As I sat down for my gameplay Session at the Dvision booth at EGX and performed a quick mic check with my squad, we were introduced to the controls by the games demonstrator. Although simple enough, he likened them to Metal Gear Online, but after 15 minutes it became very apparent that the game something of its own, for better or worse.
My first question, ‘how do you crouch or prone?’ was met with a relatively perplexing answer, where the rep suggested I couldn’t perform those actions in The Division because its focused on being a more tactical experience. I could have questioned how forcing my character to stand as he transitioned between cover, exposing his body to both line of sight, and potential gunfire was more tactical, but I didn’t want to give the demonstrator a hard time.
So off we went in the direction instructed. The Division plays like pretty much every other third person, snap to cover shooter. You go into cover with A or X, and climb cover with B. It’s not quite as intuitive as games like Uncharted, or The Last of Us or Gears of War, but it offers the same level of control and functionality once you garner familiarity with the layout.
After a little hands on time just firing our guns and rolling around, we were asked to enter the Dark Zone. An area of Ubisoft’s game that enables PVP encounters, where players must fight eachother and enemy NPCs for loot. We were informed that there would be other teams there and if we shot any neutral teams this would make us ‘go rogue’, causing us to be the target of an additional squad of three players.
Of course I shot and killed the first neutral player I saw with an intent to amp up the experience and get a better feel for the gunplay. A shotgun, to the back of the head from 3 feet. It took about 8 to 10 shots to kill him at this range, then another 3 or so to finish him off once he was down. Sadly, is where our concerns with the experience The Division is offering begin.
Division offers a loot base system similar to games like Destiny where you play missions or competitive play to get better gear. Makes sense, pretty standard, rpg systems are relatively unsual for this type of game, but we’re happy to take the time to understand them if their implementation is thoughtful. Unfortunately however this did not appear to be the case, and it seems that in order to emphasize this sense of RPG based progression, Ubisoft have extremified the amount of health players have, thereby making the damage values on weapons have a significant impact on the experience.
This validates the loot system, because there’s a reason to desire better guns that kill players and NPCs faster, but it’s also where The Division’s gameplay goes down the drain. The amount of bullets required to kill in The Division is greater than Halo, Destiny, or any other arcade-like shooter I can think of, and this results in very clumsy often redundant combat encounters.
As I shot any of the 6 players I had made the enemy of, combat played out very unusually. I focused on getting close behind them and gunning them down with a high damage per second machine gun and while this worked, this gameplay often looked ridiculous to spectate, not to mention entirely unrewarding to play.
In close quarters players would dance around each other firing off shotguns and heavy weapons, they would do this for 10 seconds or so before someone would run away to heal or one of them would drop down. It didn’t feel skillful because accuracy didn’t feel rewarded with a quick kill, instead the quickest way to down someone and guarantee they won’t heal was to rush them with your squad. It didn’t feel tactical in the slightest as the same strategy prevailed throughout, the game simply did not feel even remotely orientated towards any style of strategic or intelligent gmeplay.
Stealth felt relatively pointless too. As it due to the amount of time it takes to down someone in combat, whether you managed to flank anyone was a almost irrelevant. They had plenty of time to heal or call their team to assist anyway. The only valuable strategy was team shooting, as this somewhat mediates the high health your opponents possess.
The high health itself wouldn’t be a problem of course, if it wasn’t for the games lack of mobility and very rudimentary snap to cover system. Combat often felt like two players were banging their heads together, trading shots until one of them simply happened to go down before the other.
It wouldn’t necessarily have felt this way but mobility is relatively slow so gunplay really doesn’t offer much more than aiming down the sights and firing. Games like Uncharted handle high-health systems by offering strategy and depth to player movements, thereby enabling more than mere sustained accuracy to decide the outcome of a gunfight, but The Division does no such thing, and as a result the encounters were dull and predictable.
The NPCs that were added to the mix didn’t appear to offer much to the experience either. While the rep warned that they were capable foe that wield fire as a weapon, they went down rather quickly, leaving the focus on the player versus player gameplay. Using abilities may have made this gunplay more interesting but against players the abilities I possessed felt relatively ineffective. My remote turret was very easily avoided and never punishing due to the health system, while my scanning equipment felt redundant due to the ease in which you could track players visually. This is in large party due to the lack of prone or crouch, as it meant that any movements outside of the snap to cover system were very obvious to observe.
Overall our experence with The Division at EGX 2015 was not a positive one. It’s unclear what kind of experience Ubisoft are targeting but the rpg-heavy, bullet spongey gameplay doesn’t fit the military theme or offer an enjoyable experience. Despite this, we remain hopeful that some simple adjustments to the health system and the addition of a crouch button could make all the difference. The Division may have whole heartedly underwhelmed at EGX, but we hope we can offer a more positive opinion on future builds of the game.