Despite flaws, The Division is a game that changes things for online gaming

March 19th, 2016 | by Alfred Siew
Despite flaws, The Division is a game that changes things for online gaming
Gaming
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When I first told a friend about The Division, his impression of this new game that has taken the Net by storm this past week was that of the World of Warcraft. You’d need a tank, a healer and a damage dealer, he imagined.

Well, you only need to jump into The Division for an hour to see how different it is. More akin to Grand Theft Auto (GTA) than World of Warcraft, this hybrid online game is more action than role-playing. More fun, for sure.

And it could yet change the way people team up to play online and how developers come up with games to suit both single- and multi-player universes.

Star Wars: Battlefront had a rich universe to draw on but offered a multiplayer-only environment that quickly got stale for many players. In The Division, you choose to go solo or with a team almost seamlessly.

Yes, you still need teamwork, especially in the final few tough missions, but as long as you got folks who’ve levelled up enough and don’t go on crazy solo gun runs (and get killed), you can tackle most of the main story missions pretty well.

And they are extremely fun to play through. Whether you bring a sniper rifle, light machine gun or shotgun, whether you pack your skills with healing or offensive abilities, you don’t have to fixed in a class of character. This flexibility makes the game more dynamic.

Each game you take on could be different because you can play a different role. Heck, once I was part of a four-man team clearing the final Level 28/29 mission, all four of us went all guns blazing. I don’t think I required reviving a single time. Nor did we get wiped once.

Yes, there have been co-op games in the past, but The Division’s rich Tom Clancy back story about a group of sleeper agents rising to restore order in New York after a disastrous virus contagion gives the game an extra dimension.

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The multiplayer game is also easy to get on. Instead of waiting for friends to join in a 20-man raid, you can turn to a matchmake feature to form quick groups of four, or three, or two, to get going.

And in these early days of the game, it is pretty easy to find people in an instant even you are playing solo on the story missions most of the time.

Once I joined a group of Taiwanese gamers who blazed through a Level 20+ mission, with each of us seemingly knowing what to do without much sophisticated coordination, beyond telling one another where the sniper was or to avoid running into a hail of gunfire.

So, the good thing about The Division is that you can run and gun through the main story missions without having to choose whether to get on a server that allowed for player-versus-player duels.

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If you want to engage, you enter the so-called Dark Zone on the map. Here, you walk into a free-for-all arena where everything goes. It’s also here that the potential of the game is still yet to be fulfilled.

In the Zone, you can fight computer bosses and take precious loot back, but you have to call in a chopper for extraction. Doing so alerts other players on the map, so they can choose to come help you fight the bosses or kill you to steal your loot.

So far, the costs of turning rogue, or whacking other players in the Zone, has been too high. You literally put a sign on your back and alert everyone there to come after you. And if you get killed as a rogue agent, your Dark Zone experience points take a hard hit.

That’s probably why many players in there are in some sort of friendly, if a little uneasy, dance. You can see people doing jumping jacks and saluting each other in there instead of always firing at each other on sight.

My first foray there a few nights ago had me teaming up with two like-minded folks roaming for loot. We cleared a few enemies and whacked another team for their loot, to their surprise.

In the end, I was wasted by a computer boss while trying to extract some loot – the most skillful team leader had left the game by then and the other player couldn’t give me enough cover fire.

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So, the Dark Zone still has a lot of potential. As more players hit the max Level 30 in the main game, they would want to gun for Level 99 in the Dark Zone (one guy has already got that, in just 60 hours!).

As people look for those precious Phoenix credits (or “bird coin”) that exist in the Dark Zone to buy precious stuff, you could find human behaviour at its best – or worst, depending on how you see it. That is, people shooting at each other for scarce resources.

I’ve taken a break in the past two nights. More than a week in, when I usually played late at night, I already feel tired out. I’ve not gone online so frequently since I was on every night playing Battlefield 2 and 2142 years ago. Now, The Division is a game that’s surpassed expectations.

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Yes, it’s a bit of a crouch-and-shoot action game, but the flexible multiplayer environment is a big hit. It’s easy enough to get on – no grinding until Level 60 like in the World of Warcraft for when the fun starts – because you’d be sucked in from Level 1 onwards.

What I would have liked is for the characters to be able to ride vehicles. Yes! And for the environment to be more destructible. Imagine bringing down part of a decaying building to bury an enemy.

But at its heart, you’d notice this is still somewhat a role-playing game. You’d be emptying mags on an enemy boss, seeing numbers fly off his body, before he goes down. And he’s no demon – he’s just a guy!

Still, for someone who hasn’t played a game in months, I’ve been a happily awoken sleeper agent this past week or so. I’d call on others to join the Division and enter the Dark Zone.

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