These past few years of E3 Ubisoft has been consistently showing very impressive looking previously unannounced games to close off their show that have gotten people very excited. In 2012 we saw Watch Dogs, last year it was The Division, and this year they ended with Rainbow Six: Siege. Each of these games was very impressive upon the initial reveal and looked to be doing interesting and innovative new things. However, now that Watch Dogs has come out looking much less visually impressive than originally seen and revealing itself to pretty much be nothing more than a decent urban open world game with Assassin’s Creed style mission structure, many are questioning whether Ubisoft games can be trusted to turn out as good as they initially seem.
This year is The Division’s second appearance at E3, and while it’s still hard to determine if it will suffer a similar fate to Watch Dogs, at the very least we certainly have a better idea of what exactly it is. Despite the impression the original reveal gave as well the implication the Tom Clancy name implies, The Division is actually being billed as a role playing game first and foremost. Of course it certainly has third person shooting, but the loot, skills, character customization, and leveling system all give it much more RPG DNA than a typical third person shooter. As a big fan of Mass Effect, this seems like something that is right up my alley, and also something that will perhaps set it apart a bit from the abundance of other third person shooters.
The game is also open world, and coming from Ubisoft the mission design will be something to certainly be wary of. Across their major open world games which encompass Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs, Ubisoft has a tendency to pretty much use the exact same open world mission structure. Games in all three of those series rely on a handful of mission types spread across the game world and revealing map information by climbing towers, which gives a feeling of sameness to games that are supposed to in different franchises. To carve its own path and not be just another open world Ubisoft game, The Division needs to avoid falling back on these same design concepts, and luckily that does seem to be the case based on what they’ve shown so far.
The game has a very cool looking holographic map which shows up on screen and doesn’t appear to be littered with the icons you’d find in those other games. Additionally, there is an investigation mechanic called “the echo” which scans environments for information. This information will reveal new areas of the map and unlock side missions, which are hopefully more unique than Ubisoft’s typical array of mission types. Given the post apocalyptic nature of the setting and the game’s role playing game focus, I would say there’s a decent chance it will avoid treading the same ground as these other open world games from Ubisoft.
Another aspect of The Division that gives me some hope that it will live up to its potential more than Watch Dogs is in the online multiplayer features. Watch Dogs certainly made some bold claims about the way its multiplayer and single player aspects were integrated, which evoked the Souls games more than a little. In practice it turned out to be less impressive than originally presented, but online elements of The Division seem much more clearly defined. The game is basically set up to be much like what Destiny is offering in terms of online play. There will be public areas with seamless matchmaking as well as personal instances that will require you to invite players to your squad. Like Destiny, The Division is set up to be a persistent online experience that features both seamless online play and more traditional online modes, with the option to play alone if you so choose. Once we get our hands on Destiny in a few months we’ll likely have a better sense of how this style of multiplayer works in practice and whether we can expect it to be successful in The Division.
I can certainly understand the impulse to be skeptical of Ubisoft after Watch Dogs turned out to be far less revolutionary than it originally appeared, but The Division certainly does seem impressive nonetheless. Part of what hurt Watch Dogs is that the genre of game, GTA style urban open world, is one that many are familiar with, which meant it had to something truly special to set itself apart. The Division’s style of post apocalypse open world third person RPG shooter is certainly more unique, which definitely gives it a leg up on Watch Dogs. The game is also a current gen and PC only game, which means its visuals and performance won’t be held back by ancient hardware, and its visuals look far better than any version of Watch Dogs ever did. I’m still not completely sold that The Division will live up to the hype, but I think it has a much better chance of doing so than Watch Dogs did.