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The Division delivers another powerhouse upgrade for Xbox One X

A huge resolution boost over PS4 Pro with other improvements too.

The Division was a controversial release back in 2016. On the one hand, there were claims of a downgrade from its initial reveal trailer, but on the other, Ubisoft Massive still showcased some beautiful technology in the final game. In fact, booting it up today on Xbox One X - now updated with an enhanced 4K patch - it's striking how vast the Snowdrop's engine feature set actually is. Volumetric fog effects, real-time reflections, object physics and parallax occlusion maps help anchor this post-apocalypse Manhattan as something real and believable. The terrain isn't just a wasteland of derelict cars either. Factoring in the beautiful snow particle effects and lighting, there's a vibrancy to the map that dodges the grittiness of most apocalyptic shooters. Two years on, The Division still holds up - and it's a real treat on Xbox One X.

As of patch 1.8.1, Ubisoft Massive gives the game a substantial resolution boost on the new Microsoft machine, along with a suite of minor visual extras that all combine to make this great 4K demo material. The game is something of a tricky one to firmly pin down in image quality, with temporal anti-aliasing, chromatic aberration and a dynamic resolution in play on every console, from PS4, PS4 Pro and even Xbox One and X, but our final numbers are fascinating nonetheless, with the new Microsoft console really flexing its muscles.

But first, let's backtrack a little. PS4 Pro already has its own enhanced patch to support ultra HD TVs - an update we missed when it first dropped - but it doesn't hit the lofty heights of a full, native 4K resolution. In fact, the highest number we picked up in pixel counts is 3200x1800 while indoors, with a dynamic scaler letting it flex downwards at stress points. And although 1800p is the upper bounds of the scaling range, there is a catch. Like all of the console versions, the Snowdrop engine reconstructs the image while movement is static, to give the impression of a true 4K. It's convincing as long as you stay still, but once we step forward, the illusion breaks and resolution drops.

3072x1728 - an 80 per cent scale on each axis - comes up as a regular number while roaming the streets, which isn't bad at all, though intense shoot-outs can take that down to as low as 2458x1382. Ultimately, we're not getting a 'true' 4K image as such, and image quality falters when stacked up against Xbox One X in screenshot or video comparisons. However, the game's temporal anti-aliasing solution is impressive, and PS4 Pro still pushes a good-looking picture that's a decent upgrade over the base console's full HD output.

Here's our full 4K breakdown of The Division's new Xbox One X upgrade.

By contrast, while not an absolutely perfect, pristine ultra HD presentation, Ubisoft Massive's efforts on Xbox One X are genuinely impressive, with the X patch hitting the full 3840x2160 at the upper bounds. Yes, dynamic resolution scaling is in place, but 2160p is held for the majority of gameplay. Across 30 test shots in stress areas similar to our PS4 Pro sampling, only one shot actually showed anything lower - 88 per cent of full 4K at 3392x1908. It's a remarkable showing for the Xbox One X compared against PS4 Pro, but it's the divide against the standard Xbox One that's truly remarkable - the entry level machine targeting a dynamic 1080p with far less consistency in its overall results.

Xbox One X's hardware is not only up to the task in delivering a generally consistent native 4K, but it comes with a few visual upgrades too. Ubisoft Massive's patch notes list three extras here: improved reflections, screen-space shadows, and upgraded object details. These aren't especially noticeable in the heat of play and even in head-to-heads, it takes some close zoom-ins to spot what's actually improved. However, compared to Xbox One, these are all genuine enhancements, and the upgrades even supersede PS4 Pro quality levels too, as the comparison zoomer on this page demonstrates.

But curiously, there's more to The Division's upgrade than Ubisoft lets on. For example, textures are actually improved on Xbox One X in spots. It's pretty widespread, though again, more obvious on smaller objects like desks or collapsed newspaper stands. The fact is that in some cases, a higher quality art asset never loads on PS4 Pro, while X does indeed resolve improved textures, along with an upgrade in anisotropic filtering across the ground too.

Xbox OnePlayStation 4 ProXbox One X
The headline for Xbox One X is its ability to hit and hold a native 3840x2160 consistently - with a dynamic res setup letting it occasionally dip under. PS4 Pro by comparison renders this scene at 3072x1728 on average, and even falls as far as in 2458x1382 shootouts.
Xbox OnePlayStation 4 ProXbox One X
Object detail is enhanced too. Note the rounder definition on the vase on left, next to the lower-poly Xbox One and PS4 Pro rendition of the model.
Xbox OnePlayStation 4 ProXbox One X
Reflection detail sees improvements over PS4 Pro too, with Xbox One X rendering more lights across the pavement here.
Xbox OnePlayStation 4 ProXbox One X
Ambient occlusion is also reliant on the same technique between PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. However, Microsoft's machine cleans up the result with less banding and noise in motion - as noticed near the table (bottom).
Xbox OnePlayStation 4 ProXbox One X
A purely static shot. PS4 Pro's image is reconstructed to give the impression of a 4K image - matching Xbox One X. - meaning you get one unique stair-step for each pixel. Also note the improved texture quality on Xbox One X across the tipped newspaper stand on right.
Xbox OnePlayStation 4 ProXbox One X
Texture filtering also gets a boost with this patch, in line with most Xbox One X enhanced patches.

In terms of performance, this is actually an area that sees little improvement: The Division is a 30fps game on all consoles - including the base Xbox One - and it's hard-pressed to drop from that, regardless of the system you're playing on. The logic behind the renderer is simple: if it's stressed by heavy effects work or too many enemies, it drops resolution - not performance. A standard Xbox One could show screen-tear and dropped frame in rare spots, like the character creation screen, but in gameplay it's very solid. The same goes for Xbox One X; even rendering at 4K, the game actually only shows a drop to 25fps in the creation tool at the start of play. The readout is miraculously identical to the base model, with the same adaptive v-sync.

For actual gameplay though, Xbox One X delivers a near-faultless 30fps line in our tools, with only the occasional torn frame at the top of the display - even in big shootouts. In comparison with PS4 Pro, the two stick to that performance level with only the occasional blip along the road. Surprisingly, the only difference between the two is that Microsoft's consoles invoke screen-tear whereas PS4 Pro largely avoids it - seemingly sticking to a full v-sync.

Ultimately, what's delivered here is a highly impressive 4K rendition of The Division for Xbox One X users, with a range of genuine enhancements and no noticeable compromises. The work here holds up handsomely against PS4 Pro and provides a vast improvement over standard Xbox hardware. The lack of a 1080p-focused performance mode is perhaps a little disappointing, but without an inkling of how CPU-heavy The Division is, it's difficult to criticise the developer for this omission. In the wake of quality Xbox One X upgrades such as Ghost Recon Wildlands, Far Cry 5 and For Honor, Ubisoft Massive's work on The Division is very impressive - and it's as good an excuse as any for revisiting the game.

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About the author

Thomas Morgan

Thomas Morgan

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry  |  cataferal

32-bit era nostalgic and gadget enthusiast Tom has been writing for Eurogamer and Digital Foundry since 2011. His favourite games include Gitaroo Man, F-Zero GX and StarCraft 2.


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