Cast your mind back to just before the start of this console generation. At E3 2013, there was a game that had the industry abuzz: Ubisoft’s closer to its press conference, a new Tom Clancy title called The Division. Promising engaging co-op play amidst a backdrop of chaos and the fall of Manhattan’s civilisation, it even offered a second-screen experience – remember those? At the dawn of the PlayStation 4 it offered connected experiences, essentially ticking every “back of the box” criteria it could.
A few delays later, and The Division finally launched in March of 2016. Reception was mixed – gunplay was unsatisfying, there were long stretches of running before you’d find anything worth doing, and there was a lack of variety in encounters and environments. However, it also looked great, had a focus on squad tactics not seen in similar titles, and the central concept of a more grounded RPG shooter had players picking the game up in droves – The Division made $330 million in its first week alone.
With The Division being a “live” title, expansions were inevitable. While there were some added for free (including endgame activities called Incursions), the title’s season pass promised three sizeable expansions. The first, Underground, presented itself as randomised “dungeons” that could be replayed for new loot – a fine addition to a title focused on gaining new gear.
Unfortunately, the subsequent expansions were pushed back so that Ubisoft could fix a litany of bugs, and when it did, it added little to the core Division experience. Survival (launched in late 2016), introduced a standalone mode focused on, well, survival. Players would scavenge for clothing and weapons, battling against other players and the elements to extract via helicopter.
Landing in early 2017, Last Stand added more diversity to The Division’s PvP options which had previously been restricted to The Dark Zone – an area where it was not uncommon for new players to be hunted down by more experienced ones with weapons that they could only dream of.
It would have been easy for Ubisoft to stop there – the game sold by the bucket load, and the season pass was fulfilled. It didn’t.
In fact, in October 2016, nestled between expansions, Ubisoft launched patch 1.4. This patch changed the game, making both major and minor amendments to its core. Small quality of life changes aside, it improved gunplay drastically (a key focus for any shooter-RPG hybrid) -- no longer would you unload three clips into an enemy’s face just for them to kill you almost instantly. Your weapons gained an added lethality that simply wasn’t there before.
Perhaps more impressively, The Division’s 1.4 patch completely changed its progression system. While gear earned had always been attached to a “Gear Score”, this number now had meaning. Finishing the campaign would allow you to reach a certain score. Once you’d cleared the minimum requirement, you could transition to a “World Tier” where you could earn more gear with a higher score. With a more generous loot system, it was a fun grind – never sticking with the same gear for too long and always feeling more powerful.
Since then, Ubisoft has added a free area to the map with the 1.8 update, while 1.7 added “Global Events” – challenging scenarios with a higher chance to earn better rewards. These were part of the second year of content which was added totally free of charge.
When I first played The Division at launch, I hit level 12 (out of 30) and bounced off. I struggled to kill bosses, my gear felt uninteresting, and I had no interest in being a lamb in the Dark Zone slaughterhouse. It fell by the wayside until I began to see the usual Reddit threads and tweets along the lines of “Hey, The Division is good now!”, so I jumped in again.
While the argument could be made that The Division of today should have been The Division that launched way back in 2016, it shows a willingness to learn and course correct from one of the world’s largest publishers. It would have been easy to count The Division as a purely financial success and move on. When Bungie’s Destiny launched, it was followed by two dismal expansions and then charged almost the full price of the game for The Taken King a year later, The Division built its content and systems simultaneously. Yes, the DLC expansions are fun in their own way, but the way they're framed as adjacent to the main title mean that you’re not missing out if you don’t have them.
With The Division 2 on the horizon, the first game may not be worth picking up at this point. With that said, Ubisoft has earned a second chance at what could be a fantastic franchise. If it's truly learned from the first game, then I think The Division 2 will surprise a lot of people – even launching a month after ANTHEM. I’ll see you in the streets of Washington DC, Agent.
Do you agree with Lloyd on The Division? Did you enjoy the first game at launch, or later on? What are your hopes for The Division 2? Lock and load in the comments section below.