As it approaches its first anniversary, The Division continues to be fettled and tweaked by Ubisoft Massive. The game went through multiple updates last year, the most recent two being patch 1.4, which delivered significant changes to weapon balance, gameplay progression, and character stats, and patch 1.5 – the Survival expansion. This added further stat and weapon balancing, as well as a new objective-based standalone game mode in which up to 24 players compete against one another to survive in a hostile New York environment amidst a raging blizzard.
What makes this new mode particularly challenging is the fact that the player starts out a game of Survival with a completely new character who's armed with nothing but a sidearm, a med kit, and a handful of crafting materials. They have no other equipment, and are susceptible to the effects of cold, thirst, and hunger – as well as typical PvE threats such as enemy NPCs. Gear, food, clothing, and weapons have to either be crafted or scavenged, and the ultimate objective is to reach the Dark Zone to recover and extract an antivirus.
While I thought it was a really neat concept, I found Survival a very unforgiving way to play the game in practice. It's very easy to die, and death is permanent in this mode. The freezing conditions are a constant threat to your character: Fail to regularly find the warmth of a fire, or move too slowly from shelter to shelter, and you'll drop dead from hypothermia. Take a wrong turn and walk into a group of enemy NPCs – which is easy to do in the zero-visibility blizzard – and you'll be gunned down or bludgeoned to death in short order. And if you're playing the PvP version of Survival, there are other players to worry about.
Easy it most certainly isn't. But if you're after a challenge, and something different to do while playing The Division, Survival can be a very tense and nerve-wracking experience.
Comparatively, the content for the upcoming 1.6 patch that Ubisoft announced at the end of last week sounds a little more accessible. Dubbed "Last Stand," this third expansion of the game will feature yet more gameplay balancing and, more importantly, will open up Dark Zone areas 7, 8, and 9 – effectively doubling the size of the existing Dark Zone map. As you might expect, NPCs will be found roaming these new areas, as well as occupying each zone's distinctive new landmarks. Interestingly, if you manage to kill the NPCs camping a landmark, new waves of enemies will spawn. It's not quite clear whether these will include named bosses, but if you do manage to eliminate all enemy NPCs, you'll be awarded with loot that'll be placed directly in your inventory. That means it won't need to be extracted.
Another new feature of patch 1.6 is Contamination Events. Every hour or so, groups of flame-throwing Elite Cleaners will appear in the underground sections of the Dark Zone, and players can enter these areas to earn loot by gunning them down. However, care has to be taken to not spend too long in these subterranean environments, as they have lethal levels of contamination that no virus filter can withstand – which essentially puts a timer on your activities.
Those who think The Division lacks challenge – and if that's you, I salute your skills, because I think the game's higher difficulty settings are exceptionally tough – will probably be interested to hear that patch 1.6 will introduce a new Legendary mode. Tougher even than Heroic Incursions, this new top-level difficulty will be applied to the Times Square, WarrenGate Power Plant, and Napalm Production Site missions. The focus will be on testing your organized team play skills and strategies as you fight a special breed of LMB NPCs that are apparently very hard to hit because they try to maintain a low profile, while constantly trying to outflank you and your team. Not only that, but Named enemies that have their own unique characteristics and behaviors will also be introduced into the action, providing additional threats to your team.
However, the big headline feature of The Division's next content update is the eponymous Last Stand. Like Survival, it's another standalone game mode, but this time it pits two teams of eight against one another in an instanced PvP battle that has specific goals and objectives. Each roughly 20-minute match plays out across one of four randomly-selected Dark Zone maps that features a trio of tactical areas that each comprise three encryption points. If a team controls all three points in a tactical area, the central SHD relay becomes activated, uploading critical information and adding to the team's overall point tally. Needless to say, the game's objective is to control as many SHD relays for as long as possible to achieve the highest score.
Helping mix up the action a little are NPCs that continually respawn around the map, and indeed guard the central tactical area. Killing these PvE foes awards SHD tech that can be used to garner advantages during the match, including defensively upgrading the home tactical area where your team initially spawns, and boosting the speed at which your SHD relays upload information. SHD tech essentially adds an additional layer of strategy to the proceedings – teams will have to balance attacking and defending tactical areas, while also hunting down NPCs to ensure the opposing team doesn't gain the upper hand.
As someone who enjoys playing PvP games, Last Stand sounds like a really intriguing concept. It's finally bringing competitive, objective-oriented matchplay PvP to The Division – something that sounds a lot more interesting to me than the rather brutal Dark Zone. I like the idea that it mixes PvE and PvP, which should deliver some interesting and potentially nuanced tactical gameplay, and it will also have its own progression system and exclusive loot.
No release date has yet been announced for the Last Stand expansion, but it will be available for PC owners to try out on the Public Test Realm soon. We'll keep you updated as and when we get more information.