The Division was announced at E3 in 2013 as the start of a new Tom Clancy sub-franchise. Set in a beautifully haunting rendition of Manhattan, The Division promised tense gun-play and a grounded story of a smallpox virus released upon the city. These features showcased a darker side of Ubisoft, far away from men in hoods running over rooftops or Rabbid minigame collections. Incredible tone-piece trailers were unlike anything we’d seen since Dead Island’s debut.
Finally hitting store shelves in March 2016, excitement for the game was palpable. In fact, in it’s first week on sale, The Division generated an estimated $330 million dollars globally which, made it the biggest launch of a new game franchise in industry history.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t what many were expecting – despite Ubisoft marketing the game as an action-RPG, many were disappointed that some enemies took more than one headshot to fell – even more surprising given the grounded nature of the game. The Division’s reliance on checkpoints being located at safe houses meant long trudges across cookie-cutter streets, only to be gunned down by bullet sponge enemies. The progression and inventory systems were cluttered and the game’s sole PVP experience (The Dark Zone) was an unforgiving mess of high-level players dealing out endless beatings to new players.
Perhaps most disappointingly, outside of shooting proverbial “fish in a barrel” in the Dark Zone, endgame content was sparse. A post-launch update added improved enemy AI and a new “Incursion” (think Destiny’s raids but a lot less imaginative) but the damage had been done: The Division was dead. Subsequent attempts to add more content fell flat, be it free Incursions or paid DLC.
The paid DLC was, for the most part, less “more content” as per something like Destiny 2 and more like “more modes” – randomly generated “dungeons” formed the majority of The Underground expansion. Survival pits players against each other in a Battle-Royale format – fighting cold and hunger as well as each other. Great ideas though these may be, it wasn’t what The Division needed. By the time the final expansion Last Stand landed in February 2017 (focusing more on PVP content), players had long since moved on.
So if a game’s PAID content wasn’t enough to keep players interested, how is The Division a better game now? The answer is simple – free content.
In amongst the larger content drops, The Division’s core gameplay was bolstered by numerous patches, none more impressive that October 2016’s 1.4 patch. After this update, guns felt like they did more than tickle enemies, the inventory system was tweaked to be a lot more manageable, and progression was limited to a number of tiers. Once you reach the level cap of 30, earning gear in each “World Tier” improves your Gearscore (think Light or Power levels in Destiny 1 or 2, respectively). Once you reach a high enough level, you can move to the next tier and so on. Each tier also has an impressive array of difficulty options and activities, and every single one feels rewarding and makes progression feel constant and vertical.
The best part of all this? The loot. While The Division’s more grounded approach means guns aren’t likely to be as inventive (for the most part) as those found in similar games in the “looter shooter” genre, the weapons feel distinctive enough to feel balanced and interesting every time they drop. The addition of “armour sets” (collections of items that provide high level bonuses when equipped together) also allows players to try new playstyles to maximise their time in the game. It plays more like present day Diablo 3 than anything else.
Subsequent patches in 2017 added “Global Events” – limited time events with specific goals that somehow provides even more loot – and a new play area with a new co-op “Horde Mode” and PVP mode. These may sound like smaller morsels of content, but in conjunction with patch 1.4, the Division in 2018 feels like a new game.
On 8th March 2018 The Division 2 was announced. While the hype isn’t at the same fever pitch of it’s predecessor, Ubisoft’s commitment to “games as a service” has led to a new sense of hope amongst the community that if they learn from their mistakes – we could have quite the game on our hands.