By Ben L.
When Ubisoft’s brand new IP The Division releases today, it will be seeking to avoid following in the footsteps of another big MMO game before it – Destiny.
It is easy to draw similarities between the two games. They are online-only shooters with RPG elements that have undergone development hell before hitting the shelves. In The Division‘s case, the three years spent in the studio in Sweden also saw a massive graphics downgrade, and more so for the consoles than the PC version.
Also, while previously touted as a 1-for-1 recreation of New York, the game will now launch with only Midtown Manhattan as its playable area, though it is possible that Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx could be introduced later as DLC. And if they are to be paid for, I’m sure there will be more than a few pitchforks raised.
So on looks alone, The Division seems like a huge letdown, if you had put down your money for it.
Then there is also the possibility of being a repetitive, boring game like Destiny has been accused of, months after release. Without the addition of varied missions and gear to collect, The Division could find itself becoming as hollow as the desolate Manhattan streets it portrays.
But from the most recent beta that I had played two weeks ago, there is a lot of potential for The Division to be a refreshing game in the online shooter genre, most of which lies in the Dark Zone – the designated PvP area in the game. This is where players try to extract more powerful weapons and gear than those found elsewhere in the game either by working together as a team or going solo.
Once you fire a flare to signal a helicopter extraction for your loot, you’re also welcoming wolves to a dinner party. Those who have no interest in seeking their own fortunes will descend on your helipad, either announcing their arrival by opening fire immediately or lying in wait and springing an attack when the helicopter approaches. You could even be betrayed by your squad mate at the very last second, as this Ubisoft trailer suggests:
It’s incredibly tense when you see a bunch of armed men coming towards you as the extraction timer slowly counts down, not knowing whether they are there to do a ‘chopper-pool’ with their own loot, or hoping to make it home twice as rich with yours. And when the first gunshot cracks the icy tension, the situation quickly spirals into a crazy bloodbath on the snowy contaminated streets of New York.
This mistrust of other human players in the Dark Zone is highly reminiscent of another online shooter DayZ, which delivered one of the best multiplayer experiences due to the unpredictability of human nature. Thrown into a zombie-infested Soviet city, you are forced to scavenge for food, water and other essentials in addition to weapons to protect yourself against both the living and the undead. And the fear of coming across a human player with criminal intentions is turned up a notch because if you’re killed, your character is reset and all those hours that you had spent would have come to nought.
The Division aspires to instil that level of fear in the Dark Zone, but the beta didn’t quite deliver that experience. This is fundamentally due to the fact that apart from losing the Dark Zone loot that you had found, there is no disincentive to die in the PvP area. You respawn at the nearest checkpoint in about 15 seconds, and enter the arena once more with the same weapons and gear that you had before.
It’s also ridiculously easy to become a rogue agent when you had no intention to turn on the other players. When firefights erupt at the extraction zone, stray bullets may hit other non-rogue players in the ensuing confusion and although the game warns you about friendly fire, when you’re in the heat of the action and the finger is on the trigger, the bullets fly too fast for you to compute that your aiming is a little off the mark. And that fraction of a mistake would earn you that unwanted rogue status, which flashes on everyone’s screens lighting your character up like a Manhattan Christmas tree.
I’ve had rewarding moments when everyone in the party, all strangers, actually worked together to defend the loot extraction. But these instances are few, and if my experience from DayZ three years ago (as well as the comments about the game’s latest alpha version) count for anything, it’s that The Division‘s Dark Zone could very well become a hotbed for terrorists and serial killers who take pure joy in slaughtering other players, even if their victims have no loot for them to steal.
Which is why if The Division wants to become a game that promotes team-work like its trailers actually portray, then the PvP mechanics need to be revamped to encourage players to be focused on quests and tasks instead of being a psychopath who ruins the game for others. A post-apocalyptic New York City is the perfect setting for a survival game, and given how the plot tries to ground itself in reality it would have been interesting to see players conserve ammo, foraging for more supplies and trading with one another (loot trading has been confirmed as part of an update in April).
But as it stands now, the Dark Zone in The Division is more of a battle arena that favours players who have put in more hours due to its RPG-style levelling system. Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed the beta, but I’m more worried about how the game will last and keep its players if the game experience stagnates and becomes repetitive or even off-putting for those who actually want to explore the city instead of being gunned down by trigger-happy orang utans every couple of blocks.
My gripes from the game’s beta will definitely be carried over to the full game tomorrow, but over the next few months if the developers observe how players behave in the Dark Zone and refine the PvP system, The Division could deliver a very compelling and engaging multiplayer experience that would last for the next 12 months. At the very least, I feel some form of punishment needs to be implemented to discourage players from turning rogue from the get-go – make them feel afraid of losing their own life instead of taking away someone else’s, just as DayZ managed to do in its early days.
The Division is available on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One.