Last Stand is the last thing The Division needs right now

It’s nearly been a year since I first reviewed The Division, and while I had fun, its attempt to tap into Diablo’s and Destiny’s endlessly replayable loot loop was misdirected and tiring. New gear was slow to acquire, characters looked the same between max and min levels, and the open world was an empty mob-killing chore hell. 

Things started looking up with patch. 1.4. The introduction of World Tiers made the entire game replayable on harder difficulties, extending the quest for better gear while making loot drop like candy at the tipped over candy store. But it was still the same grind, just longer and kinder. 

With the Last Stand expansion and patch 1.6, Ubisoft is making a big push to diversify The Division with enough hooks to keep everyone around. But the overwhelming sentiment within the community, and from what I gathered after spending another a few more hours in the public test server (PTS), is that before Last Stand or the Dark Zone or any new feature can be fun, some huge imbalances in the stat, skills, and loot systems need to be addressed as soon as possible. 

Last Stand’s first stand

As the final mode coming to The Division as part of the season pass, Last Stand has the impossible task of pleasing everyone. It won’t. For some, PvP is alienating from the start, and in a game in dire need of new zones, enemy types, and mission design, I feel it too. As a response to the Dark Zone’s impromptu free-for-all encounters, Last Stand’s team-based instanced PvP could be a direct way for players to min-max creative builds and test team compositions—that is, with enough time to bake in the PTS.

Last Stand pits teams of eight against one another on a repurposed chunk of the Dark Zone where the goal is to capture and hold as many terminals as possible. The team that holds more terminals builds up their score quicker, and wins the game. But a few wrinkles have been thrown in to mix things up. Enemy mobs still roam, and players can take them out to earn a currency used during the match to build defenses, such as turrets to protect a spawn point or scanners that detect enemy movement in a designated area. And gear is normalized, meaning item levels even out to make things as fair as possible.

The problem is, what should play like a straightforward cover shooter capture point mode doesn’t at all. Check out this snippet from YouTuber MarcoStyle’s excellent video about the patch. Cover is only a means to pump up numbers, not hide from direct enemy fire.

See the whole video here. MarcoStyle breaks down his issues with 1.6 in detail.

His team was able to lock down the opposing team’s spawn point using a lethal combination of Smart Cover (a damage and defense buff), stat bonuses that give a 90 percent boost in all damage resilience, and an AoE heal on a five-second cooldown. Despite item levels evening out from normalization, stat bonuses still stack, and so too do cooldowns on abilities and the amount of damage players with the right gear take from any brand of assault.

What’s the use of tactical stop-and-pop maneuvering if damage resilience makes anything but emptying a few magazines at point blank viable?

The result is a messy stew of ability spamming and forced encounters in the open. What’s the use of tactical stop-and-pop maneuvering if damage resilience makes anything but emptying a few magazines at point blank viable?  

Last Stand is an interesting mode on paper, but extrapolating gear primarily designed against AI mobs and intentionally skewed encounters in the Dark Zone isn’t going to make a smooth transition into standardized, focused PvP competition. Abilities like Smart Cover stacked with damage resilience gear bonuses weren’t built to defend against teams of eight equally capable human opponents—they were built to handle swarms of dopey AI mobs. Last Stand, which isn’t even available until you hit the level cap, attracts experienced players looking to tweak builds for peak performance. Unless something is done to focus the skill ceiling on pointing and shooting rather than reading Excel spreadsheets, it’ll be exploited.

Keep in mind, this is all on the public test server, so changes could drop at any moment, and in the official release things might work perfectly.

Mode a la mode

But even if Ubisoft cracks the code and nails a perfect balance that makes developing a competitive PvE mode inside a larger PvE casing easy-peasy, players are still unhappy that there hasn’t been a larger focus on building out more zones and adding more missions.

Just a few recent popular posts on The Division's subreddit. Hover over and click pause to read, or check out the front page yourself. 

In Year One of The Division, its identity hasn’t solidified at all. The Underground DLC sprinkled new missions and loot throughout an unremarkable setting, but the Survival DLC delivered an entirely new game mode. It’s been well received, but as another appendage to nurture, Ubisoft might be spreading itself too thin—extra thin with Last Stand, another separate mode to bottle feed. 

Putting out mode after mode doesn’t seem sustainable or a great way to build a strong player base, but it sure is fascinating. As baffling as the update cycle has been, I hope to see another year or three out of The Division. I enjoy it despite its confusion. Throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks takes time in game development, but surely something will dry up and stay.