Ubisoft looked set to claim the coveted title of “Most Depressing Trailer of E3″ with its time-lapse look at the horrifying quick descent into anarchy of New York City in Tom Clancy’s The Division — at least until the company topped itself with the extra sad dog narration of Valiant Hearts. Still, there was an uplifting note once the characters from this upcoming third-person shooter showed up to take back the city, and as the small theater demonstrations at E3 showed, there’s a lot of promise in this 2015 release in both story and gameplay.
The developers on hand reiterated the basic premise, which is that a devastating virus outbreak on Black Friday plunges NYC into chaos in a matter of days. Several weeks later, the President activates the Strategic Homeland Division to reclaim what it can before the situation goes past the point of no return. It’s not an easy task since New York is occupied by several hostile factions that have arisen since the initial tragedy, and the continuing presence of the virus means whole segments of the city are still contaminated.
Fortunately, the agents of The Division have plenty of handy tech to help them as they try to establish footholds in various neighborhoods. One is the ECHO: a data-gathering device that can tap into surveillance cameras, computers and other information sources to give players a visible snapshot from a past moment in time, which was shown by one of the last subway trains leaving a station in the initial playthrough demo. In terms of real world tech, one player can participate on a tablet by using a remote control drone, and unlike other “second screen” apps, be a true participant by marking and flushing out enemies and even utilizing skills.
After replaying the segment of the game showcased during the Ubisoft press conference, the developers emphasized the importance of setting up bases in different parts of the city. Not only do they serve as safe havens, they have upgradeable structures that can help players in multiple ways. To do so, players have to be wary of the security level, contagion level and morale of the district. Completing missions and taking out bad guys can help with the first and last parameters, but the contagion level appeared to be trickier, and surviving in especially contaminated zones requires special gear.
To demonstrate other gameplay aspects like dynamic weather and time of day, the developers played through the same area from the presser again, but before it was cleared of hostiles. This time they ran up against a group that believes burning people using flamethrowers can halt the spread of the virus, and it took quite a bit of teamwork to take them down. It also gave the devs a chance to show the vast flexibility in skills and equipment, with a rotating series of dials to spec things out for specific enemies or scenarios. Gear can grant bonuses to skills used in particular ways — one dev grabbed a backpack that gave a buff to a turret skill — so people who enjoy having tons of options to sync characters up with their play styles should find plenty to dig into.
With the Snowdrop Engine tying everything together with impressive visuals, The Division appears to be coming along nicely. The late, great Clancy would no doubt approve.