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Five Ways The Division Is Like Destiny, And Nine Ways It’s Not

by Matt Miller on Jan 20, 2016 at 12:01 PM

Destiny has been a regular gaming destination for many players in the last year and a half, thanks in large part to slotting into a distinct genre that borrows liberally from shooters, MMOs, and open-world RPGs to create something new. Part of its lasting appeal is the social experience and character improvement options, helping to ensure that there’s always something to work on when you log in. Equally important, few if any other games on the market offer the same mix of activities.

That’s why we were excited to finally spend some extended time with The Division, the first game that seems to genuinely offer a similar suite of features to Destiny. After several hours exploring The Division, it’s clear that the comparison to Destiny is more than superficial. At the same time, several features set Ubisoft’s new shooter apart. 

If you’re a Destiny player, here’s what familiar features you can expect to uncover, along with a few additional elements that make The Division an entirely different game. 

Similarities

A number of features in Destiny have rough analogs in The Division, as both games are shooting for a socially-engaged, shooting-focused experience in a loot-filled open world. Here are some of the notable connections. 

Cooperative Play

While Destiny can be played solo, most fans would agree that the game is at its best when you log in with some friends at your side. That’s an experience that The Division is aiming to emulate, so that the social experience can reinforce the shooter gameplay. 

Up to four players can team up in The Division, working together on story missions, random encounters in the game world, or as a unified front when entering the PvP-enabled Dark Zone. Like in Destiny, difficulty can be set at varying levels for any given mission. However, The Division adds a new layer by including handcrafted enemy layouts depending on the number of players who enter the mission.

Also just like in Destiny, missions and activities are rewarding for all players. You’re always earning currency that can help you improve your character. 

Loot

Green, blue, purple, and gold are familiar colors to Destiny players – those loot colors communicate the relative quality of your loot drops. If you decide to dip your toes in The Division, you should feel right at home, as that established color coding communicates the same thing for weapons and armor in this ruined landscape of New York City. 

That’s not the only thing about the loot system that will feel familiar. Drawing on the dynamic popularized in loot-focused titles like Diablo, The Division provides a broad array of pick-ups, some of which might match your playstyle, and others of which can be dismantled for use in other ways, or sold to fuel subsequent purchases.

Deconstructing items in The Division provides resources that can be used to craft other new items or upgrades. Just like in Destiny, your capabilities stem as much from smart gear and weapon selections as it does from leveling up the character.

Freeform Character Respecialization

The Division has no formal character classes, which is a fundamental difference we’ll talk about a little later. But just like in Destiny, The Division eschews hard and fast character builds, and instead encourages players to adjust their builds on the fly to meet the requirements of any given situation. 

As you level up in The Division, you gain access to various perks and abilities. Some of these are actively deployed, like a seeker mine, while others are passive effects that improve your character’s general combat effectiveness. Knowing that players might jump in and play with any number of different player groups, it’s easy to hop in to your menu and change your focus. 

At any one time, you have three active abilities, which map to the L1/LB and R1/RB buttons, as well as an eventual more powerful super ability that maps to both L1/LB and R1/RB pressed together. Sound familiar? 

Ruined World

Both Destiny and The Division explore themes of a fallen civilization brought low at the height of its power. In both cases, the setting affords the developer an opportunity to provide familiar visual touchstones in the game world, but also communicate a sense of unease and danger by the nature of the destroyed buildings and scavenging enemies that move through the landscape. 

Needless to say, The Division’s modern-day take on New York City stands apart from the fantastical sci-fi environments of Destiny, but both games embrace the aesthetic of a great civilization brought low, and to potent effect. 

Public and Private Spaces

One of the features that set Destiny apart upon its release was the sense of seamless movement between public and private spaces, allowing players to feel like they’re a part of a larger population of players, but unlike in many traditional MMOs, instanced spaces provide a place for heroic engagement without the interference of others. 

The Division is shooting for a similar experience. A central hub allows players to meet up in a designated social space, where they can see each other and even offer up silly emote actions to one another for laughs. From there, players fly solo or group up into smaller teams before heading out into danger. 

Next Page: The numerous ways in which The Division sets itself apart from Bungie's open world shooter

Differences

While our time with The Division suggests that Destiny players might find a number of familiar features to embrace, it would be a mistake to see The Division as a blatant copycat of the earlier Bungie game. A number of elements make The Division play in a very different way. 

Third-Person Cover Shooting

While both games focus on shooting guns, The Division’s cover-based third-person gunplay is a far cry from the bombastic superhero-esque science fiction throwdowns of Destiny. 

A better comparison might be a game like Gears of War, in which success in combat is determined by your ability to choose strong cover points with clear sightlines to your enemies. Using your allies to flank foes is also essential. Staying out in the open for any extended period of time is a recipe for failure. 

No Traditional PvP

A big part of the Destiny experience is the match-based competitive multiplayer found in the Crucible. The Division has no formalized PvP game mode, which might not make the game a perfect fit for players who prefer to spend the majority of their time confronting real human players in combat.

With that said, The Division does have a PvP component. In the center of New York City, many city blocks make up a walled-off quarantine zone called the Dark Zone. Powerful A.I.-controlled enemies wait within, but players not on your fireteam are also potential foes. When you snag loot in the Dark Zone, you have to watch out for other players who might kill you and steal your hard-earned rewards. While in the Dark Zone, you gain Dark Zone rank, but turning against other players lowers that rank. As such, you have to balance the benefits of going rogue against the value of a higher rank, which can result in better equipment to purchase. 

The Dark Zone PvP experience should be interesting, especially once the game world is fully populated with players. However, there’s no two ways about it: The Division simply isn’t built around dedicated PvP experiences. 

Bleaker Tone

Above, we noted the ways in which both games share in a post-apocalyptic setting. But the two games feel quite different in tone, both visually and from a story perspective. 

While the story of Destiny is set in the ruins of humanity’s golden age, the entire game has a hopeful feeling. Your characters are clad in brightly colored armor and flowing robes, and suffused with a figurative and literal light that they carry out into the world. Primarily, Destiny players fight against alien forces from far away that threaten humanity’s survival.

The Division offers a darker vision. A horrible smallpox infection is engineered by one of our own, and is unleashed on Black Friday, in an obvious nod to the ways that greed and consumerism can lead us to ruin. Your main character is often scarred and beaten down, wearing stocking caps and dingy clothes. He or she is moving through the sad remnants of Christmas decorations in a cold and snowy concrete jungle. The Division’s enemies aren’t bloodthirsty aliens – they’re normal sanitation workers, hungry looters, and angry criminals on a reprieve from their punishments. 

The Division feels rooted in reality, but it’s not exactly an optimistic vision for humanity’s future.

Base Building

One unique feature in The Division is the base of operations. This large central personal space is a customizable headquarters that grows alongside your main character. Named characters join your crew over the course of the story, populating your base and slowly turning it from a run-down post office into a teeming outpost for medical care, research, and technological development. 

Players return to their base of operations on a regular basis to restock supplies, purchase new equipment, and see new story cinematics. Destiny lacks that central growing base that helps to communicate the ways in which your actions are helping to improve life back home. 

More Structured Storytelling

Destiny has made some big strides with its storytelling in the recent release of The Taken King, but The Division has been built from the ground up with a focus on characters and story. Numerous cutscenes help flesh out characters, found recordings and letters provide context, virtual “echoes” help to tell the horrifying tale of New York City’s fall, and most of the story missions we played had a clearly defined narrative and set of goals.

Dynamic Weather

This one may seem like a small thing, but it goes a long way towards establishing a sense of a living world. Snow storms and other weather events regularly roll in on the world of The Division, further emphasizing the cold and uncaring tone of the game world, and having the added effect of changing the shooting experience, since your line of sight shooting must account for shifting weather effects. 

No Defined Classes

On the previous page, we discussed the way that both The Division and Destiny feature a freeform character respec system. However, The Division takes things one step further by entirely abandoning traditional classes. 

Destiny’s warlock, titan, and hunter ensure that every player has very particular tasks and options available to them in an encounter. The Division lacks that defined division of labor, instead encouraging each player to choose whatever abilities they see fit at any time. 

The freedom is refreshing, but it does make it a little harder to know the dynamic of your cooperative team at any given moment.

A Single Connected World

Unlike in Destiny, The Division has one lengthy load as you enter the game world, but then the entirety of New York City is open for exploration without overt loading screens, which should come as a relief to some Destiny players who are tired of long space flights into missions.  

Missions often start simply by stepping out of the street and into a building. A map with clear waypoints and location markers is available at the touch of a button, providing a clear sense of where you might want to go next. And like in most traditional open-world games, you can both set your own waypoints, as well as unlock fast-travel points that let you rapidly move between areas – a feature that many Destiny players have longed to see added over the months.

No Revealed Endgame Experiences

We’ve yet to play The Division in its entirety, and there is plenty that we don’t yet know about the game. However, Ubisoft has yet to describe any experiences that would match up with Destiny’s healthy end-game offerings. After more than a year of added content, Destiny has three six-person raids, nightfall strikes, Trials of Osiris weekends, Iron Banner tournaments, exotic weapon quests, and any number of reputation systems to climb through, all of which are waiting for players once they’ve hit level cap. 

So far, we’ve yet to hear clear indications from Ubisoft about what players can look forward to in The Division’s endgame. We’re hopeful that the development team recognizes that in a game like this, players are likely to desire a way to continue playing after they’ve completed the main story. We’ll find out soon enough if Ubisoft has any surprises in store when The Division releases to retail on March 8.