The Division was my Game of the Year for 2016. After a rocky launch it had pulled itself back and offered a brilliantly designed world, solid shooting and a fascinating PvP system that kept me entertained for hundreds of hours.
Sadly, it’s become painfully obvious that The Division is now in its twilight months. In the half of a year since I gave it my award, the game’s gone downhill big time. A disappointing final expansion, a very slimmed down plan for the next year of content, the announcement that Massive are also now working on a game based on James Cameron’s Avatar, and then came the bare-faced lies. If 1.4 was the best time to get into The Division, 1.7 is easily the worst, and there’s nothing better to signify that than the all-new loot boxes.
Massive recently unveiled a new feature for its upcoming 1.7 update, Encrypted Caches. Available at the premium vendor (the in-game microtransaction store), encrypted caches are unlocked using keys that can either be purchased or made by collecting 10 key fragments through the new global events. Each cache includes three random vanity items, some available elsewhere, and some exclusive only to the cache. It’s a loot box, just like you see in Overwatch, Rocket League or Battlefield 1.
I dislike loot boxes at the best of times, they’re nothing but gambling and can be combined with timed events to make particularly nefarious ways of pressuring players out of yet more money. Nothing good has ever come of them, and I hope it’s a trend that goes the same way as online passes from last generation. Except in The Division’s case it’s a bit more of an insult, because there were never meant to be any microtransactions.
1.6 saw the addition of a premium vendor and a new microtransaction currency, despite Massive previously saying the game would not see any form of them at all. Vanity items or not, Massive had promised The Division would not see in-game item stores use any currency that could be purchased with real-world money. And yet there the premium vendor was, doing just that. Encrypted caches are the next step of that. Months after the premium vendor had been introduced, just long enough for people to either get used to or outright forget Massive’s big ol’ fib, Ubisoft has taken another step forward into the exploitative microtransaction systems other games are adopting.
It could be argued that this is to help fund the free Year Two content – the paid season pass has ended, so there’s no income there to justify making more stuff for the game. Except what we’ve been told about Year Two has been more than underwhelming: a few modifiers, weapon loadouts, character remodeling, and that’s about it. No new game modes, no new story content, no new environments, nothing that compares to the free updates we’d had in Year One, and even they were considered less than what players really wanted. Dark Zone North, the huge map expansion that came with update 1.5, was free, significant, and nicely done, and there is nothing in Year Two anywhere close to that.
What’s more, encrypted caches were announced as a feature, in the exact same way Dark Zone North was. Each week, Massive hosts a State of the Game livestream where upcoming fixes, updates and news are announced, and it’s the main way the developer communicates with the player base. With no explanation as to why Massive has gone against its word, and no acknowledgement of its earlier promise, the stream proudly presented loot boxes as an exciting new feature of 1.7. Loot boxes aren’t a feature at the best of times – nobody is going to be excited at being squeezed for every penny they’re worth – but they’re certainly not a feature when the game already feels like its hit the end of the road.
Players have been calling for essential fixes for months now. Latency issues, balance problems, bugs, drop rates, mission designs, all of them have been criticised in one way or another by the game’s dedicated players, and so for Massive to trot out loot boxes as if it’s something we should be thankful for is, quite frankly, insulting.
If loot boxes are being announced the same way as major map expansions have been in the past, what does that say about the game for the next year? Is there really any way to look at this and not hear the faint chiming of the death knell? Is it time for Massive to just pull the plug?
The Division, I love you, but I hope you know where you can stick your caches.