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Deus Ex: The Ending

I have a fairly simple distinction to judge whether a movie is great or merely good: A good movie is one that can entertain me, while a great movie is one that can force me to think critically. I watched Aliens awhile back due to the various recommendations I got from readers, and while I certainly will agree that it’s a damn good movie, I wouldn’t consider it great. It didn’t make me contemplate the nature of human relationships like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did, and it didn’t help me come to terms with my own masculinity like Fight Club did. It was just an entertaining diversion.

If I were to apply this same distinction to video games (and I don’t, for innumerable reasons) Deus Ex would be one of the only truly great video games I have ever played. I’ve made it clear in the past that Deus Ex is my favorite game of all time, and I’m sure the ending played a large part in that. It made me realize something about myself that I hadn’t realized before. It made me ponder concepts like authority, the rights of individuals, the needs of the many, and the cost of independence.

WARNING: I’m about to spoil the ending of Deus Ex. If you haven’t beaten it and intend to do so one day, I highly recommend you don’t read on ahead. Seriously, man. I don’t want to spoil this for you.

Ahem. Anyway, I’ll try to recount the situation at the end of the game as best as I can. Sorry if my memory is fuzzy.

You’re in Area 51. Area 51, through a series of complicated events, has become the home to a global communications hub and an artificial intelligence that refers to itself as Helios. Bob Page, who serves as the game’s lead evil douchebag, wants to merge with Helios in order to take control of Area 51 and thus control all nanotechnology everywhere, essentially becoming a god.

Helios has contacted you and told you that it doesn’t want to merge with Bob Page; it wants to merge with you. Helios believes that if it merges with you, it can gain an understanding of humans and use that to take control and run the world in a benevolent dictatorship.

Morgan Everett, the leader of the Illuminati (the secret shadow government that runs everything behind the scenes), contacts you and tells you that if you kill Bob Page, you can join him and rule the world with an invisible grip hidden behind corporations, bureaucracy, etc.

Then Tracer Tong, an ally of yours throughout the game, contacts you and says you should destroy Area 51, thus disabling all nanotechnology and plunging the world into a second dark age so that nobody can use the machines to control one another.

This is the choice you have to make: Global anarchy, benevolent dictatorship, or corporate conspiracy?

I was able to rule out the Illuminati option right away. I have a fairly pessimistic view on politicians, and the rule of the Illuminati sounds like the absolute worst case scenario for the world to be in. When the fate of the world is in the hands of a select few, the few will inevitably get 99.9% of the wealth, privileges and power. People are corrupt. People are selfish.

The Helios option also sounded like a no-go, until I heard Helios’s argument for it. Here, just watch the first half of this video and listen for yourself.

Two lines in particular stand out for me:

“The checks and balances of democratic governments were invented because human beings themselves realized how unfit they were to govern themselves. They needed a system, yes, an industrial-age machine.”

“I should regulate human affairs precisely because I lack all ambition, whereas human beings are prey to it.”

We’ve seen about a million incarnations of the Evil Rogue AI trope, and I think we’ve become so accustomed to it that when we see an AI coming to its own independent conclusions we automatically assume it’s going to try to eradicate all human life. But here’s an AI that has logically concluded that it should rule and guide humans in order to bring society to peace and prosperity.

And I’ve got to say, it has a point.

I considered Tong’s plan, but the idea never appealed to me. The big issue Deus Ex addresses here is that people can use technology to seize positions of authority and power and control the freedoms and lives of others. As far as I’m concerned, eliminating all nanotechnology only postpones the issue, because eventually people will reach this point again. Maybe they won’t get there in the current generation, but they would eventually, because technology moves forward.

Helios, on the other hand, seems less like an immediate solution and more like the logical evolution and conclusion of government. We form governments and economic systems in order to organize ourselves efficiently and provide prosperity to as many as possible with our limited resources. The problem is that the humans who end up running these governments are susceptible to corruption and greed, and inevitably our systems end up becoming more damaging than they’re worth.

But if we can have an incorruptible machine, then maybe, just maybe, it could truly bring about a strong, peaceful, prosperous, and happy society.

In the end, I merged with Helios.

This ending felt perfect. It was ambiguous enough to let you come to your own conclusions, while also appropriately wrapping up the game’s themes. This was my ending to my Deus Ex, and it remains my favorite video game ending ever.

This isn’t to say that my ending is the correct ending. I’m sure you can think of many logical reasons for why giving all the power in the world to an artificial intelligence is a risky move. But that’s the point, really: there is no right answer, and the answer you choose shows something about yourself, something you may not have even realized.

I’ve seen Deus Ex: Invisible War on Steam sales a number of times. I’ve heard it’s nothing but a pale imitation of the original game, but I’ve learned not to accept others’ opinions on old video games as fact. (Exhibit A, B, C.) And even if I ended up hating the game, it could still make for an interesting blog post comparing and contrasting it with the original, since I only first played Deus Ex 1 less than two years ago.

But I’ve refrained this whole time because I know that they retconned my ending, as well as the other two endings, by attempting to cram them all into one story. (JC merges with Helios, then blows up Area 51, then Illuminati take control in the ensuing chaos.)

I’m baffled that they would do something like this. Deus Ex is not a game to make a direct sequel out of in the first place, since the ending you choose literally dictates the future of the entire fucking world, but what they did effectively ensured that nobody‘s ending was the canonical one, which is a sure-fire way to anger every single one of your fans.

Well, fuck you, Ion Storm! I thought. I’m not giving up my perfect Helios Ending just so you can cram another game down my throat!

But then I watched Campster’s video about it, and I must say that the burning hobo clip at the 35-second mark made me giggle like a schoolgirl. It made me realize, maybe I’m looking at this with the wrong mindset. Maybe I can just pretend it’s from an alternate universe, or a bad dream JC/Helios had after successfully instating the Heliocracy. Or maybe I’ll pretend it’s an entirely new story. One about burning hobos in narrow corridors!

So I got the game today, mostly because it’s available for $2.50 on Steam right now. Expect me to rant about it on Twitter in the near future, and maybe write a post about it here.

The way I see it, if the game even manages to feel like Deus Ex, even for a moment, this will have been a victory.

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8 responses

  1. I’ve just started what I will probably regard as my canonical Deus Ex playthrough.

    I played Invisible War. It… well, it was somewhat enjoyable, at times, but I did go into the ini and remove one of the most annoying aspects of gameplay; I massively increased the ammo drop rate, massively reduced all weapons’ ammo consumption, and that was enough that I could actually cope. It’s probably more a reflection on my skills than the game, but without doing that, I was unable to scavenge enough ammo to keep going, and the unified ammo made it incredibly frustrating since running out of ammo for my good gun meant running out of ammo for all my guns.

    There are good parts. For me, though, they were in the end outweighed by the parts I disliked – such as the burning barrels. I never saw a hobo catch fire, but I was astounded that a barrel marked “too heavy” when I attempted to lift it would take off like a rocket if I hucked a dead hobo at it.

    But that’s another post. I look forward to reading your impressions of Invisible War.

    March 24, 2012 at 11:50 PM

  2. X2-Eliah

    Heh. Seeing that ending video, it is almost uncanny how strong the whole “JC” analogy is. Before seeing it, I thought it was a bit of a stretch, that comparison, but now.. Well, it is pretty present.
    I wonder, though, did Helios/Daedalus/Icarus download itself into Denton? And wouldn’t that cut away all the comm connections of the computer part of it/them?

    On another note.. I wonder who would possibly choose the technological apocalypse (dark age) ending as the best one? I mean, no matter how you look at it, it is a pretty horrible outcome.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:01 AM

  3. I picked the same ending for largely the same reason – a global dark age would be horrendously damaging, The illuminati really had nothing to offer but an ego trip compared to Helios’ solution.

    I did like the endings to invisible war though. Probably because they felt just like the Deus Ex endings only with one other option. It didn’t make sense that I could pick any of the above because the factions in Invisible war have the collective memories and IQs of goldfish, but it was all right.

    And the thing that made it not just the ending-o-tron 3000 is even in IW you still have to complete objectives towards specific endings. It’s a final mission in which you go all in, not a level followed by buttons.

    Also I started IW doing a pacifist run, but after a certain point I simply wanted one faction dead and made sure to do so.

    March 25, 2012 at 6:12 AM

  4. some how i feel like that spoier warning was meant specificlly for me……..oh well by the time i finally get around to playing Deus Ex i will most likely have forgotten this anyway.
    J, thats the ending i would have chosen too, usen only the info here. I have never understood the whole AI=Evil thing but i guess its the Skynet Effect or something. Mass Effect did the ssame thing where all three games they found excuses to remind you the AI=Evil and yet you become bffs with one and then realize that the race of AIs arent all bad, and then the ending kinda weirds it up but still no AI in that game ever seemed AI=Evil. I also think that if Anyone/thing was truely uncorruptable then thats who should be in charge of everything. (which is why Batman should rule the world)

    March 25, 2012 at 10:47 AM

  5. Bret

    I went with Tong.

    I know. No comm tech above a radio will do a lot of damage. Millions dead. Maybe billions.

    It’s also the ONLY solution that can be undone. Illuminati or Helios take control, that’s it. Game over. If it was the wrong choice, the boot is on the face forever. Tong’s solution, although it’s bitter medicine at best, is “temporary”. (IE, if people decide they want a shadow government again, they can build it in a few centuries.)

    And maybe they will. Maybe the Illuminati is inevitable.

    Maybe it’s best to just kneel down at the first king who doesn’t seem like a tyrant.

    Balls to that.

    This is the last, and maybe the only chance to give people freedom. I don’t trust anyone with absolute power. Not Ghandi, not Everett, and sure as hell not me. Even if Helios was correct that it could be trusted with absolute power (long odds bet, and it does have as much reason to lie as anyone), there’s a lump of meat in the math that is going to mess everything up sooner or later.

    Also, Everett and Helios are asking you to set them up for godhood. Tong, one of the few more-or-less honest people you ever meet (his terrible secret from cut content: When you worked for his enemies, he wanted you dead. ) is offering a solution that slits his own throat right down the middle as much as it hurts anyone. Doesn’t make him right, but it does make him different from the pack.

    It’s a Prisoner bit too. The whole “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own” bit has a chance with Tong. Odds are nil with the others.

    And, I’ll admit it. The quote at the end seals the deal.

    “Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth” sounds a lot more like a good guy quote than “Better to reign in Hell” or “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to create him.”

    March 25, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    • JPH

      I disagree with your sentiment that the Helios and Illuminati endings would be permanent. No government can control all of society forever. If it truly was a cruel, unfair dictatorship, then eventually people would band together and gain the power and grasp of technology to fight against it. It could take a long time, but it would happen eventually.

      War, peace. Organization, civilization, empire, revolution. It’s all cyclical.

      Having said that, I’m certainly not trying to convince you that my answer is the “right” answer. I can see merit in Tong’s ending, and I can understand why others would choose it.

      March 25, 2012 at 6:59 PM

  6. Bret

    It’d be pretty hard to topple the Illuminati or Helios, barring a miracle.

    They have instant assembler nanotech (so they can make armies out of thin air and rain plagues on their enemies), total control of global communications and advanced surveillance networks that almost no-one knows about (which means anyone so much as whispering “I don’t much like Helios” is going to be found out in a hurry, and that’s only going to get worse), and every major power group is more or less in their pocket/dead.

    This isn’t fighting armies with armies. This is full on “As flies are to wanton boys” territory. When your enemy controls the flow of information and can kill you the second you say or do something treacherous?

    Maybe Patrick McGoohan could still do something rebellious and heroic. But he’d be the last one to manage.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:03 AM

    • JPH

      Okay, yeah, that would be tough.

      Once again, my memory is pretty fuzzy regarding all the details.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:04 PM

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