A look at Tom Clancy’s The Division from Gamescom

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I’ve been eagerly waiting for Tom Clancy’s The Division ever since that rather dramatic reveal at Ubisoft’s E3 conference last year. We’ve seen very little of the game, truth be told, and have never had a hands-on go at the game. That didn’t change at Gamescom this year, though we were afforded a closer look at how the game plays than ever before.

The Division puts you in the shoes of one of the city’s clean up agents, trying to return a freshly apocalyptic New York to being habitable once more. A pandemic virus has come along,  killing most, leaving the city a shell of its former self. Richly detailed, a great deal of the story is told through emergent game play and the environment; fresh corpses piled up, abandoned homes, the world littered with debris, messages on walls. The narrative is  also partially spun by an echo device, which shows memories of a place in 3D. The New York shown is huge, with a rather large mega-map showing  just about everything. Each area is graded by three things; present security, level of contagion, and current morale in the area – and each will affect how missions there will play out, what sort of gear is required, and the sort of resistance you’ll face.

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The big emphasis in our behind-closed-doors screening and live demo of the game was the synchronicity between the the console or PC versions of the game, and the one that’s played on a companion tablet. The versions we saw were running on Xbox One, and Surface. Players will be able to drop in and out seamlessly, as will companion players.

We’ve seen videos before demonstrating how the tablet play works, but what I found startling was the complete lack of latency between the game proper, and the pared down isometric view from the tablet. It mirrored the console world rather well, even if it was noticeably lower in general fidelity. The tablet player takes control of a drone, which is able to aid players on the ground by highlighting targets, buffing abilities, or even healing. It all worked like magic, though it could well be the structured setting at play. If it works nearly as well in a real world setting, it would be the first game where a companion app not only makes real sense, but is a welcome addition.

The game itself looks incredible, yes..even on the Xbox One. Yes, probably not quite as nice as the initial reveals, but it’s filled with incredible detail and most certainly looks like a next gen game. I don’t think we’re in for another Watch Dogs downgrade-gate in the near future. I will just add though, that the health bars, and a few other bits suffered from rather horrible aliasing, and there were a number of frame drops – but for now we’ll put that down to the game being nowhere near finished.

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There’s still quite a bity of mystique surrounding the game, and exactly what genre it fits in to – but I can confirm that it’s actually a pretty hard-core RPG. We got a look at some of the game’s branching skill trees, which you can tailor for different situations and enemies, and there’s enough deep RPG gameplay in there to keep the core happy. Massive doesn’t want to cater only to RPG pundits though, so there are never any hard-locked classes. Instead, players can unlock the skills and tech that’ll suit their play-styles most.

At it’s core, it’s still a shooter though, so that aspect of it is rather important. It seems to function well, working mostly as a cover–based shooter, that relies on team work, and a menagerie of tech and gadgetry – like an auto turret that helps with cover fire, or a strobe droid that blinds and stuns enemies. Perhaps deploy a seeker mine, a rolling grenade that can cause frag damage, or function as a flash bang.

The RPG mechanics come in to play in the missions and routes that will be available you. One are, for example, was gated by a requirement for a suitably high level gas mask; without it, you’d have to find another way through, or around the area. You’ll need to scavenge, loot and even build fortresses and home bases – which you’ll be able to fortify and upgrade. It’s the sort of  post-apocalyptic survivalist fantasy that those who’ve read World War Z  have been waiting for – even if the game is bereft, thankfully, of zombies.

It’s a frightfully ambitious game, but if it all comes together as intended, could be one of this generation’s greatest.

Last Updated: August 19, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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