WHAT IS THE DIVISION?
During my time in the closed and open betas for Tom Clancy’s The Division, I was unsure of how this would feel and play out past the level cap set on players during the period. After getting my teeth into the full game, as well as running into an interesting server login fiasco, (which I expected after playing several MMORPGs throughout my gaming career), I can safely say that The Division offers a great, fun experience that all players should try out.
The story for The Division seems like standard fare for most post-apocalyptic games: a deadly disease, called the Dollar Flu, has spread across the New York City during Black Friday, wreaking havoc across the landscape and killing millions. In order to help halt the spread of the deadly virus, the government has basically put the entire city on lockdown, and initiated Directive 51, the special presidential directive used to activate the various Division sleeper agents scattered across the city. Your job as an agent is basically to take the city back from the various gangs attempting to take control, and discover a way to combat the deadly Dollar Flu. While the premise does not seem that inventive from other post-apocalyptic settings, the environments and landscape give a nice change in pace, as you walk through trash littered across the streets and various Christmas lights and decorations scattered around the city, showing more chaos than one would normally see during the holiday season. These differences give the game a slightly different feel from other media of similarity, as seeing holiday greetings and decorations give a different tone than the generic, desolate wasteland that other post-apocalyptic settings seem to give off.
Once you finish the character creation process, (creatively done through a car window reflection), the game walks you through what seems to be the “tutorial” of the game, giving you only a small section of the expansive city to learn the controls and get used to other aspects of the game, like the mission structures and getting used to utilizing safehouses around the desolate city. This is a nice touch, as it gives place just a spoonful of the game, before throwing off in the deep end once you hit the main cityscape and navigate the various symbols and icons on your 3D map, although if you, like myself, got a chance to play the beta, then you should have no problem knowing where you need to go. In true video game fashion, this tutorial area does its job well of preparing you for the real missions, which come up quickly. The game rewards effort upon success, but can be brutally punishing at times if you’re under leveled and waltz into the wrong area.
Directive 51 initiated
Many of the mechanics in the game seem to be very well thought out. Navigating through the city is easy enough, and the fast travel function once you visit a safe house or mission is a helpful addition, saving some much needed time in case you and your friends need to get across the entire map. Speaking of the map, the mission structure seems to flow well, although the 3D map can get somewhat confusing at first glance when looking at it. Once you start getting some missions and side objectives under you belt, however, these minor bumps fade away pretty quick. There are also tons of items to collect in the game to help you out, from gear, to smaller items to help boost stats or cure ailments, although those items don’t really serve an important game function. If I got blinded by enemy smoke, I usually tended to wait until it passed, instead of using a small item that I forgot about. It would have been better to apply some more impact to those status effects, in order to utilize your full inventory a bit more. Also, unlike some other “shared world shooters”, like Destiny, The Division does offer matchmaking for all of the content, even though they recommend playing with people you know for the late game content. Even so, this addition really helps if you run into some hurdles and your friends aren’t online to assist.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS...
One thing that Ubisoft Massive did very well was their attention to detail with the gear and items throughout the game. Several very real firearms are in this game, and they stick to the roles that those particular weapons were designed for, and execute the style of play needed to take advantage of those weapons. Everything ranging from the old M1 Garand and the M44 Mosin Nagant, to the current M249B Light Machine Gun can be found in the game, and operate accordingly. Just being able to play around with these weapons in the digital world feels very satisfying. The developer didn’t stop there, though. They also added actual weapon upgrades and modifications into the game. When you want to zoom in further, you can get some new optics to add on top of that marksman rifle. If you want faster target acquisition, then you upgrade the sights on your automatic rifle. There are also suppressors, muzzle brakes, magazine extensions, and coatings for the exterior of the weapon. These details really show the care that Ubisoft Massive put into the game to make it as real as possible.
On the flip side to this, you also have a wealth of customization options for your clothing. Cosmetic upgrades are in the game, and they change the way your character looks, but some of them can also be used as armor upgrades. An example would be kneepads and bulletproof vests, which can change you cosmetic style, but also offer some much needed armor and defense against enemies. They are just some of the items that can have an impact on how you play. All of the meaningful pieces of gear you can equip modify different values for your character, which will enable you to have different perks trigger on your weapons and make skills obtained from those trees more capable than before. They, just like anything else, can be dropped by enemies, but they can also be crafted alongside weapons and upgrades, provided of course that you have the materials needed.
It's dangerous to go alone
Looking at gameplay, the controls feel tight and responsive when navigating the remains of New York, with the only issues I have run into being unable to move into cover intermittently. I fear this may be an issue with the game engine, as I’ve had issues getting into cover on corners or in front of my character. The good news is that weapon handling and zoom work as expected. The animations for firing the weapons are top notch. The audio of the firearms as they’re fired was captured and applied extremely well. The different parts of the weapons move as they would in real life while reloading and firing. Audio captured from all of the weapons that I’ve fired in the game sound like they were captured in real life, whether they are suppressed or have a loud muzzle brake equipped. All of the prior points about the quality of the firearms sounds, movement, and animations help do a good job of immersing you in the world. The music also helps, and can be ethereal at times, and heavily imposing at others. One thing I can say is that, like most video game music, it easily sets a great tone within the game, and does not get too distracting when the more imposing pieces roll in. As far as play styles go, this game can definitely be played by yourself, which is a nice change of pace from other games in the genre. Most of the encounters and missions can be run through on your own, and with matchmaking, you can easily look for help if needed. The Dark Zone, the main endgame content that Ubisoft Massive is pushing, is another beast entirely. The area seems designed to be run through with groups of players, and running through solo, while somewhat possible, is also extremely punishing. I tried a few times heading in on my own, and was immediately shut down before even getting a chance to navigate the mysterious zone and grabbing some of the endgame loot available. This concerns me, as some solo players may have trouble grabbing some of the best loot in the game if it is walled off in the Dark Zone. Hopefully, there are other ways to pickup some of the high-end gear in the game outside of the Dark Zone, to help combat this.
The content release strategy for the game revealed so far sounds appealing and evenly paced, with the only thing making it better is that the first two DLC packs are free. The last three packs can be picked up with the season pass, or you can just wait and see before throwing down the extra cash. I only hope that Ubisoft Massive takes cues from other competitors, like Bungie and Destiny, and look at ways to add a consistent stream of content to the game throughout its life. I can see some of the missions and encounters getting repetitive over time, so hopefully, they add some different content throughout their post-launch plans to keep the game fresh.
SAVE WHAT REMAINS
Looking back at my play through of The Division, this is a great game and definitely worth playing, but there is still so much to work on. The environments, tone, and sound really bring players into the crumbling remains of New York. The items and gear you can acquire are really detailed, and much care was put into making sure they were as life-like as possible, which really helps with the immersion. While the gameplay is solid, there are definitely a few tweaks that can made to really give it that extra polish. Plus, some items you pickup seem a bit tacked on in the game, and a few mechanics (like the map) could have been executed a bit better. The one thing I can say, is the team at Ubisoft Massive has done a far better job on building this world and bringing it to the masses than some other attempts in the industry, and hopefully they give the game the support it need to make it truly something special.
- Some cumbersome mechanics
- Some difficulty spikes
- Soloing Dark Zone is brutal
- Amazing attention to detail
- Great environment/setting
- Good sound/audio
- Solid, responsive controls
For the purposes of this review, Tom Clancy's The Division was primarily played on the Playstation 4