A man walks into an office with potted plants in every corner and proceeds to stack said potted plants on the desk of the secretary in the office. That same man walks onto a pier which he swims underneath to find a secret stash of mods for his weapons. Finally, that man sneaks into a den of terrorists and walks back out with their leader in tow to enthusiastic congratulations on having managed the task without killing any of them. This person has done only three things to alter their game, with several other choices available to them throughout the entirety of — Deus Ex. The main points of charm for this game are its ability to interact with every object in it, be rewarded for exploring every inch of the level’s boundaries, and gain access to more in-game options by taking a non-lethal approach to your missions.
The most simple of interaction with items in the game is also the most common, this being — picking them up. This is useful and applicable in several different situations in the game, such as picking up a crate and placing it to climb over an object or picking up a box of TNT to toss for an explosion. However, there are also other ways to interact with your surroundings, such as drinking from a fountain to regain a small portion of health or hacking a terminal to control turrets, cameras, doors, etc. You can also interact with the environment by using items in your inventory — such as sticking a gas grenade to a wall, busting open a vent grill with a crowbar, or using your pistol to shoot a TNT crate. Those items you are not holding can also interact with the environment with a little nudge from you — such as shooting your pistol at a TNT crate to blow a entrance in an opening, use a lock-pick on a door to achieve the same thing, or using that same TNT crate to blow up a turret from a difference.
However, the limits of the game are as such that you can do a variety of things, such as what was mentioned earlier, for the fun of it. You may throw a potted plant at an enemy, as well as a trash can to do damage to them. The variety of things that you can throw, pick up, or move is dictated by your Strength skill, which the more you upgrade the more you can interact with. The targets that you can use your interacted items on is not restricted to the enemy either, so throwing potted plants and trash cans at your allies is also an option. These kinds of activities (along with grenade jumping) have been termed as “emergent gameplay”, which are things that were not expected to be done, but were able to be done in-game. The engine of the game and the design of the levels were built so that you able to interact with virtually anything and several areas actually did more for you than that.
Exploration is rewarded by extra experience and skill points automatically, while the areas you explored rewarding you in a more physical way with special items or mods for your weapons. The wide open level structure and the way the game made you think out-of-the-box encouraged the action of exploration already, but the reward’s system was an added incentive. Mods, the normal rewards for exploration, were upgrades for the weapons in your inventory, while things like re-breathers was a special item that allowed you to swim underwater without losing breath and drowning.
The skills the game allotted for exploring other areas, such as hacking, computing, and swimming were able to get you access to a secret area in almost every level. These secret areas were accordingly hidden underwater, behind locked doors, and through computer turret guarded corridors. However, just like with the rest of the game, you had a myriad of options on how to get to the explored area. The option with the crate of TNT from earlier was one such option, while using a button located on a forklift could be another. You can also gain access to certain areas by letting certain individuals live, instead of killing them off.
The aspect of morality in the game plays a great role, as you are actually playing as a police officer and not military. As such, it is encouraged to kill as few people as possible, and use a proliferation of non-lethal takedowns against your foes. You can gain access to extra places, items, etc. if you let as many people to live as possible. This stratagem goes so far that you actually have a pair of bosses that you are able to kill early on in the game and let them live to come back at a later date. You are congratulated or told off by your chief depending on the amount of lethality in your approach and are rewarded accordingly. While the game is quite insistent about you being moral and just instead of incredibly homicidal, you can be one or the other or both. The game is readily open to replaying it over and over to have a different experience each time.
Finally, this game is about freedom of choice and freedom of thought about your actions in-game, rewarding the innovative and explorative. The game is a staple of the gaming diet, with every mention of it causing a reinstallation somewhere in the world. This was one of the first games to embrace a stance and a message that would only partially be passed on to those that followed it. The stance was a more open environment with more innovative and novel ways to solve objectives to win the game. The message was this: Interaction. Exploration. Innovation.
Just as an afterthought, here are some good places to get a better understanding of this game’s outstanding qualities.