Blimey it’s been a busy week for my darling Game of the Year 2016, The Division. Not only did it see the launch of the (honestly kind of disappointing) expansion, Last Stand, it’s also been hit by the 1.6 patch. While Last Stand is a paid-for DLC, 1.6 is a free update sent to all players.
Compared to the lightweight previous patch, 1.6 is one of the most expansive updates the game’s ever had. New areas, difficulty modes, and gear tweaks all change The Division massively and, overall, for the better. There are a few areas where I’m concerned, but this hefty dollop of Division is still impressive.
The biggest addition are three new areas of the Dark Zone player-vs-player-vs-environment area. Dubbed Dark Zone North, the new areas are much more densely packed than the Dark Zone we’ve been exploring since launch. The new Landmarks are huge, detailed, and most importantly can feature waves of enemies and multiple bosses to contend with. It’s a nice change of pace over the single named enemy and handful of grunts found in other areas.
Some of the most visually stunning areas of the whole game can be found in DZ North – contaminated rubbish piling up, abandoned theatres and opera halls, ratruns of tunnels underground and sprawling labyrinths on the rooftops, exploring and finding cool stuff happens much more often. There are a few areas that could do with some retooling, predominantly a certain extraction point that is a frustrating haven for ambushing rogue agents, but Dark Zone North has some of the best locations found in the whole game to date.
Another newcomer to the Dark Zone are Contamination Events. Every hour, the contamination levels of certain underground spots will skyrocket way beyond anything any agent is equipped to deal with. For a while these areas will be entirely inaccessible, but as the levels drop back down (to a level that can still kill any player, mind), they will become populated with incredibly powerful Cleaner enemies that need wiping out. In the few I’ve been around to take part in, I’ve had to contend with multiple named bosses while monitoring my mask’s decontamination level.
The idea behind them is to encourage team play over the gank-fest that is the rest of the Dark Zone. Some players focus on the enemies while others supply enough healing the counteract the constant drain caused by contamination. In practice, it more often turns into solo players dodge-rolling their way out of the area, waiting for their health to recharge, and diving back in for another stab. The strong enemies are fun to fight (Cleaners have lots of explosive weak spots, which is fab), but the disease mechanic saps the enjoyment out of a big, meaty fight.
To make all the new Dark Zone goodies even more worthwhile, the speed at which you gain Dark Zone rank has also been hugely increased. In the space of 45 minutes I went from 59 to 64, which would’ve taken hours of play in previous patches. DZ Rank doesn’t affect anything other than your ego, but in a game where you’ll grind missions thousands of times for one piece of loot, arbitrary numbers are part of the fun.
While it certainly doesn’t help the game’s constant comparisons to Destiny, exotic weapons are a new and interesting shakeup to The Division. Exotics are named weapons that have their own exclusive abilities, and some of them rely on having counterpart exotics as both the primary and secondary weapon for maximum effect. They often don’t have the raw power a standard high-end gun might have, but their special properties make collecting them interesting none the less. There’s an almost Pokemon-y appeal to getting each one and placing it neatly into your stash.
The last content addition in 1.6 is the introduction of a new difficulty tier for certain story missions. Legendary difficulty provides a step up from even challenging-level incursions, requiring absolute teamwork and perfect build understanding to get through it. Unfortunately for me and my hermit arse I only had random matchmade players and as such haven’t managed to clear a mission yet. Enemies are way stronger, and even basic grunts can take down a player in a few shots.
Difficult firefights are my favourite thing in The Division. Squeaky-bum-time saves, conserving ammo over a long fight, it’s all really fun to me. Legendary fits well with that, and puts a huge dent in the all-powerful-god feel you can get once at the endgame. No more sprinting, hip firing and making daft mistakes, legendary forces you to take your time and work together. It’s brutal, but I’m having a great time chipping away at it.
In regards to the metagame, 1.6 makes significant changes to a few gearsets and how build stats work. The biggest changes are to prevent the dodging fest PvP encounters could often be, and it does that by both putting a cooldown on rolling and making characters squishier through the replacement of an armour item stat with health.
Previously, armour was the single most important stat for any piece of gear, which left players with smaller health pools that could be regained incredibly easy with a medkit or a cheeky support station. By replacing armour with health, while those HP pools are technically bigger, it also makes healing somewhat less effective and players more vulnerable to attack. It’s this change that I’m not entirely sold on yet more than any other in 1.6.
Having a higher skill power is already encouraged in 1.6, so my healer build already can put out a decent amount via first aid and a support station. But medkits feel entirely worthless now, which may put non-healing builds at a disadvantage. We’ll have to see how it plays out over the next few months.
The biggest shakeup to gear sets is the dethroning of AlphaBridge as the dominant build. Gear sets are equipment that synergise together and give an increasing bonus depending on how many pieces are worn. With four AlphaBridge pieces in 1.5, both of your weapons would share all their talents with each other, provided they were of the same type. That meant the FAMAS’ (now called the Bullfrog in 1.6) Uncomplicated talent, which provides a significant damage boost, could make any other assault rifle wildly overpowered. In 1.6, only one talent is now shared with AlphaBridge, and for the Bullfrog it ain’t Uncomplicated.
What does this mean in actual terms people understand? Build variety. AlphaBridge was commonly seen as one of the only viable builds, especially when combined with the FAMAS. Now that it’s been nerfed big time, other builds have their time to shine. There’s no longer one and only one ‘real’ way to play. I’ve quickly picked up a full Striker’s set, which gives me an increasing damage bonus depending on how many shots connect with an enemy, and am using it with a light machine gun and a marksman’s rifle, and I’m having a blast with it. I loved AlphaBridge’s borderline brokenness, but the feeling of build freedom its nerfing has brought is wonderful.
I wasn’t awfully big on the Last Stand expansion, but 1.6 is a breath of fresh air after the slim offerings 1.5 gave us. The new content is fabulous and the changes to the metagame are significant. At least for the moment, character builds have been blown wide open. It’s an exciting time of experimentation and tinkering, which is probably going to get me playing The Division even more than I already do.
Farewell, my friends. Manhattan needs me. Goodbye…