The Division & Destiny sequels

Over the weekend I saw streamer MarcoStyle mention he intends to move away from The Division 2 and play other games. Whilst this isn’t really news. Streamers constantly change games or move on from things. It seems to be a case of another of the more well known original The Division streamers moving away from the series. I remember before launch comparing The Division 2’s launch with that of Destiny 2 and that it would face the same challenges. And after watching the launch of Ubisoft’s latest Division game it feels like there are similarities.

In September 2017 Destiny 2 launched to good reviews (84 on OpenCritic) but within weeks faced a backlash from the community over a number of issues; a reduced feature set, lack of endgame content, changing XP rates and egregious microtransactions. We never saw sales figures but it’s likely that the game was successful although by the time of Destiny 2’s first expansion, Activision Blizzard stated publicly it wasn’t happy with sales of Forsaken. How much that led to the breakup with Bungie is speculation, although it’s hard to imagine that overall revenue and microtransactions sales didn’t play a part in the decision making process.

The Division 2 also launched to good reviews (83 on OpenCritic) and there appears to be criticism of lack of content and broken builds although praise for some of the new content in the game. Interestingly MarcoStyle specifically called The Division 2 endgame more casual in his aforementioned video, stating that it felt like it was more for people who only play a few hours a week. Similar criticisms were levelled at Destiny 2 at launch.

We have heard nothing on the sales figures from Ubisoft about The Division 2. Odd given they were very vocal about the first game’s launch setting company and industry records. The March 2019 NPD figures (physical and digital USA sales figures) included some news :

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was the best-selling game of March 2019 and is now the second best-selling game of 2019. Launch month sales of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 are the sixth highest in history for an Ubisoft-published game.

NPD March 2019 (ResetEra post)

This probably explains why there have been no press releases about sales because unlike the first game it has set no milestones by the looks of it.

Of course this isn’t meant as criticism of either game and there is much detail around how the games are different. The Division 2 is about to get its first Raid and that will probably boost player engagement. And Destiny 2 players seem to love the Forsaken expansion. This is no ‘hot take’ and maybe stating the obvious given both games are similar Live Service games from large western publishers. It simply has been interesting to observe how the games have launched very similarly; good reviews, limited or lower sales after a very successful first game, tailing off player engagement and criticism of endgame content. And indeed what is also probably true of both is that the developers moved onto the next games straight after launch.

I am still torn on whether to pick up The Division 2 at some point. I really enjoyed the first game and it was streamers like SkillUp and MarcoStyle who helped me master some of the metagame. The beta for The Division 2 left me cold and I got the distinct impression it was more of the same albeit improved. Recently I have been enjoying shorter, narrative experiences and looking forward to being able to try new games all the time. With one game already my Live Services game of choice, I’m not that keen to start more. I just don’t need more games as a service at the moment. And that continues to be a reason why I’ve not purchased The Division 2.

Update 17th May 2019: Since publishing this post, Ubisoft confirmed The Division 2 didn’t meet expectations. There are probably many reasons for why; fatigue with GaaS games, lots of competition, Fortnite and people bouncing off the first game hard. Although probably more interesting is the why are all these AAA, big budget, western developed GaaS games failing to meet expectations? Maybe a thought for another day.

The Division 2 Private Beta (Early Impressions)

I written before how I generally was a huge fan of the original game and how the The Division 2 was definitely on my radar for 2019 upcoming releases. Fortunately I was lucky enough to be included in the private beta after registering last year.

I played this on an Xbox One X despite having played the original on PC and these are my thoughts:

  • I’ve had a few bugs and glitches with enemies floating or zooming about once or twice. Also the game disconnected and crashed to the Xbox dashboard twice on the first hotel mission. And the ‘poor connection to host server’ message has appeared a lot suggesting the servers are struggling on Ubisoft’s side. When I’ve been disconnected both times I’ve had to start the whole mission again which was very annoying. At least Anthem would ask if I wanted to re-join the expedition to resume where I was when this happened.
  • Framerate seems fine (on Xbox One X) and as far as I could tell the didn’t fluctuate badly. I would guess the game is dynamic 2160p or 4K – scaling down the game’s resolution when required. On a personal note having played the original on PC I can’t say the drop from 60-100+ fps bothered me that much.
  • Like the original a very pretty game. It appears to recreate its location in stunning detail. Washington, D.C. might not be as iconic as New York City but the more open, green areas are welcome.
  • AR’s and SMG’s seem to have more recoil on them, almost like LMGs from the original game.
  • The map doesn’t seem any bigger than the original, although wider. I know Massive have said it is 20% bigger though.
  • The UI is very similar and very badly implemented. They feel like they are optimised for console/controller, over flashy, don’t use space well and are even more complex than the first game.
  • Although a new look the game seems to have the same enemies types in this, but again they try and flank and take cover etc. when they need to.
  • I also followed some friendly NPC’s around because it says they are scouting for water thinking it might be an organic side mission, but alas even with an enemy shootout there was no reward or anything.
  • I also could play everything so far solo (haven’t tried endgame stuff) but unsure if it scales up for groups.
  • It feels like there are more lootable objects hidden around which is good and encourages exploration.

Overall

Everything feels very similar to the first game; the way the story starts, the way you build the base, the gunplay, movement, skills, perks, echoes, audio recordings etc. It’s simply more of the first game as if the same template has just been lifted from the first one, and simply put into the new location with some minor changes. And whilst that’s great for fans of the game I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I personally wanted an Assassin’s Creed 2 or Mass Effect 2 style improvement.

This all feels so remarkably similar, that my hunch is that we are looking at more of the same. Meaning you are replaying the same mission content over, and over. Of course many will argue that is true of the genre but I very rarely have the same complaint of similar games like Warframe where it always feels like there is more actual content.

Of course as mentioned this is a demo/beta and the full game may unlock more new features. And I do think there is enough enjoyment here for hardcore fans of the original who will love this as it is more of the same. However whether irrationally or not I did burn-out on the original Division and I haven’t seen quite enough to buy at the initial asking price. Although I will likely purchase at some point in the future.

Which is good in some ways because there are other games that I am really looking forward to playing and my backlog is still as big as ever.

The Division Review

Start spreading the news, I want to be a part of it. A flawed but great game.

When I think of a game that captures a location almost perfectly, it’s hard not to think of Ubisoft’s 2016 third-person shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division. It’s recreation of a New York city torn apart after a release of a deadly virus is stunning in almost every way.

Given the sequel is coming out early next year and how I am all but done with this game, I thought it might be worth compiling how I felt about this first entry in the series. It’s made more interesting by the fact that it does some things really well, but then in other areas almost falls flat on itself. That said I really enjoyed The Division and my hundreds of hours with the game are something I’ll look back fondly on.

In short Ubisoft created one of the best third-person shooters of this generation. Whilst it’s more of an RPG in places there is no doubt that the core gameplay loop is on point. Weapons and movement feel right, audio is great, graphically it is one of the most stunning games I have ever played. And the loot game, the ‘just one more go’ compelling gameplay loop, is largely there and done well.

It is also a game that respects the solo player in ways that its competitors such as Destiny don’t. You can play the whole of this game solo, never needing to matchmake or group up. And whilst there will be group or multiplayer activities you will miss out on, there is no exclusion from the endgame. Almost every activity will improve your character in some way although exotics are limited to a few missions or weekly activities. In effect grouping up just gives you a faster route to find the same endgame gear.

However it’s no secret that the game has problems. And I think none more so than how Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment handled the support of the game. You will often here how The Division was supported more than Destiny or how Ubisoft has done a good job with support. However that’s not entirely accurate. In reality The Division morphed into getting events and piecemeal recursive modes, but really missed out on substantial story, locations and new PVE content. And ironically The Division may have some of the same challenges as the Destiny series has been through when the sequel comes out.

The second year ‘no-show’ of content isn’t often talked about but in a Ubisoft shareholders call in February 2017, it was announced it had ‘another triple-A game lined up for the coming financial year but that this will now be replaced by continued support for an existing, well-performing live game’. And it does appear this was definitely referring to The Division, as shortly afterwards it was confirmed that there was no paid for content for year 2 of the game. What this meant was that The Division got Lootboxes, events and a new game mode. But what it never got was new missions, areas, story, factions or anything major. For many, including myself this simply reaffirmed that the game was in maintenance mode whilst Massive worked on the sequel and basically cemented my burnout with the game. Every time I’ve gone back to the game for events I’ve very quickly burnt out as I’m got sick and tired of playing the same content over, and over, and over, and over.

And even the Year one content felt like it was outsourced although it did add greatly to the game. Three big content drops that were managed over the first twelve months whilst the majority of the studio were likely working on the sequel. Indeed it feels like the much talked about 1.4 patch that dramatically improved the game was as much about increasing the playerbase than anything. And of course as players didn’t substantively return in droves, then it may have beena reason why Ubisoft abandoned major content for the first game to focus on the sequel.

And that is one of my chief concerns with the sequel. That it received true support rather than being a Games as a Product with support in disguise as a live service. It’s getting old very quickly how publishers talk about GaaS but then continue to do major £80-£90 releases very regularly.

The game had lots of other problems. A less than stellar launch, lots of cheaters on PC, a small map with a lack of variety and a very short story campaign with a small number of missions, along with lots of issues with PVP. But all of that aside, this is a game that still shone through it’s problems. And particularly now if you were to have come to the game late. What you’ll find now is a very well balanced, interesting and with loads of modes to enjoy and explore. Indeed the ‘player power’ fantasy is almost perfect with the way you are able to breeze through more challenging content now.

This is a game I could probably write much, much more about, but in short, I do think this was a great first entry that has hopefully setup what will be a more interesting and polished sequel. Hopefully without too aggressive monetisation. But for now, goodbye New York. I am leaving today.

Played PC / UPlay version