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The RPG Files: The Big Lessons The Division Can Teach RPGs

By Christopher Coke on March 11, 2016 | Columns | Comments

The Big Lessons The Division Can Teach RPGs

More than two years since its first announcement, The Division is finally upon us. While Rob is working on the review, we’re going to look at things from a different angle. Even though The Division falls firmly in the “hybrid” camp of the RPG genre, I think it has some important lessons that the rest of the RPG genre needs to take note of. In the words of our friendly Managing Editor this week, hold onto your butts.

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Since I’m not covering the review, I’ve been taking my time getting into The Division. As someone who plays a lot of games (and not just because I write about them), it’s important to take the time to slow down and rediscover that sense of awe every now and again. Here, the city of Manhattan is so lovingly handcrafted that it steals the show. In fact, looking across the impressions being posted throughout the web, I think it’s fair to say that the backdrop of war out shadows the war itself. Whether or not that turns out to be a problem is yet to be seen.

While arguments are still raging about whether The Division should be called an RPG, I think it’s pretty clear that it scratches that itch the same way Destiny and Borderlands did. And since it fits in that RPG space, I’m finding that the one lasting impression I’m walking away with is that, hybrid or no, this is a game that’s breaking new ground for the AAA RPG genre. Lesson one…

It’s time to move past elves and space marines

Look, it’s getting tired. What I find refreshing about The Division (apart from it not being a complete flop after that dev path *shudder*) is that it has a real world setting. Somewhere along the line, RPGs got so entrenched in fantasy and sci-fi that they became the defacto standard for these kinds of games. I mean, think about it: The Witcher, Dragon Age, Shadowrun, Borderlands, Destiny, Mass Effect, Diablo, Pillars of Eternity… the list goes on. If you’re a big budget RPG these days, there is an above average chance you have a dragon or a space marine somewhere in your game. And it’s boring.

I love fantasy and sci-fi. There was a time I would have killed for a good Dragonlance RPG. But The Division shows us that it can be damn fun to level a character in downtown Manhattan too! And why not? An RPG is a vehicle for two things: choice-based storytelling and character progression. The Division at least nails one of those (hint: it’s not choice-based storytelling).

If for no other reason, I hope The Division succeeds just to show the video game industry that RPGs are good for more than two main settings. I’m still waiting on my Batman RPG.

Lesson two…

Multiplayer can be much more than a one-off mode


The pseudo-MMOs of the RPG world -- namely, Destiny before The Division itself, but also games like Grand Theft Auto Online -- have done a great job of proving that other players bring the world to life. One of the reasons The Division is such a good time is because it mixes single-player and multiplayer, encouraging you to join up with friends or strangers, and is much better for it. It eases players into sharing their world and ramps up all the way to the dog-eat-dog Dark Zone. Once you’re done playing by yourself, you don’t have to leave the game; pick up a party and have a new experience. Players keep the experience dynamic.

I would never argue to force multiplayer into a single-player RPG. God forbid. But what I also don’t like is when studios throw in worthless multiplayer options just to prevent a trade-in. The multiplayer stylings of a game like The Division could easily enrich other games, so long as players could also choose to avoid them.

The RPG genre is slowly but surely taking the good ideas from the MMO genre and making them their own. This is one that needs to come.

Bonus lesson MMOs need to learn from The Division: High stakes PVP is fun!

The irony of The Division is lost on so many who haven’t been a part of the MMO industry for years. How long did we wail about games like Darkfall and the cruelty of losing our hard earned stuff? Then The Division comes along and everyone loves it. You know why? Taking a big risk for a big reward is exhilarating. And, just like most MMORPGs that tried this dynamic before it, losing isn’t such a big deal after all.

Quick Hits

Speaking of The Division, we have a heaping helping of content to keep you covered until you’re back in the game! First up, check out Bill’s launch day impressions. Then, give Rob’s first Review-in-Progress update a good once over. If you’re still in the mood, how about some datamined Day 1 patch notes? And lastly, if you’re playing on PC, you should probably check out NVidia’s Performance Improving Wonder Guide. Okay, maybe that’s my name for it, but give it a read!

What is happening over at Bioware?! Yet another big departure hit this week as Senior Editor, Cameron Harris, has not only left the company but the entire video game industry. Like the rest, Harris’ transition doesn’t seem related to anything we can put a finger on, but this is officially becoming alarming. Like Chris Schlerf and Chris Wynn before her, Harris was part of the Mass Effect: Andromeda team.

Dead Island 2 is back in development! After development came to an abrupt end with Yager last year, it seemed like all hope was lost, but Sumo Digital has stepped in to pick up the reins. The question is, in a post Dying Light world, what will they do to get people excited again?

Grim Dawn fans, rejoice! The team at Crate Entertainment has confirmed that mod tools are coming, based on the tools the team used to make the game.The so-called Builder Tools look impressive too. Modders will be getting an Asset Manager tool, World, Quest, Conversation, and Database editors, as well as a full LUA scripting tool. This update promises to keep the game active for a long time to come.

Lastly, it seems like CD Projekt Red has something else up its sleeve for 2016. The studio is not ready to comment on what exactly it is they’re working on, other than to say it is a “new type of video game format previously unexplored by the studio.” Did somebody say Standalone Gwent? That’s right, Rob Lashley did. Because he’s Nostradamus, that’s why!

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.