So Much Potential: The Division

Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment set the stage for a fantastic game, but didn’t deliver.

I remember watching the trailers for The Division shortly after the announcement, sitting in awe of what Massive Entertainment was crafting. There are a number of things that really draw me in when looking at new games coming out. Pretty visuals, solid gameplay, and of course, fantastic gameplay and a copious amount of lore.

Ubisoft primed people like me by dropping trailers to entice us into buying their new IP, and it worked. At the time, I was still a store manager with GameStop (the job title is now called “Store Leader” *rolls eyes*), and I spent much of my time talking to visitors and showing off The Division‘s trailers.

Yeah, I know I was duped; not completely, as I did enjoy the game for a time. My review of The Division wasn’t harsh; it was pretty favorable in fact. It’s still hard to shake the feeling that there was so much more potential for the lore to be expounded on though. Hindsight is 20/20, so they say.

To be fair, The Division‘s background lore put in place before the game even came out was pretty fantastic. The problem with The Division is that it seems the scenario presented in the trailers never really made it into the game itself. It’s one thing to make a game that leaves out a few details here and there, but The Division seemed to drop the one thing that it had going for it over Destiny… a meaningful story.

Background Lore

Many games with solid narratives try to set up an expectation of their title from the get go, and Ubisoft did a masterful job. It’s easy to forget that they’re the publisher responsible for games like Splinter Cell, the Rainbow Six numbered entries, and the Ghost Recon games. These franchises from the Tom Clancy universe often had tons of background information that gave purpose to the protagonists’ actions. Sure, many of the stories followed similar lines – I lost count how many times I heard the term “ultra-nationalists” in the older Ghost Recon games – but still.

Regardless, Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment went all out with the pre-release trailers, presenting a truly horrifying scenario as the basis for The Division. My interest piqued with every new video, and I don’t feel ashamed. The background they crafted was incredibly detailed, even when it wracked me with empathetic grief at times (like in the trailer below).

Perhaps the biggest issue I’ve had with the lore of The Division is that it never effectively meshed with the game itself. There were tons of bits and pieces to find about life before, during, and after the outbreak, but the main story didn’t fit with the background; they were mutually exclusive.

The Division Members

I won’t get bogged down in the details here but the title, The Division, refers to sleeper agents stationed throughout The United States. Division agents are activated in the event of a national emergency, with the purpose of reinstating order by leading members of whatever is left of American society back from the brink of anarchy. It’s an awesome premise, and it sets up the potential for a story that could rival the late Tom Clancy’s own writing.

I know that “Tom Clancy” precedes the title, The Division, but don’t let that fool you. Tom Clancy had nothing to do with this game… I digress.

Members of the secretive Division were meant to be seen as protectors of society, and that’s how the trailers portrayed them. Even in the official cinematic trailer above, Division agents are seen stepping in between a civilian and his attackers, before one of the factions shows up and presents a greater threat.

Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment deliberately chose this portrayal of the Division agents, but that bit never made it into the game itself. There are a handful of occasions where civilians are seen, but it’s exceedingly rare to be put in a situation where you feel as if you’re actively protecting anyone. Instead, the closest you often get to seeing your effect on the remains of New York City is the window dressing of civilian NPCs sitting around your base. The rest of the time, you’re just roaming around empty streets, getting attacked by the occasional thug.

It’s clear that Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment had more in mind for Division agents, as well as their overall role in the story. It’s just a shame that so little of their purpose made it into the final product. Instead, the agents themselves not only lack personality (since they’re intended as blank slates for the player), but they also don’t show that they’re carrying out the task that they’ve been given to accomplish.

Players are told that this is their purpose, but they aren’t shown it, and they certainly aren’t part of the action.

Enemies

Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment did end up delivering on the factions, but perhaps one of the bigger letdowns of The Division is that the factions themselves don’t seem to be much of a threat. They’re often shown to be dangerous, and the elite members of those groups can definitely absorb a metric butt load of damage (it turns out that “butt load” is a real form of measurement, in a way), but finishing off the leaders of those factions is still a disappointment.

For all the building up of the Cleaners, Rioters, Rikers, and the Last Man Battalion, The Division doesn’t do much to make defeating them feel like much of a feat. It’s all treated as business-as-usual, and eliminating those leaders is ancillary to the actual storyline, which focuses more on the exploits of a select few, unrelated foes.

Hope For The Future?

In my honest opinion, I feel like The Division would’ve functioned better as a more traditional third-person shooter with RPG and co-op elements. The scope of making an MMO-lite game clearly hampered the potential of The Division, much like the immense scope of the original concepts behind DestinyNo Man’s Sky, and Mass Effect: Andromeda ended up sabotaging them in the long run.

Perhaps with another installment, changes could be made that improve on the flaws of the original. However, it’s hard to see The Division 2 making those changes with Ubisoft likely seeking to continue The Division as a competitor to games like Destiny 2. I’d be welcome to being proven wrong though. Until then, I’ll just be required to reminisce over the good feelings I had before the game came out, and the good vibes I had while I was still playing it.


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