In what's fast becoming a yearly tradition at Ubisoft, the publisher wowed E3 crowds with the last reveal of their show conference. This year it was another new IP (the year before it was Watch Dogs): The Division.
To give it its full name, this is Tom Clancy's: The Division. The iconic writer passed away earlier in the year, and this is one of the last stories penned by Clancy, and certainly the last original IP we'll see that bears his name. It helps then that it's looking rather fantastic, and should be a fitting legacy to a man who wrote so many novels and stories that were adapted into movies and games.
As with nearly all of Clancy's work, this is set in a plausible version of reality. Here greed and decadence has pushed society to the limit, and eventually something gives, allowing for chaos and anarchy to take over North America. The damage is done, and players are not striving to save democracy or return the country to what it once was. Instead their main aim is to counter those that would seek to take advantage of the situation, protecting the innocents at risk from the rising tide of anarchy. The mess has been made, and all that's left to do is clean it up.
An interview with Ubisoft Massive, the dev team that's creating The Division, yielded up one of our favourite quotes of the year. At E3 this year, production director Petter Mannerfelt told us: "There is no linear path you have to take; you can go on side quests. Sorry, not quests. Hobbits do quests. So, it's an open world game." At its heart what we're talking about here is an MMO, albeit one that is trying to experiment with new ideas and is firmly focussed on the next-gen console space.
Visually it looks a treat. The near-future vision of New York looks fantastic, in a bleak and haggard sort of way. The UI has been integrated into the experience in a way that it won't interfere with the game, rather it looks like it'll enhance it. The special effects look incredible, with lighting and particle effects dominating the E3 demonstrations, but that wasn't what was impressive about The Division. In fact, Massive's managing director David Polfeldt felt like these visual tricks were a distraction away from the more important changes coming with the next-gen consoles.
"My disappointment this year with E3 is that there's too much tech demos, too much water, fire, smoke, particles, explosions," he told us at the event. "That's cool because we can do them, and we can make them look better, but that's not where I want to see, that's not what I think is next-gen enough. That is next-gen, but that's like the bread and butter of next-gen."
Mannerfelt also elaborated on the technical side of things, explaining how the studio would be taking advantage of the in-house Snowdrop engine that is being used to power the game: "We're pushing graphics. We're pushing lighting. We're pushing destruction, procedural destruction. We're pushing AI, we want to have a complex AI where you see the world adapt to the player. And also online, we want to do everything seamless, we want you to be able to find players to play with that are not only your friends, but are players you might want to play with, so we're trying to find compatible players for you."
There's going to be tablet-based apps connected to the game, where mobile players will be able to join with console gamers via their tablets and contribute in a meaningful way: "You can play the game on iPad and Android with our companion gaming solution, and if you do that you can play together with your friends that play on the consoles," Mannerfelt elaborated. We've seen it in action, with one player taking control of a drone and using it in conjunction with other characters in a gun fight. It looks a step ahead of the normal interaction between console players and their mobile-based counterparts.
There looks like there's going to be plenty for players to do in the world (though exactly what we're still not entirely sure). A chunk of time will likely be spent quelling the threat of anarchy, helping out those you meet on your travels, and generally working towards restoring order to the world around you. PvP will see two factions fighting for resources in "quarantined zones".
Exactly when we'll be able to do this remains to be seen. We've been told that we can expect to see game in Q4 of next year, giving Ubisoft and Massive plenty of time to get it ready for our collective consumption. Originally it was just heading to consoles, as Massive had been waiting for the next generation of machines so they could make the game that they wanted.
However, after announcing the title, PC gamers (quite rightly) got a little annoyed at being left out of the equation. After a fairly vocal petition the decision was changed and PC gamers were brought back into the fold. Cue some very happy gamers, because The Division looks like it's going to be a breath of fresh air with some really interesting ideas. Yes we'll be pointing guns at people and other familiar actions, but the new setting and fresh approach to MMO action looks like it might combine to make one of the most exciting games of 2014.