When Destiny came out about a year and a half ago, to say it made a big splash would be a massive understatement. Despite how some might feel about the excitement surrounding the game, a community grew fast, and it grew strong. Strong enough that plenty of people still continue to play to this day.
Still, Destiny isn’t designed to maintain full speed forever, and into the midst of its content lull stepped The Division. Another shared-world shooter with the promise of a sweet, beautiful loot grind. To a devoted but bored, Destiny player, nothing could have sounded better. Even here at Twinfinite we started asking the question, “Is The Division the new Destiny?”
Now, it’s certainly unfair to compare an established, highly-patched game to one that just came out. The Division needs some time to catch up before that becomes a fair debate. However, content aside, there are already clear reasons why The Division just isn’t built to hold the attention of gamers like Destiny has. A fact making it all the more plausible that many will leave the snowy streets of New York, and return to the Tower, before too long.
In The Division, the Dark Zone is wonderfully unique and dangerous. Likewise, the four challenge missions are incredibly challenging. And adding to that, the customization is deep, and it could take forever to build that perfect character. But in the end, it’s hard to not think that maybe, that’s just not enough.
When Repetition Stops Being Fun
Before jumping too far into it, it’s worth defining ‘endgame.’ A good, simple meaning would be the things you repeat over and over again, once you “finish” the game. In an endgame, repetition is only bad if it’s poorly designed.
That said, let’s look at this from a straight variety point-of-view. Not counting the raid, since The Division’s incursion – what many desperately hope is Ubisoft’s word for raid – won’t release until next month, Destiny launched with 20 story missions, six strikes, and 11 PvP crucible maps. In comparison The Division has launched with 12 missions and the Dark Zone. The important part isn’t simply that there are more missions in Destiny, it’s more about the design of those missions.
In the case of both games, all the major content can be repeated. For Destiny however, while the story missions are repeatable at a higher level for rewards, that’s not where the real meat of the repetition comes in. That can be found in the form of the strikes, content specifically designed to be repeated multiple times, and the tried and true formula of structured competitive play in the Crucible (i.e. Bungie’s bread and butter from the Halo days).
When it comes to The Division though, aside from the Dark Zone, the same content is used both to tell the game’s original story and as the repeated content afterwards. Ultimately, it’s in trying to satisfy both these experiences that the cracks start to appear.
Take the Broadway Emporium mission for example. Division agents are sent in to find dollar bills that were used to start the outbreak in the first place. When playing for its story, you’re in a desperate search for contaminated bills. After each wave of enemy reinforcements, you have a quick break to check a few more cash registers. They’re all negative! The tension ramps up. You have to find those bills before the whole building burns down. And what do you know? They’re in the last place you look.
As a repeated endgame activity however, the appeal of jogging from one side of the empty shopping mall to the other, checking each cash register as instructed, only to be told, inevitably, that each is “Negative for Contamination,” begins to fade.
Overall, yes, it’s a subtle difference, but the fact that each mission simply wasn’t designed with fun repetition in mind is plainly evident, all 12 filled with empty rooms and odd, story-mandated pauses.
It’s true, the narrative beats of each mission do little to take away from the actual, overall enjoyment of playing the game. But, keep in mind, we aren’t just talking about enjoyment. We’re talking about the almost incomprehensible drive to keep coming back and playing more.
The point is for the repetition to be fun, and even small bumps like these can begin to seriously wear in the long term. Even with the Incursion activities added, the Hard Mode and Challenge Mode missions will continue to make up a majority of the The Division’s endgame, which means, while enjoyable the first few times, the story missions give way to the Dark Zone to really hook players in deep. But that then begs the question, can the Dark Zone hook players?
Who Exactly is the Dark Zone for?
There’s no doubt, the Dark Zone is a unique take on multiplayer competition. The enemies are harder, the loot has the potential to be outstanding, and it’s all with the creeping fear that you might be in another player’s crosshairs at any moment. At least that’s the idea.
Needless to say, the Dark Zone needs fixing, which it will likely get, rewarding players more for going rogue (or at the very least punishing them less). But for our purposes, assume it works as promised. Truth is, it’d be a lot of fun. If you’re traveling the Dark Zone with the intent of getting in a firefight with some tough NPCs, there’s certainly plenty to choose from. However, there’s also no goal beyond stumbling upon enemies.
The structured plunge, with tough fights and alluring rewards at the end, that characterizes and succeeds in so many MMO endgames, including Destiny’s, simply isn’t there. It’s possible the “Dark Zone Activities” teased to be added in May might alleviate this a bit, but until then, there is no way to know. Currently, while the aimlessly-wandering loot grind might appeal to some, for others, it just lacks depth.
So what about players attracted to PvP? Even with future balancing, it remains to be seen just how many people will gravitate towards the free-form, kill-others-for-their-loot framework in the long run. Absolutely nothing would make me happier than to see a fascinating meta-game emerge out of the Dark Zone, but unfortunately, there’s no strong evidence of that yet.
It all stems from the question of what drives people to keep coming back for competitive multiplayer? Is it the diversity of the gameplay moment to moment, or is it an innate, competitive spirit? Probably a mixture of both. But due to how unstructured the competition is in the Dark Zone, the chances of a fair fight are pretty slim.
Also, add in that the end goal isn’t even the clear winning of some kind of ‘game’, but is instead the taking of someone else’s loot. Keeping in mind that as you get stronger, it will become more likely that the gear you steal isn’t even an upgrade, that particular carrot eventually becomes meaningless. Because of this, it’s difficult to see the Dark Zone having the mass appeal and long legs required to make The Division a mainstay on the level of Destiny.
Visuals, Variety, and the Spice of Life
Even beyond these points however, The Division’s long-term lack of drive and variety can be seen in other ways as well, both in regards to the characters themselves, and how it treats its own environment.
The fact that high-level gear looks cooler than low-level gear has been a well-established device in RPGs. Due to the real-world, grounded leanings of The Division however, this isn’t really an option. Guns and backpacks look like standard guns and backpacks no matter your level. Couple this with the cosmetic appearance options taking over most of each character’s looks, and gear really only becomes exclusively about the numbers no one sees but you.
Meanwhile, it’s no secret that, for many, the main drive to get specific gear items in Destiny has often been how they look. And Bungie knows it. One need only glance over the announcement of any Iron Banner event to see a perfect example. The developer doesn’t show off the awesome stats on the new weapons and gear that will be available, they show off the unique look of them. And going forward, unless we see some pretty substantial aesthetic changes over all, that’s something The Division just doesn’t seem interested in.
A similar narrowing of variety is mirrored in the game world itself. Once you finish the side missions and encounters, and find all the collectibles, there is simply no reason to return to the open world.
This limits players to fast traveling between the 12 missions and running into the Dark Zone. With crafting materials spawning at the base, there are no rewards to draw players back out into the open-world content, giving the unpleasant sensation of the game shrinking in its final stretches.
Doing the opposite, even at launch, Destiny saw players jumping into multiplayer patrol missions for Daily Bounties, planetary resources, and even Public Events. Whether such things could be considered a chore or not, there was a tangible reward for journeying back to the open-world and engaging with the full breadth of the game’s variety, even in the endgame. Without any such rewards, The Division leaves players with an interesting world, with nothing to do in it.
Where This All Leaves The Division
There’s a lot to like about The Division. It’s a fun, beautiful, content-rich game, with interesting RPG mechanics and one of the most immersive open-worlds in modern gaming. But there’s a distinct difference between being fun, and really grabbing players for the long haul.
Even before it was first released, Bungie talked about how Destiny franchise was meant to last the next decade; a grand, living epic that would be with gamers for years to come. And despite its unquestionable flaws, that ambition could be seen in the elements that went into Destiny’s original design and has even kept many of those gamers engaged, just as it aimed to.
In the case of Ubisoft on the other hand, things are different. The company has already announced three paid DLC packs, along with two free updates, both adding new endgame incursions to The Division. But no matter the content added, the current underlying structure likely won’t hook players in the way that Destiny has been able to do. Therefore, despite the early praising of The Division for doing so many things that Destiny didn’t, in the end, the longevity that Destiny did manage just doesn’t look as if it will be part of the equation for The Division.
Obviously though, all hope isn’t lost. Incursions, the already teased survival mode, and any of the other new additions could be phenomenal. But The Division still has a lot to prove, and some fundamental changes to make, before it has a chance of convincing players like myself to consider hanging up our Guardian gloves, even for a short time.
So what about you? Have you been enjoying The Division? Do you see your self continuing to play it into the future? Let us know in the comments.