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Back On-Track - With The Division's New 'Underground' DLC
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 05:13pm 13/07/16 | Comments
With the Underground, The Division is now in the best place it has ever been in terms of possibility. And even though the experience boils down to how much you enjoy cover-based shooter mechanics with unrealistic action-RPG stylings, the future of the game has gone from one that we were merely curious about to one that we’re now excited to see what’s next.

At its core The Division is an action RPG, and a pretty good one at that. Right from the get-go the levelling system, plus various stats ranging from damage output to bonus elite damage and critical hit chance, had a lot of depth and customisation to it. And even though the game didn’t feature any specific classes to choose from, you could still tailor your character to suit certain types of weapons, skills, or even become a quasi-support character that heals and buffs other players in your team. The only real problem was that once you completed the main story and all the side missions, there really wasn’t much of an incentive to keep playing. Rewards were minimal at best, and the focus on crafting and grinding for materials left a sour taste in many a hypothetical gamer’s mouth.

Then shortly after release came update 1.1, which introduced high-powered green Gear Sets that offered up a variety of bonuses. The only caveat was that you needed to play the first Incursion, called Falcon Lost, over and over to get pieces. Which due to the nature of it being an uninspiring horde-mode, wasn’t all that much fun. At this point The Division’s end-game felt a little under-cooked, and outside of the Dark Zone, which offered up an interesting approach to PvP with players fighting both each other and NPC’s in order to extract loot, there wasn’t much to it. Fast forward to, well, today, and the recent release of the first expansion called ‘Underground’, the difference is night and day. The Division’s end-game is now at the point where it feels like a complete experience, and a game that’s on the right track to live up to its early promise.

The fact that is only took a few months to get to this point is quite remarkable, and in many ways the transformation from version 1.1 to 1.3 is one that took on board a number of the game’s faults, and rectified them. Perhaps the most notable improvement is that players now get rewarded for their actions, no matter what activity they take part in. And when you take into account that the game now offers up something more substantial than simply replaying the same story missions over and over, The Division has finally reached a point where the action-RPG mechanics start to make a lot more sense. And you can see all of these things in the Underground, the first of three planned premium DLC expansions for the game. With the Underground players are transported to a new section of Manhattan, one where they use the subway system to take on Operations. Represented in game as randomly generated missions, with objectives, in order to obtain intel from named high level enemies.

On paper the idea of randomly generated mission content, or in the world of action-RPGs random dungeons, is often one that gets botched in the execution. Not so here, as the various connected rooms and locations work remarkably well to form clear and well executed missions. And when you take into account the varying difficulty levels on offer, and game changing directives that add bonus experience for things the like removal of the mini-map or giving enemies nothing but special ammo, the replay value is commendable. In the end you’ll come away feeling that the Underground is a far stronger addition to the game than simply adding a handful of new story-driven, scripted missions. Not only in terms of the fact that you could play through a dozen or so Operations and still be surprised and impressed with the variety on offer, but the fact that visually speaking just about every single one is on par with the rest of The Division. Meaning that you’ll still that same sense of awe in the level of detail. And large piles of garbage that are seemingly everywhere.

Now you probably noticed the mention of experience in that last paragraph, which refers to the new Underground Rank that sits alongside your character level, Dark Zone rank, and Gear Score average. Convoluted it may be, but the fact that after each Underground Rank you receive a special cache to open as well as progress slowly towards the next directive or difficulty to unlock, actually works better than expected. The Underground Caches are particularly impressive as they usually contain a high level weapon or green Gear Set piece. And with now over a dozen Gears Sets in the game, you’ll be collecting more pieces than you’ll know what to do with. These caches and Underground Rank levels also work wonders in offering up clear small goals to achieve in a sitting or two, even if the progression is a little on the slow side after a few rank-ups.

On its own though the Underground content isn’t the be-all and end-all of The Division’s end-game, as the newly implemented generous reward system now applies to all of the activities on offer, from replaying daily missions through to exploring the Dark Zone. But it does feel essential to the experience, especially when you look at the High-Value Target system that was implemented recently to give players more to do. In addition to taking advantage of the vast sprawling streets of Manhattan that all but disappeared once you finished the main story. In terms of action-RPG classics they kind of work in the same way as the Bounty and Rift system seen in Diablo III, where you complete bounties for materials and currency and then take on Rifts for high-level items and more gear-specific rewards.

In fact, the parallels between the two systems are fairly self-evident right down to the randomly generated nature of the Underground Operations through to the High-Value Target system being the best way to rack up Phoenix Credits and crafting materials. That’s not to say that the setup is a direct copy, it’s to highlight the complementary nature of the Underground. Meaning that if you don’t own a Season Pass for The Division or shell out separately for it, you’ll be missing out on a key piece of the game. But the flipside to that is that it’s also a great piece of premium content, and way more substantial than the usual map packs that make up the bulk of Season Pass content elsewhere.

With the Underground, The Division is now in the best place it has ever been in terms of possibility. And even though the experience boils down to how much you enjoy cover-based shooter mechanics with unrealistic action-RPG stylings, the future of the game has gone from one that we were merely curious about to one that we’re now excited to see what’s next. If the next two expansions for the game, Survival and Last Stand are anything like this, then The Division will be in our rotation for months to come. But if we have one thing to ask for from developer Massive and Ubisoft, it’s this. Embrace the fact that you’ve created an online action-RPG that people enjoy playing regularly and give them the option to express themselves. Add a sense of fun to the grim post-apocalyptic streets of a virus ravaged New York City. Add some funky clothing to the game, a bunch of new emotes, perhaps even the ability to tag walls and the sides of vans. Go crazy with it. It’s time.