Games as a service have racked up quite the notoriety streak over the years and rightfully so. Faulty launches, unbalanced game, bad post-launch service and content, predatory microtransactions and shady developer stories have become the norm for these types of games. Destiny and Destiny 2, Anthem, Tom Clancy’s The Division have all fallen victim to the curse of the live service, with Anthem being the latest and the worst of the bunch.
Despite all the bad reputation stemming from their disastrous first venture, Ubisoft Massive decided to continue their dream of making the perfect live service game. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, sequel to Tom Clancy’s The Division, launched back in 15th March. And surprisingly enough, it wasn’t a repeat offender of the live service curse.
The prequel curse:
In the world of video games, prequels and sequels mean more than just presenting narratives. In a way, a sequel expands upon the world, the lore, and the gameplay mechanics. Yet when it comes to games as a service, developers seem to forget that they already have a base to fall back and improve upon. Bungie, the legendary developers who started the Halo franchise, revealed Destiny back in 2010. It was a game set in the future where Earth had become a hub of space-faring races and guardians who wielded light to battle the forces of darkness and death.
When Destiny released, however, it was a pile of a hot mess. Unbalanced weapons, unbalanced loot tables, barebones gameplay, and skeletal content proved that the much loved Bungie had screwed up big time. They eventually got it right and came back roaring with “The Taken King” expansion but they had set a precedent. A precedent to not ship an incomplete product with bare-minimum Q&A testing. It was a precedent many were doomed to repeat, including Bungie themselves. Destiny 2, the sequel to Destiny was also plagued with the same issues Destiny faced. The only difference was that they had brought their problems to the PC community as well.
On 8th March 2016, Tom Clancy’s The Division released amongst feverish hype and genuine excitement amongst fans of the looter-shooter and the Tom Clancy series. Although the cracks didn’t take too long to show up. Shortly after the launch week, The Division started bleeding players. Thanks to the numerous bugs, terrible game balancing, shoddy bullet sponge enemies and lackluster content made it obvious that Division was a rushed project. It would take Ubisoft an entire year and 8 major updates to make the game great again. But the damage had been done and soon enough, The Division became a title people would refer to as an example of redemption rather than a good product.
The year is 2018. Following the disastrous launch of Destiny 2 and two abysmally terrible DLCs, Bungie is now gearing up to launch their newest expansion. Titled Forsaken, it would go on to revive their dying title and bring it back on to the playing field. It’s already been a year since the E3 where BioWare revealed their take on the whole looter-shooter, games as a service genre. BioWare’s Anthem is merely a year away from launch when Ubisoft Massive unveils their new project. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, a direct sequel to their 2016 title. Set merely 7 months after the original game, the game would send players to the overgrown streets and suburbs of Washington D.C.
When the date of release came, the scene of looter-shooters had changed a lot. Anthem was dying, merely a month or so after release. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 released quite subtly underneath and hidden amongst the controversy and ruckus created by BioWare’s big mess. Yet it did prove to be quite the successful launch.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was covering grounds all across the world. Despite being the sequel to a disastrous prequel, the game’s solid basics were garnering it praise. A stable launch, bare-minimum glitches, robust gameplay, balanced loot and mechanics, solid endgame, and free post-launch support, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 had it all. Everyone touted it to be one of the best looter-shooters, possibly the best after Borderlands 2. Considering Borderlands 2 is touted as the gold-standard of narrative-driven looter shooters, that’s pretty high praise.
More so, the microtransaction curse of Games as a service was nowhere to be seen in The Division 2. The cosmetics in the game could be earned through both gameplay and real currency. And best of all, Ubisoft Massive has recently done an apparel event that was really successful amongst players and wasn’t predatory in the very least.
Nothing stays the same. Especially when your games are a service and subjected to live changes and updates. Despite having the most stable launch of live games in recent past, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 somehow managed to drop into hot waters soon enough. Players were finding out small yet annoying progression blockers and glitches that were more of a nuisance than harmful. While they were promised to be fixed in the upcoming updates, the community was not prepared for the drastic changes.
Title Update 2 or TU2 brought the Tidal Basin stronghold as well as World Tier 5 and Heroic difficulty. Previously, players could only access Heroic difficulty in Control points and were undoubtedly the hardest content in the game. Missions on heroic difficulty showed a glaring fault in enemy AI, they were unnecessarily aggressive and unbalanced. Gear item drops were changed and gear sets were introduced which were quickly found out to be faulty as well. Gear drop was random and unfair, gear sets were underwhelming and even broken.
Coupled with the fact that the recent weapons and mod balance pass had nerfed the weapon mods to the ground for the sake of simplicity, was enough to break the player power scale into oblivion. In short, the enemies were kicking ass and players did not like it. With the added headache of one-shot PvP builds, generally uninteresting builds, and lack of skill builds, players were rightfully angry. It wasn’t limited to builds, the imbalance had spilled onto player power even deeper than Massive wanted.
The Division 2 has exotic weapons which are powerful weapons with powerful bonuses. Now, most of the exotics are pretty useless and Massive has gone on record to say that they will be buffing these. But the exotic sniper rifle Nemesis is currently the strongest weapon in the game, stronger than even the specialization weapon. The problem isn’t that the Nemesis is strong, it’s that the specialization weapon isn’t strong enough. The specialization weapons are clunky, slow to use, have limited combat effectiveness, and their passives are the only useful aspect of this endgame gameplay mechanic. Coupled with bugged and abysmally low ammo drop, the player power has never been lower.
As an added nail in their coffin Ubisoft Massive, on their State of the game podcast, revealed that they will be implementing changes by introducing higher and stronger gears in the Dark Zone. Previously, the Dark Zone had been a point of contention seeing as the PvP was unbalanced, unfair and frankly boring. Forcing players into an area where they don’t want to go was certainly not the choice here but it was a choice Massive decided to make anyway. Needless to say, all these changes created a rift in the community where PvP and PvE players started blaming each other and some decided to blame the influential content creators as well.
Another save? Another DLC?
The situation of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2’s future is difficult to gauge. The game is undoubtedly fun and the core aspects of the game are solid enough to allow all manners of changes. Yet the developers have decided to go against the player consensus and hit the nerf button on player power. This brings an interesting aspect of development where developers and consumers are at a tipping point of a game’s vision.
Ubisoft Massive has gone back to their tried and tested method of balancing, that is the PTS or the Play Test Server. Here players can test the upcoming changes and how they affect the game before the changes are implemented in the live game. Due to this scheduling change, Massive has put their promised and much-anticipated Raid on hold as well.
Currently, the live game is in a messed up state of half-balanced, half-unbalanced content that is somehow fun to play. The gunplay oriented builds reign supreme while there are basically no alternatives or any other roles to play. Where The Division encouraged diverse Tank, Heal, Damage styled trinity teamwork, The Division 2 has forced players into a more selfish role of DPS and self-heal. There are builds that differ from said gameplay loop but they’re too expensive and too random to rely on. The gear sets offer very little to change the meta. And thanks to the aforementioned weapon mod changes, specialized weapon builds are a thing of the past.
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that The Division 2 is at a stage where it can either make it or break the camel’s back. The next few major updates will determine how the future of the game pans out. Whether Massive evens out the playing field between AI and players or continues to nerf player power to the ground, remains to be seen. But boy howdy will I love to have a skill build in the upcoming 8-player raid. There’s no variety to the gameplay, there’s no variety towards weapon modding and there is sure as hell no use for the special weapons. And the answer to these problems are buffing that which is weak, i.e the players but the community is strongly in doubt if that’s ever happening.
The ball is in your court, Massive. Please don’t miss.