It’s no secret that The Division‘s end-game is seriously flawed, but one writer thinks Ubisoft Massive can fix this problem by taking a few lessons from Diablo 3.
Loot-based games are a tricky thing to balance properly. Not only do the developers need to get the drop rates just right, players also have to have reasons to grind for rare loot beyond just collecting things for the sake of collecting things. Some games manage this by offering up a variety of builds that players can experiment with, or adding in some compelling end-game content that puts all that hard-earned loot to good use. Out of the few loot-based games that I’ve been able to play properly, I think Diablo 3 managed to nail the formula perfectly.
Diablo 3‘s longevity stems from its perfect synergy between loot grinding and a deep character customization system. Loot drops are still relatively low, but not Borderlands 2 levels of low; there are six character classes, each of which could be tailored according to play style or certain gear sets; and greater rifts give a players a competitive reason to keep grinding for more loot. Diablo 3 is a great model on how a loot-based game should play, and it’s a model that Ubisoft Massive should take note of when it comes to Tom Clancy’s The Division.
It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of The Division, and the game’s virus-infected New York City still remains as one of the most boring open-worlds I’ve ever played, but what piqued my initial interest was The Division‘s mix of RPG elements with a third-person shooter-looter. Being a big fan of RPGs, shooters, and the occasional loot grind, this was really exciting and I was willing to see how Ubisoft Massive would shake up the looter-shooter genre with The Division. But to my – and many others’ – disappointment, The Division‘s endgame gameplay mechanics proved to be deeply flawed, and the problems stem from Ubisoft’s approach to the game’s loot.
By focusing The Division‘s end game entirely on loot grinding, Ubisoft Massive completely missed the point of what made Diablo 3 so satisfying. The main selling point in Diablo 3‘s end game is the greater rift ladder challenges, which provides players an incentive to not only keep playing, but an actual reason to keep grinding for loot. There was an expectation that the Falcon Lost Incursion would be The Division‘s equivalent of Diablo 3‘s greater rift ladder challenge, it turned out to be nothing more than a source for high-end gear sets. Mowing down 15 waves of enemies and an APC for some gear just isn’t that fun when there’s no competitive edge to it, which explains why gamers resort to exploits in order to keep things interesting.
Falcon Lost was a missed opportunity, but with additional missions still to come, Ubisoft Massive can start fixing The Division‘s end game by turning Incursions into some sort of competitive challenge. Not only will this some justify Ubisoft’s misguided attempts at punishing players for using glitches in an attempt to gain an advantage, but it will add a new competitive PvP dimension beyond shooting other players in the face. While the addition of a competitive ladder will be very welcome, Ubisoft needs to solve another problem area in The Division‘s end game in conjunction with Incursions: build diversity.
Despite being an RPG-styled looter-shooter, The Division hardly has any diversity when it comes to builds. Every build is essentially damage-based, and the only real difference between, say, a tank or a healer, is whether or not you want to equip the first aid skill. I understand that The Division isn’t really a full-fledged RPG, but the lines between builds should not be so blurred that nearly every piece of gear can work with every build. Diablo 3 allows players to experiment with a wide variety of classes and skill sets with a range of legendary items and gear sets, a mechanic that The Division has poorly emulated.
It’s not particularly fun to be constantly mowed down by SMG-wielding Rogue Agents in the Dark Zone simply because they had a higher gear score, and this is where Ubisoft Massive would do well by allowing players to experiment more with builds, or by actually having gear sets alter how skills synergize. Not only will this cut the current solution of spending hours grinding for enough gear that will push my gear score higher, there’s an actual degree of creativity and skill in countering higher-ranked Rogue Agents by changing up my play style or class.
And on the subject of spending hours grinding for enough gear, this brings me to the final big problem I have with The Division: loot drops. The main problem with grinding for high-end loot in The Division is that not only are drops hard to get, but due to the huge Random Nunber Generator (RNG) used, players may well spend days farming for an item that will likely end up with terrible stats. By contrast, legendary item drops in Diablo 3 still use a big RNG but drop rates are far more common, which offsets the disappointment of spending time grinding for a gear piece that ultimately isn’t what you wanted. The Division‘s loot system is terribly unbalanced at the moment, and even if Ubisoft Massive decides to leave every other aspect of the game untouched, loot drops is one area that desperately needs a rethink.
This whole situation with The Division echoes the teething troubles Diablo 3 initially went through, and it’s in Ubisoft Massive’s best interests to take heed of what Diablo 3 developer Joshua Mosqueira had to say about Blizzard’s own loot system problems during his talk at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference.
“One of our fears was, If we give them everything, they are going to stop playing? And I think the realization we made now and what we firmly believe now is that it’s much better for players to get all the loot and to leave the game happy because they will come back happy when we drop a new expansion or patch. If you are stingy, and you are afraid of being too generous, they are going to leave frustrated, they are going to spend three hours not getting an upgrade and then say “this game just wasted my time”. We learned that we needed to become comfortable being generous.”
While some of my colleagues think The Division is irreparably broken, I believe there is still a small window for Ubisoft Massive to partially salvage the situation, but punishing players and nerfing the crafting system isn’t going to cut it. The reality is that The Division‘s loot and gear system needs a serious overhaul, and Ubisoft needs to quickly accept the fact that what it is currently doing isn’t working, or run risk of being one of 2016’s biggest gaming disappointments.
Put it this way, when you’ve got Fox News throwing shade at your title’s gameplay mechanics, perhaps it’s time to start looking for solutions elsewhere.