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With patch 1.4 near and a new chunk of DLC on its way I have some thoughts on the structure of the game, SENSIBLE improvements that could be made and its future. WARNING! THIS IS A HUGE POST! I come from a history of some 38 years of gaming experience and several years of working with developers in advisory capacities. First, a Disclaimer: I don’t work for any development house, or publisher. I am not a professional programmer or Professional Gamer either, nor have I any links too or communication lines with either Massive or Ubisoft. I’m just a gamer but one with a good chunk of experience added with some knowledge of how developer/publishers work when building games. These are just my opinions, my thoughts on what’s wrong with the game, what is RIGHT with the game and what might go some way to not only make the game more playable but also enjoyable AND retain player base…and sell more DLC ultimately. The two things to remember are: No plan survives contact with the enemy, no matter how well planned OR well intentioned (Yes, gamers in this quote are the “enemy”…you break things!! Stop breaking people’s games, why can’t you just play the game like developers wanted you to?!?) Developers rarely actually play their games to any great extent. They perform tests, run play-throughs to make sure things work. Its why there are Alpha-Beta tests (well, there USED to be back in the day when games worked on release day!) Key Complained about Items, let’s break them down and examine them, solutions later: Dark Zone does not work/is unfair. I’ll start by saying … OF COURSE IT’S UNFAIR… it was never meant to be completely fair. That does NOT however mean it should be unbalanced, but at its core the DZ is a raw, PvP arena where any individual player could be a potential enemy. So, what went wrong and why doesn’t a large part of the player community like this? Clearly there are two types of players involved here and they are at polar opposites … players who enjoy or rather know how to exploit fully unregulated PvP and those who, at their core, are really Co-Operative players. Obviously players who prefer co-op don’t like betraying their fellow players… there is no “team killer” flag in this game…no guarantees of loyalties..these players hate this, I understand this. The other side are players who actually don’t take all this sort of thing too seriously…it’s a game, a laugh after all…they don’t see going Rogue as a betrayal but just a means to an end using a game mechanic we’re encouraged to use. Whilst one cannot often see the point of view of one, the reverse is often the same. So why does all this cause so many problems? Well, mainly it’s all about ... Balance. The systems in place to “tier” players of equal skills and more or less equally balanced equipment were (and still are) ill thought out and woefully poorly executed. The bands for Gear Score are far too wide allowing a huge disparity in equipment level and to top this the match maker very often forces players together due to low server populations that just have no reason to be in the same universe. When you get Rogues with equipment multiple times stronger than players they meet…THIS is when you get people complaining. No one ever complains about an even fight. Even if the Rogue shoots you in the back…if you have at least a slim chance to fight back then you’re not going to be as annoyed as players are now. ok, maybe that’s a sort of solution...but moving on... Ultimately the end game is boring. Assume 60% of the player base are PvE / Co-Op focused (not a wide stretch to believe that a MAJORITY of players prefer this side of the game). You’ve completed the Story. What now exactly? Improving your character so you can take on harder modes maybe? Sure but even then you start to find drops no longer give you anything you can use, you rerun HVT’s and Incursions against the same enemies in the same places relatedly. Even DLC’s don’t add real interest or growth to the “story”. These are all valid points. I wonder how many hours Massive envisaged players would take to complete the Story or continue to play afterwards? 150+hrs into the game and I know I’ve personally hit my threshold of tolerance several times. Changes HERE would help the game more than in any other area in my honest opinion and it really ought to be the focus of improvements. Make players less bored and they are less likely to find time to pick holes in other areas of a game. Idle hands and all that…. Enemies are “just” bullet sponges. Sure it’s an unrealistic design choice which many familiar with the Tom Clancy games won’t like so much and I don’t believe Massive or Ubisoft have helped matters by clearly trying to make a game that is part of one but sum of neither… BUT … this is not an unusual game play choice and quite normal for MMORPG’s. Even consider games such as Gear of War, popular though it is, it is a cover based third person shooter where enemies are bullet sponges. The game just hides it better than The Division does. EVEN FALLOUT 4 is a shooter RPG with BULLET SPONGE ENEMIES! Can we improve this in The Division? Yes. Should we change it though? Perhaps not, as the knock on effects I feel would be very detrimental to long term gameplay. So, how do we move on, what changes…minor and major…could be brought into the game to aid these three core areas of contention? Let’s take each in order. Possible Solutions. a. Dark Zone does not work/is unfair. One possible but potentially far too radical solution would be to make the Dark Zone a fully controlled Arena area. We all know that once we’ve passed through the containment doors we’ve been moved to what is essentially a different game, different server. This solution would automatically CAP all skills and powers (DPS, Toughness, Electronics) each cap will be relating to the match maker tier you fall into. Of course this solution also relies on the Match Maker still using Gear Score as a basis but a basic tweak to this would be to ensure the spread within tiers wasn’t as punishing as it is now. In this scenario, whilst DPS etc are all hard capped meaning you cannot output or cause more damage than the cap … passive skills are still active and uncapped meaning buffs, debuffs, pulses etc can still be stacked. This is essential to allow an element of advantage to players willing to learn the game and how it plays. Another solution is an option to join a purely PvE Dark Zone server. This is similar to other MMORPG’s which have dedicated servers for things such as Roleplaying and PvE as well as dedicated PvP servers. This is, again, quite a radical departure from the ideas behind the Dark Zone itself and just means this is a free Open World environment update … it’s a solution that in my opinion is clumsy. Almost as clumsy as having a PvE/PvP option activation tab over your character! This is another possible solution but by far one of the worse. It’s been abused in other games, causes confusion and annoyance to players where it’s an option as well. Best stay away from this I feel. Perhaps the BEST option at the moment is just to revamp the match maker and ensure the servers are tighter and don’t hiccup periodically and throw low level players in with high level uber-players JUST BECAUSE SERVER POPULATIONS ARE LOW! Gear Score in itself should NOT be the metric to measure player characters abilities…the servers should take a sum of all parts and key metrics, not only that but there should be far more “tiers” (substantially more than proposed for 1.4!). The banding should be narrow to ensure players face players they have a reasonable chance of defeating/defending themselves against. It’s clear the basis for a lot of issues are Rogues who are able to one shot kill players and, in any right minded idea of a match making system, shouldn’t even be in that segment with those players. It’s like allowing a Great White Shark into Sea-life Centers minnow pool! b. Ultimately the end game is boring. To me, finding a solution to the boredom surrounding the grind is perhaps THE MOST IMPORTANT priority for the game to be resolved. Unfortunately, as 1.4 shows I don’t believe this has been communicated properly to Massive or Ubisoft. Every game has a “grind” and it should be appreciated that this increases as you progress to a point where progression itself is almost non-existent. HOWEVER, this does and should never mean it’s boring! To the credit of Massive and Ubisoft they’ve attempted to implement changes to mitigate this such as High Value Targets and Search & Destroy missions. That said these also rapidly get .. boring and repetitive. Same enemies, same areas of the map it seems. What needs to happen is to give players a sense of accomplishment. Each time I play I walk along streets that I’ve cleared of mobs. Sure there are perhaps one or two low key muggings still but generally the streets are “safe”. So…why are there still dead bodies about? Why can’t someone come around and clear up a little?? Set up soup stands or ration trucks for the needy? For an example let’s look at two games that change the game environment based on your actions but show how not to do it properly. Mad Max – relatively free roaming, mission driven game. Third person perspective, enemies have hit points (though in this case they’re under powered compared to The Division). Once you clear an area of enemies…that area changes. You have new bases open up, different missions are issued to you, the environment visibly looks…cleaner. Next we have Homefront: The Revolution. Again a free roaming mission driven game, first person this time. Enemies are more one shot kills unless armoured. In a very similar fashion to Mad Max once you control an area it visibly changes and friendly troops move in. Granted in this game the method behind this is horrid… you activate a radio…you don’t even have to clear the area of enemies…but still, you see a very visible result for your efforts. The HUGE issue I have with these games is that after this point the worlds are static. They can’t now go back to being enemy controlled. What I would like to see with The Division is a far more dynamic open world. Let’s take the basic concept in the games mentioned before and improve it… sure you can clear an area of enemies and it improves BUT ….if you neglect it, if you don’t perform certain daily/weekly missions the area deteriorates again, ideally gradually and visibly with more small mobs at first with random muggings then with roaming gangs and finally with Elite lead roaming gangs as it reverts back to chaos. What advantage would this all have. Firstly, let’s address a purely financial one for Ubisoft. As you open up areas, not only does the place generally clean up but civilians start coming back, emerging from their homes...even setting up business and helping out. Perhaps one shop is opened that’s a tattoo parlour or a outdoors clothes shop or even a hairdressers/Barbers! You can guess where I’m going with this can’t you. This would be the perfect opportunity for Massive to introduce character vanity items and look modification software. Through this method Ubisoft can sell even more vanity items and DLC packs. Currently we’re stuck with just clothing, we’re even stuck with permanent sunglasses. With the ability to keep changing character looks people WILL buy more vanity packs. Hell, the Sims shows the lengths people will go to just to create looks on Avatars and look at how many expansions and DLC packs are purely vanity items in that series of games? I remember buying maybe 15 discs worth of stuff for the original Sims game way back and today that would equate a large sum of money. Further to the main idea though if you neglect these area’s then you lose these “shops” and cannot now change looks. However, I have to add that paid DLC would have to still be available so it might be that a “shop” opens after doing a special mission within your BoO or nearby but you can never lose that place to enemies BUT it’s only open for PAID DLC. Other “shops” will have free DLC but you have to work for it in-game in a similar way to vanity item drops now. what all this gives the player though is a feeling of accomplishment but also a very real sense that they need to "police" the game and if they leave the game for a length of time they'll have a whole lot of cleaning up to do when they log back in. The player is constantly maintaining the game, within the game and establishing within it a personal connection psychologically. Another negative aspect of the End Game is that you rarely if ever find usable items. For some reason the Gear Score vs. Item Power calculations are fundamentally wrong. For example Gear Score items of 204 should, logically, always have at least one power greater than 192 items, likewise 229 items should always be more powerful than 204. However, THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN! How often do you find a nice high gear item that should replace something you already have at a lower Gear Score only to find out that it doesn’t even have any useful talents! You should NOT have to re-roll anything on this new item to make it better than the low level item you already have!! PLUS … metrics of “power” (DPS, Strength etc) should also ALWAYS be better than lower gear score items. Why is this happening? I have no idea other than to suggest the random generator within the game is … broken somehow. I’m Gear Score 238… I shouldn’t be using 182/204 weapons anymore! I have plenty of 229 weapons but NONE of them come even close to the lower score items I have. THIS - IS - WRONG! This must be fixed as it’s stupid, frustrating and makes gameplay boring. Why play if you KNOW you’ll never get decent items? c. Enemies are “just” bullet sponges. Lastly, bullet sponge enemies. Now, I’ve already stated I am not against this, to me I like the mechanic and it was the right choice for this game. Enemies even have weak spots to exploit and I think it’s all thought out pretty darn well. However, I have a way to make this a true feature of the game and not something players have to “overcome”. Drop power the caps when active skills are used. Not passive buffs such as Crit % buffs on weapons but ACTIVE buffs through skills. Pings, Smart cover etc etc. Keep enemies as bullet sponges but ENCOURAGE players to drop their skills...stack skills...encourage a team of players to stack their skills so that they suddenly have 200% to crit chance or 100+% damage output or similar damage mitigation. No skills active and you get no mega buffs. Of course, the cooldowns will need adjusting but if you keep the NPC’s the same as they are now, we all know we can still defend ourselves and take enemies down WITHOUT active skills being … active. In my idea active skills now become game changers in PvE. Players now co-ordinate and save skills (which now have long cooldowns) for bosses for example. Team really struggling to wade through a mob… the team starts to pop skills and boom….you take them down in short order. Introduce more consumable buffs….different injectors for health regen for example that have an Area of Effect. These supplement that you can’t now use your main skill unless it’s an emergency. There’s nothing wrong with bullet sponge enemies IF you make their “HP pool” dynamically affected. Currently players pop skills too often and at the wrong times and encouragement to change this should be put into the game. You’ll also see a greater use of more varied skills as tactics become far more situational. To recap… whilst I agree with a LOT of the proposed changes with 1.4 I don’t believe this in any real way addresses the KEY problems facing the game and players. I hope, somehow, that sensible and profitable solutions are found and my proposals above are just my personal thoughts and ideas on some key areas. I don’t address smaller problems and perhaps my ideas introduce some other problems but I hope this game continues and grows, I’m just deeply concerned about its future now. Thank you for reading this far. The Quinch