E3 2013: Tom Clancy’s The Division Preview

June 21, 2013

Ubisoft’s surprise debut of Tom Clancy’s The Division was among the core of titles that had E3 crowds buzzing. I was lucky enough to score a seat at a behind closed door presentation of the game at Ubisoft’s booth. The Division it pitched as a hybrid third-person shooter online RPG. The next-generation title is in development at Massive Entertainment, known for their World in Conflict games

The Division takes place after Black Friday, when the entire has world essentially crumbled apart. A virus disseminated via money handling has taken hold of the entire globe, and communication, electricity, healthcare and distribution services have fallen into in disarray. In order to save the world, the US government deploys agents from ‘The Division’ in an effort to stop the spread of the infection and restore order. The actual setting for The Division is a dystopian vision of New York City. The demo completely immersed me in a world that had gone to hell, with jaw-dropping visuals masterfully portraying a broken city with disorderly placement of vehicles and untended streets.

The Division‘s world is described as a dynamically evolving environment. Players can choose missions as they like, alone or pairing with other players. Some form of matchmaking will allow players to come together online, also generating encounters with other hostile users in addition to the in-game AI. Over time, you gain experience, allowing players to upgrade their skill trees and level up, while also obtaining new items and weapons by actively engage with the world.

Our closed door demonstration showed the demo from Ubisoft’s press conference (embedded below), but this time I was able to pick up far more detail. The mission begins with our agents teaming up to investigate an overrun police station. The team successfully fend off a troop of scavengers, before entering the station and freeing the police officers ironically locked in their own cells. The newly freed prisoners offer access to their internal armoury, netting the players a brand new assault rifle.

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Exiting the police station, our Ubisoft presenter calls for extraction. As a timer counts down from 90 seconds, the agents are forced to defend themselves as another band of stragglers pour in. Ubisoft explain that players will have to successfully hold the line or face forfeiting all they have gained during the mission. The exact conditions required to complete missions and keep any loot found are somewhat unclear at this point, but I expect it to be explained in more detail later.

In terms of gameplay, The Division is mostly a cover shooter. The environmental destruction – or ‘procedural’ destruction, as it is referred to – we witnessed as the Division agents exchanged bullets was rather impressive. Every shot fired left a mark on the world, with bullets chewing thorough surfaces and reacting realistically to glass, wood and even deflating tires.

In our presentation, Ubisoft also demonstrated The Division’s mobile companion functionality. Not limited to SmartGlass, players can use a mobile or tablet to control a drone and assist teammates on the ground in real time. Through the tablet interface, you can tag foes, buff allies or even initiate airstrikes against enemies.

Visually, The Division is one of the prettiest games of the next generation, and that I’ve ever seen, period. Using the proprietary Snowdrop engine, the game is nothing short of a technical marvel. The engine features attention to the smallest details, such as smoke bellowing realistically from street vents. Animations, lighting, particle effects and character models are all fantastic.

I’ve always been resistant to online games, but The Division might be the first to compel myself and others to join the persistent multiplayer community. The only danger is that the demo may be manufactured and scripted to show us the most compelling features of the game, whereas the majority of the game might prove far less exciting or dynamic. Nevertheless, The Division‘s stellar visuals, immersive world and the temptation of joining a clandestine organisation tasked with saving the would could make this mission worth joining. Look out for the game on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2014.