E3 2015: The Division is Pretty Great, but has it been Downgraded? – Hands-On Preview

by Kyle Hanson


Ubisoft has been under a fair amount of scrutiny with their major titles ever since Watch Dogs went from most anticipated game of the year, to questionable open-world game with some definite downgrades.

Their other new open-world IP, Tom Clancy’s The Division, has been a major focus of this scrutiny, both due to its high promise and its much-delayed development. We got to try out the game at E3 2015 and while we came away impressed, there were some things that stuck out as distinctly Watch Dogs-esque.

Many of the more impressive elements from previous The Division trailers didn’t really come up in my demo of the game. As we were playing on Xbox Ones, the graphics were obviously not up to par with the presentations made on super high powerful PCs, including running at 30fps.

The world itself also felt a little less alive than those extremely impressive teasers. Things like the way glass shattered, or how my character interacted with the world were more standard video game fare, rather than the high promise presented in the past.

However, with all of that out of the way, the game was still a whole lot of fun. The mode, or area, that we were trying out is call the Dark Zone. Teams of three enter the Dark Zone and retrieve packages of loot. They then all slam into each other at the extraction point, where it is a race against time, and each other, to extract the most loot.

The Division E3 2013 Debut Trailer

Any player who is holding loot can initiate the extraction, which calls in a helicopter and begins a 90 second countdown. During this minute and a half window, no other player can call in extraction, and it is up to the team that already has, to protect their player against the oncoming swarm of enemies. If they die, the extraction is cancelled and you have to start all over again.

If you can protect them long enough, a rope will descend in the middle of the map, where they can send up their loot. This point is critical, as other teams can simply pick them off and cancel your extraction. You’ll have to work together to clear out the area and make sure it is safe for the loot-carrier to emerge from cover.

Cover plays a much bigger part in the game than I had expected. Many moments in The Division reminded me of Gears of War or other cover-based shooters. It was easy enough to get into cover, and vault over if necessary, though I did fluster at the lack of a roll out of cover, at least as far as I could figure out in my short time with the game.

Another big part of the game are your character abilities. Mine were a scanner that would show if enemy hostiles were nearby, and a deployable turret, which I used multiple times to cover the extractions zone. Others include sticky bombs, first aid, and more.

The big push in the latest trailer is to show the betrayal mechanics, or “going rogue”. Essentially all players are neutral toward each other until someone fires a shot. Whoever attacks a neutral player “goes rogue”, which the consequences of aren’t entirely clear. In our demo, it meant it would take longer to respawn, but there are likely more in the more free-roam areas of the game.

There were no tense Mexican standoffs in our demo, as we were all in the Dark Zone and were immediately attacking each other any time we could, so look closer to release for more on that. It seems like an interesting mechanic, but in the real world, full of online trolls and other bad behavior, I’m not sure how well it will work out.

The Division E3 2015 Gameplay Trailer

The actual gameplay was a bit surprising to me, as I expected a more realistic approach, in-line with other Tom Clancy games. However, everyone had a very decent amount of health, allowing multiple shots before they were “downed” and had to be revived with a swift pat on the back. Players could also quickly heal themselves with first aid kits, which immediately got them back into the game.

The affair had a very Destiny like feel to it at times, with groups of players facing off against AI opponents early on in the game as they sought out caches of loot. Fighting against other players felt more like Gears of War, with its cover mechanics and crawling “downed” players.

The tension brought about by the extraction mechanics was definitely a plus, and kept the entire demo room on their toes throughout the 15+ minute playtime. Calling in an extraction immediately changed the landscape, as every other team became hostile, and you moved into a defensive stance. If another team called it in, then it became a matter of hunting down the player holding the loot and taking them out.

Tom Clancy’s The Division has certainly been downgraded a bit on its way to release, as has been the case with many recent games. However, Ubisoft has also made sure to deliver a wholly enjoyable product in the finished package, and has been more upfront with actual gameplay demos this time around. Those who were excited by the initial announcement might want to temper their expectations, but not to the point where you don’t follow the game, as what is presented here is still extremely compelling.

- This article was updated on:March 8th, 2018

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