Can The Division Change its Destiny
The Division was released in 2016 and was Ubisoft’s first real attempt at creating an online multiplayer shooter. With its realistic setting of New York in crisis, good cover-based combat and a solid progression system, there was a lot to like about The Division. It also had its fair share of problems that caused frustration with the new player base. With the release of details on The Division 2 at the Ubisoft E3 presentation, we finally have a good look at what we will experience in the next instalment and a release date, March 25th next year. The question is, “has Ubisoft Massive learned from their mistakes?”
It is fitting that The Division has been compared to Destiny. They are both online shooters, both were brand new IP’s, and both franchises became the fastest selling game in their respective release time frames. However, the one thing both games truly shared is that both Destiny and The Division had serious issues at launch that
Destiny had a huge marketing campaign in the lead up to launch. It was a brand new IP from the masterminds behind the Halo franchise and had had a very a successful beta. People were excited by the prospects of the game and were eager to explore the world that the team from Bungie had created. Once the game launched though, it was clear that there were a number of problems. A lacklustre story with bland characters. No matchmaking for Strikes and Nightfalls for players who didn’t have friends to play with. A lack of end game content. When coupled with low drop rates for legendary gear, there was a large amount of frustration from players. When players are willing to shoot at a cave for hours rather than play end game content, there is a serious problem. While Bungie was quick to act on it and add some balance to the game, it was indicative of the issues that the players faced.
One of these was just that there was not much endgame content overall. The players were limited to the Strikes, Nightfalls and PvP in the Crucible. The first DLC was a disappointment, with very little story content added. and the new missions were all made utilising existing areas of the game world that had already been used before. Despite the increased drop rates of Legendary Engrams, it was still a grind to earn the gear needed to successfully complete the Nightfalls and Raids without resulting to exploits. There was some improvement in the second DLC, which added more story content and two new game modes added, but there was still no matchmaking for those of us without friends online. By this point, I had considered finishing up with Destiny, but the announcement and release of the third expansion ‘The Taken King’ sealed its fate for me.
While ‘The Taken King’ made big strides in fixing what was wrong with the game, it came at a steep cost. Here in Australia, we were being asked to fork out $70 just to get the expansion. That is almost the price of a brand new game (I spent $80 to get MGSV that month) and on top of that, Bungie had rerecorded all of the voice work that Peter Dinklage had done, replacing it with Nolan North, bringing just the update without The Taken King content to around 50 gigs. Now while my internet was not terrible, that 50 gig would have taken me a good 12 hours of downloading, and at the time would have used half of my allotted bandwidth for the month. The only other two people that played Destiny with me were in a worse off position than I was and both uninstalled the game and traded it in.
By the majority of accounts I could find as I researched this, ‘The Taken King’ had finally allowed Bungie to get the balance right between grind and fun, and there was enough content to keep the player base engaged and enjoying the game. The formula had been found and it was looking good for the launch of Destiny 2…
Except Destiny 2 wasn’t that great.
Don’t get me wrong, the story was a great step beyond what we saw in Destiny, the gun-play was as tight as it had ever been and the public events were now on the map with a timer so you knew where to be and when in order to take advantage of them. But while I was playing it something felt off. Between side quests, public events, Lost Sectors, Crucible, Strikes and the weekly Nightfall there is plenty of stuff to do but where the game fails is giving the players the drive to keep doing these things.
Where Destiny had you praying to the RNG gods to get a purple legendary Engram to drop, Destiny 2 has more than you get in a packet of skittles. Not bad if you want to get that wonderful combination of perks that match your play style perfectly, but alas, all of the guns now drop with the exact same perks. Sure, you can get one that is in the next power bracket and helps to boost your light level more, but once you have the most powerful version of your gun of choice then any others you get just become parts to trade into the gunsmith. The same holds true for all the exotic weapons in the game.
The way you get gear as rewards from the different activities have been changed as well. While there will be an occasional legendary or exotic Engram drop from these events, most of the rewards you earn are in the form of tokens which you redeem with the various NPC’s. Raids, Strikes, public activities. All of them give you tokens. There is no more “HOLY SHIT” moments as you see an exotic weapon pop up on your screen. You just trade tokens for Engrams and take them to the Cryptarch, often with multiples at a time because again, skittles.
Despite all that Bungie had gone through in redefining the experience of Destiny, it seems like they just decided to start from scratch again for Destiny 2, scrapping many of the changes that had defined Destiny into the game it had become. Looking to the future I find myself wondering if Ubisoft Massive will do the same with The Division 2.
Like Destiny, The Division had a very successful beta prior to launch. What followed was a massive launch period where the first problem reared its head. Every time you created a new character you had to go through a tutorial area. During the tutorial, every player had to activate their agent on a laptop, however, due to the sheer number of players trying to activate their agents, it was sometimes impossible for a person to physically move close enough to use the laptop. Add to this a secondary bug where the activation would not register in the game and you already had frustration for the multitude of new players trying to access the game.
While The Division was lauded for its story and its visual representation of a New York decimated by the outbreak of the ‘Green Poison’, it was a game that was riddled with bugs and crashes. It was not uncommon to have the game crash in the middle of a mission and lose all progress. This was even more frustrating when trying to complete the first Incursion, a mission in which powerful gear could be earned but was so difficult that you needed complete coordination with your team throughout the whole process. It seemed like every time my squad was on our game and on the way to beating the mission one of us would suffer a game crash. Even if the rest of the squad managed to survive while the player restarted the game, the player was locked out of the Incursion. Failure and frustration were inevitable and it was no surprise that people started to take advantage of an exploit that took you outside of the game map and allowed players to blow up the APC.
The DLC didn’t help things either. Rather than expanding on the story, in which the ending was left open by events in order to set up future instalments, the first expansion ‘Underground’ instead offered the game a randomised dungeon generator, much like the Rifts in Diablo. Fans were disappointed and with player counts going down, Massive made the choice to push back the two future instalments of DLC to focus on fixing the core game. During this time they fixed various bugs, enemy AI, drop rates for gear and expanded the end game content so that there was more to do than farm the Dark Zone. The other two expansions were of the same vein as ‘Underground’, adding new modes for people to play but neither containing any story content. ‘Survival’ was an interesting game mode, tasking the player with scavenging for gear and supplies in order to make it into the Dark Zone and call for an extraction, but ‘Final Stand’ was just a PVP expansion. For a guy like myself that would rather story content, I was left pretty disappointed overall.
At least with the last two free content updates made to the game, there is now a plethora of things to do for players who do not want to enter the Dark Zone. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. The Dark Zone was originally all that there was for end game content upon release. It is an area where players will encounter bands of more powerful NPC enemies that were the key to getting the most powerful gear in the game. However, unlike the main game world, where you would only see other players in the safe-houses around the city, the Dark Zone was populated with other players as well. If you were lucky you could find players and team up to take down enemies and extract the powerful gear. If you weren’t, and it was that way a lot, you would find yourself at the end of other players attacks and have your gear stolen. I soon learned that in the Dark Zone you do not trust anyone, as they will just as quickly help you then kill you for your loot.
Sometimes it was my squad that were the ones going rogue, however, this was not intentional. Back in the early days, any shot on another agent would automatically send you and your squad rogue. In the midst of battle, the fog of war would set in and you would be so focussed on killing the enemy that you would not realise that the person you are shooting at was another agent. “Ping”. You and your squad are designated as rogue and any other agent can attack you without repercussions. Between accidentally going rogue and being set upon by rogue agents for my gear, I soon lost the drive to go into the Dark Zone. At least Ubisoft Massive has changed the way that agents go rogue. No more will you find yourself running for your life and your gear because you accidentally shot another agent. Now you have to actively choose to go rogue before your attacks will damage other agents.
These days though, The Division is a whole different game once you complete the story. Ubisoft Massive has added a trove of content that allows players to keep themselves entertained. There are now a number of different gear sets that you can use to support your character build how you want to play. These gear sets can be found throughout the game world in various activities, such as taking out ‘ High-Value Targets’ and from ‘Field Proficiency Caches’, the latter of which you earn every time you “level up” after you reach level 30. Global Events add modifiers to missions in order to increase their difficulty and allow players to earn currency for ‘Global Caches’, giving them a chance to earn exotic gear pieces and classified rated gear sets.
Where once the daily ‘Challenging’ mission was a painful slog for a squad of four to get through, nowadays they are a lot easier for those with the gear. Just the other night I ran through one with a friend and we blasted our way through it without any problems. ‘Legendary’ missions though are a true step up in difficulty. That same friend and I were not able to make it through the front door on one of those missions, which I found rather emasculating. To help get you to the point where you can survive a legendary mission you can also check out the ‘West Side Piers’ area.
This area has higher spawn times for enemies and they some of the highest levels you will get outside of the Legendary missions and higher Dark Zone areas, and some procedural missions as well so there is always something to do. One of the biggest additions to the core game is ‘Resistance’ missions, a horde mode in three different areas that can also be used to get upgraded gear. You can choose to go solo or team up with a squad, which is definitely recommended as it can get very hectic, but it is a fun way to kill some time.
On top of the PvE, there have also been changes to the Dark Zone. Now players can still go rogue and steal your gear, but now when you clear out a landmark you will be rewarded with gear straight into your inventory. Any loot you pick up from enemies (or other agents) will still need to be extracted, but at least you can go in and get some stuff without being left with nothing but your destroyed pride. There has also been an extra area added to the DZ, giving players yet another challenging place to push the limits of their gear and skills.
These changes helped to bring The Division back from the edge of failure, but the big question people are asking is will they have learned from their mistakes. Ubisoft Massive is adamant that they have learned their lessons from the past and during Ubisoft’s E3 presentation we finally got a good look at where The Division 2 will take us next.
Set seven months after the events of The Division, the ‘Dollar Bill Flu’ is almost gone and the country has descended into chaos. You find yourself in Washington DC, a city torn apart by the collapse of infrastructure and services. Where New York was a cold and frozen maze of buildings, Washington is full of overgrown vegetation and suffering heat waves. There are numerous factions fighting for control of different parts of the city while the civilians are just trying to survive in these tumultuous times. It is your job to help bring stability to Washington DC and help the survivors rebuild.
Once you complete the campaign you will have the choice of specialities for your character to undertake. There are three to choose from, and each one will provide you with their own signature weapon and skills, allowing you to further tailor your character to your own play-style. You will use these new specialities to undertake the end game content, of which in year one will include 3 “episodes” of DLC that will add story content, game modes, and other activities. Each of these episodes will be available to all players for free. On top of this, The Division 2 will introduce eight-person raids to the franchise, presenting an even greater challenge than what players have experienced so far.
Interestingly enough, during the E3 presentation, there was no hint given about whether The Division 2 will have its own Dark Zone. While the premise of the Dark Zone in the original was an area that had been abandoned by the JTF after losing control, what plot device they will use in order to create it will be interesting. My own experiences notwithstanding, it was a good concept that deserves to be expanded upon in the sequel.
It is clear that Ubisoft Massive knows where they went wrong with The Division, and the E3 presentation has done a lot to ease my worries about being burned again. We have seen in the past that Ubisoft is willing to learn from its mistakes. Assassins Creed, Watch Dogs, Far Cry. Each of these games had issues that the publisher took on board, leading to greatly improved games in their respective sequels. I had the feeling that Destiny 2 would have been a great improvement over the original and look at what happened there. For now, all we can do is wait until March 15 next year and see if Ubisoft Massive can deliver on their promises and give us a great game that the players will want to keep playing.