From the general chatter on the internet, it seems that anyone who watched Ubisoft’s presser was left impressed by the debut of The Division. I was fortunate enough to get a look at the gameplay they showed in person, and if anything it’s even more impressive when you see it for yourself.
The new Snowdrop engine that Ubisoft have built for next gen consoles is gorgeous, with the dynamic lighting on show looking absolutely wonderful. That graphical prowess is made only more impressive by its open world and multiplayer nature, but a good looking world isn’t all that The Division has to offer.
You see there’s a bit of a theme with Ubisoft’s E3 titles this year – companion apps. The publisher has gone all out on adding second screen experiences to their games, and The Division has the best of the bunch.
If you saw Ubisoft’s gameplay demo, they briefly showed a drone coming in to help the soldiers on the ground, and just how that drone works was the focus of the theatre presentation that Ubisoft were giving for The Division.
As was mentioned during the press conference, you enter into the world of The Division on a tablet – the demo used an Android one – and you play as an aerial drone.
Once you’ve got the app set up you can seamlessly drop into the game and give other players some aerial assistance. They made it very clear that you don’t need to be on the same network as a console running the game, although of course you could be, but can drop in from wherever you are, assuming you’ve got a decent internet connection.
While this potentially seems like a bit of a gimmick, Ubisoft have given the drone similar progression mechanics to the console version of the game to make it clear that the app is its own fully-fledged experience. While experience levels don’t look like they’ll carry over from your soldier to your drone, and vice versa, you’ve still got scope to create a more powerful drone to support the boots on the ground.
Adding this kind of meat to the drone based gameplay feels really important, and makes it seem like a much more substantial part of the game. Of course if you don’t want to play as the drone that’s fine, but it really does look like it could expand your enjoyment of the game.
What’s really impressive is just how simple it all seems to be, and how well it works. Although the demo was obviously running over a local network, the tablet player entered pretty much instantly, and side by side video feeds showed their view of the world was synchronous with what the console players were seeing.
As for what the drone actually does, it looks like it’s got a variety of roles. Perhaps the most interesting is the support based gameplay, allowing you to spot and highlight enemies so those playing via consoles can more easily pick off their opponents. There are also group buffs to give your allies a boost when they really need it.
If you’d rather take a more attacking role, then that option exists too. One scenario had ground based allies waiting for extraction, much like at the end of the gameplay trailer, and the drone swooping in to back them up. As they came under heavy fire from enemies who’d spotted their extraction flare, the player using the drone positioned himself and unleashed a missile attack, wiping out the assault force in the blink of an eye.
More powerful effects like this won’t be available constantly though: you’ll need to level up your drone first and even then it seems that you have to wait for the weapon to charge before you can get a shot off.
This kind of interplay between portable devices and console games is really intriguing, and The Division is pushing companion apps to a new level. While the current second screen experiences we have work well to display contextual information and the like, building a whole new way to play really sets a new standard for what we should expect in future.