- Story & Setting
- Behind the Scene
- Snowdrop Engine
- E3 2014 Day 2 interview.
Developed by Ubisoft Massive – alongside Ubisoft Reflections and Ubisoft Red Storm – on their new engine Snowdrop (created specifically for this game), The Division has finally been seen close to its final form. It took everybody away at E3 2014 with their deep and emotional trailer and it is the first game I have fallen so quickly in love with in a long time; it has come a long way since its announcement at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.
I have always been a fan of the Splinter Cell games, with their awesome stealth aspect and it is clear from The Division trailers (both cinematic and gameplay) that certain aspects of this style have been transferred to the new game but so much more has been added.
The Division will be release in 2015 and will be available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Now for the deep stuff…
The Story & Setting
Operation Darkwinter was carried out in 2001 to test the emergency response of a simulated biochemical attack on USA. This operation revealed how vulnerable our society is, where one system depends on another, like “a house of cards, remove 1 and the rest will fall apart.
In 2007 a presidential order was carried out known has directive 51; a plan on how to respond to a real Darkwinter. Covert agents and sleeper cells were rumoured to have been put in place to act as agents, independent from command, that would restore order and prevent the fall of society. The Division is a group of these very agents.
The game is set in a post-pandemic New York, where all services have failed. There is no water, power or stores and your team are all that is left to restore order to the city – yes its cliché, but stay with me. Your team is activated 3 weeks into the virus’ release to take back the city.
On their website, Ubisoft unfolds more of the story
“[…] the agents will find themselves caught up in an epic conspiracy, forced to combat not only the effects of a man-made virus, but also the rising threat of those behind it.”
That is everything I could find on the back story of The Division, some info reaching back to E3 2013 (including the video). One of my favourite movie genres is post-apocalyptic sci-fi, so this game is probably as close as I am going to get to being in my own version of one of those movies.
The story sounds solid, though feels like a regurgitated version of everything we have seen in the past; however, the mention of ‘conspiracy’ will hopefully present an amazing twist to blow us all away.
The Division is described as an open-world, shooter, RPG and from the get go, there is a clear focus on co-op multiplayer. Ubisoft describe it as “100% social” and “A new take on the Clancy series” and from what I have seen so far, this couldn’t be more accurate.
The gameplay trailer shows you and 3 other team mates working together to take out a group of enemies and take control of a building which will presumably be used as a safe-houseesque building later in the game. One of the players (Chris) is playing from a tablet (by this I mean he is playing the actual game from a tablet), controlling a drone to give the team a bird’s-eye view of the combat zone. He is able to mark where enemies are and provide light air support for his team. This can also be done from a smartphone.
On their website, Ubisoft talk more about their social features which will allow the player to experience seamless PVP and player to player trading. They have gone for the true RPG style here, where you can loot your enemies, craft equipment and customise your gear.
“Customize your agent with thousands of weapon types, skill combinations, gear and much more. The choices you make can help forge a recovery or plunge the city deeper into chaos.”
Most games being announced by Ubisoft seem to all be siding strongly with co-op multiplayer with Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 boasting the same addition; all of which sounds great, but unfortunately, not everybody has a lot of gaming friends, so I feel some might be left out. However, this is a feature that many have called for and if you have the right people, it could really make a truly great player experience.
What I am looking forward to most is how they will connect the dots between the classic play style of the Clancy series and this new open world experience.
Behind the Scenes
Last year just a week before the big announcement at E3 2013, we got a peek at some behind the scenes footage at Ubisoft Massive in Malmö, Sweden where we got some insider info from the developers. Here’s a quick recap of what we learnt.
The game has been in development for 5 years now and according to the devs, they have had a heavy focus on lighting, AI and the general online experience as this is what next-gen consoles are looking for. Petter Mannerfelt, The Division Production Director, mentioned how matchmaking has been drastically improved to,
“Match [players] together in a way that we couldn’t do before.”
To make sure that all of the graphics, sounds and general feel of the game are as close to reality as possible Nicklas Cederstrom, The Division Creative Director, live fired some of the weapons at your disposal in the game and went on a 3 day survival training expedition.
The team at Massive are also working with original Clancy developers at Ubisoft Red Storm to maintain some of the original core aspects of the series.
As previously mentioned, Ubisoft have developed their own engine, Snowdrop, for The Division claiming that it is “a true next-gen engine”.The developers talk about how is looks to be capable of better, not bigger, things and rely on smartness rather than brute force. Snowdrop is a node based scripting system with the intention to support Ubisofts ‘hectic fun’ development style whereby they can quickly develop assets to preview and interact with them in ways that have never been done before. They say everything that you need is there, it’s easy to set up and developing feels like you’re playing with digital Lego.
[1:00] As expected from an RPG, we have night and day. Okay, so what, games have done that for a while. Show me something cool
[1:08] Snowdrop supports volumetric lighting a term coined in cinematography which passed onto 3D modelling to mean how light is affected in its own volume (yes, I had to Google that, but it makes sense). I’m still not overly impressed. Wow me!
[1:15] It uses a light probe system to capture lighting realistically both outdoor and indoor. That’s pretty neat I have to admit. Go on
[1:25] Procedural destruction allows for surfaces to react to damage extremely accurately. WOW! That shot at [1:28] was freaking awesome! You certainly have my attention
[1:43] Advanced particle system reacts dynamically to objects surroundings like lighting through fog. Well, a bit of a come down from the last point, but still damn beautiful. Finish me off!
[1:51] Snowdrop allows objects to react to the constantly changing weather using dynamic material shaders. That is bloody beautiful! You have my seal of approval for that one.
Day 2 Interview
So first things first, this game is much more an RPG than a shooter which the trailers, both cinematic and gameplay, infer it to be which is a bit of a let down in my opinion, I was really hoping for a Far Cry styled game but obviously urbanised and a heavier focus on survival and investigation; but I guess not. They did recover a little by explaining that weapons are still a big part of the game with 5 main archetypes including: pistol, SMG, shotgun, assault rifle and marksman rifle and that each of these weapons will have a very specific purpose and will require a very specific playstyle. They then pushed the bar even higher when they explained that these purposes will be so specific that things like item quality, damage type and distance from target will all affect how your engagements end up with your damage and critical hits showing up on-screen.
They then dropped off again when they said that it was an online game (implying you cannot play at all without a network connection), which sucks if you don’t have it; but if you do, at least you are not required to interact with any other players at all if you don’t want to…though they heavily recommend that you do and it sounds like there are more rewards and perks if you do. The Ubisoft guy even corrected the interviewer when he said single player campaign, so you know they are really pushing this co-op stuff. This is really not my kind of thing, I really hope there are people for me to play with, but usually, my like of gaming friends affects me on this one.
Nonetheless, when you do choose to play alone (or in co-op) you will have your own instance of Darkwinter New York with your group inside. You will be free to go anywhere you like in the entire city, but by the sounds of it, you won’t be able to survive in some places until you have progressed through the game. There will also be areas of the map designated for PVP, fortunately this is opt-in only but I guess it will be a nice seamless way to move into PVP multiplayer from co-op, which is something that I really like. I hate games where I have to leave my game, load the MP lobby and wait for that to sort itself out, seamless flow from one to the other is certainly next-gen.
The single – erm, I mean co-op – campaign is a totally non-linear storyline. You are your own hero that you can customise (things like gender, skin colour etc.) and you rely on your surroundings to investigate what has happened. One of the tools you use to do this is called Echo. In the video, you can see the character walk up to a CCTV camera and a 3D image is presented and you have to use these kind of open world styled cut scenes to figure out clues. These can 3D mappings from CCTV cameras, phone call recordings and more.
There are several factions within the game: the only ones we have been told about are the thugs – the guys we shot in the gameplay trailer – and the cleaners – the guys we see at the end of the cinematic trailer. These factions can be found in specific places or circumstances, whereas there are also roaming factions which you can bump into at any time. This is going to be soooo much fun!!!
- Death mechanic
Death will be punishing, but not too punishing. This feature is still in discussion but we are told that there will be respawns and they will probably be based on what you are close to and what you are doing
- Strong presence of environmental interactions for true immersion
In the trailer we see one member of the division move along the cover of the car, and as he does, he closes the car door. It is realistic effects like this, along with one guy sliding into cover and brushing the snow off his leg, that give me real hope for this game.
- Food & drink etc
Though a lack of food and water is beneficial to you in the game, you will not die if you never have any.
One small touch I would like to add, at the end of the interview he is asked if this is a game that could’ve been done on previous generation consoles and I liked his answer it showed down to earth realism rather than lying to make it sound better,
“I think that the game could have been done obviously on previous generations of consoles, but nowhere near the level of detail that we can get to, nowhere near the animation level, the immersion that we can create for the players”
Overall I am very excited about the game and I look forward to playing it. I was disappointed to hear that it will be more RPG than shooter, but from the rest of what I have heard I think there will be enough to make up for this. It will be interesting to see how these PVP areas etc fit in with your personal New York instance and I can only assume I will finally be blown away by some impressive graphics.
Anticipation rating [9.5/10]