest of the time finding all those upgrade cannisters and wishing I had a use for them.

    Edit: One of the things that I think crippled IW the most was its severe case of “consolitis.” That is, it was clearly made to be a multiplatform game, not just PC, and that almost always leads to a reduction of complexity. I don’t know why, but apparently game designers think that console players have the attention and critical thinking skills of lab mice.

  10. Andrew says:

    I loved The first DE, Played it through 3 or 4 times – different upgrades etc..

    Installed DE2 – Ohhhhh about 2 hours into it – Yawned – unistalled – and sold the game to a friend (sucker) never really interested in playing it again – I still have the Origional disk for DE though – will probably play it a few more times still :)

  11. Matt` says:

    Has no-one else noticed that the title says “Dues ex”?

    Or is it just that I’m the only one that gives a crap about it?

  12. Ingvar says:

    Matt, I thought it was a clever slag at the game, based on the review.

  13. Shamus says:

    Ingvar: Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt, but this time it was a pain ‘ol typo.

    Matt: Thanks. I typed “Dues” instead of “Deus” about ten times while writing this. Of course the devil of it is that the spell checker didn’t care. :)

    I thought I’d corrected them all, but missed the one in the title. Whoops.

  14. ReluctantDM says:

    Very disappointed with the sequel. At one point (near the end I think) I almost gave up when I had to run back and forth across several (5 minute) loading screens to resolve some fetch task. What should have taken 2 seconds took like 20 minutes. Growl.

  15. Praelat says:

    I love the first Deus Ex, and I still play it every once on a while, when I get to it. There are still some ways of solving things that I haven’t explored.
    Well, I read the IW reviews, bought it nevertheless and…couldn’t get it to run. My PC is just too old, and it might still be a while until I can afford upgrading (or rather replacing) it.

  16. JohnW says:

    Completely off topic – anyone here ever play Mount and Blade? Is it worth $20?

  17. Werdna says:

    This looks to me like the same thing that happened with Chrono Trigger – a game of epic goodness, with a ‘sequel’ that had way too little in common with its predecessor. I played Chrono Cross to completion and wouldn’t call it a bad game… but as a sequel to Chrono Trigger it fails miserably.

  18. McNutcase says:

    I consider Deus Ex 2 to have never happened.

    It would have been cool, but after Warren Spector died in that incident with the Ferrari, the llama and the olympic-sized swimming pool full of oatmeal, they had to cancel it out of respect for his memory.

    La-la-laaa, I can’t hear you…

    Of course, this what you might expect from someone who uses the Deus Ex main theme as his ringtone, the “Infolink start” sound effect to announce the arrival of an SMS, and has the logo as wallpaper on his phone…

  19. Gabriel says:

    >>Completely off topic – anyone here ever play Mount and Blade? Is it worth $20?

    Mount and Blade is Totally worth the $20. The modding community is large, the game itself is fun mechanically and a toolbox for the mod community to drop in as much as they want. I’d say I probably played M&B for well over 80 hours — probably closer to 200 if I’m honest about all the total conversion Mods I’ve tried. Don’t expect a riveting storyline with the base install — but the Modded expansions is what makes it good.

  20. Cadrys says:

    I wouldn’t mind putting my copy in and going for another run-through.

    But I can’t. Won’t run. Known bug, no fix. Something incompatible with a modern system.

  21. Since I live in Austin, I had the opportunity to talk at length with one of the developers from Ion Storm about Invisible War. He said that one of the problems with the game was that they had to truncate many of the game’s levels in order to accommodate the memory requirements of the console version.

    That’s a big part of the reason for the laughably small environments.

  22. Josh says:

    To give you a slightly different perspective, I never had the chance to play the original Deus Ex, but did manage to snag this for my Xbox. I loved it. I didn’t have any expectations (I think I bought it for 10 bucks), but this game was fun. The conspiracies were new to me. The game was challenging in just the right way for me (I’m terrible at fast paced shooters, but this let you do things quietly and in your own way). There were aspects that frustrated me (the role of religion and the inability to really go your own way at the end), but it all paled to what I felt was a great game experience.

    That’s a fresh perspective on the series though and I would love to get my hands on the original to try it out.

  23. DGM says:

    ZeroByte: Do you have a link to that interview?

  24. Dev Null says:

    Completely off topic – anyone here ever play Mount and Blade? Is it worth $20?

    Yes, and absolutely… but it really is possibly more off-topic than you think; Shamus is dissing DX2 for dropping the ball on story and RPG elements and becoming a straight-up shooter, and M&B is an excellent straight-up combat game with reasonable RPG aspects and no story to speak of. But for what it is – the quasi-medieval FPStabber – its the best I’ve ever seen.

    It also has a bit of the problem with small environments, but you can actually fix that by fiddling a few settings to change the size of the battle maps. I forget how, but check the forums on the dev site.

  25. Hal says:

    All this talk of the original inspired me to toss it in the drive and play around with it again.

    It’s both invigorating and disappointing.

    The disappointing part is just a consequence of having a newer system. Everytime I upgrade, the game just looks worse and worse, and that’s not because I’m comparing it to fancier new games. The textures just don’t seem to render properly. They do funky things, and the colors get weird from time to time. Reflective surfaces disappear at times. Playing at a reasonable resolution causes the in game text to be so small that it’s unreadable.

    I still love this game, but I don’t know if I could pick it up today and enjoy it. I guess I’m glad I played it when my computer was compatible.

  26. Phlux says:

    Ryan: I don’t even think it should be limited to just Deus Ex, go for any game that has potential. I actually really like this idea. I’d rather read it from Shamus, but if he doesn’t do it I might have to start my own.

  27. Daosus says:

    Played the first one and loved it. I saw a friend playing the second on a console, and noticed there was only one type of ammo. I knew then that was not the game for me :S

  28. Stu says:

    I like Phlux’s idea of a videogame based “DMotR” – but then again, I really enjoy CB so far (the thing I love most is how the real life personalities seep into the game, which I guess, is the point :) )

    How would it work in the sense of single player games? Would it simply be playing against the Characters desire to glean information from NPCs, and the NPCs complete inability to cooperate? Or perhaps it would look at multiplayer gaming (though how would this be much different from tabletop?)

    Anyway, I’m sure Shamus has much more to do than just bang out 5 more webcomics :-P

  29. IronCastKnight says:

    Fortunately for me, Deus Ex 2: Electric Boogaloo didn’t disappoint me at all. Why is this, you ask? I had absolutely no expectations of quality to begin with! I actually avoided even considering playing the game for years, and when I finally forced myself to consider it I was terrified it would be bad enough to cause blood to start spurting from my eyes, ears, and fingernails. Fortunately, it wasn’t quite that bad, so instead of intense revulsion and hatred I was stricken with mere apathy.

    Naturally, I agree fully with the statement that Electric Boogaloo isn’t a terrible game, just a terrible Deus Ex game.

  30. Shamus says:

    Hal: I ran into the same problem last weekend when I fired up the game. (So I could get the screenshots for the comic on Monday.) I remember physics stuff like the billiard balls that used to work, but their behavior must be tied to framerate, because they were broken. Masked textures were goofy. Bilinear filtering turned everything into mush.

    On the upside, those once-long load times were almost instant. I ran both games last weekend, and I must say the original was more appealing to me. Easy to start. Easy to alt-tab away. Quick load times.

    Still, it’s like a game never runs right. By the time computers have enough oomph to run them smoothly, they suffer from compatibility issues.

  31. Tichfield says:

    I actually appreciated the simplicty of DX:IW…

    I’ve owned the original DX for years, but never got into it because I kept getting stuck during the opening sequence on Liberty Island.

    Eventually I became frustrated enough to uninstall the program, but not without some regret.

    When DX:IW came around, I appreciated being able to essentially play through a condensed version of the same story. I saw DX:IW as ‘DX for Dummies and those with poor coordination’. In that respect, it succeeded admirably. I bought it, played it avidly, finished it (rare for me) and though I never played it again, felt entirely satisfied with the story and my purchase.

    Years later, after reading these comments, I’ve finally decided to give the original another try… I DO have the original, not the GOTY edition (told you I’d owned it for years), and I’m hoping this means it’ll play nice with Vista. So some fora suggest.

    If it works… I’m crossing my fingers and hoping my gaming skills have sharpened in the meantime.

  32. LintMan says:

    Shamus – good review, but you completely ignore the elephants in the room, which are: 1) Why are the DXIW levels tiny and hub-based, and 2) Why are the RPG elements and ammo, etc gone?

    As far as I can tell, the answers appear to be:
    1) The Xbox version couldn’t handle larger levels and the PC version wasn’t going to get any special treatment.
    2) The DXIW team was trying to appeal to the “console demographic”, which they apparently assumed was too dumb to appreciate the RPG elements and handle the ammo management of the original DX.

    Now, perhaps 1 couldn’t be helped, but 2 is an absolute sellout by the developers, cheating both the DX PC fan base, and the console players who are quite sophisticated enough to enjoy the RPG component.

  33. Jeff says:

    I never got out of the Academy in Deus Ex 2. It was a borrowed copy that someone had downloaded, and he readily gave it to me. “Keep it. No, really, don’t give it back.”

    …for some reason, it just plain wasn’t fun.

  34. Zaxares says:

    Put me in the department of “disappointed Deus Ex 2 fans”. While I rather enjoyed the new factions introduced in DX2 (the Knights Templar, and the Omar especially), I never quite forgave the devs for removing the RPG aspects of the game, the thing which had made the original so great.

    As Shamus said, DX2 isn’t a BAD game. It had some excellent scenes (I laughed my ass off when you finally meet the pop star behind Resonance, and she turns out to be a total annoying bimbo. Nothing like the calm, witty, and endearing AI her avatars are), but it could have been so much more…

  35. LafinJack says:

    Unlike Jeff, I got just outside the academy. I’m not sure how, as the game ran terribly, all jerky and blurry. After I found out I could throw a barrel or a corpse twenty feet straight up into the air, I decided this wasn’t the game for me.

  36. Jeff says:

    Actually, thinking it over I did get out of the academy. I think there was a cutscene of your escape, and then it starts again. That was when I quit.

  37. ChrisAsmadi says:

    Another game had a similar problem – Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter.

    The first four games in the series were great. Then they released that and it was junk compared to the others. They gimped you for using dragon form, for god sake!

  38. Shamus, you inspired me to try Hellsgate London. Kind of a cross between Quake and Diablo. Not bad, for a retro game. If I had to pay full price for it (instead of getting a good discount on a sealed copy from Ebay) I’d probably not be happy, but for a shooter, not too bad. I’ll probably get it played through all the way once.

  39. Joshua says:

    I played the original Deus Ex for a very long time. I usually started over after a few levels because I knew that that same obstacle could be done in so many ways, but I’d have to do that first and talk to that person, or whatever. Finally, I beat it. The ending sucked compared to the rest of the game. Basically, “Choose an ending: A, B, or C?”

    But I loved the game and still rank it up in the top games ever for me. Right up with Half-Life and D&D.

    Then I played IW. I made it out of the academy after learning that everything could be done however way you wanted, as long as that way was this way. Traversing the city outside felt like going through some kind of maze meant for dummies. There was this pointless path, this one, that one, this one allows you to gamble! Then, somewhere, hidden amongst the various stupid sidequest-things that had nothing at all to do with the main story, was progress! Everywhere seemed like this. Then there was the universal ammo bit of nonsense. The fact that the only way to overcome obstacles was wasting more ammo.

    Ugh, I sold the game to some kid in school I don’t like.

    I’m so happy now that there’s a prequel coming out.

    I also don’t acknowledge the fact that IW ever existed.

  40. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    McNutCase said: “I consider Deus Ex 2 to have never happened.” He went on to include a story about Warren Spector’s death (thankfully, mis-reported).

    McNutCase: I can appreciate your love of the first game and can even understand your use of the game’s media to enhance other techno-elements of your own life. Your stance that DX:IW “never happened”, however, is where I must draw the line. An old friend of mine – one with an over-developed sense of the importance of his own opinions, I believe – used to take that same stance with regards to Highlander 2: The Quickening. Being a HUGE fan of the first I was extremely disappointed in the second, but it is monumentally frustrating to hold an intelligent conversation with someone who insists that the offending media never existed. In my opinion, if you do not acknowledge the failure of the project and work to determine why it was so unsuccessful, you cannot work to redeem or replace it.

    Now, I do recognize that you may simply have been using this style for comedic effect, but please do us all a favour and don’t take it too far. Sound too much like you don’t have all your oars in the water (or even on the boat) and no one will want to talk with you.

    That being said, thanks all for helping me avoid wasting any time on this junker. My gaming time is short, so I must guard it jealously.

    All the best,

  41. McNutcase says:

    AndrewNZachsDad: to reassure you, I do have most of the oars in the water (I can’t claim to have them all, given my hobby of taunting heatstroke while talking funny and driving myself into the ground) and I am aware that DX:IW does exist.

    I just think it shouldn’t, because it was such a massive let-down both on its own and even more as a sequel to the greatness of the original Deus Ex (not that that was without problems; a search of the web for “Deus Ex sunglasses at night” will yield a spoiler-laden treasure trove that WILL cause your drink to shoot out of your nose) that I’d rather forget it.

    Hopefully the coming prequel won’t be so compromised.

    As for the Warren Spector’s “death” thing, that’s actually a running joke between me and a friend.

  42. MikhailBorg says:

    One of the best things from Deus Ex 1 that was missing in Deus Ex 2?

    Macintosh version. Invisible War was all, “you’ll be able to play me on anything,,, well, y’know, except for that.”

    Of course, now that OS 9 is dead dead dead to Apple, I have to use Windows anyway when I want my Illuminati nostalgia fix. Bummer.

  43. Clint says:

    For all those complaining that the original Deus Ex won’t work on modern systems, I’d recommend setting your processor affinity (assuming you have a dual-core machine). I had the same problems on my recent playthrough of the game on my Athlon64 X2 6000 , but found that a small program called SMP Seesaw ( ) fixed all of the problems for me. Simply run Deus Ex, run SMP Seesaw, and use SMP Seesaw to isolate Deus Ex on one of your cores. The game will then run like a charm.

    Also, I’m with the people who hold that it would have been better if Deus Ex: IW had never existed. I categorically refuse to play it.


  44. Ferrous Buller says:

    I’ll just note that the PS2 port of DE did a decent job of keeping the same level design of the original: some of the bigger levels had to be broken up, but it otherwise had the same scale as the PC version. So the argument “DE:IW’s levels were so small because the Xbox was too puny!” doesn’t hold a lot of weight with me: they might’ve had to make the game uglier, but they certainly could’ve made it bigger. Halo, whatever else its faults, showed you could do big levels on the Xbox.

    Also, if anyone feels like revisiting DE:IW on the PC again, I recommend you install John P’s DE:IW high-res texture pack. If you gotta play it, you might as well make it look as pretty as possible.

  45. Yeebo says:

    I played DX on the PS2 and loved it. Absolutely fantastic game.

    Then fired up my X-box and got going on DX:IW. I didn’t have much problem with the smaller environments or the rehashed plot. The things that really irked me were the single ammo type for every weapon (!?!), the removal of the skill system, and the fact that the game was just a bit too easy/ shallow in general compared to the first one. The city you start out in was pretty good with a fair number of zones and some neat storylines to discover. However to me the entire rest of the game after that just seems like they rushed it.

  46. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such magnificent information being shared freely out there.

  47. Peter says:

    Here is to all the people who have been let down by the newly released Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and feel like it is the Invisible War of this decade.
    Chin up! It just wasn’t meant to be. Don’t lose hope!


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