Sitting in Ubisoft's presentation for The Division, there was an air of expectation. Well, from me at least. After the Watch Dogs E3 trailer/release build discrepancies, I was intrigued to see just how The Division stacked up visually when actually being played (on PC, in this case).
Pretty well, it turns out.
The team showed us the rolling demo that played at Microsoft's conference again, depicting three Division agents navigating the grisly, impromptu morgue of the subway before getting into a firefight topside with some rival humans. After that, the devs then showed off that skirmish again at night, to highlight the differences in potential playstyles and how the world reacts to different times of day.
More interesting than that however, even above the superb environmental detail - smoke plumes out of the subway, abandoned police lights cast useless and never-ending light, bin bags and other detritus stack everywhere - was the RPG aspect of the game. We've seen a lot of shooting so far when it comes to The Division, but there's just as much customisation and scavenging to get involved with.
The devs stated that they didn't want to front-load player classes, and as such you'll level up in way that's similar to Far Cry 3 or the early goings of Watch Dogs, choosing specialities to help you and the rest of your team. So you could choose to become a medic, or a mechanic, using sentries and drones to protect the rest of your squad. We were shown a few specific upgrades, such as explosive homing grenades and stun bombs, but it was impossible to know how the balance will work in the final game. Still, it's a promising start.
As is your interaction with the environment itself, which is as much help as hindrance. Your missions will often revolve around securing strongholds, from which you can buff your squad, acquire gear, etc. But the streets of New York also need to be cleaned from the infection that started this pandemic, and you'll need to find quality gear to even be able to approach it. That includes gas masks, boots, and other tactical elements of clothing, each of which has a stat attached that shows its worth.
Each district also has three variables that govern its viablility and volatility: Security (which I presume to mean enemy presence), Contamination Levels, and Morale. Each of these is going to have to be addressed before your job is done. In all honesty, it's yet another take on the tried and tested Ubisoft open-world formula, but I'm hoping that the presence of disease and factors other than men to kill freshens it up a bit.
I'm also hoping that there's an option to turn off the copious amount of screen furniture. I know it's an RPG, but what's the point in building a world of such a ridiculous fidelity and then overlaying every stat in the universe over it? You're constantly reminded of your health, every member of the team's health, ammo counts, etc etc. It's distracting (a lot of it is placed in the centre of the screen, next to the player) and inelegant.
Quibbles aside, The Division looks promising: a Freedom Fighters-style game that could become something special. That is, of course, if it can conquer the yearning sense of fatigue that accompanies any new Ubisoft open-world game, that feeling that you've played it all before.