The Division was privileged enough to win one of our ‘Best of E3’ awards last year when Ubisoft blew our minds, both graphically and with all of the possibilities that an open-world, online, post-pandemic New York had to offer. Even with some unfortunate delays, The Division was back this year and Ubisoft showed off additional gameplay in a hands-off presentation to give us an idea of what we can expect from the game when it finally releases. However, before I jump into the gameplay that we saw, I have to give a mention to the amazing cinematic trailer that was presented this year.
Beginning with a time lapse, we are taken through family’s home as the pandemic spreads through New York and life as they know it changes forever. The time lapse ends with the window shattering as a body is thrown from it. The catch? There is no body; It is invisible. The effects that the body has on the snow, the dripping blood– all of these things are seen. This quickly leads to the reveal of the main character and his team, protecting and fighting for the man that was thrown from the window, and all bodies now being opaque and fully visible. My explanation does it absolutely no level of emotional or descriptive justice, so please just go and watch it.
The stage is now set and we can get right into the gameplay demonstration that was showcased at Ubisoft’s booth. Upon starting the demonstration I was floored by the real time visuals (the game was running on PC at the show floor). Two words: Volumetric lighting. Light travels through the world of The Division as it would naturally in any real environment. Particles in the air affect what the light looks like and surfaces reflect and absorb light in a realistic manner. Proper lighting is what can make things looks so real and The Division looks damn good because of it. Screenshots do it no justice and all and it must be seen in motion to understand the true impact of volumetric lighting.
A new aspect of the game that were shown is the ability to use echoes of technology to recreate a scene just before the pandemic. Crossing through a subway tunnel, we were able to use cameras, cell phones, and other pieces of tech in the environment to create an echo of the last train leaving the station and people running frantically to catch it. We have yet to see what real implications this feature will have in missions, but it does help to paint a dreary picture of what went down in New York to lead to where you are now.
Ubisoft is considering The Division an RPG, with a heavy focus on loot and a flexible skill system, and our demonstration showed that this will indeed be the case. Teamwork is essential in The Division, and the flexible skills allow each team member to adjust their skills on the fly (given that they have earned them) to make sure that the team is running at optimum efficiency. Given the open online world that will allow you to meet up with many different players of many different styles, being able to adjust your skills quickly is essential.
Once skills were assigned and the team optimized, the task was to tactically remove an enemy incursion to overtake a certain building that would then become a safe house or base of operations for the team. So many small aspects of this game, such as this one, make it feel more and more like an MMORPG disguised as a third-person military shooter. The different classes of character were essential to getting through this battle, and the different skills allowed the team to supplement each other and effectively defeat enemy forces.
The Division will feature a dynamic world that includes time of day and weather changes. These won’t just be aesthetic changes, but will actually impact the very way in which the game is played. Tactics and skills will need to be altered to account for these changes and come out victorious.
The final thing that my gameplay showed me was the incredible attention to the smallest details. The Snowdrop engine is quite incredible in things such as damage detection and providing real time destruction to objects in the environment. Sure, we’ve seen this aspect of The Division before, but it never gets old to me. I could watch all day as bullets tear apart a car being used for cover in the most realistic way we’ve ever seen in a video game. I could watch the deformation of the snow particles in the environment throughout the course of a battle. It’s the little details.
The Division is an ambitious project to be sure, but so far Ubisoft seem to have gotten a lot of things right with this game, and if the demonstration at E3 was anything to go by, the delays on this game will only help to better a great thing. I sincerely hope we don’t have to wait through another E3 before getting our hands on The Division, but even if we do, I can accept that the finished project is sure to be one of the defining games of this generation of consoles.