Rating: M for Violence, Blood, Sexual Content, Drug Reference, Strong Language
Available for: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One
Originally, I was only going to have one post on Dex, but I felt so strongly about some of the endings and how the themes came together at the end of the game that I realized I was going to have to make a whole separate post over it. This is that post. There will be a lot of spoilers here so if you are planning on playing the game and don’t want to spoiled, I suggest you skip this post until you’ve finished the game.
For the rest of you still here, here we go.
Dex has three different endings, all decided by two late game decisions. Upon meeting Hammond, you are given the decision between siding with The Complex and siding with Raycast. Who you side with will lock you into one of two pathways before you make one final choice. The final decision will ask you if you want to reaffirm who you sided with or if you are choosing to merge with the AI, Kether in the ending commonly known as “Singularity.”
From having seen all three of the different endings, I believe that the writers wanted to examine three types of themes with their endings, and whether or not that worked is up to interpretation. The first and most obvious theme would be how technology affects us as a human race and to what extent are we becoming integrated with technology. (As it so happens, scientific ethics is one of my favorite literary themes, particularly since I have studied and worked in the sciences, so I was really excited about this.) The second theme presented is control of information and the power that comes with it, which I believe was also obvious throughout the story. Finally, the third would be free will and choice, which really doesn’t get introduced until the end of the game. The first two themes are made into clear cut decisions by the end, but the third manages to incorporate itself in a less overt way in every ending.
There are a lot of hints throughout the first part of the game that Dex means to tackle the idea of “human enhancement” through technology, so cloning and trying to integrate an AI with humans to accelerate evolution didn’t seem so unexpected. As I said in my previous Dex post, I liked seeing that concept manifest in different ways around Harbor Prime, ranging from complete indifference to murderous rage over the subject. This theme makes an even stronger impact once the term “posthuman” is introduced, potentially making the player uncomfortable at the thought that technology could be forcing an unnatural evolution. This idea comes from the belief that nature has done all it can for human evolution, that any beneficial mutation we might gain is inconsequential and we can only truly evolve if we use technology. More of a “let’s speed up the next step for humanity,” which was well tied into the rest of the world. Whether or not you agree with this sentiment is presented as the final decision of “Singularity,” where Dex will merge with the AI, Kether. Otherwise, you can choose to deal with The Complex in their respective final decisions. I think the “Singularity” option would have been made stronger, however, if you could have seen more of the consequences of that decision in the ending. What happens to Dex after merging? What happens to the rest of humanity? Were the results ultimately good or bad or somewhere in between? Some sort of hint for the world’s future would have rounded this theme out completely.
Dex also spends a lot of the game examining information control equating to power. This is immediately shown through The Complex and their increasing interest in controlling the information in cyberspace. The counter to The Complex’s seemingly absolute control is Raycast, a hacker who has unveiled some of the biggest conspiracies of the world, and yet, no one knows who he is (though many hackers respect him immensely). However, Raycast is not shown to be a strictly positive figure. As much as he seems to represent information “freedom,” there are a number of times he exhibits even greater control over information. Throughout the narrative, he asks Decker and Dex to do favors for him in the name of bringing down The Complex, but he continues to hide information of Dex’s significance. It is the level of respect Raycast has garnered that allows him to ask favors of other hackers, who will help him without further questions and at the risk of their own lives. I would have liked to have seen this duality between Raycast and The Complex played out stronger throughout the game, especially if you decide to side with Raycast against The Complex. I think you were supposed to feel uncomfortable by siding with Raycast with all of the lies and manipulating he did to Dex, but while Raycast’s manipulations are seen as disagreeable, the atrocities The Complex has committed far outweigh Raycast’s secrecy. This theme is not just limited to The Complex and Raycast. It presents itself as well in both versions of the ending. When “Singularity” is given as a final option, both Raycast and Hammond, in their respective endings, immediately shut down this idea. Both claim that Dex merging with Kether and absorbing all that information would be to elevate her to godhood. Not only would taking in that much power be narcissistic, it would also be detrimental to humanity. Hammond even states that the information would be too much for Dex to handle all at once. The execution of this part of the theme would have also been assisted by an elaboration on the “Singularity” ending. What were the actual results of merging with Kether? Or did the writers mean for it to be as vague as it was?
All of the final decisions lead to this sort of meta discussion on “free will” vs “fate.” Now, I’m going to say here that I’m not the biggest fan of the “free will” vs “fate” theme in any media form. It works for some stories but that is usually when it is used as the central theme. I find in a lot of cases, the theme is thrown into the story without much thought or thorough integration with the story. I’m not saying that that is completely the case with Dex since I do believe there are places where you can argue for the use of the theme. In the final conversation with The Crow (Dex’s “original”), The Crow says there are “no real decisions” and “no real choices.” Dex rebuts by saying that she has made decisions and therefore has free will. This is directly pointing to the choices the player has made throughout the game, choosing how to complete a side quest or even the decision to reveal Raycast as the hacker. The Crow argues that emotions are the foundation for logic, that your decisions are based on emotional responses and what defines you as a person. It makes for an interesting interpretation for “free will” vs “fate,” and does make the player reexamine all of the decisions they made through the game. Which makes it even more interesting that your final decisions are all but locked in at this point. Your emotional response to Raycast and The Complex led you to form your decision on whether or not to turn in Raycast to Hammond. Now you must decide on whether you want to deal with The Complex or merge with Kether. I’m not sure how well the whole “emotions->logic->no free will” argument holds outside of the context of the game, but I think within the game, it really depends on how you decided to play it. Someone playing for the first time might play with more emotional responses or make decisions based on their own moral code. Others might decide to play a more chaotic route and “watch the world burn” so to speak, particularly if they’re replaying the game to see other endings. Their play style might be making less of a statement on their person and more of a statement on the player’s level of curiosity. It’s still a unique way to look at your in-game decisions as a player and interpret why you made the decisions you did.
Overall, I thought Dex ended up putting a lot into what is a short game, and they did a lot of things well. They created a really fascinating world with creative characters, all while trying to not make any of their themes feel too heavy handed. I really liked a lot of the plot build up for Dex, but I do think there were places where the writing could have been stronger, particularly with the final decisions in the game. Dex sets up a very firm stance on The Complex throughout the game: The Complex is bad, bad, bad. They do all these horrible things, all of which are morally unethical. Dex, and I’m assuming the player, are of the same mind concerning all The Complex’s atrocities. Then Dex meets The Crow, and after meeting her “original,” she is suddenly questioning her decision to destroy The Complex. It was something that took me by surprise, particularly when every other decision I had made in the game was to stop this horrible organization from continuing their work. I think if the writers had wanted the player to agree with Dex’s uncertainty, they needed to build it up more throughout the story or make siding with Raycast an equally bad decision. In other words, there needed to be more of a reason to side against destroying The Complex other than wanting to see some sort of “Bad End” or “screw Raycast for manipulating me all this time.” I had a lot of qualms with the way Raycast treated everyone else, but it wasn’t enough for me to go side with The Complex. Maybe the writers didn’t intend for the “Rule the Complex” or the “Singularity” endings to be anything more than an a “Bad End” curiosity, but in that case, there needed to be a stronger change in Dex present before the final moments with The Crow. Especially since Dex also did not show an interest in earlier augmentations, so merging with an AI seems like a giant leap from simple implants. On that note, I also believe the “Singularity” ending could have been expanded on, at least with some hints of what happened as a result of that decision. Perhaps it was meant to be left up to interpretation, but since a lot of the themes seem to link back up to that ending, I think it needed a bit more to the final cutscene. Overall, I still greatly enjoyed this game and had a lot of fun playing it. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Dreadlocks brings to the table.