Time to suit up, agent
The Division - a hybrid RPG, shooter, MMO - is almost here. The latest Tom Clancy game takes players into an apocalyptic world filled with militant factions, goons wearing thick armor, and unhinged survivors carrying massive guns. The game aims to test all of your trigger-pulling, gadget-throwing, loot-hoarding skills as you attempt to liberate a war torn, dilapidated New York (and earn ever-better loot, of course).
The Division gives you a full range of single or co-op loot-grinding missions, along with plenty of PvP events to dominate online opponents. It's definitely up there as one of Ubisoft's most ambitious projects. With The Division coming on March 8, we'll finally get to see how the game holds up to the competition (*cough* Destiny), but until then we have everything you need to know about The Division right here.
It takes place after the collapse of society
Before the world saw The Division, it was treated to a long, rambling video detailing how precarious civilisation is. Everything is teetering on the edge of ruin, and something as small as a massive catastrophe could bring it all crumbling down. The government has systems in place to deal with such a situation (it actually does, we looked it up), including soldiers ready to mobilise to help rebuild the world.
But in this near future scenario everyone is a threat. Weapons and ammo are relatively scarce and water is even scarcer. You play as a team going on missions in New York City - or what remains of it - attempting to put the pieces back together after a virus that spreads via infected bank notes wipes out a good portion of the population. There's probably a message about capitalism and greed in there somewhere, yeah?
It takes place in a large, open world
In an early demo, the hero opens up his map, displaying New York City as a hologram around him. Blips on the map show different available missions - one is a public quest in the sewers, and others pull him to different locations around the city. Any of these missions can be accepted, and see you traversing the open-world to head to whichever quest you want. In the demo, the devs opt to take the one marked 'Critical', indicating there's a priority system for in-game missions.
The world of The Division is densely packed, as the gameplay relies on tight shoot-outs that make the most of duck-and-cover mechanics. Ubisoft says the world of The Division is filled with dynamic events meant to keep players on their toes, so expect Destiny-style public events and random encounters. The missions themselves seem fairly straightforward, but it's the world that really makes us this one interesting. According to Ubi, your decisions will change the world too (like Dragon Age: Inquisition) although the true extent of this remains to be seen.
The survivors have split into factions
While playing Dark Zone we discovered that not all enemies are just desperate villains with scavenged weapons. Most have split into specific groups, having rallied around leading figures or ideals. The group we encounter are called The Cleaners - they believe that they can burn away the corruption gripping New York. With flamethrowers. Yes.
It's a massively multiplayer online game
The Division's focus is on online play, meaning you're sharing the open world with plenty of friends (and foes). There is no offline mode but, like Destiny, you can opt to play solo. Gameplay looks like it's balanced around group encounters, too so while you can play alone, you'll likely appreciate having someone to flank when you're holding out behind cover. Different characters can have different abilities, too, making it important to form a balanced group. Don't worry - you can drop in and out of friends' games, so if your party lacks a certain character class, you should find it easy to invite a new player in.
There are - apparently - 1000s of weapon and gear combinations, so loot clearly plays a key role in the game. You can even craft fresh supplies, and customise the survival kit you carry around.
And an RPG
Even in terms of gameplay, The Division is a fully-fledged RPG. Enemies have health bars above their heads, numbers fly through the air like rice at a wedding when you shoot them, and you can loot weapons from their corpses. The first demo ends with the player looting a sweet new gun from a storage locker.
Interestingly, you'll also be able to trade, which is something missing from most other console-focused RPGs. This is player-to-player trading, so presumably you'll be able to sell others your surplus equipment and unwanted guns. Will this be done face-to-face in world? Maybe in the game's social area? Seems likely.
And it's a full-on shooter with destructible environments
From what we've seen, the RPG elements mix well with the action gameplay. The characters take cover behind walls that crumble realistically as enemies pepper them with fire. You can shoot holes in billboards to take down bad guys, and blow up walls to get to your targets. At one point in the early demo a player drops a rolling mine that zooms to an enemy hiding behind a car and blows him - and the vehicle - to smithereens.
PVP combat brings special loot, but more risks
There are special PvP areas called Dark Zones (opens in new tab), which may support between 50-100 players. These are lawless, contaminated areas completely thrown open to player versus player combat. The benefit of the these areas is that you can find special loot and weapons, providing you can escape the zone with it: “In the Dark Zone, the items that you come across, there’s something different about them,” says The Division's Director, Ryan Barnard.
But to avoid losing this gear you have to successfully get out alive, at which point they become yours forever. Where that gets tricky is that extraction involves calling for a helicopter using a signal flare, potentially alerting surrounding players that someone’s trying to get out with a bag full of exciting gear. It takes the chopper 90 seconds to arrive, and anything can happen in that time...
You can betray everyone
When you're in a Dark Zone, anything goes. Chances are, you'll meet other human-controlled players, and when that happens you can opt to either work with them, or try to gun them down. You're all competing for the same loot, so expect every uneasy alliance to be filled with tension. Yeah, you're probably going to get a knife in your back (or 100 rounds of SMG ammo, more accurately) the minute you call for extraction.
But that's only half the story. If you're a particularly shameless brand of asshole, you can murder your own team while waiting for extraction. You can then loot their furious corpses, and escape on the chopper. It's pretty funny, and you'll laugh heartily until you realise that you're going to die alone.
Loot will have a rarity system
That's not all when it comes to Dark Zones. When you're inside PvP you'll see a wanted-style rating system that will draw attention to the most dangerous individuals. There’s also talk of dynamic missions against tough AI, where players can form those uneasy alliances with rival teams to help complete quests for high level loot rewards (traditional green, blue and purple style rarity colour ratings are mentioned). Again, yeah, sounds like Destiny.
The companion app… isn't happening
Did you hear about that The Division companion app (opens in new tab), which lets you enter the game using a tablet to control a drone? Sorry, that has been ditched, despite sounding very cool indeed. "It was proving to be too much of an advantage in PvP [so] we decided to level the playing field," says associate design director Julian Gerighty.
Makes sense - in Dark Zones especially, the difference between life (and glorious loot) and death (fury and emptiness) is slight, so anything that tips the balance needs to be carefully considered. Shame, but we understand why this happened.
Ubisoft Annecy is involved... and that matters
When Ubi announced that The Division was delayed until 2016, it also mentioned - rather too casually - that Ubisoft Annecy was helping out Massive with the game's multiplayer. And while you might see this as one Ubisoft studio being parachuted in to help out another, struggling studio... it's actually a damn good thing. See, Ubi Annecy is the team responsible for creating the excellent Spies vs Mercs multiplayer in Splinter Cell, and the groundbreaking online play in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. The studio is probably one of the most creative and talented multiplayer devs in the world.
And that gives us massive hope for The Division. Ubi wouldn't bring in the Annecy studio unless it wanted The Division to be the best (they have plenty of other teams to simply 'do a job' if the game simply needed 'fixing'), and to have some genuinely creative features. So put down your pitchfork and flaming torch, and see the good in this latest, rather frustrating delay...