Before you read my thoughts, you might want to brush up on the changes to Tom Clancy’s The Division; the details of patch 1.2 can be found here.
I think it’s fair to say we’ve all had our ups and downs with The Division since its initial release in March. Despite its significant shortcomings at the time, there was still plenty of fun to be had in the loot-driven action game, provided you have a good group of mates to play with. However, after a bit of time the game found itself lacking in engaging and rewarding activities. It bled plenty of its player base, myself included. Ubisoft Massive are aware of this, and have been steadily releasing content updates and balance patches in the past few months. Last week, the final large free content patch, 1.2, was dropped on us, with the next three being paid DLC. So if you’re wondering whether or not it’s time to jump back on-board, hopefully I can help provide you with an answer.
Let’s start with the good news; the inclusion of High-Value Targets (HVT) in patch 1.2 is a welcomed addition. Basically, at each safe house there are ‘Search and Destroy’ (S&D) missions that provide players with ‘intel’ upon completion, which are then used as currency to purchase HVTs. They are very short and mindless activities, which just encompass killing a bunch of enemies in three separate areas. They do however, provide a reason to go back out into the world, and offer a decent amount of starting gear if you’ve fallen behind in recent months.
HVT missions are fairly brief weekly and daily objectives, to hunt down a boss or two, rewarding gear and further loot drops. Much like S&D missions, they aren’t too difficult, but offer a neat incentive and quick means of attaining new gear. Depending on the difficulty of the target, you can obtain set pieces, and an assortment of other goodies, to ready yourself for the harder Incursions in no time.
Incursions now make up a significant portion of the end-game content, between Falcon Lost, and Clear Sky, you will obtain the best loot in the game. Let it be known, I absolutely despise Falcon Lost. By trapping players in a dull, limited warehouse, while being bombarded by an infuriating barrage of missiles and wave based enemies, it couldn’t have been more disappointing if it tried.
That being said, the new Incursion, Clear Sky, has definitely improved upon its predecessor. Instead of being stuck in an unimaginative building, you move through the streets of Manhattan to reach Columbus Circle. The first challenge has you face a few waves of enemies to gather an explosive and destroy the barricade (Okay Ubisoft, we get it, you like waved based mechanics, can you chill on it for a bit?). Fortunately, once you arrive at the main combat area, the action gets pretty intense. There is (once again) a turret and rocket barrage from a nearby SAM site attacking you, which your team will need to deactivate by carrying two cases over to their respective slots. The zone is much wider, with plenty of effective cover. Overtime enemies can become overwhelming, but with strong teamwork and positioning, you can chip them down enough to complete the objective and kill the boss.
If you weren’t satisfied with the initial four gear sets that released with Falcon Lost, patch 1.2 adds four more. There is a lot of potential to mix and match different bonuses, choosing to maximise in one specific set, split it in two, and so on. Thanks to the new Incursion and the HVT system, players are bound to get a bunch of quality gear, particularly if you roll with some friends who are fine with sharing the loot they don’t want.
Overall, the PVE content has been very enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to tackling the Challenge Mode version of Clear Sky, which is hopefully coming soon. But let’s change tact and discuss the Dark Zone. One of the original pillars of the game; this multiplayer area is the most effective method of acquiring gear after finishing the weeklies, unless you want to grind Incursion bosses over and over.
The Dark Zone has had a tumultuous period since the game’s release. Plagued by hackers, and an ever-present disconnect between reward, effort, and balance. While I applaud Ubisoft Massive’s effort to keep working on the zone (recently they have added a lot of balance patches and a new player bracket for 200+ Gear Score), unfortunately it is still riddled with issues. PVP encounters are nothing like the intense gameplay we saw at level 8 in beta; it boils down to high health and armour, decent skill power, and rolling. Lots, and lots, of rolling. Players are un-killable, jumping around and healing themselves over and over.
The video below provides a decent representation of what I am talking about. Basically, due to changes of armour and health values, exacerbated by good skill power, players can roll around forever. Fair disclosure, this video is pretty old, but in the past few days i have encountered the exact same issue on a much larger scale.
Having an enormous impact on the Dark Zone, at least for Australian PC gamers, is how the servers operate. Hordes of Chinese players are either actively blocking region IP’s to be placed in Australian servers, or the servers are automatically allocating them there. Either way, the result is bad. Groups of 7+ players talking open mic over what i can only presume is an internet cafe, gang up and follow you around until you get annoyed and go rogue on them, or they get bored and just kill you anyway. Given there are so many of them, and they utilise ‘cheese’ mechanics often while lagging, they wipe the floor with anyone who gets in their way.
To put it in perspective, in my last outing, a huge group of 8 were decimating everyone in their path, and camping the spawn point. They were only stopped after what I presume was a very annoyed and frustrated player, switched on his hacks and killed them all within a few seconds. I have tried to engage in Dark Zone gameplay with my group of 4 every day now, but we still come up against the same issues over and over. Changes to the loot drops make sense, and the increased Division Tech drop rate is appreciated. Similarly, the ability to cut the extraction rope also seems like an interesting mechanic, which in theory would deliver much needed tension for Dark Zone encounters, but I haven’t been able to experience it yet due to issues stated above.
Look, maybe my friends and I are just the unluckiest people in the world that we keep getting grouped with these types of players, but you can’t deny the terrible state of the multiplayer meta. So many people are concerned with being the most powerful, that very few hold to an interesting character build; they instead succumb to what is the most un-killable at the time.
I’m not sure how Ubisoft will fix the Dark Zone, obviously a good first step would be to sort out the region issues. However, considering it has been happening since beta, I somehow doubt it will or can be rectified. I think the primary reason we aren’t seeing any of the encounters we experienced in beta, or at a lower level, is because of time-to-kill. If perhaps the damage was increased between players, it would make cover more valuable and discourage sprinting and rolling at each other. To the developer’s credit, the game offers a fair amount of choice and character builds, which are difficult to be balanced. At this point, all the player interaction in the Dark Zone has been so abysmal, that I’d rather have it operate as just another PVE zone.
I guess, if you stopped playing The Division, ask yourself why. Was it because there wasn’t enough to do solo play or outside the Dark Zone? If so, maybe give it a whirl again; the new Incursion is fun, and acquiring gear is a lot less frustrating with the addition of loot sharing and the HVT system. Alternatively, if you left because the Dark Zone wasn’t the experience promised to you at launch, then I would hold out longer. Hopefully Massive continues to place emphasis on the PVE aspect of the game, and improves content in future DLC.
Underground is the first scheduled paid DLC release in June, with it comes a new zone for the map and further missions and group content. It will be interesting to see how they expand the game, I’ll report my thoughts back here when the time comes.