This weekend Ubisoft opened up the PC beta for their online pseudo MMO shooter RPG Tom Clancy’s the Division. I was able to spend a lot of time with it this weekend and there are a number of reasons that I’m excited for the Division and what it represents. This is why I want it to work even if I don’t generally care for online shooters.
I’ve long since abandoned any hopes that I’ll ever find a MMORPG to be monogamous with. At this point I’m looking for RPGs that scratch the MMO itch and can keep me interested long enough to have fun with my friends online. This is why games like the Division are crucial to me. First off you can play alone. It has a full PvE campaign that can be played in single player mode and enjoyed. If you have played Star Wars Battlefield you’ll really understand why this is important. Sure SW:B is arguably a great online shooter but it somehow doesn’t feel complete without having a robust PvE campaign.
The Division allows you to have drop in and drop out cooperative multiplayer. It’s not always possible to schedule consistent raid times with your friends or times to go out and have coordinated PvP. However it is nice to be able to drop in and help a friend if you see they are online. Conversely it is nice to be online and have a friend join your instance to help you complete a few quests or participate in the open world dynamic events that develop around the town. Plus you can team up randomly with anyone close to your level or doing the same things via the matchmaker.
The third scale of play in the Division takes place in the Dark Zone. These are the areas that become not-so-massively multiplayer. While the Division focuses on a mix of PvE and PvP combat in the Dark Zone, different games could choose to treat these areas differently. I do like how some of the best items in the game can be retrieved from this area and the possibility of rogue agents taking your acquired goods is intense. I’m also intrigued by the extract mechanic which forces you to wait and put your agent at risk in order to get the items out of the Dark Zone. You can’t simply walk your items out of the DZ and back into the normal PvE areas. Cheating issues aside in this weekend's PC beta, the potential for a great hook is there.
The game model the Division is using can be emulated in other genres as well. Developers will grow this audience by being inclusive and not restricting games like this to shooters. New York City could just as easily be replaced with Middle Earth and your character could be a dwarf instead of an agent. Replace the gang bangers with Uruks and you have an interesting new Middle Earth RPG. I’m going to keep banging this drum because it is worth it. The more developers dive into making these genre-blending games the more they will develop wide-ranging appeal. Developers will be able to pull in more nontraditional MMORPG players with more non-traditional MMORPGs. Are they "true MMOs"? Nope. But that doesn't make them bad, and we as players need to be welcoming of hybrids like the Division.
While I think the Division is a step in the right direction, there are still two areas where I am seriously concerned. First is the price. I’m not against developers making money but season passes still go in the grey column for me. $59.99 is more than reasonable for the base game but the season pass is another $40.00 for three expansions. This term expansion is so vague that we don’t really know how much content will be provided at this price. The Division doesn’t have to last forever. I’m okay with only being able to get about 35 to 40 hours out of the main campaign and will feel the $60 investment was worth it at that price. My biggest concern is those expansions. If an expansion only provides an additional 5 to 6 hours of content then it’s clearly not worth $40 for an additional 15 to 18 hours of gameplay. If the expansion can provide 25 to 30 hours of gameplay and add new content for the Dark Zone then that would be an acceptable value. They also need to keep a decent cadence with the expansion releases. If they stagger them once every 2 or 3 months then it can keep the Division going for almost a year. If Ubisoft releases the expansions too fast then the Division will burn out unless they have a longer term plan (sequel?). I’m more than happy to play the Division and rotate with other games for a few months and then go back to the Division. This will help prevent the game from getting stale.
The second area that concerns me is the need to use Uplay. I was required to redeem and download the game via Steam and then still had to tie Uplay into it. This is just an additional layer of developer hogwash tied to an otherwise good product. Unless Uplay stands on its own and doesn't need to lean on Steam then Uplay should not be required. I can understand if developers want to make a unified launcher for their applications similar to the Battle.net app but launchers that also aspire to be content delivery systems but don’t really have anything unique to offer or add value such as Arc, Glyph, and Uplay, should stand out of the way of their respective games. Not to mention that you can only seem to add and curate friends via the Uplay app, and not in-game.
I enjoyed the Division beta this weekend but it was short and the content was too limited to determine if the game will be able to have lasting appeal. I do know that it is one step in the right direction as far as quasi MMORPGs go. If for no other reason than that I’m glad the Division is hitting the streets soon. I’m excited to see what developers can make incorporating more features that the Division has brought to the table.