Tom CLancy

The Division : Reloaded

I am still stuttering along looking for a new home. I almost bought MLB: The Show (I love baseball and it has been a few  years). I almost bought Horizon: Zero Dawn based off of Blognation recommendations. I almost bought Ghost Recon: Wildlands with it being a top seller and in a third party shooter mood. In the end of it all none of them jumped out to me as a ‘MUST PLAY NOW’ title and I decided to reload a game I didn’t get to finishing – The Division. I have three posts about The Division, one that uses an example of their ’emergent’ game play (2014) that made me question where new features come from – player demand, or designer curiosity. The second (2014) was questioning why they would want to compare themselves to Destiny (and subsequently failed as a comparison to Destiny, now in real time) and the third was when I was actually playing it – a year ago (2016) and what was holding me back from loving the game. Until I get a really hard motivation to play something in particular, this is what I am going to try.

I do look badass

Logging in shows that I am level 20 with almost 18 hours played. (Not sure where that picture gets 7D, 18H played – the outside menu says 18H. I have not played 7 days…) It also shows I am 61% through the main story line so I already have my main goal established. It will be nice to finish that. I remember fondly enjoying the main story arc but quickly reminded that The Division suffers from “that game that would be awesome as a single player game but need to make it multiplayer for a check mark and future revenue sources so will make it less good to fit that mold” immediately. The skinny of it is that an outbreak hits New York, and you are a part of a deep, undercover network of operatives who only get activated when all other support systems break down. It is a great premise. The types of things you get to do is clear out gangs, rescue hostages, support groups such as the police and JTF, re-establish services such as power (etc.) – all the while trying to solve who started the outbreak (and why). See? Told you it is a very cool premise.

It falls short on two main areas. The first is the forced multiplayer element. They have a nice map of New York. As we clear out parts of the city and support the Military and Police, those areas should stay “safer”, unless the various groups and gangs of criminals make a deliberate push. Working through “rescuing” parts of New York until the entire city is saved as you solve the mystery could be an award winning narrative. Instead, roaming gangs “repop” right outside your base every 5 minutes. It’s a waste of a setting.

Very welcoming

The second is the gear grind / bullet sponge effect. I am level 20 with blue and purple gear. (Simply saying there is blue and purple gear makes everyone reading right now understand the rarity quality. That is issue one right away). As a level 20 in decent gear, I went straight to the next story mission which has level 20 enemies. Level appropriate content with a fast travel option – hurray! I did half relatively smoothly and then hit a “boss” battle. The boss had 2 higher level henchmen with her. One took me over 400 bullets to take down.

Over. 400. Bullets.

If you build your entire game around a modern day premise then that needs to match up. I don’t care if you are wearing a bullet proof vest, there is not a bullet proof vest on the market that can take 400 bullets from an assault rifle at close range, (plus 4 grenades, did I mention that?)  before taking a guy down. That suspension of disbelief is at levels of ridiculousness. Once again, showhorning in RPG and MMO mechanics into an otherwise great game has a ruining effect. The way to “win” these battles isn’t to be tactical or a good shot. It is to unload a clip / use cooldowns (yes, cooldowns.) retreat far enough to reload clip, reset cooldowns, heal up. Unload. Run away. Unload. I almost ended up at the beginning of the map to take the guy down. Once he was down, I now have to run all the way back through the map to get to the end again to properly exit and “win” the instance/scenario. How that is supposed to be fun as a tactic is beyond me.

That didn’t take 400 bullets

The key is to greatly out level the content. In order to do that you have to hit all the side missions, etc. which isn’t so bad. But the pacing is horrible. Absolutely dreadful.

But yeah, I can stomach that for 39 more %. I think. Guarantee I am skipping all the DLC though. You can judge me for being that upset about the ridiculousness about it all but still want to play. There is a lot of good here. The graphics are great. The menus and information settings are very “alternate reality” and super cool. The setting is captured wonderfully. As you can tell from the pictures above, there are some really graphic moments but New York definitely feels under siege and I have a purpose in game. The gear upgrades and clothing options are fun. Modding out a weapon is fun and useful. I love the clothing options (chose a suit with a scarf – all of that is customizeable with things you find in the world). The regular gunplay and gameplay is fun, things are just broken on boss battles / “epic” enemies (which just shouldn’t exist). In Destiny I get it (aliens, monsters, etc.). In The Division you are just shooting humans, some of which may be monsters in actions only. The stories have been great (from tracking down other missing agents, to learning how the outbreak virus was distributed to the population, it’s all very good and I am connected to the world and the well-being of the people there).

I hear Ghost Recon: Wildlands keeps much of what is good about The Division but bakes in more realistic enemies, and I hope I am not wrong on that. In the meantime I am going to give The Division a bit more time and attention unless it is able to turn myself off of it completely. Solving the outbreak will come down to my willpower to battle bad design decisions, which in itself may be harder than saving New York.

Things I Don’t Like About the Division

Should I tell you how I really feel?

Even though that is a far less eloquent title than normal there is a lot I think I should like about The Division –  but a few key items are holding back that full endorsement. I do find it odd that people compare it to Destiny as it is a very different style and format, although I do agree that they compete for the same “time slot”. It’s like having The Simpsons and Family Guy on at the same time. Right now, for me, even with lack of content and progression, Destiny is the Simpsons. It boils down to three simple things, and I will use Destiny as a comparative in them as well.

  1. Snow: It is the only environment I have seen. I get the feeling that that’s all there is, because of the beautiful way the background has been rendered. In Destiny every planet you went to had a theme so you were able to get a lot of different looks and feels. Right now you have snowy streets, foggy, snowy streets, and snowy, snowy streets. There are indoor zones that have some differentiation but for the most part you are walking down streets. A lot. Snowy ones.
  2. Gear: I am not even level 20 yet so maybe this does get better but I have gone through over a dozen pair of gloves that may or may not be different. I may have missed it, but can’t zoom in on the gloves to see the detail in the work to understand how they may differentiate. Sure, the shader or color may change from dark blue #544 to dark blue #677 but the gear change just hasn’t been that noticeable. Scarves, hats, etc. are but that is a far cry from feeling like you are moving along the gear train. So far there has been little differentiation and I am starting to wonder if there is even a point. There is SO much variation in Destiny between classes and options (including shaders) that the lack thereof in The Division is very noticeable.
  3. Dark Zone: No, I haven’t played it. And before you get all “how can you review something you haven’t played” I am going to be all like “I hate it thematically so not going to play it”. I get it, they need to find a reason for PVP. I just don’t like it among the very cool and engaging story line so far. It feels like such a senseless bolt on that they could have done better.  I will dip in eventually, but the idea behind it has already left a bad taste in my mouth
  4. Real World limitations: Because it is based on today / everyday life you can’t go too far outside of that realism. Mechanics are shoot, grenade, advanced things (such as turrets) fit okay, but it is limiting on the types of things you can fight. People.  This limits mechanics and other interesting options. It has given some variety so far but it feels (fairly) far more constrained.

I want to like The Division more, and I am far from being done with it – my attention is just being drawn elsewhere currently and I feel like those deficiencies (in my mind) are holding me back from making it a focus. I haven’t done any grouping yet so perhaps that will help. I will play through the story campaign and see if any of the above changes. The good news is, with such low expectations, it will be easy to surprise me.

 

The Tombstone Quandary

There is a quandary around movies that I noticed in the 90’s where movie studios are afraid to be left behind in the market. When one was making a movie about, say, Tombstone  the other major one would follow-up eerily close with Wyatt Earp. Big studio coming out with a disaster movie about Volcanos? Better not be left behind! I often wondered if this was a product of individuals afraid of losing their jobs (I hear X studio is doing this, and if we don’t and it does well, my job may be at stake) or more of a big wig ego thing – who could outdo one another in the same area. Regardless of why it happened(s) a lot the movie Tombstone  always comes to mind to me because I *loved* Tombstone but disliked its clone, Wyatt Earp. In fact, while researching this thought I found a whole Wikipedia page dedicated, by decade, to instances of this happening. And the list is monstrous!. Funny enough in many cases one is a complete flop while the other is successful and it’s always a curiosity on to who had the original idea and who is just trying to keep up with the Joneses. The movie making Joneses. Either way, it’s an interesting phenomenon to me.

Thankfully I don’t see the same trend in games and game making. Sure, some will emulate successful titles but in movies both race to release and compete at the same time – whereas in gaming it seems as though devs wait to see how a game does and then how to differentiate – it’s much more open with a lot less guessing but a lot of time passes by between releases.

I bring all of this up because with great interest I have started following “The Division” which has the basis for an amazing story (remember that basis?) and the third person shooter elements seem like it could be a big hit. Tom Clancy games are traditionally well done. And then, suddenly, I started reading scary things such as articles about Division trying to be like Destiny, the “Always playing, always improving”. Grinding out epic loot tiers on.. sub machine guns in a modern setting? Getting a -5 to recoil and such and at this thought process, I realize, they are probably doing it wrong.

Sure, I get it – they want Destiny sales numbers but don’t really know for sure why that is. I’m worried if they focus on the parts of Destiny that pushes people away and think that is the money-maker, they’ll make a dud. The last thing I would want as an upcoming game is a direct comparison to ANY title out there. Oh, it is just like Destiny. It’s just like World of Warcraft! It’s just like… doomed to fail because it’s like something else but won’t be exactly the same. In my humble opinion if you just build an amazing story with your other elements you will get longevity. Don’t just build a loot treadmill. These new FPS MMOs seem to be taking the worst parts of MMOs and applying it to the FPS genre. Take the best parts instead, or at bare minimum, as well.

 

Who Drives Design Decisions?

I sat through a few presentations last week from potential suppliers and a few of them shared the “new” tech that “beacons” storefronts. This tech will ping every cell phone that passes by your storefront door and give you a unique traffic count  each day. It does ping unique versus non unique but no personal information is stored. This is only if you have Wi-Fi turned on your phone. It’s non evasive and doesn’t creep me out that much. Another one (which is becoming increasingly common) is when you hit that space in front of the storefront it sends you a text, or SMS, or push notification with an offer to “come buy” or otherwise engage the customer. That actually DOES creep me out. I don’t want that to happen to me. The salesman assures me that every 16 year old kid does, however, because “it makes sense to them”, and that they can also filter that option out to only happen to certain age demographics (which further creeps me out).

I love technology in general and am often an early adopter but am still from a mindset that loyalty is build on interaction and exceeding expectations, not discounting. (which is why I pick on Steam a lot here). If it is true this is how people want to be engaged by businesses I suppose I will have to adjust – I just don’t have a comfort level with it yet. It makes me think of Minority Report and how they use eyes to track where you are, what you bought last time, and where you are going. I don’t think the average person wants that yet.

I’m only 40 and feeling really old when told this kind of technology is what people want. Since I am 40 it feels like my “prime” time as a gamer is long gone when companies are considering development strategies. Games are being designed around what the new market wants, what the new consumer wants. I still think I would be a prime candidate to market to – I have high disposable income with less disposable time – so I am willing to pay for a great experience (full price – doesn’t have to be a Steam sale!) as long as the game engages me and respects my limited time.

All of this intro is to discuss an upcoming title that I have a lot of excitement for – The Division, by Tom Clancy. Check out the various vids. I love the setting, the over the shoulder FPS style works in it, I like Tom Clancy games in general. It has a lot going for it and could be an engaging story.

In the video below it shows someone controlling a drone – and reading some interviews and deeper dives into the game that person is interfacing the multiplayer aspect of the game via his/her tablet. The designer goes on to share that this game is built around Multiplayer and the different ways to interface with the game and play with friends. Check out the video – it looks interesting. He is buffing, marking, doing all sorts of supportive (yet mundane) tasks.

What I am going to question here, is who actually asked for this? Have gamers been emailing Tom saying “hey, I love your AAA titles but what I *really* want is to assist friends playing the full game while on my tablet”. I just don’t see where the need is here to dedicate so much of the theme of the game, and the design time, to engage gamers this different way – for the sake of being different. If I am sitting at home in front of my PS4 I am not pulling out a tablet to play along – I’ll grab the controller instead. This leads back to my WildStar observation of who actually asked for the WoW 2004 grind  to be brought back? And are developers innovating simply to be different or to actually improve our quality of gaming life?

I wonder if the goal of providing something different or innovative is getting in the way of foundational and sound game design. This decision feels like it was made by designers in a room trying to find something cool to introduce so they have a talking point instead of any evidence of a need for this in the marketplace. If any developer were to ask me what I want, I’d tell them an immersive and engaging gaming experience. I don’t need gimmicks. Maybe I don’t matter as a gamer anymore but it feels like designers are asking the wrong questions or to the wrong people (or both). Maybe I am just the wrong gaming demographic now.

It may be a really cool feature and it will be interesting to see it play out – I will be following this one pretty closely. I just hope they didn’t have to cut out the parts that interest me personally to fit in ideas that may not interest anyone.