The Division knocked everyone on their butt during Ubisoft's E3 2013 press conference. How had Ubisoft managed to keep such a large-scale project secret for so long? In terms of graphical prowess The Division stood amongst The Witcher 3 and only a handful of others. Somehow The Division also managed to capitalize on many of the buzzworthy features headlining the next-generation of consoles -- expansive multiplayer, realtime data display, mobile integration and huge living worlds. That first demo presentation was without a doubt stunning.
However with further consideration I can't help but feel like the entire demo, both during the Ubisoft conference and our show-floor demo , was a bit too smoke and mirrors. The more I thought about what I had watched the more questions I had to ask and the less confidence I held in the game itself. That's not to take anything away from the demo itself, which we can all agree was fantastic. Perhaps it was just a bit too over-produced -- a bit too E3, if you will
We learn in the demo that the world of The Division has come unto graves times. A disease, spread via money on Black Friday, has ended society in the United States as we know it. The player takes on a role as a member of a special force to save what remains -- The Division, naturally.
Starting the demo, the player take on the role of a grizzled soldier in the middle of a city that's obviously gone to hell. Trash is stacked everywhere, broken down cars line the streets, and you almost expect a zombie to leap out from the shadows. Pulling up a menu involved the character looking at a wrist, where a semi-VR scrolling menu lets the player adjust skills or open the map. The map creates another VR experience, where the city is displayed in hologram form on the ground around the player -- straight up city growing out of the street. It's all very immersive and futuristic.
On the map the player is able to see that a police station is under some form of attack, basically an opt-in mission of sorts. However, it's unclear if at this point the game is open-world or we've pre-selected the mission we're on before loading in, that is, just how instanced and customized the experience is. As we progress down the street two players join us, pointing out a potential side-quest in a tunnel, but decide to continue to the station instead.
At the station a firefight begins. Several very impressive features are shown off here, including an x-ray vision to see enemies, the ability to swap skills in real-time, and about a billion really cool graphics and animation touches. For instance, bullet holes actually appear to break glass as opposed to pasting a texture over the top of a window, the character closed an open police door nonchalantly as it passed by, shooting out a tired on a cop car deflated it, and shooting a wooden sign allowed dynamic lighting to shine through.
With a combination of MMO level tactical coordination the group "pulled" the enemies out of the police station and DPSed them down. Heals were used, rolling targeted grenades were used, and the co-op team proved victorious! It was a straight up dungeon battle if I've ever seen one. The team entered the police station, released some police officers who had been caged in their own cells, dynamically scanned some maps on the wall and other evidence spread around the department, and claimed their look from the armory in the back.
Interestingly, the loot can potentially be lost if the team dies before "extraction". As such, they light a flare for extraction and a 90-second PvP battle begins. Again, it's not clear if this is just the natural structure of an instanced mission, if it's possible to go back and do the side-quest they didn't do earlier, or how players are paired up for PvP in the first place What happens to the loot if they die? Is it gone or does the enemy lose it?
I'll admit, most of my questions are simple and readily answered by a developer I'm sure. Point is the impression I got from The Division demo is that if they took one misstep, if they tried to go towards an ajar car door from the wrong direction, if they looked at the map in an enclosed space instead of an open area, then things would either look bad or straight up just break. It was 100% scripted step to step to step and that worries me.
I want to trust that The Division is a game exactly like what was presented in their demo, as opposed to a very expensive 7 minutes of gameplay designed specifically to excite the E3 audience. Unfortunately, we know that this isn't always the case due to our experiences with E3 in the past. Consider me positive but skeptical until we see more of The Division in the future.