The Division Revisited

When I tried The Division’s beta last year, I knew I would end up buying it sooner or later. It was just a question of when. A recent Steam sale coupled with a lull in other major gaming projects to pursue provided the perfect storm of conditions to finally pony up and get the full version.

My character in The DivisionThe Division is a strange game. I went into the beta expecting very little and came out enjoying it far more than expected, but now that I’ve bought the full game, I question whether I made the right choice.

Magnificent desolation:

Everything that I initially liked about The Division holds true. It is a game that does some things very well, and overall is rather charming.

Its best feature by far is its attention to detail. The Division’s vision of a ruined New York is spectacularly detailed, incredibly well thought-out, and beautifully realized. The graphics are stunning, and the game design is solid, providing an excellent formula of exploration.

The game is empty enough to sell the loneliness of a dead city, but not so empty as to become boring. There’s always something neat to find, be it loot, missions, lore, or just a cool set piece.

Cell phone recordings reveal haunting slices of life from those who died in the outbreak. Storms roll in, dusting your character with snow and cutting visibility down to virtually nothing. Distant gunfire rattles the otherwise tomb-like stillness of the city.

A rescued musician plays for the survivors in The DivisionAn early mission has you rescuing the sister, a musician, of one of your fellow Division agents. Much later on, I stumbled across the sister in the base of operations, strumming on her guitar for an audience of refugee children. It was an incredibly charming scene, and somehow far more satisfying of a quest reward than XP or loot could ever be.

“Immersion” has become almost as much a buzzword as “epic” these days, but it’s still a valid concept, and The Division has it in spades.

And yet I already myself struggling to find motivation to log in, to the point where writing this post seemed a significantly more appealing prospect than actually playing. Why?

Stumbles:

Certainly The Division does have problems. The actual main plot of the game is underwhelming at best, from both a story and a gameplay perspective.

While it may become more interesting later on, so far the main story has been quite simplistic — terrorist attack, yada yada — and it’s just not written very well.

An NPC in The DivisionThe dialogue is so cartoony and ridiculous it almost achieves a sort of kitschy, “so bad it’s good” charm. It’s hard to believe it comes from the same game as the achingly real recordings you find while exploring, or even the goofy but fun NPCs who deliver your side missions.

The main story missions also aren’t that fun to play. As I noticed in the beta, the difficulty is oddly tuned. I don’t think you’re meant to solo the main story, which is an incredibly strange decision in a game that otherwise seems to hew closer to a single-player game than an MMO (while obviously having elements of both).

I don’t like being pressured into things, though, so I’ve stubbornly continued to solo the main missions, frustrating as it can be at times. It’d be fine if player characters in this game weren’t so squishy, but your incredibly low health pool severely punishes the slightest error.

You can mitigate the issue a bit by outleveling the missions via side content, but as much as I enjoy the side missions in The Division (much more so than I usually do), it doesn’t feel good to do them because you have to, and it detracts from what could otherwise have been a pretty solid sandbox-ish experience.

There are also smaller hiccups. The Division may well have the worst character customization of any game I’ve ever played, and I’ve been gaming for twenty years. The options are shockingly limited, and made even more so by the incomprehensible decision to tie certain options together. For example, only about half the female faces can have ponytails.

My character in The DivisionYour guess is as good as mine.

Even with my relatively small amount of time in the game, and even playing entirely solo, I’ve still managed to find someone who was pretty much my character’s exact doppleganger, minus only the lip piercing I gave her in a vain attempt to inject some personality into my avatar.

I think the idea is you’re meant to rely on clothing to make your character stand out. TSW had a similar philosophy, and I don’t hate the idea, but in this case, it doesn’t work as well as it could.

There are a lot of clothing pieces in The Division, but there isn’t that much difference between them. The game clearly tried very hard to make them all realistic choices for the setting. I’m torn because I really admire the commitment to verisimilitude, but it also means that your choices are pretty much down to what colour of winter jacket and pants you want to wear.

Less than the sum of its parts:

Still, none of these seem like crippling flaws. I’ve been able to overlook bigger issues with games. So why am I losing interest in The Division so quickly?

I don’t know. It’s not even that I’m not enjoying myself. It’s fundamentally a good game to play. But I just find that my motivation to keep going is rapidly dwindling.

The deserted streets of New York in The DivisionEven if this is the end, I don’t necessarily regret buying the game. I maybe should have waited for a better discount, but I did get at least a few good hours out of it. I explored a lot more than I was able to in beta, and I generally had a good time.

* * *

One final note before I go: I was deeply amused to discover that the very first safehouse you’re sent to is actually Illuminati headquarters. Both The Division and The Secret World replicated the same neighbourhood of New York, and the first safehouse is in the exact same building as the entrance to the Labyrinth.

There’s even some blue pyramid graffiti in the area. I kind of wonder if one of the environment artists was a TSW player…

Advertisements

Gaming: Thoughts on the Future

Right now I’m in the thick of Mass Effect: Andromeda, but massive as it is, it isn’t going to last forever. It was such a landmark release that all my gaming plans for the last several months have dealt with Andromeda and the lead-up to it. As a result, I’ve given very little thought to what I’ll play after I’ve finished.

My monk strikes a pose in World of WarcraftHere are some of the leading candidates.

World of Warcraft:

This is probably the safest bet for where I end up after Andromeda, though I wouldn’t quite declare it a sure thing yet. As always, I maintain very mixed feelings on the game, but there’s still a lot more I’d like to do in Legion, and now that flying has finally been turned back on, now seems the time to start.

My main goal is still to go alt-crazy and see as much class content as possible. My monk has already started on the Broken Isles, so she’s probably next, but I’m not sure who to level after her. My paladin, shaman, demon hunter, priest, and warrior are all in the running.

Elder Scrolls Online:

I’m in a strange place with ESO. I almost always enjoy it, but I’m never particularly blown away by it. It’s good enough, and it’s consistently good enough, but it’s never more than good enough.

So I remain very open to playing more without feeling a very strong push to do so. There is an expansion coming soon, but there’s still so much in the base game I haven’t done yet that I’d be in no rush to move on to it.

My templar alt in Elder Scrolls OnlineI did rather like the templar alt I was tooling around with, and it’d be a shame for all the effort I put into crafting my gear to go to waste, so there are pretty good odds I’ll be back in Tamriel at some point, but I’m not sure when.

Star Wars: The Old Republic:

I was pretty heavily invested in SW:TOR for a while there, but as you may have noticed, I haven’t touched it in a few months. I was getting burnt out, but don’t think I’m done with the game. I just needed a break.

I will be back, but as with ESO, I’m not sure when. There’s a major story update coming soon, but I don’t necessarily want to jump straight from Andromeda into another Bioware game, so I may hold off on that for a while.

There are also still two class stories I fully intend to finish. Again, it’s all just a question of when.

The Secret World:

Sigh.

Entering the Savage Coast in The Secret WorldI’m still pretty heartbroken over what’s happened to TSW. I don’t like to ever rule anything out (I certainly never could have predicted getting into SW:TOR as much as I have), but I currently don’t have much interest in making the transition to the new game. It sounds like a much shallower experience, and I just don’t think I can start over from scratch.

There isn’t much point in investing much more time in vanilla TSW, as it will undoubtedly be shut down before too long, but I do think there are a few more things I might want to do before it’s over. Dorothy is very close to getting her Panoptic Core, and even though there couldn’t be less of a reason to do so, I’d kind of like to finish that.

I may also run some of my favourite missions one last time, and I’m thinking about where I want to park my characters before they log out for the last time.

For a game that I once considered my virtual home, this is really hard to cope with.

Old favourites:

When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time replaying games. It was often a matter of necessity, as there simply weren’t enough good games to keep me fully occupied in those days, whereas now there’s more good games than there is time to play them, but I still kind of miss it. Lately I feel a slightly stronger pull to revisit some old favourites.

Hawke battles the Arishok in Dragon Age 2I’d really like to play through Dragon Age II again, but the lackluster gameplay has always driven me off. Recently I’ve been considering downloading some mods to try to make it more palatable, because I loved the story in that game. For that matter I’ll probably replay Andromeda at some point, but probably not right after I finish it the first time.

The thought of more StarCraft replays is also in my mind. At the very least I should do another playthrough of Covert Ops at some point, as I’ve only done it once so far. Plus there are still a few Legacy of the Void achievements I’d like to get, and I have a vague desire to do another replay of the original (via Mass Recall), if only to once again bask in the awesomeness that is old school Zeratul.

Then there’s Diablo III. I remain very bitter that the story is apparently being abandoned unfinished, but I still have a lot of fondness for the game, and the new necromancer class is seeming increasingly tempting. Have you seen the blood golem model? It’s the most disgustingly horrible thing I’ve ever seen, and I need it in my life.

I even briefly considered reloading Neverwinter the other day. I was organizing my screenshots and realized how badass my Half-Elf paladin looked. I never did try tanking in that game…

Other possibilities:

I maintain a list of games I’d like to get around to playing if I ever find the time. The Division is prominent on that list, especially now that I have a computer that can run it a bit better. I enjoyed what I played in the beta, and while I don’t think it’s a game I’d stick with for a long time, I think it could be an enjoyable diversion for a few weeks.

My bridge crew in Star Trek OnlineStar Trek Online also pops into my mind every now and again. It’s not a great game, but I did really enjoy the whole “I’m a Romulan commanding my very own warbird” part, and every time I get a jolt of Trek nostalgia I want to play it again.

Destiny 2 is apparently getting a PC release, which is tempting, but since I never had the chance to play the first one, I’m not sure it’d be worth it, since the story is the main thing that would interest me. Plus I’m not sure I’m okay with them replacing an MMO with its sequel so quickly. I know they don’t like calling it an MMO, but let’s be real here.

Plus I’ve got a Steam wishlist a mile long at this point.

For those who are playing Andromeda, what are your plans for when you finish it?