It’s Hard Getting Back On The Division Train

It’s Hard Getting Back On The Division Train

This week, The Division got its first major expansion. It adds some pretty cool stuff to the game, but I’ve been having a hard time getting into it. Turns out once you’ve fallen off the Division train, it’s hard to get back on.

The Division: Underground is, in theory, just the sort of thing the game needed. It adds a new system of procedurally generated dungeons beneath the city of New York, which players can explore through a technically endless series of customisable operations. You set your parameters and difficulty level and then, if you’re a lone wolf like me and you actually want to beat the mission, you matchmake into a group of randoms. Then you head into the subway, ride down into Manhattan’s underbelly, kill a bunch of dudes, and get a few new guns and pieces of gear.

The Division had previously been hurting for endgame PvE content. Its anything-goes Dark Zone became too much of an entrenched PvP killing field to be much fun for a lot of players. The Incursions and High Value Target missions Ubisoft Massive has added to the game’s main map were fun enough, but both felt somewhat limited. Underground is a meaty addition (it should be, as it costs $US15 ($20)), and accompanies a substantial patch. The Division, now fresh and clean, is ready for a new look.

I’ve been playing Underground since it launched on Tuesday and I’m having a hard time sticking with it. There are a few reasons for that.

Loot Overload

The Division is and has always been a loot game, with a deliberately Diablo-y way of handing out rewards. These days everyone has a Gear Score, which is determined according to some averaging of the numbers next to each weapon and piece of armour you have.

It’s Hard Getting Back On The Division Train

Time was, a gold high-end gun was basically a gold high-end gun, but nowadays the colour of a piece of gear tells even less of the whole story. I’ve gotten new high-end guns that have a gear score of 182. I still have some that are only at 163. I’ve gotten coveted dark-green “set” gear items that are at 214. The people I’m matching with routinely have Gear Scores above 230, which makes me view all of my gear — including the sweet G36 assault rifle I just got — as junk that I’ll eventually replace.

Questions I now have to ask upon getting a new piece of gear:

  1. What is the DPS? What is the armour rating?
  2. What are the perks?
  3. If I don’t like the perks, how much does it cost to re-roll them?
  4. If it’s armour, how does it affect my various attributes?
  5. If it’s set armour, which set is it part of? Is that a set I want? Or even have?
  6. Above all else, what is the Gear Score rating?

The wrong answer to any of those questions can render a piece of loot either useless or, at best, only temporarily useful. When I think about weighing each piece of gear against all the other ones in my inventory, I mostly just feel tired.

Despite the fact that almost all of my equipment looks the same, all those variables mean that there is still a ton of loot in this game, and the loot structures are arcane and difficult to keep track of. The idea of grinding to get a matched set of armour fills me with weariness, particularly given how rare some of them are.

The Grind is Real

After an hour or so of blasting through increasingly difficult operations in Underground, the template became clear: Head into a mission, kill some dudes, go to another area, kill some more dudes, defend a point against some waves of dudes and kill a boss. Level up my Underground rank (separate from my overall level) to unlock more modifiers.

Another hour or two revealed some minor variations (these bad guys have a disruptor; this level has a slightly more interesting backdrop), but the template stayed the same. Playing with modifiers (ammo restrictions, no radar) makes things more interesting. Adding additional objectives makes missions last longer. But I already feel I’ve seen what there is to see.

Were I to stick with Underground, I can see the future laid out in front of me. I’d start playing on challenging difficulty. I’d add more modifiers. Eventually I’d start to play on heroic difficulty. My Underground level would climb. I’d earn more and more Directive Intel and be able to afford more and more modifiers. The enemies I’d fight would absorb more and more and more bullets. The mission structure would remain basically the same.

All the while, my gear score would steadily climb. I’d replace my old guns with new guns that look the same but have a higher number. I’d get halfway to having a complete set of armour. I’d think about buying a blueprint and crafting something. I’d junk a lot of gear I didn’t want, and would gradually grow more and more numb to the endless repetition.

Granted, all games like The Division are “a grind.” I’ve tried to figure out why I’ve been happier to grind in games like Diablo III and Destiny in the past, but am less interested in grinding in The Division. There are a lot of possible answers, some of them related to how fun the The Division‘s core gameplay is, some related to how arcane and purely stat-driven a lot of the loot differentiation is. But it also comes down to…

So Grey, So Drab

When I returned to The Division on Tuesday, I hadn’t played in more than a month. I headed out to take on the new above-ground mission that kicks off Underground and was immediately struck by how beautiful this game can be. It was night in the city, and snow was falling. I could barely see where I was going.

It’s Hard Getting Back On The Division Train

Shortly after that I headed down into the subway to begin playing Underground proper. The first mission culminates in a fight in what amounts to a neon-lit basement rave. It was a little bit corny in that Ubisofty kinda way, but at least it was colourful.

It’s Hard Getting Back On The Division Train

Since then, almost every mission I’ve done has taken place among the same bleak subway terminals and power stations. The Division is a handsome game even when constrained to underground interiors, but it loses something without the icy winds and concrete chasms of the city itself. The grind becomes grindier, and the missions feel more repetitive.

It’s Hard Getting Back On The Division Train

As has always been the case with The Division, it remains difficult to get very excited about getting a new shotgun with slightly different perks, or a new grey backpack that holds more ammo. None of it fundamentally changes the way my character looks, nor how I play the game — my team and I roll into an area and hose down enemies until they’re all gone. Rinse and repeat.

I understand that higher-level play demands more considered strategy, but I don’t know that I have the time or energy to grind for the gear I’d need to even allow me to play a specialised build in the first place. Let alone attaining a high enough gear score not to risk being immediately kicked from high-level matchmade teams.

When I started Underground, my gear score was 171. It’s now 196. I look around me and I see a sea of 231s, 233s, 240s, a stray 243. They all look the same to me, guys in grey military gear with (occasionally fluorescent) military guns, running around in circles before heading off on their next subterranean sortie. I think of how their gear is basically like my gear. I think about how all of our gear will be made irrelevant when the next DLC arrives. Then I think about all the other games I could be playing instead of this one.

I’ve certainly gotten something out of my time with The Division. Steam tells me I’ve played almost 80 hours, which is actually higher than I would have thought. If I had a regular crew of friends to play with, I’m sure I’d stick around longer. But I don’t, so here I am: half a dozen operations under my belt, interest fading fast.

I’ll be back from time to time to casually play an operation or two, and I’m sure I’ll check out the next DLC when it hits. But it sure is hard to get back on the Division train once you’ve fallen off.


  • So the grind, the ever moving gear score with each DLC, repeating the same missions over and over and over again is absolutely fine in Destiny, but in the Division it’s grindy and boring?
    If you reloaded up after your month off and your gear was still the best you could get with the highest score, would that have been better?
    “Questions I now have to ask upon getting a new piece of gear:” I think you’re missing the point, the complexity of the stats is at least in part, what keeps people interested. If it was as simple as what DPS the gun had, it would all be a little too simple wouldn’t it? You mentioned Diablo as being acceptable, but this works exactly the same. There is a bunch of stats that could render a good piece of armour worthy of scrapping even if on first pickup it looked promising.
    This article oozes in a predisposition to dislike the Division long before any new content is played. I see it quite a lot in fans of Destiny, a game that suffers from a lot of the same underlying issues as the Division, but people want a draw a side and dislike the other team just because they are the (perceived) competition.
    You’re absolutely entitled to your opinion, but is there not somebody else who doesn’t already dislike The Division that can report on new content? Surely the target audience here is primarily people who are still playing it, or is it for people to read and nod their head and say “see I knew it was shit, good article!”

    • Yeah – I haven’t played the Division, but whats described here are basically the reasons I won’t play any loot based games (like Diablo and Destiny). I don’t feel like they reward increasing skill so much as a willingness to engage in a skinner-box loop to improve loot. They have about as much entertainment value to me as the pokies.

    • I’ve played both (The Division and Destiny), loved both for a time and now bored of both.

      I think I enjoyed Destiny more due to the sci-fi setting and the variety in enemies and locations, plus the raids, say what you will about Destiny, but the raids were a fantastic source of both extreme frustration and fun.

      I wanted The Division to be the new Destiny for me, I wanted it to be that for the clan I play with, we all had such high hopes and on launch day there were 24 of the 26 people that were online at the time in the division.. a couple of weeks later and it was already a struggle to get a group of 4 together.

      • This was the same for me, Destiny had a much more interesting world. The reasons I stopped playing both was because I got sick of the grind/receptiveness, but I got so much more out of Destiny and I’m more likely to go back.

        • Yep – destiny while ostensibly the same sort of game, was more interesting and the raids were awesome!

    • You’re right, any loot based game has repetitive tasks to get better gear and the high level curve is always being pushed.

      However the way(s) you obtain that loot determines if the game feels like a grind or not. You can have two games with the same loot mechanics but the way it’s presented determines how fun it is to play.

      Take WoW – I played that for 4 years and was more than happy to repeat dungeons over and over even though the layout and mobs were the same each time and all that changed was a rotation of bosses…for some dungeons not even that. I still can’t point to what made it fun to keep repeating it over and over but it held my interest for the longest out of any game I’ve ever played.

      Then I go to The Division….found it to be so boring and repetitive that I stopped playing at around level 15 and haven’t gone back. The content just started to feel stale, the same story being retold in every section that I went to. The gear was always obtained the same way and just didn’t feel fun to get.

      I can’t point at what in The Division makes the grind or even just general progression feel boring and turn me away. All I know is that it didn’t feel fun to play but other games with the same general system can be fun.

      • I think it may be the lack of new environments in The Division.
        In WoW even though you’re doing the same thing, it feels “different” because of the different scenery.
        The Division has snowy New York, snowy New York inside and snowy New York underground

      • For me, it’s th weapons and equipment. Luke touched on it briefly but didn’t draw on it so much. Because the game is stuck adhering to reality, we get generic weapons and items without and flare.

        Putting a new camo on a gun just doesn’t carry the same feeling as finding a sword with a unique look and glow effect. It’s just bland…

    • …but is there not somebody else who doesn’t already dislike The Division that can report on new content?
      He’s previously played and is playing the expansion, I think it’s safe to say he is a fan of the game.

      • Not necessarily. We have a new program here at work that we have to run along side our existing one to see which we will sign to for the next 5 years and it essentially does the same as the old program. I really like the old program, I know it very well and think it does exactly as it needed too, but none the less I’ve had to invest a lot of hours in this new program and learn it front to back all the while reporting to my managers on how the software is going. I can tell you now, the reoccurring theme from my reports is that it isn’t as good as the old software we had and I continue to suggest that there is no need to switch. I have happily admitted to my managers that I have a negative bias towards the new program because I personally like the old one more and have also admitted that the new one is probably fine, but I prefer the old one. The point is, If it wasn’t that I had to use it for work, I wouldn’t.

        In my opinion (and it is JUST opinion because I don’t actually know), this article reads like Kirk was assigned to cover The Division and is dutifully doing so, but is writing it like I write about my works new software.

    • Honestly, Destiny is just a better game in several ways. The fundamental gameplay that makes up the core of the game is so much more tighter and more interesting than The Division. When I used to play The Division, I died so many times when it wasn’t my fault at all. I felt sometimes like I was fighting against the controller, rather than it being invisible, like in Destiny. Destiny is still the best shooter, mechanically, this generation.

      Then you have the setting, and this is probably the reason why The Division will never capture people like the writer or me for as long as Destiny has. When it comes down to it, you’re trapped by the fact that this game is a “realistic” game set in a real city. The weapons in Destiny spark your imagination, they look radically different, the behave in interesting ways. The locations are exciting and colourful, the enemies look different and behave differently. The Division has painted itself into a corner where they really can’t show you too much outside of what you’ve already seen without jumping the shark. The next shotgun is gonna look and behave roughly like the last one, the next enemy’s always gonna be a human dude in different clothes.

      Even the abilities, in Destiny, it’s rare that anything you do abilities wise won’t result in some sort of energy explosion. Supers are always awesome to watch and make you feel super powerful. In The Division, the supers are a ping outwards and a single coloured line shooting up from your head. Destiny, at least on a pure gameplay level, gives you reasons every 30 seconds to make you feel excited about playing, that’s why the grind seems more forgivable.

      People aren’t just saying The Division “sucks” because they are Destiny fanboys/fangirls, there are some fundamental reasons why Destiny, for all its flaws, is much more highly regarded. And you can just ignore those because you personally like The Division more (which is perfectly valid, of course).

      • I wasn’t actually saying 1 game was better than the other, in fact I said that I thought they both suffered from the same issues. What I found a little bit rich, was that a number of things were fine for 1 game to do, but not another. Things like gun designs, enemy appearance, scenery and all things pretty is very subjective, not everyone is going to like the restrains of sticking with earth and humans, not everyone likes sci-fi and space aliens and I made no comment in regards to the dreary look of the underground or any other visual part of the game. But to single things out like all the various stats on weapon/armour pieces, the repeating of missions over and over and the ever increasing gear score maximums, these are all things that can be used to describe Destiny, Diablo and The division (as well as many more) so to use them as reasoning for why the division is not worth playing, seems to me at least, like they are just convenient reasons to dislike.

        • I wasn’t actually saying 1 game was better than the other, in fact I said that I thought they both suffered from the same issues.

          Yeah, I know you weren’t saying that. I was the one saying one was better than the other.

          You’re missing the point about Sci-Fi settings. It isn’t in the subjective details, it’s in what Sci-Fi allows, and that’s variety. Every Sci-Fi narrative has its own rules and constraints, but the very nature of the genre means you can challenge and surprise the audience and bend or even break those rules when needed. Fantasy is much the same. This is why these are perfect for MMO, loot-based games. Because the main carrot on the stick of the grind is that you might get something new and exciting. The Division hobbled itself because the rules are too hard to break without breaking the setting.

          All the problems are the same in all these games, you’re right, and it’s often down to the setting and genre choice that makes these sins forgivable. It’s easy to forgive the game for not respecting your time when at the end of a grind is a bouncing colourful polygon that shoots into the air and contains a goddamn golden multi-rocket launcher that seeks enemies instead of a narrow beam of light giving you another generic assault rifle. I bet most people here can name several Destiny guns. I would argue only people still playing The Division could do the same.

          Destiny has so much excellent gameplay feedback in it that most people don’t even realise as well. Games like Hearthstone have the same, think about all the feedback (visual and audio) you receive from opening a new pack of cards. Those little details are what makes games like Destiny great, and The Division merely decent.

  • I have to agree as I’m just not feeling it. As a day one player with over 200 hours mostly playing PvE I’m kind of getting over the whole winter in New York feel and now that they want me to play underground — yeah, nah. I spent a lot of time underground in London travelling to and from work never seeing the sun, so all good. Maybe if they eventually open it up further into Central Park I would happily have a look. For me it’s back into (the much improved) Destiny to level up a couple of characters to 335 in readiness for RoI!

  • > Has Ubisoft removed all exploited weapons from the game?
    > No.
    > Division is still dead to me.

  • Started back up again on a fresh character last night after an absence of at least 6 months. Going to take a little while till I hit the new content…

  • I know precisely why I don’t mind grinding in Diablo – every legendary perk is interesting, and finding the right item can give an immediate and significant boost in power. Over the weekend, finding one particular legendary bumped my Crusader up 10 Grift levels. One set item for my Demon Hunter was the difference between struggling in T7 and speed-farming T9.

    In Destiny… I think I’ve hit the ceiling – have a character of each class at 335, two have 2-3 T12 loadouts each – so I’ve stopped grinding and only hop in for weekly challenges for fun.

  • If an amazing piece of loot dropsin a forest and there is no one in your party to hear you celebrate does it even matter. – old korean proverb

  • I played both Division and Destiny. Destiny I enjoyed more. But when I played the Division beta, I already felt it was kinda dull, but I bought it anyway because there was nothing else around at the time and my friends got it.

    I feel Destiny works better because of a more interesting setting. Also, if you took the annoying grind out of the game, it would still be fun. The different classes are fun to get a handle on, the different powers make for pretty different play styles.

    Division… the ultimates are kinda lame. The guns feel kinda lame. The setting is kinda dull. Where in Destiny I might have been excited to unlock a certain gun because it shoots laser lights, that sort of draw doesn’t exist in Division. If anything I feel the Tom Clancy license hurts it. Division could have been more fun with zombies or something. It could have been more fun if it was Independence Day and aliens were The open world doesn’t even feel necessary. If anything, it would have been improved if it just had a straight forward list of numbered missions that were more tightly curated as different experiences. The core gameplay experience just isn’t that exciting. A game can’t hang on a loot system alone.

  • Good comments which some sum up why I haven’t even gone near The Division after I tried the beta… I don’t want my escape to be in a dreary world, shooting (bad?) people while I go about the daily grind of fixing comms, finding food, getting medical attention…I do enough of that shit IRL.

    Now if the division was post-apocolyptic, say Independence Day, with Aliens and cool weapons… 🙂 Don’t mind the grind as I’m buried in Warframe, but in there I get to wear cool suits and use weapons that shoot all kinds of nasty stuff…including bullets!

  • I’ve tried to figure out why I’ve been happier to grind in games like Diablo III and Destiny in the past, but am less interested in grinding in The Division. I think its the setting in my opinion, fantasy settings can pull it off a bit better then a more realistic setting.

  • The Division will die off quickly because with this particular online experience, there is an overwhelming feeling that there’s so many people so far ahead of you already, that have everything and have done everything, and you’ll never close the gap to them. And they’ll have quit the game by the time you caught up, even if you did.
    GTAO has this problem but Rockstar found ways to manage the issue, which I will not give away.

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