“More is more” must be the mantra of the makers of The Division, Ubisoft’s fun but flawed post-disaster shooter that has somehow not collapsed beneath the weight of the latest mound of content added to it.
Less really would be more, and probably will be when Ubisoft gets around to releasing a sequel that starts over with a fresh foundation. The Division has become bloated thanks to piles of downloadable content, patches and the developers’ 18-month chase to satisfy a demanding fan-base. The game was already bulging with good and bad ideas from its first year of content, expansions and fixes. With its new 1.7 patch this past week, they’ve added so much more.
Before 1.7, the game already had….
- A massive open-world version of Manhattan that players could roam solo or in co-op, shooting enemy grunts and picking up drips and drops of video and audio log narrative
- Dozens of missions, all playable solo or co-op
- A mixed co-op/PvP area called the Dark Zone that, for all its flaws, will likely remain the most tantalizingly treacherous multiplayer experience on consoles until Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds hits Xbox One later this year
- A so-so $15 expansion called Underground that let players shoot through randomly-configured subterranean levels
- An excellent $15 expansion called Survival that dumped more snow into the map and turned the game into a co-op and PvP struggle for warmth, food, hydration, loot and helicopter rescue
- A baffling $15 expansion called Last Stand that gave players a new 8v8 mode that few players seemed to want or enjoy
- The free addition of “High Value Targets,” or named enemies that finally gave players who enjoyed roaming The Division’s open world but had finished the story something interesting new and interesting to shoot.
- The free addition of World Tiers that let players ratchet up the quality of all enemy grunts and loot in the open world (hi, Diablo torment levels!)
- Ridiculous amounts of gear
That was apparently not enough stuff.
This week with the 1.7 patch, they added….
- Tons of new cosmetic gear that is accessible via the new Best Lootbox Animation In Video Games
- New “Classified Gear Sets,” which basically add a new array of stat-improving items of light green type, not to be confused with items that are rarity-coded as white, dark green, blue, purple, orange, or reddish orange
- A neat idea called Global Events that tweaks the rules of the entire game for a week and doles out—oh god—a new type of in-game currency that can be spent on a new type of randomized lootbox that just might dole out a Classified Gear item
- 500+ new Achievement-like Commendations
If you are confused or overwhelmed, yeah, I was too. If you are intrigued and want to try the game, same. I went back into it this week and found myself bewildered and bemused, even while I was having a good time.
The Global Event happening for the next few days is an “outbreak” which somehow makes it so that headshots on enemies cause poisonous splash damage to enemies near them. This immediately makes even the average Sixth Avenue shootout more interesting, as it incentivizes a different way to take on enemy packs. More interesting, several of the game’s missions have been tweaked to operate under an escalating offering of three outbreak conditions. The most severe causes players to lose health when enemies get too close. That Critical Outbreak condition also allows co-op players to get one-hit-kills if they headshot an enemy that another player has marked.
The game’s developers have discussed other possible global events, like one that would make players do less damage if they’re far from enemies and more if they’re close.
The Global Event spreads across the most of The Division’s modes, allowing players who prefer the competitive Dark Zone or co-op missions or solo roaming to all gain purple Global Event points that earn them Global Event lootboxes. Of course that’s what you get, because lootboxes have become The Division’s answer to everything. Max your character but still want to get something for the enemies you kill? Each kill will help fill a meter that doles out lootboxes. Those aforementioned 500+ Commendations? Some of them reward the player with Cypher Keys or Cypher Key fragments which are used at a new vendor added in patch 1.7 in order to purchase new lootboxes called Encrypted Caches. To play The Division is to be marching inexorably toward your next lootbox. Then then the next, and the next after that.
To play The Division is also to climb through tiers of chores to get the thing you want. If, say, you were intrigued many months ago about the prospect of tracking down some High Value Target enemies, you’d first have to go to an in-game safe-house, take on a few Search and Destroy missions, collect intel points as a reward and then spend an escalating amount of intel on an escalating array of High Value Targets.
There are now new ladders of tasks and chores. Thanks to 1.7, there’s an astronaut outfit in the game, but to get all five pieces, you have to complete five other new ensembles, the parts of which are obtained semi-randomly through the aforementioned Encrypted caches, which can only be opened if you have Cypher Keys, which you get from earning some of the 500+ Commendations or other regular gameplay or by spending real money. Hope you didn’t want to dress up as a spaceman too badly.
Maybe it’s fair for the developers to make it hard to get the astronaut suit. The best rewards shouldn’t be easily obtained. Unfortunately, if you do get the astronaut suit, you probably won’t even be able to see it. It’ll be buried beneath your character’s other articles of clothing. I can’t think of a better metaphor for The Division’s bloat than the fact that your character wears so many articles of clothing that you can’t really see any of it. . Here’s a GIF of me toggling through each piece of the Spacefarer outfit, some of which you can hardly see, right? (Note, the suit would be slightly less obscured if I removed my guy’s jacket, which is cosmetic and doesn’t affect stats.)
Perhaps more is not, in fact, more.
The Division is mostly fun right now, and arguably the best it’s been even with how messy it’s become. Over the past few days, I did some co-op missions at varying severity of Outbreak conditions. I found some missions tedious, as the game still tends to drive you into long climactic shootouts with bullet-sponge enemies, but the moment-to-moment cover-based shooting still fees very good and most, shorter encounters are pleasing. As I played, I roamed the open world aiming for headshots because the Global Event parameters encouraged that, and I’d enjoy trying the game again when the next Global Event tweaks the rules again.
I’ve been reminded how much I enjoy some of The Division’s fundamentals: the cover-to-cover movement, collecting those morose audio logs, and how oddly beautiful the game world is, despite or because of tis grit. This is a game that piles garbage bags so well they damn near look like sculptures. In the 1.7 update, you get a new room where you can customize your character’s face. It must be the best-rendered shitty public restroom ever put in a video game. Just look at this awfulness:
The Division now feels like a lab experiment that will soon be cast aside in favor of a fresh sequel. Those of us who enjoy loot shooters are probably going to be playing Destiny for the next few months, not this game. But what we play of The Division may offer some guidance for what we can expect in The Division 2. I’d like to play a game like this with constantly changing global conditions. I’d like to still have an optional survival mode. I’d like to see a Dark Zone where I could have a reasonable chance of having fun solo. Hell, I’d be happy to receive a steady supply of lootboxes, though I’d prefer there only be one type instead of three or four or five.
As admirable as Ubisoft Massive’s commitment to post-game support has been, they’ve probably added too much at this point. There’s a lot of good in there, but it’s been mixed with some development detours and a lot of jerry-rigged fixes. They’ll almost certainly benefit from starting over. For now, it’s fun to test it all out and to imagine how, given all that they’ve doubtless learned, they can do better next time.