It seems like forever ago when The Division was first announced by Ubisoft at E3 2013. At the time, we were still playing on our last gen consoles and the next gen graphics and gameplay blew the crowd away. The game was initially supposed to be released in 2014, but delays plagued the game with it’s eventual release being early 2016. Were the delays polish to an already solid base of a game or is there something lacking in this post apocalyptic shooter? For this review, Nick and Scott both worked on it in order to get the full picture and see if this is something truly special that will last the test of time.
In case you’ve been living under a rock or haven’t kept up with the development of this game, we’ll explain what it sets out to be. The Division is a third person shooter set in a post apocalyptic New York City where a “dollar flu” has wiped out a large portion of the population. It’s called the dollar flu, because the pathogen was used on money during that year’s Black Friday, which led to a large exposure radius. You play a member of an elite special forces group called The Division. Agents of The Division are trained and then set free to live their lives with the intention of being activated if a national emergency takes places that exceeds the capabilities of the standing army/national guard. When activated, you leave your family, friends, job, etc. and report to a location with other agents to embark on your mission. This is how the game begins. As an agent, you are activated and given instructions to meet with others in Brooklyn. Your goal is to take back the city from the looters, opportunistic factions, and masterminds of the dollar flu while rebuilding a base of operations and restoring a small semblance of life before the catastrophe.
Before we get into it, let’s get the major question a lot of people have out of the way. No, this is not a complete Destiny clone. It’s built in the same style with an open world that you do missions in against factions, there is a PvP component, and you’ll do group content for bigger spoils and against larger enemies. It has many similarities but there is enough here to say that it is it’s own game – for better and for worse. The Division does a lot of good things that Destiny doesn’t, but in the same regard, I wish in other areas it was a little more like Destiny. We’ll get to that though…
The first thing you’ll notice when you begin playing the game is the amount of detail the developers went into when creating this beautiful landscape. Ubisoft did a monstrously impressive scaled recreation of Manhattan. The streets look like a war took place and snow has covered the remains of a dying city, a shell that resembles the glory days of the past but with an absolute desolated look. Within the first few moments, you’ll be tasked with finding a safehouse and registering that you were activated. You’ll meet your new agent friend Faye Lau and she’ll send you on your first mission that will have you investigating a building on your way to the pickup location where other agents will be whisked away to Manhattan. On your way to the meetup, you’ll meet the game’s first faction, the Rioters, and after eliminating this small group, you’ll progress to the docks where a tragedy occurs that results in the death of all agents except you and Faye Lau. After a quick rescue cutscene, you’re dropped off in Manhattan where your first task will be to track down your new base of operations and take it back from the Rioters.
The base of operations is the first truly unique thing that The Division brings to this sort of game. You can’t really do anything unique in it that you wouldn’t do in other games with a base, but your order of building it up will determine the perks you get. There are three wings in this building, Medical, Security, and Tech. After an intro mission spent rescuing an NPC that runs each wing, you’ll have access to upgrade at your own leisure (if you have the points in that wing that is). Depending on your play style and desires for upgrades, you will determine which wing you build up first and actively do missions to gain points. The points for each wing are gained through missions that you can undertake out in Manhattan proper and these will allow each wing to be expanded. The expansions are both cosmetic in nature and give obvious rewards like vendors and perks you can assign to your character. It’s an awesome idea at first, but eventually you’ll realize the whole building can be upgraded with enough time and it’s really just a bit of a time sink in getting the correct points in the best order for your character build. But, for what it is, it’s nice to have in the game.
The gameplay in The Division is something that will appeal to some and disappoint others. If you’re coming from Destiny, you’ll know what to expect. Guns and armor have levels and stats that you will use to build your character. Unlike Destiny though, there are no classes. You’ll make an agent, unlock abilities via your base of operations, and then insert refundable points to make the class you want. Both Scott and Nick tended to play a battlefield healer, so most of their attention was spent on the health upgrades, but you could build out a tank with heavy shields or go a more battlefield engineer and get robotic items and devices to help with enemies. Depending on your class and items, your playstyle will vary against others in your group. If you have a group of friends, you could spend time determining which member will play which role, but that isn’t required and you could just as easily handle the missions with a group of security spec’ed players as you would with healers. Combat can be hectic and in some cases you will find yourself outnumbered and flanked. So it was actually nice to be able to re spec your character on the fly to suit your needs mission to mission. A personal favorite perk, from the health line, was the deploy-able mini turret. This up-gradable turret allowed coverage of player flank while being able to suppress enemies behind cover. Both useful when you have grenadiers, gunners and melee rioters with shields and Cleaners with flame throwers all closing in on your position.
Everything in The Division is done from a sharp looking user menu and can be done at anytime, just note the game is still happening while your checking out the new hat you got off that dead Cleaner. The player is alerted of new items so the can go and compare their new stock to what they currently have equipped, choosing a new loadout, modding weapons or breaking down unwanted items for valuable crafting parts. The map HUB is also very slick and gives the players the expected Tom Clancy not too distant future feel
Gun combat will be the part of the game that will be loved or hated based on your preferences. As stated before, each gun has a level and stats and since this is an RPG, headshots don’t act the same way they do in Call of Duty style FPS games. You may do more damage with a sniper shot to the head, but you most likely won’t be taking the enemy down in one shot. This is because each bullet that hits the enemy is doing math depending on the location of the shot, your stats, and factoring in the enemies overall health. If you’re coming from Destiny, you’re familiar with this, but it needs to be mentioned because a lot of people aren’t too fond of this style. We are fine with it, but our one complaint about this in The Division is the lack of visual confirmation of critical hits. In Destiny, when you shot someone in the head and did extra damage, you knew it. With The Division, you’re unloading clips into enemies and it just seems like they are sponges, taking the damage until they finally expire when their health hits empty. This isn’t a huge complaint, just something that was noticeable after coming from a similar style game. This is a Looter RPG first and a shooter second and Nick personally was a big fan of the combat while Scott felt it was missing some key components. Looter RPGs are a lot of fun, but if you take away visual representation of key hits, aiming feels secondary at times.
Speaking of guns, that is one thing that The Division has a ton of. You won’t find super silly guns like other sci-fi shooters have, instead replaced with real guns with varying levels and unique properties. You can add mods like scopes and increased magazine sizes that will have immediate benefits on the battlefield. Like weapons themselves, these mods have color rarity and unique stats that can truly make any gun in the game something special. You can also remove mods and put them on other weapons with the press of a button and building out the perfect weapon was almost like an art at some points. I knew I wanted my sniper rifle to have a long scope, but adding exploding bullets? Sure, why the heck not? This level of customization was a breath of fresh air, but you had to look past the fact that all of the guns looked pretty much the same. This isn’t a knock though on the game itself, but rather the setting. In The Division, events take place in current day NYC, so while you can make some mods that might expand upon reality, the look of the guns will almost always resemble it’s real life counterpart. Not a complaint, just an observation.
From the onset of the game, you can tell that The Division has a story to tell. You’ll progress through the story about the dollar flu and it’s ruthless destruction of NYC by undertaking both main story missions and side missions. The main story missions are a highlight of the game with each being able to be undertaken with a group in a dungeon style environment. Before you enter the area, you’ll be greeted with a floating notification that if you press a button, you can be matched with others around the same level who will join you for this dungeon style content. It’s a seamless experience and works extremely well. I never had to wait more than a minute and while loading does take some time, once you’re actually in the game with others, it’s a great multiplayer experience. Side missions, on the other hand, are not so well done. They are perfectly serviceable solo content, but after you do a dozen, you’ll begin to realize that they are all pretty much the same thing just with a different environment. Go here and interact with this thing, wait a little, fend off enemies, success. There are usually stories around the mainline side missions, but the wing side missions (side missions made to give you upgrade points for your base) are painfully similar and got to the point where I just stopped doing them altogether. The strong main missions offset this issue, but it’s worth noting. I think one thing that would have helped alleviate this problem is if you could see other players on the streets of Manhattan. The only time you will ever see other players in this game is in safe zones (not your base) and when grouping in the dungeon content. The streets feel so dead without other players and I hope this changes with future content.
The Divisions PVP zone is probably the standout of the game. You get to see peoples true selves in the Dark Zone, an area of Manhattan so devastated by the virus that it has largely been abandoned by the military and turned into a concrete wild west. AI is tougher within the walls and you are constantly questioning the intentions of every other player roaming inside the quarantined area. While the other areas and encounters in The Division weren’t easy, we continually walked away relatively unscathed, feeling much like an elite government agent tasked with taking back New York. In the dark zone we were rookies fresh out of basic. Most players we came across either left us alone or where nice enough to lend a hand when they saw one of us bleeding out on the street. It’s when a player goes “rogue” that the Dark Zone breaks free from the pack. The dark zone is one of the few in game places where other players can actually see and interact with each other. It also happens to be the best place to pick up loot. If you should happen to want another players loot, by all means try and take it. Firing on another agent turns you “Rogue” and while you may have gotten some cool gear out of it, you still have to evacuate it via a timed sequence where other players in the dark zone will be alerted to your presence and actively try to hunt you down for the bounty on your head. The fun and satisfaction of randomly teaming up with other agents to hunt down a rogue is one of the best moments you can experience in the game
The Division is going to be a lot of things to a lot of people. If you come to this game only looking for single player content, you’ll find it, but you may be left wanting. It’s clear from playing that The Division is meant to be a sum of it’s parts and if you ignore one portion of the game for fear of PvP or grouping, you’ll be left wondering what the big deal is with this game. It’s when you experience all of the content in tandem, with friends, and with a clear schedule for a night of solid gaming when the game truly shines. It has a lot of flaws and they will be clearly evident as you play, but if you’re with a group of friends or grouping up with strangers, you’ll have a great time inside of The Divisions devastated Manhattan. We have high hopes for The Division moving forward. There is a great, solid base of a game here with some truly unique ideas and while it may take a full numbered release to reach perfect status, we’re happy to keep playing alongside the DLC and future released content until it does.
Reviewed on the PS4 and PC with code provided by Ubisoft