Ubisoft’s trajectory over the past several years has been interesting, though its practices haven’t been confined to the company alone. It all started when Watch Dogs was revealed all those fateful years ago with its amazing graphics. Over time, the visuals seemed to degrade further and further until what we saw was nothing compared to the initial reveal. This isn’t what made Watch Dogs an awful game but it didn’t help matters.
Fast forward to Assassin’s Creed Unity which looked fantastic on its reveal and ended up running horribly on pretty much all platforms at release. What does all of this have to do with Tom Clancy’s The Division? Well, when the MMO/shooter was first revealed at E3 2013, it looked amazing. With each subsequent delay and reveal, it started to look less and less amazing as time went by. Granted, it wasn’t the first open world title to suffer this but given Ubisoft’s track record, it certainly wasn’t a good sign. The industry has seen its fair share of downgrades since then and as long as “in-engine” gameplay footage is a thing, it’s likely that we’ll continue being disappointed with final releases.
However, has Tom Clancy’s The Division really been downgraded? GamingBolt set about examining the PC build of the closed beta to find out. It should be noted this isn’t a final verdict on the game by any means given the nature of closed betas. Also note that the comparisons done in video aren’t 1:1 comparisons of the same scenes.
Comparison of E3 2013 gameplay footage against PC beta running at Ultra settings. Select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video playback quality.
That being said, The Division is incredibly impressive. No one doubts that the build at E3 2013 was running on a high-end PC and honestly, expecting that level of detail – even on current gen consoles – just isn’t realistic. PC users will still have a ton of graphical settings to play around with and it’s no stretch to say that The Division on PC in 2016 will look very close to the initial E3 2013 reveal.
Close but not quite. Whereas the E3 2013 trailer carried an indelible atmosphere of despondence and decay, as is to be expected from disease-ridden New York City that seems to be missing from the closed beta on PC. The game still looks great but that feeling of a New York on the brink of collapse just wasn’t completely there. The sensation of war around every corner was present and sure, there’s a bit of debris here and there (damn looters) but it lacked that encompassing sense of realism for us.
Technically speaking, the textures on clothing weren’t as high quality as the reveal trailer either. Snow doesn’t accumulate on clothes like it did with the initial reveal and physically based rendering for materials, both environments and cars, seems downgraded. Draw distances have been scaled back pretty heavily and the snow effects have also been suitably toned down.
Don’t lose all hope just yet. The lighting technology and global illumination looks incredible. In fact, in some ways, it looks even better than the initial E3 2013 trailer, both indoors and outdoors. Dynamic weather also helps to make things stand out and it was impressive to see how different environments looked in various weather conditions.
So while The Division does look amazing on PC, the downgrade controversy won’t go away immediately. The game has been graphically downgraded in places even while it still looks pretty amazing. Should Ubisoft have allowed a high spec E3 build for those whose hardware can handle it? Would that allow all users to fully enjoy the MMO on PC? Was there a balance somewhere that the company sought? Regardless of all this, the publisher should really cut down on raising expectations with less-than-final footage of its games.
Tom Clancy’s The Division in 2016 isn’t the same game from E3 2013. The game is still a graphical splendour on PC and if it offers as much gameplay as the beta presented but on a larger scale, then it will find a strong following without any issues. We’ll revisit the game when it launches on March 8th so stay tuned for more information and our upcoming analysis on the differences between the Xbox One, PC and PS4 versions of the closed beta.