E3 2015 – The Division Hands-On Preview: Quarantined Potential

This is my third year seeing The Division at E3. I was shown a theater presentation about the game back in 2013 that explained the concept and showed off the beautiful and stunning Snowdrop engine. In 2014, a follow up theater presentation walked us through the gameplay and what was possible in the broken down New York. Despite being extremely excited for this game the first two years, the crazy amounts of delays and my showing of the game this year have given me a spot of hesitation about a game that I was convinced would be absolutely phenomenal. 

Taking Control

If you don’t know the story behind The Division, please check out my links to the old previews above. That story has not changed, and the idea behind the world remains the same. Stepping into the dimly lit gameplay area, I was teamed up with two other people and given a brief tutorial on how to aim, fire, crouch and take cover, and vault over objects. It’s fairly simple and works almost exactly like you would expect a third-person shooter to work. The only differenceI found early on was in the tactical readout that your HUD displays on the screen to give you better feedback about button prompts and cover points. Aside from noticing that it didn’t quite match up graphically to previous trailers, I was still very impressed given that it was an early playable build. 

The Division E3 2015

After the tutorial we were guided into a quarantined area to try and extract before other teams could. The other teams were live players in the same demo as us, and we finally got a taste of not only the combat against the enemy AI, but against other human players as well. Last year I talked about how the game was like a third-person shooter MMORPG, and my view on it this year remains largely the same, except that the feedback for getting shot or shooting other enemies is nearly non-existent.

As we waited at the extraction point, I poked my head out and let half a clip fly into an enemy player with his health barely moving. This back and forth continued, teams periodically getting picked off and then rushing back in to take the point again, resulting in a stalemate when time finally ran out. That’s when it hit me. The Division is a tactical cooperative based shooter heavily influenced by MMOs. This includes skill trees to carve a specific class out for your character, such as tank, healer, etc. This isn’t Uncharted, where you can pop a couple head shots and be done. You must work cooperatively and tactically with your team and your skills in order to survive the threats in the environment.

A Sliver of the Pie

There were some cool abilities showcased that can help you play, such as a pulse to sense enemies around you, a turret for remote damage, and a group healing ability for your teammates. The blending of the genres is a very interesting idea that just may work when all is said and done. In fact, it’s part of what has had me so hyped about this game. It’s hard to gauge based on a brief demonstration though, just like sitting someone down with any MMORPG (or other game that is heavily dependent on building out a specific class) for 15 minutes and trying to convince them of all of its possibilities is an impossibility within itself. My expectation of how a third-person shooter would feel got in the way of enjoying the hands-on demo and its surprisingly vast and tactical MMORPG aspects. 

Conceptually, The Division is an incredible game with a ton of potential. In practice, it still feels like there are a few tweaks that could be made to improve the final product when it finally releases, though getting my hands on the character builds and understanding my selected skill tree and class may give a better idea of how to play instead of just approaching it like a third-person shooter. I just hope that the March release date comes true so that we won’t be seeing it at E3 2016 too. Let’s get this game out of quarantine!