Released two months ago now, Tom Clancy’s The Division has the gaming community divided on opinion, some love it, some do not. Much like the reviews for Destiny, The Division requires far more game time before a fair judgment can be made and having now spent a considerable amount of time in Ubisoft’s latest open-world environment, maybe now is the right time to look back and review the game properly.
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Out Now
There are reviews out there with polarizing opinions, some just marvel at the game and shout “AMAZING” at just about everything they see like a goldfish mesmerized by a shiny object, where others seem to nitpick at the smallest imperfection. In my view, to really get a feel for how good a game really is we need to look at two areas, the intent of design and how much fun one can experience. So let’s start with the design…
The Division throws you into the a world where multiple government factions have sleeper agents ready for activation when the time comes, this secret militia simply go about their everyday lives. As one of these agents, you are activated as a result of a terrorist attack on Black Friday, at the heart of the Holiday Shopping season. A terrorist group, who are never really mentioned throughout the game, unleashes a bioweapon known as “The Green Virus” through a toxic and infectious liquid on tainted American currency bills. To make matters worse, it appears that a rogue Division agent has been aiding the terrorist cell, spearheading the whole operation. With the virus resulting in death in as little as ten days, you are tasked by the Division to track down this rogue agent, restore order to New York and help find a cure.
Visually, the magnitude of how this virus has affected the metropolis of New York City is very present, the streets are literally littered with the bodies of the dead. The heart of Midtown Manhattan has been turned into a full morgue with bodies bags stacked and lined up all over the place, people just slumped over where they fell, or in smoldering stacks of ash and bone from where they were burned. There is a real sense of sadness across much of the terrain, made more compelling by the holiday season exhibited throughout the more well-known areas such as Time Square, Bryant Park, and Rockefeller Center. Being a native New Yorker myself, it was great to navigate around with a feeling of knowing exactly where I am. I don’t live in New York City, but having worked in the city for a number of years, it gives you a grim idea of what could be if something like this were to ever happen. The transition between night and day, along with the snowing whiteouts from time to time, accent the landscape’s feeling of being trapped in some horrible wasteland which used to be so vibrant with life. Sound also plays a large role in the feeling the city emits as you travel along the streets hearing gunfire echo through the air, random explosions, people yelling for help, or even citizens that have been left to fend for themselves that can be just helping each other out, arguing over food or materials, or just falling and dying on the street at your very feet. It looks fantastic, it sounds greats, but does it capture the fallout that New York has suffered? It certainly does.
As we move on to the more interactive elements of the city, much has been said about the enemies that rule the streets and how rather generic they are, is this really a negative thing? Tom Clancy games attribute themselves with modern day chaos hidden within things that one may consider to be conspiracy theories. There are no super humans, no mutant powers, no laser guns or alien technology weapons, these are normal people, fighting to survive the worst of situations. Technology does still have a part to play, though, in the form of ISAC (Information Sharing and Analysis Center), a supercomputer that plugs into military satellites and databases to analyze records and transcripts of virtually every piece of recorded material, both public and private, to provide you with clues and information about your surroundings. There is a little more to ISAC, of course, with voice commentary as if radioed to you like a police dispatch giving off locations of possible targets or enemies in the area. Think of it as the best GPS you would ever own. The biggest feature of ISAC are the Echo instances that you find throughout the city. The Echoes provide more insight on the story, hinting at what actually happened, who the rogue agent that help distribute the Green Virus is, as well as people with information on the virus and its development. Overall, a good amount of information can be obtained through Echoes to help you piece together the full story and ultimately what your end goal is, with what is essentially just freeze framed 3D rendered scenes with recorded audio posted to them that give you an idea of the scene portrays. It would have been much better if there had been some, even slight, animation to them, but they are still interesting nevertheless.
One interesting thing that many players have commented on when reflecting on the E3 footage from last year is the way the map ISAC projected was superimposed onto the terrain during gameplay, sadly this is not present in the final version. While that would have been fantastic to see in the finished game, given the scale it was probably more difficult to implement than was worthwhile to the whole experience. For me, it is an acceptable loss, a good compromise, but that still won’t stop people from complaining.
Like Echoes, there are other items scattered throughout the environment that you will find, collectibles you’ll come across in the forms of audio logs on cellphones, laptops, and written survival guides for the emergency situation that were created in the wake of the outbreak. Not everything is story based with these collectibles, though, many of them are just small stories of people caught in this madness and how they developed over the course of the time. The side stories, to an extent, also contribute to the story but mostly just help you expand your knowledge about the area giving you points to help develop your skills and resources. A lot of this gameplay focuses on the concept of fetch missions and small boss fights, this is another common critique of the game as a whole.
As I’ve already mentioned, the enemies of the game are very generic, split across three factions which you’ll come across during your time in the game. Unfortunately, there aren’t huge differences between them, no real unique characteristics which set them apart. While I understand that players would like to see a wider scope of enemies, it would definitely have a positive affect on the gameplay, but the timeline really doesn’t realistically allow it. With the time of the outbreak being the Black Friday Shopping Day and the game, through ambient dialogue, placing you around Christmas time, it’s hard to imagine that all of this happened in the span of three weeks as it is, how could these villains develop into stronger and more intelligent enemies? With these factions still in their infancy, the enemies are, as expected in the realism of the game, not highly evolved combatants, they are essentially bands of militias and criminals that come to control parts of the city for their own agenda and reasons.
Like similar games, there are common weak points in each mission which, once played a few times, give you a sense of what to do in order to win over the situation in the easiest way and while the enemies intelligence might not necessarily provide the challenge, the numbers they appear and the strength of their armor and weapons do. Also, the level of your player has an impact on their strength as the game takes into affect your own progression. For example, while you may start the game in what is designated as “low level” areas, as you gain experience even returning to those low-level areas will yield enemies relative to your own level. Once you start getting into the hard version of missions, you’ll start to get a better feel for much of the game in general, though the game does, allegedly, increase in difficulty depending on the number of players you have in your squad but does not seem exponential. Despite this intelligent approach to difficulty, repetition is a common issue and the one where the bulk of the complaints for the game seem to come from.
Now, if you are the type of player that just wants to cruise through a game on your way to the next one, you’ll find this to be a rather straightforward and rudimentary game with a storyline you have to sort of dig for, you’re unlikely to be left overly impressed. Many Ubisoft titles play like this and it is investing the time in looking for all the items, weapons, and collectibles that will peak your interest and ultimately reveal the true wealth of story within the game. There are things to tweak your play style, skills, and talents that you equip in order to create a better load out for yourself. Similar to games like Destiny and Borderlands, The Division even lets you expand all available skills to one character so you don’t really have to change and start a new character all over again to experience all the game has to offer. That said, the game does limit how many you can have active at one time.
The configuration you select is key to your survival, helping in a number of situations for both play vs. environment and player vs. player. The ability to save configurations would have been great, allowing for a fast change, particularly when transitioning to the Dark Zone, The Divisions multiplayer area. Speaking of which, a common argument these days is that games do not hold up well if they have some sort of multiplayer element, this is especially true when it comes to shooters such as Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War and the long favorite, Counter-Strike. Oddly, despite The Divison not appearing in this particular genre of games, it does appear to be the second most popular cover based shoot in history according to the sales figures. While the multiplayer aspect does carry a lot of weight in this game, the story campaign does offer a great deal to players which is likely to get missed by gamers of that mentality. To each their own, though.
So, you’ve beaten the hell out of the campaign and you’re ready for a new challenge, The Dark Zone is the place to test yourself. You may rule the streets of the criminals and outlaws throughout New York, but truly you don’t know a thing about how strong you are until you hit the Dark Zone. Just jumping into the Dark Zone is not recommended without a degree of caution, you definitely have to keep your wits about you as any roaming player or squad can just attack and “go rogue” on you. This is something specific to note that if you are in a squad of players, it only takes one of you to attack a random player that is not hostile to any other player at the moment for you to “go rogue”. Once you turn rogue, you and your entire squad are now marked targets that every one in the Dark Zone can see. To lose your rogue status, you must avoid contact and conflict with any other players for 60 seconds and if you or anyone in your squad attacks another player while in rogue status, the timer resets. Worse still, if you kill another player, the timer increases for you to lose your rogue status. The benefit of going rogue is, or at least was in the initial release, to steal drops others may have collected before they had a chance to extract them, steal Dark Zone credits which are used to make purchases from vendors within the Dark Zone, and collect Dark Zone keys that open large loot crates in highly contaminated zones that can hold much strong gear and weapons for you. Aside from the purchase from vendors, any items picked up in the Dark Zone must be called for extraction from one of eight different extraction areas located in the Dark Zone.
Like going rogue, calling for an extraction basically is like calling out to all would be rogue players to come and kill you in order to take your gathered items of which you can only hold nine at one time and maximum of 30 extracted items that are held in your stash box located at any safe house in the campaign zone or at the main base of operations. Another limit is you cannot leave the Dark Zone with any items in your extraction bag, it’s a good system to help limit you from just stacking items and selling them, so you really have to pick and choose your favorites. You can always create another character just for the purpose of holding additional gear because, at this moment, there is no reason to have other characters other than for aesthetic reasons, like making a character of the opposite sex or possibly a different ethnicity.
It has been a couple of months now since The Division’s release where the initial action of going rogue yielded more negative results than positive results. UbiSoft has only just recently made changes with its first free large content update adding in their Incursion instances. Like Destiny, there are now instances that come in timed intervals in the Dark Zone on the concept of Supply Drops, where players scramble to in order to take control of and “win” advanced items, gear, and weapons. Right now, these are the most sought after items and equipment, but players can still get their chance at advanced gear through the Daily Hard and Challenging difficulty set missions completed through the campaign. Obviously, these are much tougher and take longer to complete, but the payout can be very rewarding.
While I’ve been fairly positive up until now, like any game The Division does have areas which could use improvement. UbiSoft’s track record of recent years hasn’t exactly been pristine with regards to bugs and glitches in their games, but they are learning from their mistakes and appear to be getting back on their game (no pun intended) with their recent releases of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Just Dance 2016, FarCry Primal, Rainbow Six Siege, and now The Division. They still have some way to go through.
Some of the more common issues are falling through the level, doors not opening, and collectibles not registering as being picked up, all fairly standard for the genre really. The biggest complaint, however, is a very common issue in cover-based shooters, the actual cover function. Like in Gears of War, you’re going to get stuck on a wall, you’re going to try to run from danger, you’re going to hold the dive button, which is also the enter cover button, and you’re going to get stuck and you’re going to die. There’s really no easy way to fix this in my opinion, as this is just something we’ll have to deal with in cover-based shooters. The only function I really did wish they had implemented in this game is a crouch function. You can crouch, obviously, if you hide behind a wall or a concrete divider, but since there is no stealth kill function, it would at least help in sneaking past groups of enemies.
In the end, Tom Clancy’s The Division is, quite simply, what Destiny should have been. That is not to say that Destiny was a bad game, as playing with friends is the true benefit and fun of Destiny, but there were a number of flaws and some monotonous tasks that players became very aggravated and annoyed with. The Division has learned and built on the flaws of Destiny and made things much much better. Destiny started something good on this style of play, creating an open world feel on a shooter basis to create a large world in which to interact with, but The Division has created an intense interactive experience out of that. Ubisoft will continue to expand on the core game no doubt, with more DLC planned for the near future and I cannot wait to experience more of New York through the eyes of The Division.