Well, oh dear. A little while back in taking a first look at The Division, I suggested it would be important (wait, I actually said “absolutely essential”) for the release of the game’s first raid to offer some variety in gunplay and sweet new gear to get us all properly hooked into the loot loop. Now, after a good look at the game’s current end game content, it looks like it hasn’t really delivered on either of those counts.
Introducing a post max-level “gear score” to high level equipment in what seems like a very direct lift of Destiny’s Light level system (side note: has Destiny accidentally become the template/prototype for all future MMO shooters? This will be interesting to find out), the April update demands that your gear score be high enough before you can even enter the raid. Gear score makes The Division’s sometimes overwhelming glut of numbers a bit simpler – generally, the higher the gear score, the better the item – but items with a high gear score can also often seem less effective in gameplay terms (having a much lower armour rating, for example), so it can pay to read the list of ingredients before strapping those new kneepads on.
Options for obtaining Gear-scored-gear come down to buying or crafting it by using “Phoenix credits” (a fellow cover-shooter homage to Marcus, perhaps?). These are obtained in daily and weekly challenges and missions, or by taking your chances in the Dark Zone.
The Dark Zone remains the most interesting part of the whole game. Roaming around always feels tense and dangerous, and for every miserable experience when some high-levelled posse ganks you down like a dog in the street, there’s a triumph of cooperation or a heroic how-did-I-get-away-with-that solo effort. Fortunately, the reported ruination of the Dark Zone experience on the PC version by exploits and hacks doesn’t really seem to have made its way to consoles yet.
A new mechanic in the update periodically drops supplies into the zone. These are defended by tough mobs: clear these out and you can claim their goodies for yourselves. Because this equipment has just been parachuted in, it’s not contaminated and thus doesn’t need to be extracted via helicopter as with other Dark Zone gear, but instead becomes permanently yours instantly – making supply drops tempting targets and potential rogue agent-makers.
If PvP (or perhaps we should call it “PvP…?”) is not your thing, you can hit the daily missions. Two hard story missions plus a third challenge mission are available to play each day, and will provide you with Gear-scored-gear (this is a silly term, Ubisoft) and Phoenix credits. Or at least the Hard missions probably will, since the Challenging mission setting and its level 32 elite goons is so hard that it is likely to dissuade many average players from attempting it very often, at least until they are seriously specced up. There are no new mechanics here, just enemies who can take even more face-bullets than usual from your light machine gun and dish out more hurt in return.
Weirdly, the same daily missions often seem to repeat several days in a row – potentially good news for those of us that are enamoured with shooting out the fish tanks inside the Russian consulate (sorry, fish, but so satisfying!), but bad news for anyone who doesn’t want to play the same mission on what seems like a loop just so they can get all of their available Phoenix credits for the week.
With a gear score of 140 achieved (minimum), you can finally head for the raid – sorry, Incursion – but what waits in there is fairly uninspiring; a horde-mode style experience that almost entirely takes place in a single large room, spiced up by the addition of an APC lobbing out insta-death shells at your squad every 15 or so seconds. This APC must eventually be destroyed by bombs brought in (conveniently) by enemies in certain wave numbers. It’s punishingly difficult and not very innovative, but to be fair, many will relish the challenge as it does demand teamwork and tactics. Even so, it’s hard to see the appeal of playing it over and over again once conquered.
And yet, this is what players will likely do if they want to collect the various pieces of the new Gear Sets (effectively raid sets) or named weapons that are The Division’s attempt to create “cool” loot to lust after and seek. While these definitely have a rarity/degree-of-difficulty value to them, the game is once again hampered a bit by its realistic setting, and although your mileage may vary, there’s not much that’s exciting or visually striking about a slightly more coordinated beanie-and-jacket look.
With this fairly spartan set of endgame content, and exploits, cheating, glitches and player behaviour proving that no pre-release MMO plan survives contact with the player base, The Division feels like it is now waiting for the major post-release course correction that seems to be standard for such games. There’s plenty to admire and enjoy here already, but there’s also a lot of rough edges that need to be smoothed out, and already the content on offer is starting to feel very samey. Perhaps we should stop expecting MMO-style titles to ever smash it straight out of the gate, but the challenge for The Division going forward will be keeping everyone interested long enough to buy time for a proper second crack at things.