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When society falls, 'The Division' rises: Massive Entertainment on its new IP

Are you ready for The Division?
Are you ready for The Division?
Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

Tom Clancy's The Division was revealed during E3 2013 and while we are still a long way out from the game being launched, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of what this game will be about.

Massive Entertainment, now a subsidiary of Ubisoft, is the studio behind the upcoming open-world game, and this is their first crack at mainstream AAA gaming. With PC being the primary platform Massive has worked on in the past, it'll be interested to see how the team's work translates over to console. Developing a game specifically for PCs is quite different than developing one for both consoles and PC, and Massive knows that.

The Division will clearly be a game that is grounded and focuses on a lot of cover-based gameplay. That has been evident from both gameplay demos we've seen this year and last. The Division will also be featuring a deep and diverse set of perks and skills for players to choose from. Players will be able to customize their character in many different ways. Hopefully we'll see further embellishment given to character customization than what we've seen from Destiny.

The world of The Division is set in New York City and in classic Ubisoft fashion, it's completely open-world. While we've not been given exact details on what parts of New York will or will not be in the game, we know Manhattan and Brooklyn are two that will be in it. The Division's version of New York City looks like it'll be combining the novelty of size with the value of density. The result should make for one of the most immersive worlds we've ever seen.

Finally, we do not know exactly what the story of The Division will be about, other than a deadly virus hit New York, millions have died, the city has broken down into anarchy and it's every man and woman for themselves. Massive has been very mute on the game's narrative and we don't expect that to change.

Tom Clancy's The Division is one of 2015's most anticipated games and had the chance to speak with the Executive Producer on the game, Fredrik Rundqvist. Here is everything we learned from our time with Fredrik.

The Division's beginning and socializing
The Division's beginning and socializing Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

The Division's beginning and socializing

Where will players start when they begin playing The Division?

"We have what we call a Hub or a Green Zone. On the West Coast of midtown, that’s where people start off. It’s kind of a social hub where you can meet other players, you can re-spec, change your characters, etc.

"That’s basically where you start off [when the game starts]. There will also be some form of trading in the game, but we haven’t decided what that will be exactly," Rundqvist said.

In an online game, finding ways to meet people who are living in a similar time of life as you is important. If you have kids and can only play during certain times of the day, you probably want to be around others who have the same time constraints. Cue The Division's matchmaking system.

"We take a lot more data into account when doing the matchmaking. It’s not only about the level of your progression or your skill level, we’re also looking at where do you want to be in the game and what do you like to do. I think it’s going to be a really great matchmaking system. Player reputation will be taken into account," Rundqvist said.

Massive Entertainment has also talked about that data including a player's social status (i.e. married, single, etc.). The question is, how will they go about obtaining that information from players?

Matchmaking will be important in The Division, but so will the avenues people have to meet other players. This goes beyond being grouped up with random strangers. Massive is looking to provide a number of paths for meeting new acquaintances in The Division.

"There are three ways that you can meet up with other people in the game. It’s in the social hub or the Green Zone where you just walk around and bump into people, or you invite people to your co-op group, which is 1-4 people, plus the guy on the tablet (mobile game).

"Then we have the seamless integration with the PvP zone and there, you will be able to [engage] with people as well," Rundqvist said.

Character customization and Dark Zones
Character customization and Dark Zones Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

Character customization and Dark Zones

Players will be able to adjust certain items in the Green Zone, but when it comes to character customization, Massive is giving players all of the options. There will be no predetermined character sets.

"That’s the first thing you will do in the game. You will create your character and it’s not like there is a predetermined hero set. It’s all about you, how you want to experience the game and in what order you want to experience the content. The same goes for the character, you decide how you want to look," Rundqvist said.

Looks are said to be an aspect that players can change up quite a lot. What exactly does that mean? Exact details have yet to be shared, but expect things like hair, skin color, facial hair and other characteristics to be customizable. Gender apparently will be something players can choose between, or at least that's what The Division's E3 2014 cinematic told us.

The Division is an online, multiplayer game so let's talk about PvP. Some areas of New York City will be open to competitive multiplayer and they are called Dark Zones.

"In our fiction, this is the area where the virus hit first, so it’s more devastated, it’s darker, it’s more dangerous than the other parts of New York. Here you’ll be able to play against other players, and this is also where The Division within The Division will play out," Rundqvist said.

Current-gen confidence and 2013 to 2014
Current-gen confidence and 2013 to 2014 Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

Current-gen confidence and 2013 to 2014

Past-gen is slowly becoming a thing of the past as publishers and developers begin to create games specifically for current-generation platforms. The Division is a perfect example of a game that was built specifically for new-gen hardware and is not possible on last.

"We want the game to be as accessible as possible. What we wanted to do with the graphics and with the seamless open-world, [though,] is not possible to do on last-gen," Rundqvist said.

While gamers were all disappointed to learn of The Division's delay into 2015, it certainly bodes well for the game. A larger install base for both the PS4 and Xbox One will be there, as well as that much more time for development on the game.

"If you look at the [sales] trends for PS4 and Xbox One, I think it looks really encouraging. [The consoles are] selling faster than last-gen, which is surprising to me. I don’t mind at all [that The Division] is coming out next year. There will be more people who can enjoy the game," Rundqvist said.

Massive Entertainment showed off Brooklyn in 2013, but no underground gameplay was shown. At E3 2014, we were given a glimpse into New York City's underground.

"The big thing for us was last year we had a demo that took place in Brooklyn and this year’s was in Manhattan. [Players] will be able to explore the underground system of New York, and obviously the street level.

"You can go into buildings and you can go onto rooftops. All of these amazing vistas and all of these amazing points of interest in New York City, it’s there for you to play," Rundqvist said.

NPC interaction and survival elements
NPC interaction and survival elements Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

NPC interaction and survival elements

Some games drastically change the behavior of the NPCs that inhabit a game's world when daylight changes. This can change up gameplay and strategy drastically, and that is what Massive Entertainment has in mind for The Division.

Daytime will be a different experience than what you will find after the sun has gone down. Rundqvist shared some insight on how New York will change.

"The idea is to have a release immersive, dynamic world. We have different factions and we have different behaviors. They do one thing during the daytime and another thing during the night.

"If it’s really snowy, some of them will stay inside and some of them will go out. What we hope to see is this AI interaction between the factions and based on all of these parameters they will act differently.

"It’s not just a visual change, we’re not just turning off the lights. It’s liked to different behaviors of NPCs, so nightlife of civilians.

"I can tell you that if you go into these Dark Zones on your own at night, it’s super scary and you’ll think ‘hey is there anyone online? I need help.’ It’s a bad idea to go into a Dark Zone at night by yourself," Rundqvist said.

At times, survival elements in a game can truly punish players, causing higher levels of frustration and discouragement. It's a fine line to walk when you implement survival elements.

Massive Entertainment has seen how this works in many games, and they do not want players to suffer. Rundqvist spoke about the purpose they have in mind for how items such as food and water will impact gameplay.

"Water and food. All of that stuff is important for you, but at the same time, we don’t want it to be a punishing game. We’re not looking to be the typical survivalist game, where if you don’t eat, you die.

"We want [collecting food and water] to be positive. It’ll add to your stamina or your health, but if you don’t drink water you won’t die after two days," Rundqvist said.

Let's talk combat
Let's talk combat Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

Let's talk combat

One of the biggest unknowns in The Division is how combat will work entirely. Where combat takes place will vary greatly, and seems like it could provide some strong gameplay diversity.

In The Division, combat will take place on the streets, on rooftops, underground and inside of buildings. Massive Entertainment wants to provide a stark contrast between each of these locations.

"I think it’s the physical space. If you’re outdoors, you’re more long range. You have more options and unpredictable stuff happening. If you’re indoors, it’s a bit more confined and a bit more predictable.

"It’s going to be a mix [between indoors and out], but I think it’s fair to say that a big part of the game will be played outdoors and on street level. But yes, there will be indoor fighting.

"Rooftop gameplay will be mixed with everything else and what we wanted to do with the game is not have a linear progression where you [do things in order].

"We wanted to have the full map be open from the start and you can go anywhere you like. [The Division] about exploring, it’s about investigation; it’s about playing the game the way you want. So if you want to climb up to a rooftop, we won’t stop you from going up there," Rundqvist said.

Multiplayer isn't a bad thing
Multiplayer isn't a bad thing Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

Multiplayer isn't a bad thing

We still don't know a whole lot about what PvP in The Division will be like. What type of modes will we see? Will some only be available inside, outdoors or underground?

What we do know from Massive Entertainment is that players will not be able to "turn off PvP." If you don't want to partake in PvP, Massive says you "can just avoid going into the Dark Zone."

Focusing on how the game plays with others, Rundqvist had positive things to say about it, and that was coming from someone who prefers to play alone.

"I think it’s fair to say we’ve been designing and prototyping the game from the start to be a multiplayer game. Honestly, I play the game every week with the team and I play on my own. I’m not a co-op kind of guy and it’s still great.

"The game really shines when you play with other people. We want it to be a classless RPG, so you’re not locked into a roll. On the fly, you can switch between different specs and different loadouts.

"I want to be the medic this time, maybe the brute force kind of guy the next time. This way you don’t have to create a new character or restart the game. You just go into your menu and change what you want," Rundqvist said.

All the small things
All the small things Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

All the small things

By now, you remember the reaction people had when they saw the player shut the door during the E3 2013 The Division demo. It was a very small detail that many people went crazy over.

Small details are what The Division will be about. Massive Entertainment, in fact, has a director whose job it is to make sure in-game effects should happen as they would in real-life.

"We have a realization director who is going crazy with these kind of details and stuff normal gamers don’t really think about. It adds a cool flavor to the game. What you [saw] in this year’s demo was the paint buckets that shot up and you could see the paint splashing everywhere. That’s also systemic.

"If you look at a guy playing the game over and over again, you’re going to see it’s a different splash each time, and it’s [part of the game’s] physics.

"I’m not sure if it’s going to be in the game, but what I’m looking for is when you go into a store and shoot all over the place and see the paint splash, I would love to see that in the game," Rundqvist said.

Density and realistic looting
Density and realistic looting Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

Density and realistic looting

Leading up to the launch of Watch Dogs, we often heard the word "density" used when it came to describing the game's world. Massive Entertainment also chose to use that word when talking about the world of New York City.

"Rather than talk about the size of the game, I think it’s fair to talk about the density of content, all of the details and all of the realism. That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t want vehicles in the game because when we tried it out, you would just drive past all of these great things and miss them," Rundqvist said.

There will be a deep RPG system for players to become enthralled in. Massive is staying quiet on how exactly it'll work, but when it comes to loot, players will always be able to find it in a logical place.

"For a typical RPG, if you kill a badass guy you get loot right? That’s going to be in The Division, but what we also want to do is provide contextualized looting. If you’re looking for ammo, you will go into a sporting goods store or a police station.

"If you’re looking for med-kits, you go into the hospital, so it’s not going to just be spread out randomly all over the world. You can really imagine where it would be in the real world and head there in the game," Rundqvist said.

New York City and acquiring new missions
New York City and acquiring new missions Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

New York City and acquiring new missions

During the E3 2014 Xbox briefing, we were given a glimpse into the underground gameplay we will see in The Division. It sounds like Massive Entertainment has plans to make the underground part of New York City a significant part of the game.

"When we did the research for New York City, just exploring the underground is amazing. It’s like Swiss cheese in there, it’s like utility tunnels, old World War II bunkers, all of these rail tracks, the subway system, it’s amazing. It’s almost like it’s two cities on top of each other," Rundqvist said.

Massive Entertainment has made a point to make sure fans see The Division's in-game map in both gameplay slices we've seen so far. Rundqvist emphasized the fact that the map will be crucial to players acquiring new missions.

"As you’ve seen in both demos, the map is one of the most essential tool sets you have in the game. Nowadays, it’s hard to get around without your smartphone, and I think in the game it will be even tougher to be there without the map. You can check out all of the points of interest, you can set way points for yourself or for other people. It’s a great tool to see what’s out there to do," Rundqvist said.

Keeping 'The Division' quiet
Keeping 'The Division' quiet Permission to use photo given by Ubisoft

Keeping 'The Division' quiet

It's to be expected that a lot of information about a game is announced prior to its release, but in the case of The Division, Massive wants to keep a tight lid on what people know, and what they do not.

"I don’t see the point in spoiling the whole game before it comes out. I think there’s no point in over-exploiting it.

"Sure a couple of days after it releases, everything is going to be there on YouTube or whatever, but personally, I appreciate when there’s a sense of mystery, allure where there’s something left to discover when the game comes out," Rundqvist said.

It's true that having the feeling of experiencing a new world for the first time is great when it's completely unknown, but to a certain extent with a new IP, you do have to let people in more than usual.

That said, Massive Entertainment wants to keep the best parts of The Division covered up, unlike some movie trailers that tend to blow the best parts of a film before it even debuts.

"Whenever you see a trailer for an exciting movie that’s coming up, and you see them reveal everything that’s going on, you know it’s not going to be a really good movie. They’ve already leaked out all the best moments and put them in a trailer, so I think we are well beyond that.

"There’s so much to offer in [The Division], there’s so much to find out in the game and we want to keep as much excitement surrounding the game as possible," Rundqvist said.

The first Xbox One live gameplay demo is coming to Gamescom next week.

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