The Division – Xbox One, PS4 and MMO confusion

Tuesday, 25 June 2013 13:33 GMT By Catherine Cai

Catherine Cai talks to the developers of The Division, finding the next-gen Clancy shooter a confusing proposition for PS4 and Xbox One. Is it an MMO or not?

An always-online, persistent world, third-person shooter involving multiple people lacking a linear narrative? The Division sounded like it had all the trappings of a MMO.

For the second year in a row, Ubisoft wins the award for being the publisher best able to keep a secret. If there’s anything to be said about the industry as a whole, it’s that game developers can’t keep their mouth shut. Pair that with the internet, and you have leaks no NDA can keep down.

Whatever’s in the water at Ubisoft, it works. Tom Clancy’s The Division wasn’t shown off until its designated time at E3. And it was then that I decided that, for the second year running, Ubisoft took home the award for most confusing pitch of the show.

Maybe confusing’s too harsh a word. Unclear or opaque may better suit. Even after sitting through a 25-minute demo, I still wasn’t sure what to make of it.

I talked with Massive COO and The Division producer Fredrik Rundqvist and production director Petter Mannerfelt to get a better idea of just exactly what’s going on in the game.

“There are a couple of different layers,” Rundqvist explained. “There is an overarching story line that, as one of the last functioning agencies, you need to set out to solve the mysteries behind the man-made virus. Who was behind it? Who distributed it? How can we cure it? All that stuff. And of course, to do so, you need to first of all survive in this chaos where everyone is fighting for the same resources that’s still out there. And you have all the government services shutting down one by one, because people simply don’t show up for work anymore, right? It’s both helping who is left out there and of course going after the big bad guy, you know, the mystery behind the virus.”

The narrative sounds pretty clear: find the Big Bad, maim/kill the Big Bad, find the cure, save the world, the end. But, when I asked about an ending to the series, both Rundqvist and Mannerfelt were pretty quick to shut the notion of a linear narrative down.

“The structure that we built for the game so far is that there is a story, but it’s not a linear story,” said Rundqvist. “So you need to explore the world and pick out pieces and bricks of the story everywhere. And on the way, doing that, you will also encounter other content and other dynamic encounters and missions. Obviously, if you play with other real players, that’s dynamic in itself. You never know how that will play out.

“We designed the game to be endless gameplay. It’s hundreds, if not thousands of hours of gameplay that we hope people will enjoy.”

Rundqvist even hinted at the possibility of DLC, or expansions for The Division to keep things going: “The game is based in New York now,” he said, “but if there’s demand, we’re going to keep on building.”

An always-online, persistent world, third-person shooter involving multiple people lacking a linear narrative? The Division sounded like it had all the trappings of a MMO. In fact, it sounded a lot like Trion World’s Defiance if Defiance were next-gen and set in a post-apocalyptic New York. Yet, perhaps to avoid the comparisons, Ubisoft was very careful to shy away from the word.

Even when I broached the subject with Mannerfelt and Rundqvist, they were careful to avoid the “massive” part of the term. “This game, at its core, is a multiplayer online game,” said Mannerfelt. “It’s based on online and grouping. You can play with your friends and play with a lot of other people. You can, of course, play by yourself and play all the story stuff by yourself and as I said, seamlessly with your friends and seamlessly into PvP if you feel like playing PvP. In the PvP areas you will meet many, many other players.”

“We designed the game to be endless gameplay. It’s hundreds, if not thousands of hours of gameplay that we hope people will enjoy.”

If The Division is indeed the MMO… er… schmeMMO that it shaping up to be, what about character classes and specs? Well, like most MMOs as of late that are shirking leveling complexities to draw in players, The Division doesn’t have any classes.

“When you start the game you’re actually asked to pick a background,” said Rundqvist. “The Division is an agency that’s a combination of disciplines that would be useful in this scenario – engineer, military, law enforcement, intel, medical… stuff like that. As you progress into the game world, you define your own play style so it’s not a typical class-based game. You upgrade your skills and talents and you customize your weapons, the looks of your character. And you can respec right away in the middle of the game. You can continue to develop your play style. Whatever fantasy you want to pursue, it’s up to you.”

Originally, The Division was difficult for me to pin down as a game based off of the pitch, and that’s problematic. I got the sense that the game, despite having some gameplay ready to demo, is still a little too early in production to show off to the public. Though it’s set to launch sometime next year – and that’s plenty of time for Massive to get a clearer message of what the game is about to the world – the developers still haven’t really worked out a financial model. Though I’m sure money is no problem to a publisher of Ubisoft’s size, putting together an always-online game is a rather expensive venture; one that maybe entails figuring out the financials first.

The Division will release for Xbox One and PS4 in 2014.

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