It's been a while, New York. About three months in fact. Three months since Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment surprised an audience turned cynical by Watch Dogs, The Crew, Assassin's Creed Syndicate and anything else with a watchtower to climb. The Swedish studio delivered a coherent and compelling 'shared world shooter; a game that matched Ubi's obsession with map-littering busy work with an infectious loot grind and deceptively complex character building. Not to mention the genuinely innovative combination of PVE and PVP, The Dark Zone.
I was hoping to write a nice big impressions piece today of what it's like to play Falcon Lost, The Division's first Incursion that was added as part of its most significant update yet. What a lovely excuse to return to New York I thought as I not-so-selflessly set an evening aside to shoot things in the face in the hope of a better set of kneepads. After a night of frustration, it hasn't quite turned out like that.
Perhaps one of the more remarkable things about The Divison's launch is how there wasn't that much to remark upon. That queuing bug that saw players form an orderly line behind a laptop was an almost charming blot on an otherwise smooth release, suggesting Ubisoft has done much to address the issues that beset the launch of something like Assassin's Creed Syndicate.
The first night of The Division's big update felt like a return to the good old disorderly days, though. Three hard crashes, two server crashes and a glitch that meant I spent the first two hours of the evening standing around starting areas for daily missions waiting in vain for them to trigger wasn't quite the return to New York I was hoping for, and I'm not alone in having trouble, with some players coming up against more serious issues than that.
It's been just over a week since The Division's launch, and it's been a successful start for Ubisoft's online RPG so far - week one sales for the game saw it topple Destiny as the biggest new IP launch, with it taking in some $330 million in just five days. With around 50 hours on the clock, I'm still having fun rolling around an abandoned New York, too, mopping up side missions while dipping in and out of the dailies in a slow and steady effort to build a load-out of shiny yellow high-end gear in preparation for the incoming Incursions, The Division's take on MMO raids.
In Play is a column taking a weekly sideways look at new game releases.
Finally released into the wild after two beta tests, The Division fully opens its incredibly detailed recreation of New York City to the masses. Besides a few issues, the game seems to be holding up well. Online connections have been consistently stable for us, while in terms of all-round console performance, there's little to separate the finished game from the solid beta code we sampled a short while ago. Ubisoft has delivered another technically sound title with The Division on consoles, and both platforms offer smooth gameplay and impressive visuals that really immerse you in the deserted streets and buildings of post-outbreak Manhattan.
In terms of resolution, we're on familiar ground. PS4 features a solid native 1080p presentation throughout, while on Xbox One dynamic resolution scaling is in effect. Indoor areas and less demanding scenes see the game output natively in 1080p - just like PS4 - but as we move into outdoor areas and more detailed locations, we see the pixel density take a small hit, with 1792x1008 and 1728x972 framebuffers appearing. The knock-on effect is that street signs and fine details on distant objects appear a little softer on Microsoft's console - but it's a minor quibble, and most of the time the two versions look extremely close during gameplay. The difference between the two is more visibly felt when disabling the chromatic aberration filter, due to the increase in sharpness and clarity doing so provides.
Ubisoft has done a good job maintaining parity between the consoles in the majority of key areas. Anti-aliasing appears to be provided by SMAA, with a temporal component adding an extra layer of coverage to the presentation; as such, image quality remains smooth and mostly free from artefacts. The core art and effects work are also a match. Streaming is one area that can be a touch inconsistent, though, with Xbox One sometimes being a fraction slower to load in high-quality assets in some scenes. However, during gameplay, neither platform gains a visible advantage for extended periods, with one console sometimes displaying mip-transitions a little faster, and vice versa. Texture and shadow pop-up are visible across both consoles as we slowly traverse the densely detailed city streets.
Editor's note: This is an early impressions piece based on our first two days playing The Division. We're looking to have our full review up early next week.
The Division's recent beta impressed us on a visual level on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, particularly in terms of its lighting, effects work and solid performance - but it's on PC where Ubisoft Massive's technology really comes to the fore. You're going to need top-tier hardware to get the most out of the game at 60fps, but initial impressions suggest that there's enough scalability in the engine to get a good experience across a range of hardware.
We had some interesting feedback to our initial article on The Division beta, which concluded earlier today. Pixel-counts pegged the Xbox One version of the game on par with the PS4 offering at full 1080p, yet many noted that image quality seemed noticeably softer in motion, even when both versions were set to the same image sharpness setting. Ubisoft's decision to extend the beta for a further 24 hours gave us a chance to revisit the game and after further analysis, what seems clear is that a dynamic resolution scaler is in effect on the Microsoft platform.
There's 90 seconds until the extraction is complete and I'm eyeing the clock. I'm standing next to a guy I met up with a few blocks back. He was pinned down by looters. We finished them off together and exchanged jumping jack emotes, then headed off to the extraction point to secure our reward.
Hello again! We're back with the second episode of our video games podcast and this time it's all about XCOM 2. Or at least, it really should have been. After awarding Firaxis' latest a big golden badge yesterday, I assumed I'd have free reign to just talk about that for upwards of an hour, but, unfortunately, there were some other people on the podcast too.
The Division's beta may not match its spectacular E3 2013 demo point-for-point - back then a mascot for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One's brimming potential - but what we have today still outshines most current-gen titles in its technical spec. A post-pandemic New York sets the stage for some of the best lighting seen on console, harnessing plumes of volumetric fog, high quality screen-space reflections, and wind-affected particles. Atmosphere is king, and the rich, snow-battered look of its streets is a real showcase for the new Snowdrop engine.
But where precisely is the advantage on the console front, if any? We've dug deep into both PS4 and Xbox One betas, and ultimately the answer to this lies in the game's performance, rather than visuals. Both are capped at 30fps, and each holds strong at this number around Manhattan's most hotly-contested zones. Main story missions run without a hitch on PS4, while "go to X and defeat Y" style side-missions run equally well - on Sony's machine we encounter no spikes in the target 33.3ms render time needed to hit this frame-rate.
Xbox One is almost as solid too, with just minor issues. You get a near-locked 30fps, but in blowing the front doors during the Madison Field Hospital main mission, it shows a 28fps lurch downward not seen on the rival console. An adaptive v-sync is revealed at this point, and with screen-tear kicking in for a block of frames on our graph. But this is a one-off, and in scouring The Division for any other hits to performance on this machine, all side-missions come out at a flawless 30fps, and it's only a later shootout in a diner that flags a second instance of a performance drop.
We've told you what you're supposed to do in The Division.
Ubisoft and Malmo-based developer Massive's ambitious, MMO-ish The Division is finally going to be in our hands in the coming days thanks to a closed beta that's running throughout the weekend on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. That glitzy reveal at E3 2013 seems so long ago, and as you prep yourself to play here's all you need to know to get up and running.
First up, you might want to know a little about what The Division actually is. Put simply it's Ubisoft's big open world RPG shooter - though if that concept's a little too unwieldy to grasp, think along the lines of Destiny in a seamless open world with a slightly stronger emphasis on the role-playing side of things, with nice shiny tech trees to work your way through and lots of oh-so-Clancy gadgets to toy with. Oh, and there's a lot more snow, too. You can read about what we made of it during a recent hands-on session, have a look at some quick gameplay impressions or, you know, play the beta that's landing this week. Speaking of which...
When does The Division beta start?
So, what is it you do in The Division? Put in the simplest possible terms, you pad around its gloriously authentic, seamless and recently abandoned New York and you shoot things while working to push the numbers up; watch those digits that float out of the enemy's head shoot skywards, keep your fingers crossed that at the end of it all there'll be a nice new gun that can make even bigger numbers possible and, hey, why not hold out for a nice new hat as well? It's not that hard to get a handle on it after all. You might even have played something just like it not too long ago.
Ubisoft has announced, on the Microsoft E3 stage, that Xbox One will get an exclusive beta for The Division this December.
Massive Entertainment's co-operative online shooter was shown in a brand new trailer. It looked graphically more down to earth than a few years ago.
Ubisoft's US boss Laurent Detoc also announced that Xbox 360 games Rainbow Six: Vegas and Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 will be given for free with Rainbow Six: Siege on Xbox One. This will be achievable via the just-announced native Xbox One backwards compatibility. Siege launches 13th October.
We're venturing into the Dark Zone - the online PVP section of the map found in Tom Clancy's The Division - which will launch on 8th March 2016.
Following the widely perceived Watch Dogs downgrade from its spectacular E3 2012 reveal to its eventual release last month, there's been much attention on Ubisoft's wider line-up - and whether, following its similarly spectacular reveal at last year's show, The Division will follow the same trajectory. A first look proper, away from the blinding testosterone levels of an E3 conference, gives something of a mixed answer.
We've had our say already, and typically we were probably well wide of the mark, so it's now your turn to let us know what games you're looking forward to over the next 12 months. Thanks to all who voted (but no thanks to whoever suggested Pong, and to the handful of people who put forward Half-Life 3, well... I'm sorry). The top 10 are presented in reverse order below - and it was incredibly tight out at the front, with the top result beating out the runner-up by only a couple of votes. We've also included some of your comments, although since the submission form was anonymous we can't say exactly who made which point. Sorry about that - if you feel particularly proprietorial about one of your insights that we've highlighted, tell the world in the comments. Onward!
Hello Eurogamers! We picked you in the internet Secret Santa draw (shh), so we got you this selection of the week's videos on Outside Xbox. We hope you like it, it was this or socks.
Petter Mannerfelt and Nicklas Cederström from Massive Entertainment sat in a dark corner of Ubisoft's E3 stand, wincing. The room was weird: a prefab triangular closet with a few chairs, no lighting and no roof, it was at once secluded and under constant, bone-shaking sonic bombardment from the synthesised thump and crash of trailers and Just Dance routines roaring out of the loudest sound system on the show floor. In the suite next door, Massive's game The Division was being demonstrated to showgoers through wireless headsets. It was the only way to be heard. Cederström said that after a day talking to reporters on the stand, their throats would be so raw they'd have to communicate with each other using hand gestures.
Showcased playing live on PlayStation 4 as the zinger to Ubisoft's otherwise trailer-strewn conference, The Division reinvigorates our expectations of next-gen gaming. With its always online, post-pandemic take on New York City, it features a slew of advanced effects-work and physics that are hard to believe could be possible on current console technology. It's the technical pin-up of the moment, taking the mantle previously held by Ubisoft's own Watch Dogs (and the now sadly defunct Star Wars 1313 project) as indicators of what could be achieved with exclusive development on PS4 and Xbox One.
The bombastic E3 show floor was packed with open-world games.