The months and years were stacked against us gamers when Ubisoft first showed off its squad-based online RPG shooter, The Division, but now the game is nearing release. Between the Beta and an event in January, we’ve got a lot of information about The Division. But, for every answer we might get, it seems like a new questions pops up.
We know what the combat is like. We know shooting a strong enemy in the face won’t always kill them. We know what exploring is like. We know the Dark Zone can be a bloodbath or a bunch of people just staring one another down, waiting for someone to shoot. We know a little bit about how messed up New York is, and an even smaller bit about why.
All we’ve been able to learn only sets the stage for the game. We know the gameplay is compelling, with challenging and intelligent enemies, and that the world we play in will look nice. But there’s still a lot more we’ll need to find out.
1. What’s The Division’s main story arc going to be about?
From what we’ve seen so far, it seems players are going to be trying to work to build up a functioning base of operations in Manhattan to slowly bring stability back to New York City. A lot of missions will likely pertain to gathering resources for that base. But building a base isn’t a story. The core of the story seems like it may be about discovering what really happened on Black Friday and during the subsequent virus outbreak.
The sounds like it’ll make for an interesting enough story. But the idea of The Division is to have a group of sleeper agents who step in during anarchy and chaos to bring order back. This means we should see some re-stabilization of New York as we progress through the game. This would seem like an obvious story, but The Division aims to keep players playing for a long time, not to just finish a campaign. So, if players can fix New York at the end of the campaign, there won’t be much left to do, and there certainly wouldn’t be a lot of room for expansions. Of course, if players aren’t allowed to make enough progress, the story could start to feel like a whole lot of effort for nothing. Discovering whether The Division’s story strikes a balance, and how it does, will have to wait until March.
2. How will the world change?
This question is a follow-up to the last one. One of the main locations in the game is the Base of Operations (or the BOO). We’ve been told by developers that this location will see significant changes in form and function as players progress through the game. But the rest of New York? In all the footage and gameplay, New York is simply trashed. Building are still standing, but there is clutter everywhere, indoors and out, and cars strewn about the streets (though maybe less than you’d expect).
We can expect the world to change a bit as we progress through the main story elements. But if players can tame New York, the game world will suddenly become a bore to explore. If players are allowed to eradicate any of the factions, a whole bit of intrigue will be lost. It should be a pleasure to have a world that’s dynamic and changes to show players are actually progressing, as that something that’s been found lacking in other online RPGs. But whether Ubisoft can execute it without simultaneously making the game world boring remains to be seen.
3. How will the game stay relevant for the long run?
Ubisoft has details plans for three expansions to The Division. While that certainly sounds like a plan to keep the game relevant for more than a few months. Looking closely at what those expansions are might make them seem less promising. The first is “Underground” and will let players explore the deeper parts of the city. So a bit of extra content can be expected here, though it’s not clear just how much, as there is already some underground areas that players can explore. The second expansion sounds like its focus will be to introduce a survival mode which pits players against waves of enemies. Fun, maybe, but not necessarily fuel to keep most gamers locked in for months. The third expansion, “Last Stand,” doesn’t have details yet.
This question returns to the earlier question of how Ubisoft will be able to let players feel like they’re actually accomplishing something in the game world while still leaving them something to come back for.
4. How will it avoid the pitfalls of Destiny
Hearing The Division described as a squad-based online RPG shooter, a lot of gamers will quickly think of Destiny as a point of comparison. It is similar is some regards. Players can group up to explore the game world, work together to take on a variety of enemies, and find loot, of course. But for all the promise Destiny had, it also has managed to enrage a lot of gamers by essentially forcing them to buy expansions in order to continue enjoying the game (read: continue grinding for better gear). Ubisoft will want to keep gamers interested and engaged, but how it’s going to successfully do that without charging for expensive DLC is a lingering question.
One way Ubisoft has been working to keep Rainbow Six Siege interesting for gamers has been the addition of new characters with unique skills. Translating this tactic to The Division would mean the addition of new skill sets to essentially create a new character class. Of course, there aren’t any hints of this happening in Ubisoft’s explanation of its expansions.
5. Is this just the beginning? Is the rest of the world next?
Part of the fun of The Division will be exploring a realistic New York City without all the traffic — albeit with a lot more criminals and corpses lying about. But the plot of The Division explains that the viral outbreak was not limited to New York City. It struck major cities throughout the U.S. and the world. So, while New York might excite us at first and introduce us to the gameplay, the potential for expansions/sequels that center in less familiar but equally realistic settings could make for great video game tourism. Who didn’t have wandering around Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs? The question now is whether Ubisoft has plans to do more.
6. How much is it really going to cost in the end?
The standard game will cost $60 at launch. The Gold version will include a season pass for new expansions and weighs in at $100. A collectors edition includes some free in-game gear, as well as some inspired apparel, and costs a whopping $160. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been easy to know how much we all will really need to spend to play video games lately. Games like Star Wars Battlefront have a normal price to get into the game but end up costing significantly more to really be on the same page in the game as everyone else. It gets to feeling less like you’re paying for more content and more like you’re paying more to not be excluded from core content. A game like The Division, with such a focus on the online interactions, could confront players with the same type of dilemmas (but let’s hope not).