E3: First hands-on Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division

Divisioning a division in Division

Tom Clancy may be dead, but The Division isn’t. It’s been two years since Ubisoft announced its apocalyptic “online, open-world action RPG,” but I finally got hands-on at a Ubisoft event this E3.

We were set up in a boiling hot room playing nine at a time (three teams of three) and each team had a developer to lead. It was the same “Dark Zone” instance in decaying Manhattan Ubisoft showed at its press conference.

We had to make sure not to touch the controller until getting to a splash screen so the game wouldn’t crash, so there were a bunch of models standing on the same spot on the floor, doing swaying idle animations inside of each other like a wriggling mess. Once we started, we were directed to enter the cordoned off “Dark Zone” area via button press, so the open-world is probably still a work in progress.

We sure as fuck weren’t as team work oriented as Ubisoft’s carefully directed demo, which will basically be the case if you aren’t playing regularly with a couple pals. Quoting the developer, it’s a “standard shooter” in terms of controls. Each character had a few different abilities, which later can be customized (there’s a turret, remote sticky bomb, a homing mine that follows you until it finds an enemy to go after) and my character was outfitted with a shotgun that somewhat unsatisfyingly took chunks of my opponents’ health bar out.

Like, that’s not what shotguns should be doing. But The Division is heavy on its crazy tech UI theme, and the co-op focus means it could end up something like Destiny — kind of a boring loot fest, but fun with friends. It’s cool that you’re at risk of losing your high level loot if you’re killed in this instance and that might make even strangers try and team up (loot is evenly split, too).

There are crazy dudes with flamethrowers to worry about and “Rikers,” a gang of murderous inmates escaped from Rikers Island prison, which kind of doesn’t make sense given how many prisoners in the United States are non-violent offenders and probably would return to their families if released rather than into a group of murderous thugs, but, hey, gritty apocalypse.

Of course there are also other players to worry about. At any moment they can go rogue and start fights between fire teams (in our demo, we all tried to kill each other), but you can also all work together and wait for an extraction out of the instance. The goal seems to be making it so your first impulse isn’t to kill anyone you come across, because that just makes things harder and puts your gains at risk.

The Division isn’t quite for me. I don’t need endless progressions, bars, and numbers to play a game. But folks who got well into Destiny might find a nice little squad-based multiplayer shooter here. But I also still have no clue how the open-world element works, as this demo might as well as have been any old multiplayer map.

Steven Hansen