I hit 200 hours in The Division on PC last night. This is not a big number by any stretch, especially when compared to the hard-core gamers, or even some of my squad-mates that I run with. The hype was real for this game 4 months ago; it broke records for biggest new franchise launch and Ubisoft’s biggest day one sales. This made it a financial success for Ubisoft and put Swedish game developer, Massive Entertainment, on the map. A few weeks in and public opinion started to change, as opposition to the game’s direction began to get louder. This game had now become over-hyped according to the masses.
The first major patch was poorly received, and when combined with the number of hackers on PC, the picture was being painted that this game had lost its player base already. I was almost one of these casualties. I did, however, hang around and I am happy with my decision. The second free patch fixed a lot of the issues that the first patch introduced. What was uncovered with this patch was that content was pulled from the original game in order to create these free content drops. One can only assume this was a design decision to help extend the life of the game. The proof of this was the cut scene that unlocked at the end of the second incursion, which asked you to go and finish the last mission in the game.
At the end of the day, the game is good. Great, even. The problem it has is more to do with the little things that have come about from this decision to split the game up pre-launch. Please understand, I am not the person yelling out “You sold us an incomplete game!” at all, as the content that dropped post launch was all free content anyway. I was happy with the original game, and the content we had at that stage justified its price for me. What I have an issue with is removing parts from a completed game and creating DLC from it. A Developer should publish a fully complete game and then make extra content to go on top of that game as DLC. The way it was done in The Division meant that the game got rebalanced before the rest of the game dropped, thus leaving Massive to chase their tails as far as balancing goes ever since.
So why am I still playing the game right now? Well that is easy, I enjoy the game and I am still having fun when I play The Division, which should only ever be the reason that you play any game. I will freely admit that playing it with my mates has a large part to play in why I am still playing it, but the fact is I am still enjoying it.
The Underground was the first piece of paid DLC for The Division and it released on the 28th of June for PC and Xbox one. The PS4 has received a small amount of it but will get the guts of the content release on the 2nd of August. The Underground is part of the Season Pass, or if you wish to buy it separately, it is currently $21.95 in Australia on the Xbox One store.
The new area in the game is called ‘The Underground’ and is the shining light of this content pack. What it adds to the main game are randomly generated missions, with scaling difficulty. This has changed everything about the game. Randomly generated is a term I use loosely as a lot of the missions have a similar feel to them, but what it does bring back are the squad based tactics, which slowly disappeared from the game as the content got easier. This area on the hardest difficulty is basically the only way I play the game these days. It is fresh enough each and every time I go in there that you need to think about what you are doing in each encounter. However the random nature of this area is lost once you realise that the maps are a lot of the same rooms just repeated in a different order.
The second major positive for this content drop is the new Incursion “Dragon’s Nest” where you are tasked to take down the rising Cleaner threat again. The biggest issues that I have had with the two previous incursions have been the lack of loot during the encounter and being forced to play it to get the best gear. These have both been addressed with this new DLC. The first major encounter of the Incursion has four bosses that all drop loot which is a pleasant change. Also with both the Dark Zone and now Underground dropping the best loot as well you have plenty of chances to gear up your character before you go in. “Dragon’s Nest” also requires a lot more team based mechanics, as opposed just trying to muscle your way through it like the last two.
What always puzzled me was the fact that the story missions only ever scaled with your level up to level 30. After that, you had challenging difficulty on only four of the missions. These four missions were the content that dragged me through the second month of the game. Now they are a joke because we are so over-leveled for them. In this release, two more missions get challenge mode, which feels all too late, but the now six harder missions get a heroic mode also. These are great, but still not that difficult for those who are geared up. They would have been a great stepping stone a month ago.
As is standard now with all releases for The Division, we get new gear sets and weapons. What also seems standard now is these gear sets and weapons are very hit-and-miss. Five new gear sets dropped with some interesting perks on them. They feel so close to being fun this time, but a couple of sets rely on you getting the kill on an enemy to make the talent work. This is easier said than done in a group of 4 using focus fire so getting the talent to work is a lottery at best. A simple change to “you help your squad kill” would help these sets be far more efficient. As for the weapons, I am glad to see the pistol become useful again, but one of the assault rifles was released with too much power and now that is the only gun to use in the game. The addition of a new named weapon, ‘The Showstopper’, has once again missed its mark as other weapons in its class outperform it by a large margin.
A rather large weapon balance came with this release were we saw two of the most popular SMG’s get returned to the pack with their base damage being nerfed. This was fair because there was just no option but to use the Vector or the AUG in the game.These two guns had their base damage reduced as the stats showed they were above all other SMG’s. The M1A marksman rifle got a slight adjustment to help make it an option rather then a must. This change was to make the gun slightly less accurate if fired quickly. The best part of the balance saw LMG’s, shotguns and assault rifles get a bonus talent to help them become viable as well. LMG’s received bonus damage against enemies out of cover, assault rifles now do more damage to armour and shotguns stagger enemies. A slight change to the SMG bonus talent, where their critical hit chance was changed to critical hit damage, helped bring that whole class back to the pack in a smart way as well. Finally the Sentry’s Call Gear set got rearranged so that you need 5 pieces of it to get full effect making it not so overpowered. Overall these changes seemed to help the game’s balance a lot but with the above mentioned new assault rifle being too strong the balances have been all but overshadowed.
Weapons have had their max Gear Score increased from 209 to 229 and armour has increased its max from 240 to 268. This may seem like a small change, but the effect is that all your current gear is now almost obsolete.
I have had an issue with Gear Score ever since it was introduced in the first content drop. Difficulty level is now indicated by a recommended gear score, but there is a large range in how effective an item can be. Someone with an ineffective set with Gear Score 240 won’t stand a chance in content recommended for Gear Score 200. The max Gear Score now being 268 on armour is a bit misleading also, as Gear Sets can only have Gear Scores of 191, 214, 240 or 268. There isn’t much variation and a simple system of ‘level 30/31/32/33’ would have worked the same. I would love to see Gear Score be applied to all rarity of gear for starters, but also to cover the full spectrum of numbers up to 268 in the future.
A lot of this release was hit-and-miss and what has been a miss since the very first drop of content after launch has been the reward system. What doesn’t work is the rewards for each part of the game; what ends up happening is you can only get the best loot in the game from the Dark Zone or the hardest content of the game. The issue with this is that a skill gap was built that can be too hard to cross for some. This is addressed in the new content release but in the wrong way. Now the best gear can be gotten from the underground and this is the easiest quickest way to get it. Therefore the rest of the content is not even needed. I would suggest adding an adept talent to items dropped from the incursions, a small bonus that you get for doing the hardest content. Pair this with some cool emotes of cosmetic items that scream I beat the heroic Incursion and then this content might just get played.
The Division is a large, amazing and full game however it is just a shame that we all only play with about 10% of it these days. I would love to see some balance added to the rest of the game’s wide variety of systems. This latest content all but put the nail in the coffin of the struggling vendor system. The crafting system has been just about dead for 3 months now along with the story missions, along with most of the PvE world and to a large extent the Dark Zone itself. If these areas can have some life breathed back into them in future releases the game would be all the better for it.
Additionally the game just needs more polish in all areas. It is a pretty game and runs smooth at times but bugs are just starting to become like a bethesda game and expected. I assume it is the speed at which the content is releasing to be a major factor in this issue. I have always thought the content drops have come along far too quickly. If they want to keep this up or at least get more polish in the game I would suggest they look into open test servers so the general public can go on and help them find exploits, bugs and balance issues. I can’t see Ubisoft allowing this but it would be the best solution for Massive in the long run.
It is far from doom and gloom though in The Division. I and many others out there are still playing the game daily and weekly. The main reason that I am still playing The Division is for its fun Co-op play. There is nothing better after a long stressful day at work then coming home and shooting bad people with friends. I have a regular group that I play with when I am on, and I don’t play this game solo at all anymore. A large majority of the time we are just catching up with each other and talking shit while we are playing. When things get serious though, we all know what to do and we act like a well oiled machine. All of these moments are what bring me back to the game each week.
The mechanics introduced in the Underground have also improved the game significantly. I would love to see this mechanic of selecting mission directives (different modifications that make the mission harder) moved into the story missions or even the PvE area as a whole. The random nature of the Underground as well shows how a little bit of variety can make a game so much more enjoyable. I am not sure how they can add this elsewhere into the game, except for maybe dynamic encounters in the PvE world. I just hope we get more map variants dropped into the Underground over time before it gets stale.
A significant reason I am happy with the game and still playing it is that I can see that the developers have the game heading in the right direction. The changes they are making to the game have come from them listening to the community. Yes, they have a long way to go yet but what the first four months have taught me is that they will get there in the end. They have also been very open with the community, maybe too open at times, but far more open than most other developers tend to be with their games. This allows the community to interact with them a lot easier as well as see that they are really trying to change things for the better.
The best steps forward for Massive at this current moment is to give people a reason to access all of the game content rather than just locking the community down into the hardest content. The first priority should be to create some kind of scaling difficulty so players can play whatever PvE content they wish. If this is achieved then the game can stand on its own for a bit while they build new content with this philosophy in mind.
Until Underground hit, all the end game content was very squad focused. I like this change in Underground where the missions scale to how many members you have in the squad. More of this throughout the game would be amazing and help people play this fun game without having to rely on the lottery of matchmaking or their friends to be available.
The Dark Zone is great, as long as you have the best loadout in the game. If you don’t, then it is a nightmare and just not fun. I would love it if they made the change away from PvP and moved it to more of a large Co-op area. In this area, everyone could work together and take down world bosses that are incursion-like in mechanics but off the scale in power; something that even the best four man squad could not tackle on their own. Outside of the times these bosses are spawned, fill the zone with enemies that are three or four levels higher than the best in the game. Make the fear of seeing a red skull above an enemy a thing again.
Finally Massive, just keep doing what you’re doing. The game is cruising along and the changes you are making are fun and in the right direction. Keep listening to everyone out there and make your game the shining star that you dream it can be. You have the talent and the will to make it happen.
To round out this article I should discuss if you should jump back into the division. Well, it depends on what the reason you stopped playing in the first place was. If you have friends that are still playing it, then I would suggest that you do because this is by far the best way to enjoy the game. If solo play is more your thing and you were over it I would still suggest picking the game up again to see if the free updates have changed the game for you. Remember the game that it is now is a far different game to what was there when it dropped at launch for no extra charge. If you find that you enjoy The Division again, adding the Underground DLC isn’t all that expensive, but I would suggest that you hold off on buying it until you have made your decision about the game.