Whatever else happens in the current generation of gaming, someone out there is mightily convinced that we're going to look back on this as the age of the genre-defying, massively-multiplayer shooter. The famously ambitious Star Citizen (and its famously mighty crowdfunding campaign) may have kicked off the cycle, but it was Bungie's gigantic space saga Destiny that landed first; offering players and rival developers a first hand view of what to do - and, more vitally, what not to do - when launching such a large, complicated title into the market.
One of the next major titles stepping up to the plate is Tom Clancy's The Division, and according to one early look its makers have been watching the Destiny rollout very carefully.
Writing for IGN, "shooter specialist" Nathan Lawrence spent a day trying out The Division's pre-beta version and has reported back on its similarities and differences to the early launch of Destiny in an exhaustive overview, stating:
"It’s clear, though, that Ubisoft has been paying close attention to the complaints raised against Destiny and incorporated solutions to those gripes with what it’s pitching for The Division."
Chief among Lawrence's comparisons is that The Division aims for a "true" open-world MMO experience, whereas Destiny creates its world largely through a succession of hubs requiring players to take multiple steps to go from one area (or mode) to another. By contrast, The Division's digital recreation of New York City has been designed to let players move (mostly) seamlessly from place to place and mode to mode; which is a positive-sounding step considering that the game allows for solo play, multiplayer co-op, cooperative modes and more. And while the game makes use of "emote" animations to aid in quick player-to-player communication, microphones can also be used to speak more directly in proximity - or eavesdrop on nearby potential enemies.
One major difference, however, is that The Division's shooter game play is primarily cover-based; largely taking place in a player-vs-player-vs-environment mode called The Dark Zone. According to Lawrence, the mode's integration is smooth enough that players can "accidentally" wander into it while not intending to, though participation is still largely voluntary via a warning system. Unlike previous attempts at such a mode, vehicular combat has not been integrated, which may come as a relief to players who were frustrated by that integration in the recent Halo 5. Intriguingly, Dark Zone shootouts will also ask players to fight with a baseline of honor: Firing the first shot brands you as "rogue," and racking up too many unprovoked hits puts a bounty on your head.
Lawrence goes on to praise the game's unique class system, which allows for swapping out skills and gear on the fly rather than being constrainted to a specific role (healer, tank, lancer, etc) for each event; which should (theoretically) allow for a more well-rounded experience for players who want to get a full sense of all available avenues of play. The skills themselves, meanwhile, are largely tied to completing story missions within the game's narrative, which takes place in a chaotic New York City that's been quarantined amid the suspicious outbreak of a mysterious super-virus. In doing so, Ubisoft Massive hopes to avoid one of Destiny's most consistent criticisms, i.e. that completing the narrative missions felt hollow because of a lack of tangible impact on the game world itself.
Despite such sustained criticism, Destiny has none the less managed to build a solid base of consistent players and remains one of the most popular titles on the market this generation. But while the field may indeed be crowded already given the sheer amount of dedication games of this size demand, The Division will likely be counting on the stark differences in aesthetic and tone to set it apart: Whereas scifi/space settings have thus far been customary, the Tom Clancy title is set in a contemporary NYC with realistic weapons and obstacles. Whether that, plus the refined mode-transitions and malleable skill-sets, will be enough to make the game a winner with players remains to be seen, but Ubisoft appears to be off to a solid start.
Tom Clancy's The Division, developed by Ubisoft Massive, is scheduled for release on March 8, 2016.