2014 has seen the video game hype machine backfire on its users a little. After two years of build-up to the release of Watch Dogs many critics and players found the final result to be a little lacking, and Bungie's $500 million open world sci-fi shooter Destiny has faced criticisms for being dull, repetitive and having a beautiful but ultimately soulless world. Not everyone feels this way, of course, but the reception hasn't exactly matched up to the fanfare.
Watch Dogs publisher Ubisoft is now preparing to release another much-hyped new IP: Tom Clancy's The Division. Set in the wake of a pandemic that leaves the USA's society and infrastructure in tatters, players take on the role of special forces operatives who have been charged with keeping peace and order in New York City to the best of their abilities. Since this is a video game, peace and order are generally enforced by shooting people in the face.
Speaking in an interview with VG24/7, The Division's senior brand art director Rodrigo Cortes offered some insight into the kind of game that The Division will be when it's eventually released. As the article points out, 'MMORPG' is a genre designation that has been carefully avoided in the marketing for games like Destiny and The Division, even though it's a designation that seems to fit them quite aptly, but Cortes says that those who prefer not to team up with other players can treat The Division as a single player title.
"You are never forced to do any grouping or any PvP. You can complete the whole game yourself. You will see other players in the social areas but you don’t have to engage with any of them. You can play almost as a single-player game but it’s always online.
"In many online RPG games there are people disturbing your experience. We took the decision early on to create the experience to compliment 1-4 players. We don’t want an emotional experience ruined by a guy with a weird name dancing in front of you."
Cortes pushed the RPG elements of The Division particularly hard, emphasizing the fact that the player character's race, gender and general appearance is customizable, and that they will come from a civilian rather than a military background in order to be more "relatable." The Division features character leveling and upgrades that involve dropping points into particular weapons, gear and skills. One of the aims, Cortes explained, is to make sure that it never feels like the player is stuck in the mud.
"The whole game is built around progression. There’s story progression and then progressions of gear, skills and challenges for the completionists... We’re not talking about post-launch plans yet, but we are planning on doing a lot. It’s a challenge because it’s a game where we want to keep the players engaged without it feeling like a repeat or a grind. We’re very conscious about it, we’re working very actively to make an experience that feels fresh for a long period of time."
Whether this is a challenge that Ubisoft Massive will be able to overcome remains to be seen, especially since The Division is such an ambitious undertaking. With an open world that seamlessly blends single player with multiplayer and its attempt to put a fresh spin on a long-standing genre and a familiar premise it's easy to see why The Division would end up being compared to Destiny, and why this might make some gamers a little wary of the hype. Perhaps there's still enough time left in the development process for The Division to learn from Destiny's mistakes.
Tom Clancy's The Division is currently targeting a 2015 release.