Even though I was impressed at launch it didn’t take long for me to stop playing The Division. The shooting mechanics were absolutely satisfying and its world building remains some of the best this year, but its end-game had issues that were never resolved. Post-launch content didn’t deliver enough variation on what was already there, and the harder difficulty tiers felt cheap as enemies became bullet sponges. It meant that unless you were happy running around the PvP Dark Zone there wasn’t much to do, let alone make progress in getting high-end gear. Basically, The Division lost its fun factor, which was a huge shame.
It’s for this reason that Patch 1.4, which went live on Tuesday, is so important as it attempts to lure back former players. New difficulty tiers for the open world aim to make it so the daily missions and high-value targets that were added in Patch 1.3 now give an appropriate challenge. Additionally, the revamped rewards system means high-end gear is now possible to get without doing Incursions or PvP (although I’m sure it’s still the faster route to improving your gear score.) Perhaps the best news is that the “Time-to-kill NPC enemies have been reduced,” meaning bosses and named mobs are less like bullet sponges. The full patch notes are huge and are definitely worth a read to see how big Patch 1.4 actually is.
Because of the numerous changes, I decided to jump back into the snow-covered New York to see if, as a now solo player, the latest patch could help recapture the enjoyment of Ubisoft’s open world shooter.
What was immediately clear upon logging back in was the Quality of Life improvements for inventory management. Being able to mark items as Favourites to ensure they are never sold or broken down should mean players never mistakenly lose their best gear, but Ubisoft didn’t stop there. The new buyback option on vendors ensures players have every opportunity to reverse their carelessness. In fairness, it’s surprising that it’s taken Ubisoft this long add such features, but it’s great that they’re finally here.
Another observation I made once in-game was that I had way more inventory space than I remembered. It took me a few seconds to realise it was because weapons skins no longer take up space, which is about damn time. Some skins looked fairly good and I was happy equipping them, but being forced to destroy others or even equip ugly ones because they took up space was frustrating. It’s yet another little thing that should have been in from the start, but I’m glad has finally been addressed. Likewise, the bulk option for upgrading materials is without a doubt the biggest time-saver Ubisoft have added in Patch 1.4, addressing my biggest bugbear about the crafting system.
So, all in all, some decent first impressions.
Having done a quick peruse of my gear to remind myself what I had, I noticed that my gear score had gone down by a fair margin. Sitting at 148, it was clear that the rebalancing of gear and weapons had hit me pretty badly (that, or I was under-geared in the first place. Take your pick.) This meant I was stuck in the first of the four new difficulty tiers for the open world, which required a minimum of 150 for me to reach Tier 2. “Well I’m not having any of THAT” was my first thought, so I decided to do one of the Search & Destroy mission from a nearby safe house to see if the increased loot drops were working as intended.
It didn’t take long to arrive at the first of the three objectives on my map, with a group of enemies of varying red and purple mobs awaiting me. As you might expect, my targets weren’t exactly the toughest of sorts, but they were kind enough to drop a few purples. “Aces,” I said to myself, “those gloves are definitely an improvement.” So far, so good, but as I looked at my HUD I noticed that I was getting pop-ups telling me about the progress I was making towards my daily and weekly objectives. Looking at the full list on my map I saw that there was a range of rewards, from loot caches to Phoenix credits. This kind of meta-progression system isn’t new, of course, but I liked that I was working towards other objectives whilst doing activities in the open world.
Having grabbed my loot, I started making tracks to the next objective, but something unexpected happened. There were the usual groups of mobs that populated the world hanging out nearby, and being the heroic agent I am I went about shooting them in the face. Again, they weren’t much hassle, but a group of purples that I ran across dropped a high-end backpack. In the open world. I honestly couldn’t believe my luck, but then I remembered that gear upgrades are much easier to get now. Still, it was a big win for my murderous agent and proof the loot upgrade were working.
The second objective cranked it up a notch with more purple mobs this time, but what struck me was how the AI was actively flanking my position. Again, this isn’t new for The Division, but they were certainly more aggressive about it than I remember. It was initially the same situation at the third objective, too, but the second wave that appeared kicked off the real challenge. An elite mob accompanied by three purples suddenly charged me, and again I was forced to reposition thanks to their aggressive stance. Grenades were thrown and bullets were exchanged, but eventually the elite mob’s henchmen were taken down.
It was time for the big showdown.
What struck me during this firefight was how my AI was constantly changing position, never staying too long in one spot. The game of cat and mouse was actually enjoyable as the bullets hitting me took huge chunks off my health bar… but it was the same for my adversary. Yes, they needed a few more bullets than the purples I had ventilated earlier, but it was clear that the difficulty was now in actually landing the shots and not outlasting a bullet sponge. Best of all, it dropped a high-end stamina mod. I was rather pleased.
Leaving the mess of bodies behind, I went back to the safe house to hand in the mission and equip my new pile of loot. In doing so I unlocked the next open world tier, which I considered mighty fine progress. The second run I did was less eventful in terms of loot drops, but I did run into one of the new named mobs that occasionally spawn. This proved to be an even bigger challenge than the elite from before, but it also was the most rewarding – two high-end pieces of gear were claimed. If this isn’t proof that the loot grind has been significantly reduced I don’t know what is.
What’s important to remember is that while all this was going on I was still doing all the things I had been doing back at launch – helping out strangers in my never-ending quest for fashion, arguing with stray dogs, and picking up intel to further the backstory. In addition to this, I was still gaining XP for everything I was doing. This is another new feature for Patch 1.4, where filling out the XP bar grants the player rewards like high-level equipment and crafting blueprints. It’s yet another example of Ubisoft working hard on the overall meta for The Division, ensuring there’s always something to work towards and be rewarded for.
In my view, Patch 1.4 finally allows solo players to progress towards hitting the best high-end gear, which is something I honestly couldn’t say was possible when I stopped playing a few months after launch. In fact, the patch makes the game feel much like World of Warcraft: Legion’s World Quests in terms of meta progression, as there’s always something to work towards. Actually, I take that back – it’s similar to how Diablo 3 went from being a laborious grind-fest to an addictive ARPG title with Reaper of Souls. It’s for that reason that Patch 1.4 succeeds in making The Division a fun open world experience again, regardless of if you’re a solo or group player.
That said, the question now facing the game is whether it can regain the attention of its former audience, especially as we’re in what I consider to be the busiest silly season in recent memory. Either way, it’s certainly worth booting up your copy of The Division to check out it. Who knows, you might get swept up in the chase for loot once more.
Or chasing dogs again. Either or.