Earlier this year, Ubisoft and Massive released The Division 2, the sequel to 2016’s tactical looter shooter. The Division 2 improves on The Division in almost every way, capitalizing and expanding upon the previous systems introduced in the original title. But, 4 months down the line, The Division 2 has a problem that can affect the greater long term health of the game.
The Division 2 (TD2) does a lot of things right. The gunplay feels solid, the enemies don’t really feel like bullet sponges, and the in-game encounters also feel diverse and varied due to the presence of various factions. But perhaps the most important part for a looter shooter like TD2 to get right is the endgame, as after all, that’s where players will end up spending most of their time in-game (assuming they want to continue playing past the story missions). And TD2 got its endgame content about 90% right straight away.
As previously mentioned, The Division 2 improves on a lot of aspects of The Division (TD). The relevant of which here is the endgame content. In TD, the endgame content initially comprised of what boiled down to trying to navigate the systemically poorly designed Dark Zone, TD and TD2’s PvP (Player vs Player) areas. As in TD, the player was forced to do PvP content in order to get better gear to use for PvE (Player vs Environment, think Player vs the AI enemies).
Different To Its Peers
This system in TD was quite different, especially for other similar games. It’s possible to compare MMOs to looter shooters because the progression system is actually quite close. So, comparing TD to say World of Warcraft (WoW), a few differences in this particular loot system can be found. WoW separated PvE and PvP gear, and never made it so that players who wanted better PvP gear never had to do endgame PvE content, and vice versa.
Say what you will about WoW, but admittedly, it handles this aspect of its loot system, perhaps the core aspect behind not only MMOs and looter shooters, much better than TD. As, not only does unified PvP and PvE gear come with a slew of balance issues (as was apparent with TD), but many players will only play these types of games for just one of these aspects. I.E someone who wants to progress in PvE content does not want to participate in PvP.
While admittedly Massive did an impressive job of turning TD around (as was a trend with Ubisoft titles at the time, see Rainbow 6: Siege) TD2 right out of the gate was a significant improvement. Immediately after reaching the endgame of TD2, the environment changes, and becomes even more hostile and diverse than before, through the introduction of Hunters and The Black Tusks. Furthermore, on a fundamental level, a change was made separating PvP and PvE gear, which is a good change from TD.
So, in TD2 PvE players only have to play PvE content, and PvP players only PvP content. While admittedly TD2’s PvP is marred with its own problems, a majority of players gravitate towards the PvE aspect. As a result, the gameplay loop boils down to running the same string of content multiple times, in attempts to get better and better gear. While this loop is standard for games of this sort, the problem begins arising after getting near the peak-end of gear.
The Division 2 Has A Problem
At this peak end, is where TD2 starts to run into problems, which can affect player count as more and players reach this super late game. Eventually, doing the same content becomes less and less lucrative as the player’s gear improves, with gear upgrades offering unnoticeable, almost borderline negligible improvements. This creates the problem where the player no longer sees the value in running the same content for what they don’t perceive as being any real, tangible benefit. This is ultimately the fate of games with a progression system similar to TD2’s.
So, after reaching this peak point, players are left with a choice. Either quit the game or pursue other content in the game. As quitting the game for a while is not a good choice, as it doesn’t look good for the developers or the health of the community, examining what options there are of playing the game in ways besides getting better and better gear becomes the clear alternative.
There’s Nothing To Do
When needing to look at alternative options, there’s really nothing else to do. While yes, there are some vanity and lore collectibles scattered throughout the game, those can be reasonably collected just going through the game. The clear alternative is PvP, but there’s no guarantee that a PvE centric player reaching this peak level of gear will want to pursue this other style of play, save for the fact that unfortunately, TD2’s state of PvP is less than spectacular, there are really no other side activities to do.
And this is where the problem truly lies. Once they’ve reached this peak content, there’s nothing to keep the player playing. And while most people would consider a player sinking hundreds of hours into a game as a success, as a developer, you want to keep players playing your games, especially if it’s following the same model as TD2.
Examining other games in the vein of TD2, let’s use the previous example of WoW. WoW offers numerous side activities outside of alternative PvP to keep the player playing. Things like pet battles, professions, and crafting, to a more in-depth vanity collectible system. All of these can keep the player playing by offering what can be perceived as tangible rewards for the player. And that’s the goal. Keeping players occupied until the next significant jump in loot comes out.
What Can Be Done
TD2 needs more of these occupying systems. Whether or not it’s in the cards for Massive to add these systems remains to be seen, but I believe it would be in their best interest to add these sorts of things. Long term player engagement is important. Perhaps a system greatly expanding on the Hunters would be a good start, where players will have to track down clues throughout the environment to, well, hunt the Hunters. That’s just a start, off the top of my head.
Thank you for reading. Outside of these columns I also host Culture of Gaming’s weekly podcast, Power Up, recorded live every Saturday at 3pm PST on our Twitch channel. And if you’d like to read why Final Fantasy XIV is both simultaneously killing it and having some problems at the same time, click here.