Have you ever played a sequel to a game involving someone or something super-powered, that begins by removing all of the cool stuff you earned in the last game, and writes it off as “oh shit, dude, you lost your powers”? It’s annoying, right? You’ve invested upwards of twenty hours in a character, loved the game, and been sucked into the hype for the new one, only to be met with a stupid reason for your character to be a clean slate, and have to earn back everything you already had.
Thankfully it happens less nowadays, developers are smarter (and so is the audience), and it’s rarely accepted for a reason to be “just because”. But the Survival expansion for The Division does exactly this, only its framing is a sectioned off separate game mode, which, yes, is about survival.
And it shouldn’t work. According to the game log, I’ve put more than 24 actual real, human hours into The Division – or at least that’s as much as I’m willing to admit, and is, y’know, a full Earth day – and, probably, so have you. A full fucking day of playing a Random-Number-Generator-Role-Playing-Shooter-Game; killing things, collecting resources, getting new gear, guns, clothes (I have a Christmas beanie right now because why wouldn’t I), and Survival asks you to put that in the bin and start again.
Oh, and it’s brilliant.
I never thought of The Division as a survival game before. The awkward dichotomy between narrative and gameplay that asks you to kill hundreds of people who are maybe bad people, but could also just be repeat offenders who shoplifted one too many times, whilst also going up against people who straight up went insane after the virus hit and decided to cleanse the streets with flame throwers and the murder of innocents. Jesus, The Division is a weird game.
But when you think about it, it’s one hundred percent a survival game. The weather is brutal, people are dying, and you’re fighting back against The Bad Guys to take back Manhattan and save it for the public.
Already a massive game, the trouble with The Division is that it was incredibly lacking in the end-game. Sure, you can jump into the Dark Zone and indulge in some toe-to-toe PvP (which at times feels almost Dark Souls-like in the way it can end up with players turning on one another) but the new patch adds reason to play on.
Aside the standard balance changes, bug fixes, and the things every patch brings, version 1.5 also brings a higher maximum gear score (the thing you chase after hitting the level cap; think Destiny’s light level), named gear, a new world tier (allowing for even higher level PvE battles), higher level enemies NPCs, more items – and it just makes for a more complete feeling game, with plenty to do (though there’s still room for more) when you finish the reasonably long campaign.
But the crowning achievement of the latest update, is this second paid expansion pack, where you’re off to retrieve anti-virus in full-on storm conditions, only en-route you’re hit by a billboard which smashes your helicopter out of the skies, which leaves you alone and without gear… and apparently minus clothing under your hazmat suit. I told you it was weird.
Waking (mysteriously, I might add) in a warm room that’s been cleared out save for some instructional paperwork, with only a handgun and the guidance on how to survive, there’s an odd excitement about it feeling so different. You’ve lost that gear you spend so long collecting, you’ve lost your abilities, and so the focus shifts immediately from sifting through menus to organise your gear and maximise your damage output, because now, those health pickups that are buffs in the main story are actually life savers.
You’re hurt, you see. You’re failing. You need to take pills to stave off the virus, only in Survival, the effect lessens over time as your dependence grows, so you’ll need to find more. Lots more. You need to find materials so you can craft clothes to stay alive, or stand by a fire to stop hypothermia, because if you stay outside for too long you will start to freeze, and drop to your knees, in a down-but-not-out state, hoping someone will happen upon you and pick you up.
With sessions lasting a few hours, and a brutally tough difficulty right away, everyone is on a level playing field again. If you’ve spent an hour foraging, you might have better gear, but the chances are you’re all at around the same point, give or take, and you’re all fighting the same harsh weather conditions. For anyone even remotely bored of the main campaign, Survival offers a repeatable, almost rogue-like version of The Division to dive into over and over again, each time with a clean slate. The carrot on the stick, of course, is that by successfully gathering supplies and extracting in the Dark Zone you get good stuff for that world you’ve already spent so many hours deep inside.
Given that there’s a PvP or PvE mode on offer (it’s 24-player, for those keeping count), you can choose to be less aggro if you want. I preferred the idea of PvE, my theory being that if hostile combat only came from the enemy AI, there might be an “us against the world” ideal, and people would band together. But I was so, so wrong. The first time through Survival, I got into a gunfight with some AI enemies. Still with a handgun, I wiped them out, only to realise I was freezing to death. Running around like a headless chicken, I fell to my knees, crying out for aid. Some random internet chap ran past me, ignoring me. “He can’t have seen me”, I think, because the weather conditions have caused reduced visibility, “but I can still see him”. I crawled to him on my hands and knees. Now at his feet, he watched me expire, then ran off.
“But wait”, my internal monologue exclaims, “he’s coming back! I can still be brought back!”
He took all my gear and fucked off.
You’re alright, The Division. You’re alright, and now I want to play you again, finally.