Last year at E3, one of the big trends looked like it was going to be console and tablet convergence, or at least the idea that touchscreen devices could soon serve as legitimate second screen aides that add value to AAA console games. Ubisoft appeared to be leading the way with titles like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Watch Dogs, but both of those games have since been released, and it’s doubtful that many people would consider their mobile apps to be particularly innovative.
While most of the industry has moved on to the next thing — a big theme at E3 2014 was instant alpha or beta announcements for big budget franchises — Ubisoft hasn’t completely given up on having console and tablet gamers play together in meaningful ways. In fact, the theater sessions for Tom Clancy’s The Division in L.A. showed that it may very well be the game that makes a legitimate breakthrough on this front.
The Division drops players into the boots of agents of the Strategic Homeland Division, a special group tasked by the President of the United States with reclaiming New York City from the chaos that has set in following a viral outbreak that has caused near total societal collapse. It’s not entirely clear how far in the future the action takes place, but SHD troops have access to some nifty gear that appears to be just a tad ahead of what’s available in 2014, including some very formidable drones.
As shown at E3, those drones can be controlled by people playing on tablets in real time, which they proved by moving the drones around behind the characters controlled by the console players. Though they mostly aided in marking targets for friendly soldiers to avoid walking into attacks they couldn’t see, the drones also flushed out enemies with tear gas grenades, drew fire from hostiles and pulled off a few other nifty tricks.
Ubisoft developers said that the drones could be outfitted with different skills in much the same way as regualr characters, who were shown to have a very flexible, multi-tiered ability system. It appears drones can be used to grant buffs to friendly troops and debuff enemies at the very least. No other details were given (not a surprise as the game has only a vague 2015 release window), but just the idea that gamers will be able to be active participants in an open world action game like The Division is newsworthy in and of itself. Other studios, please take note.