The Division and Me: Part Two

February 22, 2018
FEATURES
PS4
Also on: PC, Xbox One

This is the second of a two-part reflective essay on my time with The Division. Part one can be found here.

Over the course of the first year, The Division took steps forward and then almost immediately some backwards. The new DLC which was rolled out over the period was an odd mish-mash of ideas which for long periods of time from their three respective launches upset more people than they impressed. The Underground (1.3) was a procedurally generated set of missions underneath the city, very much in the mould of the rifts in Diablo 3. In theory, to me at least, this sounded heavenly. In practice it was a massive grind with poor rewards. Following that they brought us Survival (1.5) a new mode utilising the Dark Zone, stripping the player back to basics and forcing a wealth of survival mechanics on them. In isolation this mode is tough but atmospherically fantastic. Sadly, due to its runtime of around an hour per mission and yet more mediocre rewards, it was a barren wasteland just a few months later.

Some examples of the many gear sets available

The final piece of DLC saw a new PvP mode implemented called Last Stand (1.6); again on paper a simple enough 8v8 mode, but to muddy the water a little they utilised large maps with objectives as well as NPCs running around everywhere. This odd mixing of gameplay, similar to the Dark Zone didn’t appeal to a predominantly PvE player like me and whilst I’ve experimented, it’s not of much interest. As a side note, these updates usually included a new Incursion as well as adding new difficulty modifiers for existing missions. For reference, Incursions are very much like Raids, and the one thing I will openly criticise about The Division is locking 50% of these away behind DLC.

The last of the paid for DLC's rolled out with a new PvP mode

So the DLC was all paid and was a mixed bag which rightfully disappointed many, and if people hadn’t walked away to do other things by the end of year one, it would have almost certainly crossed their minds. Full transparency: I even took a break from doing the weeklies and didn’t play for roughly two or so months, my biggest break aside from holidays in the two years since launch. So what changed? Well, for all the YouTube videos that came out after the announcement of two free updates for year two telling the world "I'm not playing this any more", "The Division is dead", and so on (as if we cared), Massive Entertainment actually started to come through on its promise. They introduced global events (1.7), monthly events with game-wide modifiers (think skulls in Halo and exploding confetti heads) which came with new gear sets and, more recently, elite versions of the gear sets with added bonuses for completing a set, known as Classified gear. With each event would come a new set, usually four at a time, regularly giving the player something to farm for and simultaneously changing up the minute-to- minute gameplay with modifiers, thus keeping things fresh eighteen months in.

Massive do one really, really important thing with The Division and it’s a thankless task when you consider the audience - they talk to the community and then actually listen. It’s a weird concept to wrap your head around, granted, but one which Activision and EA should take note of. The Division now has free test servers on both PC and console which are updated for each proposed new set of content changes and they actively encourage feedback. This feedback has absolutely shaped the game over the second year; sure, some might not think they really did as feature X or Y that they really wanted didn’t happen but it should be generally accepted that community feedback has influenced decision making.

Patiently waiting for the squad to ready themselves

So yes, it’s taken two years and yes, an awful lot of mistakes were made, but I would say this to even the most ardent hater who played it and dropped it: you are missing out, and whatever else it is that you are playing in its stead, chances are deep down, it wishes it was as good as The Division has been over the last few months. So what has the latest update brought to the table and why would you bother returning to a game you may have moved on from long ago? Well, it seems pointless listing all the quality of life improvements here as this article would be many pages long, but suffice to say it’s a significantly better experience than when it first launched. There’s the ability to create dedicated build loadouts, multiple hub areas, the ease of matchmaking on any activity, and lots more besides. The teams involved in The Division could easily have downed tools after the release of paid DLC, but they did the opposite, in spades. For all the grief that Ubisoft, Massive and Red Storm received over the state of the end game at launch and the myriad of issues experienced in the two years after that, they did not cut and run, or stop after the already planned paid-for DLC. They are still trying to fix the game, trying to balance it all and with the latest 1.8 free update, still adding new content.

A quick summary of 1.8 alone would look a bit like this:

  • New PVE mode - A horde mode (we’ve all seen these before) which is more akin to Call of Duty Zombies with in-game currency for kills and varying fortifications. Three maps, fantastic rewards.
  • New PvP mode - Dedicated 4v4 mode with tight small maps and no distractions from PvE elements
  • Two new map areas full of randomly spawning mission types (six new mission types in total)
  • New collectibles
  • Gear optimisation
  • Completely reworked Underground with new enemies (Hunters from Survival) and completely new modifiers

Meet The House, the exotic weapon which everyone tried to get for weeks post 1.8 launch

So, fast forward to now. I routinely play The Division for at least ten hours a week, possibly more and it has become the backbone of my gaming week. I’ve played the game so much that it’s both my solo chill game and my intense “tactical shooter with a squad” game. It seems crazy to me that two years down the line, with both the quality of life updates and the huge content updates both paid and free, that I’m able to say with all confidence that I can log in every day and do completely different activities each time. That is one hell of an achievement in my eyes for a two-year-old game. The Division had major issues during the first year of its life and it is no surprise that the player base dropped. For me though, said issues are seen across all games of this ilk. The fact they are still actively working on the game is fantastic, and whilst I appreciate I am a little biased here, it’s really become an absolutely fantastic game bursting at the seams with content. While I’d agree the lack of launch content was initially disappointing, The Division wouldn’t be the first game to release incomplete or simply as a foundation to build upon now would it? It’s not perfect even now as some have touted, discussions still rumble on about gear sets being overpowered, the lack of new story content and more, but what 1.8 has now done is make a mockery of other similarly pitched titles. Just last month I spent 37 hours playing a global event (events last a week so that's 37 hours in that week) with a view to getting a new classified set which would fundamentally change the way I play the game - to me that's crazy for what many would consider an "old" game.

The infamous Barret's vest which a squad member spent months trying to acquire

The Division has provided me with more than just a decent shooter; as mentioned at the top of this article it’s given me some of the best gaming moments of my adult life (and I played a lot of games over a twenty-five year period). Some may pooh-pooh that notion, but the fact that The Division doesn’t have the higher gaming stature of something like Zelda doesn’t make it any less true. Spending hours upon hours, sometimes until 3am in the morning with work starting at 8.30, the squad and I would wrestle with the Incursions and legendary missions in the game. Hell back in year one we spent about fifteen hours simply trying to enter the first room of a challenging mission - it was incredibly difficult, but in time we beat it.

So here we are, two years later, and all we had left to beat was the toughest Incursion in the game: the four-part monster that is Stolen Signal. Together and individually with randoms we’d probably played this Incursion dozens of times. Again, as with year one we sometimes admitted defeat in the early hours of the morning and went to bed feeling terrible, but we never gave up. Following the introduction of new gear sets, our abilities changed, and the diversity within the game allowed us to customise our approach to each of the four sometimes overwhelmingly difficult sections, this was a turning point for us. I’m sure there are elite players out there that beat the Incursion the day it was launched and for that I wholeheartedly salute you, but for us and our ageing minds, it was our Everest.

Stolen Signal pose post completion #smug

The Division is in a place now where the loot is plentiful, the diversity in gear is beyond almost anything out there, and the content scales from introductory for new players all the way to crazy difficult for veterans, but, to coin a phrase from one of the squad members which he’s uttered at the most inappropriate times during sessions: “it’s all totally doable”. In the case of Stolen Signal - our nemesis - with build diversity and plenty of practice we finally managed to complete the whole thing in just over an hour, no glitching, no cheating, no cheesing, just fast-paced cover looter shooter goodness and I can safely say that the adrenaline rush upon completion didn’t fade for days after. It is in these moments that I realise that it’s the game I’ve always wanted and hoped for on a console. A cover shooter that borrows heavily from the likes of Diablo 3, is now a reality; it took a long time to get here but two years after release, to me, it’s borderline perfect.  

If you were to go out now and buy The Division for £10, you’d be overwhelmed with content and get lost in it for days, always experiencing something new.  It’s a joy to see the game in the state that it’s in now and it’s incredible to see the number of people coming in new, or returning. Since 1.8 dropped we've welcomed two brand new players in to our current squad and then have been blown away by what they've seen so far.

Bring on The Division 2, my body is ready.

Here is one more clip from an Incursion called Dragon's Nest, enjoy!

<blockquote class="twitter-video" data-lang="en"><p lang="und" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PS4share?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PS4share</a><a href="https://t.co/7oB8K7praD">https://t.co/7oB8K7praD</a> <a href="https://t.co/ukfAFV5NPb">pic.twitter.com/ukfAFV5NPb</a></p>&mdash; Andrew P (@rpcdrag0n) <a href="https://twitter.com/rpcdrag0n/status/930198857526448129?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 13, 2017</a></blockquote>

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Andrew Phillips

I've been playing video games for 25 years, own all consoles and have no affinity to any specific brand - I go where the games are.

Frequently described by gaming buddies as the Leeroy Jenkins of the group - no regrets.