Reviewed on: PS4. Copy supplied by publisher.
So there you are, in the centre of New York City with a really cool pair of gloves, you really want to wear those gloves, but because some tosser stood in front of you while you were shooting, you now have to fight a bunch of self riotous assholes screaming for revenge. You fight them because if you don’t they might steal your gloves, except after each person you kill you’re further away from keeping those gloves because now the time they have to kill you is increasing. And then some dudes with far superior weapons come at you, you try to hide but inexplicably flip out and start hiding against the wrong wall. You’re now dead and gloveless, but will come back for more. Welcome to the Dark Zone.
Tom Clancy’s The Division is Ubisoft’s third person cover based shooter/RPG/MMO hybrid, and it’s quite a layered game. Much like with Destiny upon release, The Division is going to evolve and change, so this review is for vanilla The Division, almost a first impression. But I suppose we should get one thing straight, despite being a ‘first impression review’, I’ve played close to 50 hours of The Division since launch and well and truly discovered the ins and outs of everything the game has to offer to date. What Ubisoft have delivered with The Division is an immersive and addictive game, which despite its flaws, is still up there as one of the better games to have come out so far in 2016.
The game is set in an apocalyptic New York after a pandemic of ‘Green Virus’, a form of weaponised smallpox that was intentionally spread on Black Friday. Visually the game shows a desolate and decaying city littered with corpses, it’s unapologetically confronting, yet hauntingly beautiful. Players take control of a member of The Division, a group of sleeper agents that come into action to restore order when society collapses.
The story of The Division is an interesting one, you explore New York looking for clues on the origin of the virus and fight off factions that are struggling for control of the city. I won’t go too in depth about the plot, as that would constitute spoiler territory, but it is gripping. It’s also extremely dark and bleak, even for a game about a viral apocalypse. Footage you find on missions depicts people being beaten to death or burnt alive, and this is given some sense of realism due to the fact it’s presented as security camera or even first person phone footage.
There are also extra pieces of story scattered around the map in the form of echoes, these provide a glimpse into life initially after or during the outbreak and much the same as the security footage, they are extremely disturbing. Saying that, as interesting as I did find the plot and the spatterings of story, they mostly act as background noise when you’re playing with others, which is ideally how the game should be played.
The Division is almost two separate entities when played alone and in a group. Playing solo you absorb more information, but it’s generally a slower paced game and is easy to find monotonous. Whereas with friends you have this rich system where strategy and abilities come into play, however I found the story takes a back seat as you’re solely out to take down waves of enemies with your agent pals, and inevitably someone always talks over important dialogue.
As with most Ubisoft games there are a ton of side missions to complete, and in Ubisoft tradition you have to unlock a location to expand your list of these tasks. Instead of radio relays, like in Watchdogs or Far Cry, The Division has safe houses. Safe houses contain a vendor, much like the ones back at your base that can be used to buy various items, and a whole list of side tasks. The fastest way to level up in the game is to unlock a safe house, complete all the side missions, and then do the main mission in that area. The side missions and encounters are extremely repetitive,but the rewards for doing them make it somewhat worthwhile.
The Division handles much like most cover based shooters, you run and jump behind cover avoiding as much open fire as possible. However this doesn’t always work, the game can sometimes flip out when you’re in a tight spot and send you hugging the wrong wall completely exposed, often resulting in death. Admittedly it’s a rare experience, but it’s still annoying none the less. I should probably also acknowledge that some have found game crashing bugs in the game that sends them clipping through the ground into oblivion. I’ve had a friend experience it, but personally it never happened to me.
Given the nature of The Division‘s gameplay a lot of enemies are bullet sponges, which can be very tedious to fight, but with friends this becomes exponentially better. The bullet sponginess of enemies depend on their type, varying between basic red enemies, slightly harder purple enemies, harder still yellow enemies and then named yellow enemies. Each type, aside from the basic reds, has a layer of armour to take out. In particular the yellow enemies absorb ungodly amounts of bullets, which can mean killing them becomes a grind.
The different factions in the game also provide different units for variety. The fanatical Cleaners, who want to cleanse the city with fire, use flamethrowers, the LMB, who are a mercenary group, have medics and advanced weapons, the Rikers, who are escaped convicts, have riot gear and shotguns, and the Rioters, who are just general dickbags, have pistols and melee weapons. Certain enemies may require a different approach, but in general they are all just variations of sponge, some sponge rush and some sponge camp.
Of course all of this sponge bashing becomes easier depending on your gear, skills, talents and perks. Each type of weapon will impact how you approach a battle, and each unsurprisingly acts just as they do in every other shooter game. Marksman rifles are your heavy hitting ranged, SMGs are medium range fast firers, assault rifles are a balanced all rounder, LMGs are great for suppressing and ammo capacity, and shotguns are slow up close heavy hitters. Aside from your weaponry there are mods and pieces of armour that will buff your skills accordingly. There are three areas that receive a buff, firearms, stamina and electronics. These each impact DPS, health and tech respectively.
Skills, talents and perks are divided into wings at your base of operations that can be upgraded from supplies earned through missions and encounters. There’s a Medical wing that has your health buffs, a Security wing that has your damage buffs and a tech wing that has your defensive buffs. Each requires some time to max out and unlock all the components. Doing this 100 per cent for each does become a massive grind, but the rewards are worth the time, including cosmetics and new mods on skills.
Finding the right gear to create a balanced character can become a bit of a chore, and is one of the main reasons The Division has staying power once you level cap. The eternal grind for better loot will keep players glued to the game’s daily missions and Dark Zone long after release.
Getting zoned in
Once you’ve hit level 30 in the main area you may feel there isn’t much left to do in the game. This is somewhat true, but the Dark Zone definitely provides you with plenty of hand sweating and loot farming opportunities. This area is pretty much where society went to die, it’s lawless, filled with tough enemies and a system in which other agents can turn on their own to earn the designation “rogue”. When you die in the Dark Zone you lose Dark Zone exclusive XP and credits.
The Dark Zone is where you go when you want loot. Loot comes in four varieties in The Division. Green, Blue, Purple and Yellow. Let’s just ignore green and blue, which are the basic kinds and focus on purple and yellow. They are your higher end items and you will murder to get them. Especially yellows, I remember the first yellow drop I got in the Dark Zone, I came close to shooting everyone around me in a preemptive move of paranoia.
All the loot you find in the Dark Zone is contaminated, and therefore needs extracting before you can use it. Extracting is done via helicopter, and as mentioned above, it’s the tensest experience in the game. Once you’ve signaled a chopper you have 90 second to wait before it arrives. In this time waves on enemies come at you and there is the lingering feeling any nearby agents might pop you last minute to steal your gear.
Endgame Division is all about earning loot and Phoenix credits, which can be used back at your base to purchase yellow items. It’s been some time since I’ve been playing endgame and I’ve found the mix of daily missions and Dark Zoning to be a compelling combo, but there could be more to it. That’s not to say there won’t be, but at the moment it’s a gear festival with little purpose.
An element of dedicated PVP would make The Division slightly better. Rarely do you get a chance to test out your gear on other agents because the incentive to go rogue is very minimal at the moment. To put it in perspective you get around 400 DZ credits for surviving a rogue run of around 80 seconds based on one kill. Whereas one enemy in the DZ might drop 1500 credits. The risk/reward is too skewed. Unless you just want to be a dick and kill people, which I have done and is pretty fun, but you will suffer from it in the long run as man hunts are hard to survive.
The Division is a gripping and addictive game that provides players with fantastic co-op play and slightly bland solo play. The plot is intriguing when you manage to witness it and the Dark Zone provides a scary and fun PVP/PVE space. The true test will be how the post release content goes down with The Division, but at this stage I have no reason to expect it to diminish the experience.
Pros: Immersive bleak setting. Good visuals. Dark Zone is innovative and addictive. Very fun when played with friends.
Cons: Some grinding. Not as fun solo. Needs more incentive to go rogue. Could use dedicated PVP.