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What ‘The Division’ Can Learn From ‘Destiny’

Is the age of Destiny over? Has the era of The Division begun?

Do you remember when Destiny came out? Do you remember the hype, the anticipation for a game that would seemingly never end? When news leaked that publisher Activision planned to support Destiny for 10 years, fans went into a frenzy. This was the future of gaming, this was the MMORPG to end all MMORPGs. This was it.

Now, more than a year removed from launch, Destiny is indeed still alive and well. Does it remain the roaring success it was? No, definitely not. That’s understandable, as it’s tough for any game to sustain its player base months after launch. While many players still love Destiny and play often, there is a vocal group that feels it’s dropped the ball and become faded and old. Those people are anticipating — cautiously — Tom Clancy’s The Division, due out March 8.

The Division was revealed before the Playstation 4 and Xbox One even launched. On first glance, it looked unlike anything else: an open-world, tactical MMORPG that played like a post-apocalyptic shooter. The setting, gunplay, and overall feel and look of the game drew players in immediately. Now, with just weeks to go before launch and hours away from an open beta on consoles, many are wondering if The Division can go the distance. What can it learn from Destiny? What can it do to keep its heart beating long after launch? Will those who feel burnt out by Destiny eventually feel the same way about The Division?

The Division (1)

There are many ways The Division can improve upon the foundation laid by Destiny. First and foremost, it needs to truly feel as massive as possible. A big knock against Destiny is that it comes across as a group of rather large (albeit truly gorgeous) maps instead of one singular universe, which is a problem since the game was advertised as an open-world experience.

The Division has the benefit of taking place in one unified location: the island of Manhattan. Developer Ubisoft Massive can populate the area with ample detail and give players plenty of space to explore. Players won’t need to hop into a spaceship to visit another part of The Division’s environment; they just need to walk from point A to point B.

That said, will the map be big enough — and with enough things to do in it — to keep people entertained for more than a few months? That is a major challenge, and it remains to be seen how The Division will handle it. A giant and fully realized world is a huge must, but it needs to contain compelling content, or it’s all for nothing.

While details of the map are vital, the details regarding the players’ characters are just as critical. That is, the leveling system in The Division needs to be robust, diverse, and — most importantly — painless. Like all RPGs, players will be devoting a lot of time to upgrading their characters, weapons, and gear. This process should be straightforward: You finish missions, you get experience points (XP), you level up your character. Simple.

Here’s where The Division can learn from Destiny. Destiny launched with one of the most complex and confusing leveling systems in recent memory. There was a simple XP system, but when you hit level 20, you had to focus on something called Light, which was essentially more experience points found only in certain gear. This was compounded by other confusing game systems, with things like factions and exotic items and other details hard to keep track of. Many players became experts of the precise ways to level your character, but others (including yours truly) became overwhelmed.

The Division should instead focus on an easy-to-follow leveling system that doesn’t take days to figure out and months to perfect. It’s not that players dislike a bit of a challenge, but leveling should always be easy to comprehend, even for games with complex systems. Destiny later changed the in-game procedures but it was too little, too late, as many players had already bolted. The Division needs to provide an expansive and fun leveling setup that is effortless to grasp and doesn’t feel like reading an L. Ron Hubbard novel.

Destiny

That leads to another point: The Division should allow for player absence. Destiny touts its raid end-game content, but these raids can take hours upon hours to complete for inexperienced players. There are many people who can put in 30-40 hours in a weekend, but many of us can’t afford that sort of time because of family, work, or a desire to not live on our couches. While those who play a lot should be rewarded, the game also needs to be enjoyable for those who don’t.

A good mix of both types of missions in The Division will allow some to play for hours upon hours and others to play when time allows. Some people get in and get out while others stay glued to their screen for hours. The Division needs to understand that and cater to both.

(To be fair, Destiny doesn’t only have epic raids. There are shorter end-game missions and the incredibly fun PvP mode — two more things The Division should learn from and try to emulate as well.)

The Division (2)

With the gameplay mechanics out of the way, let’s focus on the final major component where The Division can learn from Destiny: the story. Say what you want about Destiny, but it is really hard to defend its story. It’s hard to even call it a “story” because there’s nothing there. There’s a lot of possibility and a huge stage to fill with character and story and mythology. But Destiny just drops the ball and gives you next to nothing (probably because the story went through a massive rewrite just before launch, but that’s for another article…).

This is a huge opportunity for The Division, and right now the prognosis looks positive. The game centers around a New York racked by chaos after a disease kills millions on Black Friday, leaving a snowy New York City filled with holiday decorations and dead bodies. As an elite group of sleeper agents, players must put the city back together and save it from those who take advantage of the disaster.

That’s some fantastic exposition, but where will Ubisoft take us next? How will missions add to the story? Which characters will fill in backstory and color the world of the game? Ubisoft must walk a fine line here, because an MMO-esque game like this should never truly end — meaning the story can’t have a solid ending either. But a proper, fleshed-out story will make the world of The Division feel like a place players want to explore again and again. A truly great story will inspire players to stay with the game even when the gameplay flags.

So the future is full of potential for The Division right now. It’s generated significant buzz, and it’s in a position to capitalize on gamers burnt out on Destiny. What happens next? Does The Division come out and do everything right, succeeding where Destiny failed? Or does it follow the same path and stumble in the same ways? The hope is that at the very least, the good heavily outweighs the bad. Gamers have repeatedly been promised games that will never grow stale or repetitive.

That wasn’t Destiny. Will it be The Division?


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