2016’s in full swing, and the rise of the triple-A blockbusters (along with their budgets) continues. We’ve been here before though, and shouldn’t get led down the garden path that publishers are laying out for us.
Cast your mind back a couple of years to the forthcoming release of Watch Dogs, by Ubisoft. Ubi promised it would sizzle your sausages, be the best game in living memory, and quite possibly impregnate your girlfriend if she even as much as looked at the box art. Instead, what was actually delivered was a slightly watered-down (at least visually) experience with less impactful “connected multiplayer” than had been promised, as well as a fairly ordinary single-player campaign. This is not me bashing on Watch Dogs either.
I genuinely enjoyed it and thought the underlying premise of the game’s mechanics was solid – if sometimes unspectacular. My issue was Ubisoft’s marketing for it, which for many wrote checks that the game ultimately could not cash. This isn’t the developers’ fault but is 100% on the publisher. They market and publicize the game, essentially “selling it” to gamers using the currency of interest before you can use the currency of money.
With today’s gaming budgets running into literally tens of millions of dollars in some cases, publishers need these costs to be recouped. One of the ways they do this is by talking up a game to drum up pre-orders, knowing that the game they are selling is not the same game that you will be buying. Aliens: Colonial
Latrines Marines is a particularly extreme example of this, with features simply cut from the title due to time and money constraints. I would certainly argue that Watch Dogs was nowhere near this level of deception; Ubisoft absolutely talked up Watch Dogs and in the end, whilst the game was good, it was not the knockout spectacular that many were hoping for; the current Metacritic range of 77-80 for Watch Dogs across all formats should be enough evidence of this.
Enter The Division.
If anything, the hype train on this has been running for even longer than Watch Dogs‘, with its protracted development cycle that originally saw the game wow audiences at E3 in 2013. Release was originally planned for late 2014, which later slipped to 2015…and now set for March 8th of 2016. These delays have meant that Ubisoft has had to keep the game in our collective gaming consciousness for longer than normal. We’ve seen teasers, trailers, hands-on demos, the addition of a tablet mode for mobile gamers, the removal of said tablet mode (since it would apparently have made the game “imbalanced”), and several “leaks” of beta gameplay from late last year. All of that in an effort to get you to drop $60 on the Newest And Shiniest.
I am trying to keep things in perspective myself. Like everyone else, I was blown away by The Division‘s reveal at E3 in 2013. And whilst I’m still very interested in it, my interest has waned a little over the years since other games have entered and left my areas of interest. Still though, if Ubisoft can deliver, this does look like a game that will have more lasting appeal than something like Titanfall – another game which promised the Earth and under-delivered. Quasi-MMOs seem to be very hot right now (see no further than Destiny) as you can make a game appear to be bigger than it really is without needing the larger infrastructure and maintenance that an MMO requires.
Is The Division going to be Brink, Watch Dogs, Titanfall, Destiny, or somewhere in-between? I can’t answer that. All I can say is that the game looks good, which after so many delays should be the least of what we’re getting. Just remember to keep your expectations realistic. Like your college exams, try to ignore the very best and very worst things you see and hear and try to instead evaluate the prevailing opinion. That $60 in your wallet will thank you – regardless of whether you wind up buying The Division or not.