has never been an outright mess, but its identity and future have blurred since launch due to a shallow, imbalanced end game and continual cheating problems in the PvP Dark Zone. Thankfully, Ubisoft took note and delayed its next two expansions in order to focus on “improving the core gameplay experience.”
And so the Public Test Server was born. Now available to existing owners of The Division on PC, the PTS is test-driving update 1.4 in three stages (opens in new tab). Week one is focused on testing the World Tier progression and doesn’t allow players to roll in their own characters yet, starting players off with a piping hot level 30 agent. To get an idea of what’s in store for the future of The Division, I gave the PTS a whirl. It’s a faster, more rewarding experience overall, but The Division is still stuck with a sterile open world and loot that wouldn’t make the main rack in a rural Goodwill (opens in new tab).
A whole new world (tier)
The World Tier system is a new way to divvy up difficulty, renew overworld challenges, and reward players in a consistent, structured way. At level 30 you can pick a new World Tier based on your current item level, which scales the difficulty of enemies in all activities accordingly. Except this time around, the time it takes to kill enemies has been decreased significantly.
In a smart move, Ubisoft has lowered the max item level to 229, which means players with weaker gear won’t need to grind out the best item sets to feel viable in The Division’s greatest challenges.
Before the update, people playing with the minimum required gear level for endgame missions could technically make a dent in enemy health bars, but compared to a min-maxed build with the best item set in the game, they would do exponentially less damage. The Division Zone breaks it all down (opens in new tab) in an excellent, graph-heavy blog post. Point is, extreme cases of bullet-sponginess are no longer a thing and the gap between difficulty levels is no longer a canyon, but a crack in the sidewalk.
Tier 1: enemy lvl 30, gear score rewards 163
Tier 2: enemy lvl 31, gear score rewards 182
Tier 3: enemy lvl 32, gear score rewards 204
Tier 4: enemy lvl 33, gear score rewards 229
Best of all, the changes make the overworld meaningful again. Before, overworld zones were stuck at their respective level caps, but world tiers make basic mobs a challenge again. Missions also reset with the higher difficulty in mind, but now you can ignore them completely and still progress if that’s your jam. And you can switch world tiers on a whim. Play on a higher world tier for more challenge and better loot or just breeze through a lower level tier for fun. Convenient.
By closing the distance between the viability of min-max and casual players, The Division also feels like a shooter again. Great loot will still buff characters in gratifying ways—a higher DPS, more perks, quicker skill cooldowns—but the time it takes to kill an enemy, no matter what difficulty, is much quicker across the board. Tell your ammo the good news.
Loot to the party
World Tiers make me feel like I’m working towards a larger goal—the big leagues—rather than individual difficulties on individual missions. Reaching a new tier is it’s own accolade. Problem is, you’re playing the same missions and wandering the same places, just at a higher difficulty. Expansions widen the pool of repeated encounters to ease the monotony, but The Division’s world remains a drab, empty, unchanging setting for a loot-based game.
Good thing loot drops by the bucketful (see ) to assuage the boredom a bit. OK, so it doesn’t quite explode from enemies and there’s no Treasure Goblin realm, but there’s more of it, and most of it is useful. New weapons and gear dropped generously, even from low-level mobs I ran into wandering the city. Without meaning to, I upgraded all of my gear within an hour of sprinting through icy roads with no real goal in mind. No more throwing myself at the same daily challenges with strangers just for a chance at better loot. Still, I’ve been through this version of Manhattan many times before. There are cars and high-fidelity trash bags and pooping dogs and not much else. Finding a powerful shotgun won’t change that.
If the basic systems are enough to keep you happily rolling through The Division’s loot cycle, then the changes in 1.4 will probably make your time spent more rewarding and enjoyable minute to minute. It’s a definite course correction for The Division, but because the level design is static and bleak, the smoother slope may not be enough to curb the boredom of some players, including myself. A few hours in and I’m already tired of the same snowy streets and hooded crooks. The Division’s premise is at odds with itself: a cover shooter that leans toward realism wrapped in outlandish RPG trappings. It might be fun, but I wonder if it can grow and experiment with the same freedom a similar game with a wackier sci-fi or fantasy premise might. Even so, I’m curious to see it through.