Many publishers have fallen in love with the idea of offering games as a service. This changes the traditional model of finishing a title you buy and moving on to the next one as players are expected to get attached and play for months after release. However, this shift hasn’t been without its growing pains as shown by games like Destiny and Anthem. However, no game’s massive potential was more hampered by issues than Ubisoft’s 2016 attempt, The Division. Now three years later, the team at Massive Entertainment will get a second chance to not just perfect the formula but to show the gaming industry that the model is indeed viable.
Despite releasing over a year and a half after Destiny, the original The Division suffered from many of the same issues. It failed to find a satisfying blend between being a connected, massively multiplayer title and a cooperative shooter. Its missions, while inherently replayable due to its loot mechanics, failed to wow and were rather pedestrian in their design. More damning than the lack of variety were the boring post-game mechanics as players weren’t given compelling reasons to continue playing. While not an abject failure with a passable base, it was unsuccessful at keeping players hooked for months on end and even regular updates and expansions failed to fully take advantage of its great third-person shooting core.
Since then, we’ve seen two other prominent releases in the same category. However, instead of Destiny 2 and Anthem finally showing a solution to these issues and capitalizing on their competition’s flaws, they appeared to show that these problems were systematic and an inevitable part of the genre. These types of massively multiplayer loot shooters have all the potential in the world, but due to what appears to be the limitations of the current gaming climate, always are released without a fulfilling amount of content. That’s not to mention the structural issues that keep them from feeling like a truly connected experience.
The Division 2 can fix its predecessor’s flaws
If any of the loot shooters are finally going to get the formula right, it might be The Division 2. Not only is it building upon a great mechanical foundation, but it also has the advantage of being published and developed by Ubisoft. For all of the criticism that can be thrown at the publisher, nobody has a comparable developer network.
It routinely has multiple studios servicing its major releases, and that means that it has the sheer workforce to make The Division 2 live up to all of its hype. Electronic Arts and Activision can try to replicate it, and have plenty of experience with support studios of their own, but only Ubisoft has such an established track record of having studios all around the world working together with regularity and efficiency.
Another positive in its favor is that The Division wasn’t a terrible game that was without merit. If anything, it was a frustrating experience because it showed so much promise. The game’s Dark Zone was a true highlight, as it allowed for organic player-driven moments to occur and it felt like all of the genre’s unique selling points coming together. While it’s easy to laugh about Ubisoft’s bad E3 demos with fake dialogue between players, the Dark Zone was the closest that any loot shooter came to actually delivering on that type of cooperative spectacle.
We’ve also seen that Massive Entertainment seems to understand where the original faltered. The Division received an impressive amount of post-launch support and those that never went back to the shooter missed out on a much improved game. Limited-time events gave players more reason to come back, a survival game mode offered a harsh experience that took advantage of the game’s dark setting, and new multiplayer modes made it so that there was more variety to be had. Considering how the game steadily improved over time time, it’s exciting to know that the sequel will have a chance to address more structural issues and move the genre forward rather than just patching up existing issues.
A brighter future for loot shooters
Ubisoft knows that it have to deliver with The Division 2. Massive Entertainment has been open about talking about the underwhelming endgame of the first title and said that it has prioritized giving users plenty to do in the sequel. One of these inclusions are raids, which will have eight players joining together for difficult missions. They’re also planning on releasing three free DLC drops with story content and new gameplay modes, which should keep players coming back if doled out in a timely manner. While it remains to be seen if they deliver on all of their promises, Massive certainly knows where it came up short the first time around and that’s a key part of creating a better sequel.
There is a lot riding on the success of The Division 2 and it isn’t just Ubisoft’s bottom line that will be impacted by its reception. Gamers have already been disappointed several times over with promises of ambitious loot shooters and there will come a point where people will simply give up on the dream. Even if a game like Destiny 3 actually delivers on the formula that players actually want, it won’t matter to many if they have been burned so many times that they check out from the genre completely. And if The Division 2, a game in a prime position to lift the genre up, can’t seem to do the job, then the outlook is quite grim.
A successful launch is long overdue and Ubisoft needs The Division 2 to succeed if it wants to keep the fledgling genre alive and viable for the future. There is a reason why all of these publishers are chasing the same games as a service dream, and it’s because it can be incredibly lucrative if done correctly. However, it’s that very “if done correctly” caveat that has managed to be so tricky. So far, nobody has the solution in creating a satisfying day-one experience that keeps players coming back for years. It’s unknown if Ubisoft will be the one to crack it, but it’s certainly an exciting time as we wait to find out.