The original Deus Ex, released in 2000, was in many ways a ground-breaking game. For all intents and purposes, the game didn’t care a lot about how you went about completing your missions and left you to your own devices.
The “devices” in question were a mix of upgradeable weapons, interactive environment, and cybernetic augmentations giving you superhuman abilities.
These traits held true over several installments of the series, up to and including DE: Mankind Divided and whatever new Deus Ex games might come in the future.
However, perhaps you appreciate the gameplay of DE without appreciating the setting, or the other way around. Perhaps you wish to find an immersive sandbox that’s more action-packed than Deus Ex. Well, you’re in luck, because we’ve prepared a list of several games similar to DE in some ways but offering some tweaks on the experience.
|BioShock||2007-08-21||Action & Shooter||2K Australia|
|BioShock: The Collection||2016-09-15||Adventure||2K Australia||61%|
|Thief||2014-02-27||Action||Feral Interactive (Mac)||89%|
|Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell||2003-02-18||Adventure||Ubisoft||54%|
|>observer_||2017-08-15||Adventure||Bloober Team SA||94%|
|Alpha Protocol||2010-05-27||Action & Shooter||Obsidian Entertainment|
|METAL GEAR SOLID V: The Phantom Pain||2015-09-01||Adventure||Konami Digital Entertainment||67%|
|HITMAN World of Assassination||2022-01-20||Stealth||IO Interactive||61%|
|HITMAN 3||2022-01-20||Stealth||IO Interactive||56%|
|Dishonored Definitive Edition||2012-10-11||Action||Arkane Studios||72%|
|Dishonored 2||2016-11-11||Action||Arkane Studios||84%|
|Dishonored Complete Collection||2017-09-15||Action||Arkane Studios||78%|
|System Shock 2||1999-08-11||RPG||Irrational Games||87%|
|Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines||2004-11-16||Adventure||Troika Games|
|Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2||2021||Action||Hardsuit Labs|
|Arx Fatalis||2002-11-12||RPG||Arkane Studios||37%|
|Prey 2006||2017-05-04||Action & Shooter||Arkane Studios|
|Prey 2017||2017-05-04||Adventure||Arkane Studios||81%|
|S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow Of Chernobyl||2007-03-20||RPG||GSC Game World||78%|
|S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Bundle||2007-03-20||Adventure||GSC Game World||56%|
|S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call Of Pripyat||2010-02-11||Horror||GSC Game World||79%|
|S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart Of Chernobyl Ultimate Edition||2024-02||Horror||GSC Game World|
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
Like Deus Ex, BioShock is another branch of System Shock 2’s spiritual successors.
It’s not quite as open to different playstyles as Deus Ex is and more linear. However, the mixture of first-person shooting, using powers (here acquired through gene splicing, not nanotech) to overcome deadly obstacles, and a world on the brink of collapse by the machinations of Powers That Be.
BioShock 1 begins with you surviving a plane crash in the middle of the ocean and finding your way to an underwater city founded by a business magnate tired of government regulations. It didn’t last long, and now the place is halfway to destruction, overrun with mutants craving for the powerful substance called ADAM, and subjected to the conflict of the remaining leaders.
If you’re keen on ghost runs of Deus Ex, with no kills and zero detections, then Thief should be right up your alley.
Although Thief games are much, much closer to steampunk, rather than cyberpunk aesthetics and themes, the urban landscape, conspiracies, and complex, tightly designed locations should make any Deus Ex fan feel right at (permanently-nighttime) home.
The main character of the Thief trilogy is a master thief named Garett, a man with close ties to the Keepers, a secret organization of scribes and magic wielders. Despite mostly having gone his own way, Garrett often winds up working for and with them, as his capers and reputation put him on a collision course with many problems rearing their ugly heads to threaten The City.
At the time of writing, Strife is almost thirty years old, and there is no getting around that fact with the 2014 re-release.
But just because it’s getting long in the tooth doesn’t mean it doesn’t have immersive environments, first-person perspective, stealth mechanics, and NPC interactions. While a direct line to Deus Ex shouldn’t be drawn, the gameplay similarities are strong.
Even the plot involves a deadly virus and a pandemic, although this time it was a comet’s fault, not corporations’. The world mixes fantasy and science fiction elements in a pretty fun way, and the narrative will take a bit different direction depending on your choices. These days, Strife can be played on PC and, surprisingly, on Switch, with a few graphical buffs making it look less dated.
Splinter Cell (series)
Splinter Cell is a stone-cold classic despite having been seemingly forgotten and neglected.
Created on the once-popular Tom Clancy license, the series followed Sam Fisher, an extremely capable agent of the Third Echelon, a black-ops division of NSA. Sam was a man possessed of a particular set of skills allowing him to infiltrate virtually any location in search of intel.
Unlike many games on this list, Splinter Cell series has always been committed to the third-person perspective. While you didn’t have any fancy powers, Sam’s agility and array of reasonable gadgets never left you without interesting options. Especially if you also deployed maneuvers such as taking human shields or hiding by the ceiling to avoid guards or spy on conversations.
|Developer:||Bloober Team SA|
Observer is much less action- and stealth-oriented than Deus Exes, but the mostly hopeless vision of a cyberfuturistic world should still feel familiar enough.
Unlike a nefarious conspiracy going all the way to the top, Observer is more restrained, a cyberpunk murder investigation with family troubles mixed in for good measure. Oh, and it stars Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer in the leading role!
You’re playing as Daniel Lazarski, a detective with implants allowing him to hack brain implants of other people for information. Tracing a call he received from his son, Lazarski comes across a beheaded body and gets involved in a techno-horror storyline without good endings. Appropriately, it’s a moody, low-action psychological horror utilizing science fiction trappings to great effect.
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
Alpha Protocol was marketed as an espionage RPG, with the “Your weapon is choice” tagline in one of the first trailers. And it mostly delivered on that promise.
Although you won’t be crawling through vents, AP doesn’t shoehorn you into a specific playstyle, allowing you to mix and match combat, stealth, and technical abilities to your liking.
What AP lacked in sandbox potential it made up for in the complex web of choices and consequences. There were so many smoothly integrated permutations of the game’s spy story, that it would be understandable if you didn’t even realize there were other versions of events. Much of that relied on robust and weighty reputation system letting you make alliances and gain enemies.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
|Developer:||Konami Digital Entertainment|
Meddling in politics? Check. Flexible playstyle? Check. Consequences of your gameplay choices? Check.
Some scheming weirdos to take down a peg? By a mile. MGS5 is the latest, and quite possibly the last installment of the venerable series of third-person stealth games. The action mostly revolves around open-world maps based on Afghanistan and Africa, deliberately avoiding urban areas.
In The Phantom Pain, you’re playing as Big Boss AKA Venom Snake, taking control of a new mercenary group Diamond Dogs. As a result, you’ll be splitting your time between remote ops, including story missions, and managing your home base: handling research, recruitment, etc. It’s much more exciting than it sounds, and it’s one of the finest stealth games in memory.
The Hitman games mostly lack science fiction elements, but if you’re just into the creative stealth aspect of DE, then Hitman should still be in your wheelhouse. And this time you have full permission to not be pacifist.
Of course, you’re encouraged to only kill your targets and leave others unaware of your meddling, after all, you’re a professional, genetically engineered hired assassin, not a thug.
From its very beginning, the Hitman series has been about finding your own way of eliminating the assigned targets and extracting from the map, sight unseen. Agent 47, in addition to being handy with many weapons (including improvised ones), is also a master of disguise, which opens a way to arranging many conveniently lethal accidents leaving your hands technically clean.
The Dishonored series changes a lot, relative to Deus Ex, but what remains is the immersion and the freedom to pursue objectives in your own way.
Instead of a futuristic cybernetic setting, Dishonored we get a whale-punk setting inspired by industrial-era England (esp. in the first game), and instead of powerful cyberprosthetics we get magical abilities granted by the mysterious Outsider.
Each Dishonored is a series of discrete missions taking place on large, open maps which are not only fun to explore, but also support creative playstyles. The short-range teleport itself tremendously changes how you view the map, and abilities such as slowing down time or possession turn the series into phenomenal, superpowered assassination/vengeance sandboxes.
System Shock 2
System Shock 2 was Deus Ex before Deus Ex existed, and even today it is a fascinating, dark cyber-futuristic story worth replaying.
You’re playing as a soldier, freshly defrosted aboard an eerily quiet spaceship Von Braun. The place suffers from a bad case of violent mutations, and the AI, SHODAN does nothing to make things better. In fact, she’s behind most of the bad things that happened.
The corridors of the ship hide the horrifically mutated crew, but you’re not defenseless. In addition to having weapons, you can develop a variety of skills. That includes awakening psionic abilities if you chose the appropriate class at character creation. There’s also hacking, managing your inventory, and even autopsying your enemies to get more efficient at fighting them. No wonder SS2 is a legend.
Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines
Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines replaces cybernetic superpeople with vampires, and cyber-future with modern Los Angeles.
While VtMB doesn’t have exactly the same level of interactivity as Deus Ex, both titles seem to dislike daytime, both enjoy first-person perspective, and offer a profound sense of immersion in a layered setting with many stories both hidden and shoved in your face.
There are several different vampire Clans, each of which is going to have a different experience. Especially the stealth-oriented monstrous Nosferatu, and the prophetic Malkavian offer a unique perspective. There are many endings, and most of them you work towards throughout the entire game, and there are many fascinating NPCs you could ally yourself with or reject altogether.
Arx Fatalis has plenty of impressive immersion waiting for you behind every corner of a complex network of tunnels and caverns sheltering the remains of surface civilizations.
You arrive in this world as a blank slate, and after a quick jailbreak you’re mostly left to your own devices as you and your character try to figure out what you’re supposed to do. The answers might be quite surprising.
Arx Fatalis doesn’t feature classes, leaving you free to distribute skillpoints however you see fit, and there aren’t many wrong answers. It also features a fantastic magic system based on you tracing appropriate runes, and a great crafting system which takes place in the world and your inventory, not an abstract menu. It was an amazing appetizer for the games Arkane are well-known for nowadays.
Another, and not the last Arkane game on the list. There’s a reason half of this list are Arkane games, and the reason is that few studios make such competent immersive plot-driven sandboxes, and Arkane is by far the best at this.
In Prey, we’re travelling to a space station, which, by the time the story gets going, is overrun by amorphous aliens called Typhon and you, Morgan Yu, are in a position to help.
The station isn’t too densely populated, the few humans you’ll encounter reside in protected areas, while the corridors are either empty of controlled by the aliens. The good part is that if you dare, you can inject yourself with alien powers, which include shapeshifting, which is just too entertaining to ignore. Which other game lets you become a potted plant or a banana…and move around?
|Developer:||GSC Game World|
STALKER was a magnificent game in many ways.
It presented the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as a place ridden with bizarre anomalies and populated by people brave or crazy enough to make money off looting the place. And then there’s you, the player character, who has to figure out how to survive, make valuable connections, and complete your mission. Good luck, Stalker.
While not nearly as urban-oriented as the Deus Ex series, the STALKER series (including a sequel scheduled for 2022) is deeply immersive, with a fascinating setting, and a complex web or factional and personal interests. The game also happens to be more into shooting than the rather stealth-oriented Deus Ex, which might well appeal to fans of more dynamic and hostile playthroughs.
The latest Arkane game at the time of writing, Deathloop does away with the encouraged non-violence of Dishonored and goes the whole hog on killing.
It’s not much of an RPG, admittedly, and you have a pretty murderous goal ahead of you, but the mix of gadgets, powers, and weaponry make Deathloop fit in this list fairly well. Especially if your idea of stealth in DE is leaving nobody alive.
You’re playing as a man named Colt, caught in a time loop he can only hope to escape by killing eight people known as Visionaries. The thing is, if you die more than two times during an attempt, you’re tossed back to the beginning of a loop and have to start over. Things are additionally complicated by a women called Julianna, who hunts you during every loop.
Find your own way
We’re at the end our list of games like Deus Ex, or close enough to rub elbows and exchange setting or gameplay ideas, anyway. Hopefully you’ve found something that ticks the boxes you find appealing.