The city is the star in Tom Clancys The Division

Thanks to Watch Dogs not being quite as ‘next-genny’ as previously suggested, a lot of hope now rests on the shoulders of Ubisoft’s The Division (opens in new tab), with its tantalising mix of MMORPG concepts, third-person shooting, and, of course, realistic car-door-closing action.

Most of Ubi’s chatter has been about its fancy Snowdrop engine, which has enabled tiny details such as snow that will rest on characters’ shoulders, then melt when they enter a building. More noticeable weather effects include wind and piling snow, while the advanced lighting engine promises a more authentic day-night cycle in The Division’s apocalyptic take on New York City.

You’ve likely seen the effect that weather (or no weather) will have on the game, in screenshots and videos from recent demonstrations. The chilly clime of a lawless, Christmassy New York probably won’t impact the shooting too much, but it will cause car bonnets to glisten, send particles of snow careening into the frosty air around you and harden puddles up a real treat. It’s hard to relay this point without coming across as sarcastic, but puddles are going to look brilliant this gen.

Of more note is the promise of high levels of destructibility, with big chunks of items and the environment (including car windows and tyres) absolutely ripe for smashing and puncturing thanks to Snowdrop’s ‘procedural’ destruction. If there’s a tactical advantage to deflating each individual tyre on a stationary car we’re not aware of it, but it’s the little things like this that stick with you.

What’s been missing over the last few months is some concrete details on how The Division will actually play. We might spend the first couple of hours opening and closing every car door we see, examining every snowy surface and scrutinising every available light source, but what will we be doing in the game once we’ve tired of that? We haven’t yet seen much footage, aside from a couple of carefully choreographed missions controlled by Ubisoft’s super-slick demo team.

Here’s what we know. The Division is essentially an MMORPG, only with guns and Tom Clancyisms in place of elves in chainmail bikinis. It’s a squad-based shooter, with other players acting as your teammates, but with loot drops and optional PvP encounters, and an open-world NYC to tramp around in. (It’s Seinfeld: Beyond Thunderdome, essentially.) If Destiny’s ‘shared world’ shooting wasn’t quite as grand as many had anticipated, then The Division is the next big hope to create an MMO that feels truly at home on consoles.

Will Ubisoft pull it off? We’re really rooting for this ambitious look at the future, but answers would be nice.

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