What happened to The Division Heartland?

What happened to The Division Heartland?
Images via Ubisoft

Written by 

Joseph Kime

Published 

16th May 2024 11:40

Though working in the gaming industry in 2024 feels like living through the last scene of Fight Club, there are as many flashes of hope as there are reminders of total destruction.

On one hand, smaller games like Animal Well are crushing it in the charts and we've seen Helldivers 2 grow from minor-league PvE title to gaming phenomenon overnight. Equally, layoffs, studio shutdowns, and morale sitting 30,000 leagues beneath us mean we've got further proof that anomalies don't make an industry.

What makes an industry is money. Money so fragile that the moment the bottom line begins to fall away, companies will throw their most talented overboard to keep afloat and maintain profits. It's a true horror show, and 2024 has seen innumerable losses in the form of actual profits, job roles, cultural respect, and entire projects themselves. Ubisoft has taken up the latter with a little too much excitement for players' liking.

As a franchise, The Division has recycled its fans pretty often, but there are still plenty who invest in it. Although its contoversial levelling has kept casual players at arm's length as experienced players wipe the floor with newbies, there's still a lot of fun to be had with the series. It had plenty of potential, but it looks as though that future isn't coming as soon as we'd thought.

The Division Heartland is dead

The Division seemed to struggle against itself with its second title, fighting to maintain its popularity through its life cycle, so Ubisoft made a decision in keeping with industry trends - the game would be stripped back to a team shooter, made free-to-play, and open for anyone to jump in to.

The Division Heartland was revealed to the public in 2021 thanks to the work of North Carolina team Red Storm Entertainment. As closed beta tests and minor setbacks along the way started to kick in, it's clear that Ubisoft's confidence was shaken - and it's called it quits.

The game has now been officially cancelled, with Ubisoft announcing, "After careful consideration, we have made the tough call to halt development on Tom Clancy’s The Division Heartland, effective immediately." The publisher has vowed to support the team at Red Storm Entertainment, which will now help on XDefiant and Rainbow Six.

It's alarming, especially as Ubisoft has been slowly ticking through its active projects on something of a killing spree, axing Immortals Fenix Rising 2 and blasting whatever Project Q would become into the sun. Plus, four games got the chop behind the scenes at Ubisoft in 2022.

While it's sad to see Heartland go, it's been wrought by minor pushbacks and, as is now clear, struggles in testing. YouTube creator ConnorEatsPants revealed on Twitter that he was involved in the game's playtest, and that he was deeply unimpressed by what he saw.

Other titles are likely to be on the chopping block this year, but for now, it's hard not to be compelled by the cancellation of a game that had such great prospects going for it. So, what exactly led to a decision like this?

Ubisoft's model doesn't accommodate games like Heartland

The key art for Assassin's Creed Shadows.
Click to enlarge

There are no concrete reasons to explain The Division Heartland's loss, but seeing the way that Ubisoft has operated over the last few years offers some kind of indication. The gaming giant has a habit of dedicating entirely to some ideas and nonsensically offering little to others.

We noticed this with Immortals Fenix Rising 2, but it's most palpable as Ubisoft put all its eggs in the Assassin's Creed basket. Dedicating to the mysterious Assassin's Creed Infinity platform and announcing a huge swathe of titles at once was a big deal for a company that seemed to let games trickle out once upon a time.

As we draw closer to the release of Assassin's Creed Shadows, it's become easier to see the move as the publisher sticks to what it knows. Still, live-service pirating slog Skull & Bones happened, with Ubisoft being offered multiple outs for the that flopped on arrival, but fans have presumed that the sunk cost of development drew them into the lion's den.

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Ubisoft can't seem to decide on if it's innovators or developers of the comfortable - CEO Yves Guillemot has loved wading into conversations about using AI in game development and pushing the envelope on live-service titles, but we're willing to bet that Ubisoft will be making Assassin's Creed games until the bubble has long since burst.

The company wants newness in its newest form and familiarity in its most familiar form, so to delve into what's practically a new genre with an existing property may be too much of a risk for Ubisoft. It's especially as its beloved profit margins won't be as straight-up as other titles thanks to Heartland's free-to-play model.

Plus, with XDefiant on the way, it must be much safer to compete for the crown owned by mainline Call of Duty than to take a step into something more long-form and fresh.

The Division Heartlands is another Ubisoft flounder

Fighters squat behind cover in a firefight in The Division Heartlands.
Click to enlarge

Ubisoft is a big one, so it's not so far-fetched to imagine that these two concepts of game creation can exist at the same time, but it's dragging the company incredibly thin. After Skull & Bones' failure, and especially after we saw what happened with Xbox's handling of Arkane Austin, a flopped game leads to serious consequences. Equally, this isn't a purely Ubisoft problem.

Even after The Division sold more than 10 million copies and its sequel managed the same, it's shocking to see a company that's as led by sales as Ubisoft, unable to see the immediate potential of Heartland as we can. It ultimately doesn't matter now. The heart has been pulled out of Heartland, and with it, the hard work of Red Storm Entertainment.

Joseph Kime
About the author
Joseph Kime
Joseph Kime is the Senior Trending News Journalist for GGRecon from Devon, UK. Before graduating from MarJon University with a degree in Journalism, he started writing music reviews for his own website before writing for the likes of FANDOM, Zavvi and The Digital Fix. He is host of the Big Screen Book Club podcast, and author of Building A Universe, a book that chronicles the history of superhero movies. His favourite games include DOOM (2016), Celeste and Pokemon Emerald.
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