The Division, like Destiny, is part of a new class of small-group MMOs. Sharing a larger online world, with pockets of big social spaces, then smaller phased group areas makes The Division a lot like Destiny, or even the original Guild Wars. But what exactly is Ubisoft's first MMO all about and how does it play?
The Division is set in the very near future, in a plague-ravaged New York City. A virus has pretty much brought the city to its knees and it's your job to find the source of the sickness and put a stop to it all. There's a main narrative through all of the game's missions and side missions, just like a traditional theme park MMORPG.
First, and we’ll get this out of the way though I’m sure we’ll hear arguments on this for years to come – The Division is an MMORPG. It’s not like World of Warcraft, with its huge seamless world, rather it’s more like Guild Wars 1, Vindictus, or Hellgate: London – a sort of hybrid between co-op RPG and persistent online world. Areas of the game world are shared by everyone, while others are phased to your individual group or solo play session.
The launch screen is a good show of the game’s excellent UI design.
In the beta, character creation was limited a lot –we could only make a randomly created man or woman as none of the actual sliders and selection areas for making your face your own were unlocked. They were there, waiting, but perhaps that’s something Ubisoft Massive is still polishing in the lead up to the game’s March 8th launch.
The amount of gameplay available in the beta has also been limited (though the beta timeframe itself was extended to Tuesday from its original shutdown date of 1/31). You’re capped at level 8, and most of the ravaged New York City landscape is cordoned off. I assume that they’ll allow you to enter areas above your level at launch, and not keep you out of places like Tenderloin with big red walls as seen below.
The map, a sort of digital 3D model of the city, is exceptionally well done, and layers in new random encounters, missions, and other points of interest as you explore the city. You’ll see people on your friend list on the map, though you won’t actually run into them unless you’re in a public area or a group. Speaking of the friend list, one of the more shortsighted parts of Division’s design is that on the PC at least, your partying is limited to the random matchmaking feature (for missions, Dark Zone exploration, or running around the world), or your actual friend list.
How dare they keep me from my Tenderloin. I was hungry, too.
I’m not sure I have a better solution given how the game’s open world content is sort of phased off, but this and the lack of any noticeable clan or guild functionality make the socializing part of Division hampered from the word go. I hear there will be clan functions, but during my time with the game, it wasn’t apparent how to find, start, or join one. Emblems and the like are all expected to play a large role in the Dark Zone and endgame PVE content, so here’s hoping that functionality is ready for the game’s launch.
Speaking of the Dark Zone, I suspect this will be the game’s long-term hook. The Division doesn’t have traditional Arena PVP, rather it has a Wild West style area of New York City known as the Dark Zone. It’s denoted quite clearly on the map, and since you have to go through a tutorial mission explaining it, you won’t accidentally wander in to the DZ. It’s a good thing, because for a lot of players, free for all PVPVE is not going to be on their wish list. But if you go in with a group of friends you trust, the Dark Zone can be the most exhilarating part of The Division.
It’s the center of the city, where things really started to break down when the plague started spreading, and while the government and military used to hold down the DZ, they abandoned it when things clearly got too hairy. As such, some of the best tech and weaponry can be retrieved here. There are loads of elite AI mobs littered throughout the area, all of which can net you some of the game’s best loot for your level. The problem? Other players can and will take you out and take that loot unless you manage to get it to an extraction point beforehand.