The Division and Me: Part One
It’s been two years, multiple consoles, hundreds of hours and an awful lot of pain with each update along the way. However, for me, The Division has delivered the online looter shooter experience I’ve always craved, it’s allowed me to meet some amazing new friends, and provided what I’d describe as some of the greatest gaming moments I’ve ever experienced in gaming on any platform. With the release of the huge 1.8 free update in December 2017 as well as the introduction of monthly global events, people are flooding back to the game and this is awesome. I, however, never left, and this is my tale.
Having watched the E3 reveal, taken part in the alpha and the beta as well as playing on two consoles from day one, it’s fair to say that I was initially a little invested in The Division. I had grown up with PC gaming, migrating across to console during the PS2 era and then switching allegiance when the original Xbox arrived, and I was forever looking for that ‘Warcraft’ experience I’d heard so much about year on year. I had, however, moved to a place in my life where I worked ten-plus hours a day in front of a PC, the eyes had failed about ten years early according to the optician as a result, so the thought of spending my evenings in front a PC had absolutely no appeal. Sadly, at the time consoles just didn’t have the juice, internet connections weren’t quite up to scratch and the technology just wasn’t at the point where this sort of experience could be had from the comfort of your sofa. As time rolled on, consoles improved, server architecture improved, online co-op on console started to become commonplace and my hopes began to rise.
More time passed, and it was clear that publishers were gradually working their way to trying to roll out games as a service, with long term ongoing appeal and the aim of being co-operative experiences. As someone craving this content and being the kind of person who plays a lot of games and follows the industry, it was clear that one day my wish might become a reality. Co-op campaigns were becoming a thing and the likes of FIFA and COD had proven that online numbers could support long term engagement both in game time and monetarily. Then Destiny arrived to a ton of fanfare and whilst the original game had fantastic shooting mechanics, it was a vapid, empty shell of a game with a laughable single-player campaign and next to no end game content (on release); in time it was clear to see that there was an appetite for repeat experiences with friends online on a console.
Then it happened...E3 2013 and Ubisoft unveiled The Division, a massive online cover-based shooter with RPG mechanics and a road map of content for at least a year. Could this be the one? Could this be the game I’d been looking for since I first tried Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast? It sure looked like it could be; little did I know at the time how it would slot itself into my daily life.
Fast forward a few years to the launch day. It’s March 2016 and I’m on the hype train, to the point where I’d ordered it on both Xbox and PS4, mainly as I had two batches of gamer friends, both of which were all in with gold editions pre-ordered (including all DLC) and I willingly sped through the campaign on both consoles. It felt great. The inevitable graphical downgrade from E3 wasn’t on the Watch Dogs scale and as a result didn’t phase me; I was enjoying my time with the campaign so much that I didn’t even care that I’d have to play it all again on another console the following day. I think the core reason why even the initial twenty hours or so in the campaign felt good was mainly because I’d always gravitated towards third-person shooters and cover shooters like Gears of War. Gaming for many years had taught me that during the minute to minute of a first-person shooter I just didn’t cut the mustard; it was too fast, there was little to no thought to it, the constantly having to strafe and duck & weave just didn’t do it for me. I loved a good shooter but I liked one that allowed me a little time in cover to think about my approach to situations, not in a Ghost Recon “two shots and you’re dead” kind of way but somewhere in between. Out of the gate, The Division appeared to tick all these boxes. The proceeding forty to fifty hours playing the campaign on both consoles was a joy and whilst not perfect — containing plenty of typical open world activity padding and side quest fodder — it kept me engaged and the cover-based gunplay just clicked.
Following the completion of the campaign on both consoles it quickly became apparent that the so called ‘end game’ at launch was, shall we say, sparse. It’s always a tricky thing to get right for sure, but this was slightly different. Other games like the aforementioned Destiny tried to inject reward through repetition but if the content is lacking, then boredom will set in with the fan base and people move on with their lives, The Division seemed to think it had the remedy to this in the Dark Zone. Sadly what I felt upon reaching this stage of the game was that I could login and do my daily Hard missions (at this point challenging missions were an impossibility for me), then that would be it - the reason being that the end game was pretty much just the Dark Zone. For the uninitiated, the Dark Zone was a bold experiment in online gaming, a set area with new locations, NPCs, bosses, mobs and most importantly, other human players too.
At this point in the game’s life the Dark Zone was pretty much the only place to get better gear, and the game forced you in there if you wanted to keep playing it. For me, this was an error and to this day I dislike the Dark Zone. It’s a funny one really, as I don’t dislike it technically, I don’t dislike the content within it, in fact I’d love the Dark Zone to be available without the one restricting factor to it being fun...people. As a concept the Dark Zone, on paper at least, seemed like it would have it all, but sadly after spending many hours in there, what’s happened is that it’s provided a game mode that rewards toxicity. The initial few months of release saw the end game being entirely in there, with little or no way of acquiring better gear than venturing in there. This was a massive problem particularly for solo players with four man squads camping at entrances, hunting people down across the server and generally just being toxic. Many will argue it’s a PvP area and that’s par for the course, which is a valid counter argument, however for large chunks of the early life of the end game made everyone enter the Dark Zone, to the game’s detriment.
As time rolled on updates came thick and fast - well not fast enough for a lot of people - but if you have ever actually worked with development and development teams it was pretty quick. However, it seemed that with each update came a new set of problems. The Bullet King was one of the first high profile issues, as was the wall glitch during the first Incursion, allowing people to effectively cheat and obtain better loot drops. Bullet King was entertaining for an evening but, for me, actually playing the game as it was intended was way more fun. Over time gear sets changed, the meta within the game changed with almost every update and some things were tweaked that fundamentally altered the experience across the board (time to kill, for example). Occasionally they caused some to come back, but more often than not players, with many alternative options, dropped it like a hot stone.
By around the second or third update I stopped playing on Xbox, my friends on that platform had lost interest, bar one, and we just couldn’t do the tougher end game content as a two-man team. We loved the game so we’d jump on for an hour an evening to do the dailies and then I’d switch over to my full squad on PS4 later in the evening - this wasn’t really sustainable, so it was with regret that I walked away from the Xbox version. Interestingly in that time I found myself playing Xbox less and less, to the point where the announcement for a the new Project Scorpio did nothing for me and I even went so far as to go out and buy a PS4 Pro to, in time, enjoy The Division in 4K. Whilst disappointing, it wasn’t entirely surprising and with that I went fully head-on into the PS4 version, with the core goal of conquering (in time) anything The Division would throw at me content-wise and we would experience, and hopefully beat everything the game had to offer. As it happened, this proved tougher than I expected…
Check back on Thursday for part two! While you wait, why not enjoy some gameplay footage from a recent Global Event?
<blockquote class="twitter-video" data-lang="en"><p lang="und" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PS4share?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PS4share</a><a href="https://t.co/7oB8K7praD">https://t.co/7oB8K7praD</a> <a href="https://t.co/raVn10d8wg">pic.twitter.com/raVn10d8wg</a></p>— Andrew P (@rpcdrag0n) <a href="https://twitter.com/rpcdrag0n/status/958044248057708549?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 29, 2018</a></blockquote>
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