So it is finally upon us. Probably the most anticipated game of 2016 so far. It certainly had my head turned when it was announced at E3 almost 3 years ago. Renowned for having its fair share of delays during development resulting in creating more hype, The Division had a lot expected of it. Leading up to its release, The Division had built up a lot of that hype which led me to ask myself a question of whether it will live up to it or not?
Patented with the great late Tom Clancy’s name, developers and publishers Ubisoft had a lot to live up to. The Division looked fantastic, it was a sure fire success. Was it though? Ubisoft are no strangers to hyped up flops, could The Division join this unfortunate realm of disappointments?
As with all AAA games of modern times, The Division had a beta test for all to play and I must say I was impressed. My first impressions were mainly positive. The shooting was tight, movement felt fluid, game world was breathtaking, it had it all. Amongst this I had my concerns. There was a lot of running around and the combat became repetitive. Maybe once the game is released, we will see changes and tweaks to make The Division a unique, memorable experience. At least, that’s what I had hoped.
For a AAA game, the story-line is fairly substandard. New York has been hit with a deadly virus which has decreased the overall population. The ones that live are left to wander and fend for themselves to survive whilst dieing from the pandemic. You are one of the clean up crew. The Division are agents who are sent in to fight against and do something about this problem. You’re the only ones who can. This plot is told through some surprisingly well made cut-scenes. The acting is spot on and there is plenty of sidelines to unfold through the many collectibles dotted around New York such as mobile phones, missing agent files and the eye opening ECHO beacons which activate augmented reality scenes. Strangely, I wanted to play it to the end and see it all. I felt compelled to tackle the many side missions too. They weren’t deep by any standards but I had this strange urge to complete them. Finding missing agents and vital workers, rescuing civilians, taking out thug leaders, I wanted to do them all to cleanse New York of threats and mysteries.
If only the gameplay was as compelling. The Division plays like any standard third person cover based shooter. It’s safe and easy to get the hang of. If you’ve played games like Gears Of War, you’ll be right at home here. Unfortunately, enemies feel spongy and take a good clip or two to take down and there is no perfect headshot to end it quickly. “The Cleaners” are a type of enemy with one particular weak spot that does just that thankfully, the tanks on their backs. They are filled with flammable gas and explode, killing it’s wearer instantly and taking one out amidst a crowd is spectacular. The only fundamental difference in the gameplay are the skill and loot systems. Skills are perks or abilities that can be activated to give you that edge over your opponents. Organised into three categories which depend on your base of operations’ upgrades, perks such as a pulse that displays all enemies within your vicinity and deployable gadgets like a mini turret or sticky grenade are but a couple of the many on offer. They are really fun to use however take time before they can be used again. Sticking a sticky grenade to a group of thugs before detonating it for a spectacular multi-kill is a fragment of satisfaction before all hell breaks loose. More skills unlock as you progress however only two can be assigned at a time. Progression also unlocks talents which are passive skills and mods for your skills to make them much more effective.
Loot comes in many forms. Similar to other MMO titles such as Destiny and Diablo 3, weapons and armour pickups are colour coded which signifies is rarity and quality. Vests, protective masks, knee guards and holsters can all be found and equipped which alter your overall damage per second, health and skill effectiveness. My biggest problem with the loot system is that you can’t see any of it on your agent. Your appearance is only altered by blue items which are purely cosmetic such as jackets, trousers and hats. It’s one area Destiny does better. I wanted to look like an utter bad-ass, not like I’m going on a hike.
Sadly, it’s not long before repetition sets in. You’ll soon find that you’re doing the same JTF supply drop missions or rescuing more civilians and that the story missions are just a combination of killing enemies and defending key points. Luckily though, there is a savior. A special area in New York which offers a completely different experience. This “Dark Zone” is a cordoned off area of the city where rules hold no bounds. Other players roam and extremely dangerous enemies hide. The main motivation for exploring this intimidating section of the city is loot. The Dark Zone has the best loot in the game but it doesn’t come easy. It’s all contaminated and in order to be able to use it outside of the Dark Zone, it needs to be extracted by chopper. It’s no easy task. Especially with other players who would love to take it for themselves kicking around. Killing another friendly player causes you to go rogue which displays you as an enemy. Outlive this phase and you get handsomely rewarded. It’s tough though. Especially early on as it’s noticeably unbalanced. On my first try in the Dark Zone, I immediately encountered level twelve enemy players. I was no match as your Dark Zone level is separate to your story mission level so I was level one. One shot took me out. I needed to find another entrance to the Dark Zone. I did and soon became part of a team of other unknown agents. They helped me fight which raised my level to a more acceptable level. It’s moments like this that makes the Dark Zone special and one of the main reasons to buy this game.
New York is gorgeously detailed, filled with things to see. Citizens fighting over food, stray dogs wandering, rats scurrying around rubbish piles and upturned vehicles are just a few of the many things you will encounter just by traversing the maze-like, urban jungle. There are many levels to it too. Explore the famous subway and sewer systems or take to the rooftops as the weather changes in your never ending search for essentials. Ubisoft promised a bigger city to explore and they didn’t disappoint. I just wish there were vehicles. Destiny had its Sparrow, why can’t we have our own motorcycle or scooter. Running around the streets going from one mission to the next is excruciating. Even more so if the route you take is one you’ve taken before. It encourages you to take short cuts though as one Street forks off onto two more or through a building with a conveniently smashed window creating an ideal entry point.
GR News Editor Stephen Jackson Says…
The Division was one of my most anticipated games of 2016, having been on my radar for several years now. It’s one of the best games of 2016 so far that’s for sure, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re looking for a revolutionary next-gen experience which will keep you on your toes, shakes you up a bit, and leaves you feeling like you’ve had the ride of your life, The Division isn’t it. Even as someone who is enjoying the game immensely right now, I haven’t been left feeling like I will remember The Division long after I have finished playing it. It’s forgettable, which it pains me to say so because New York is truly breathtaking, and I’ve constantly wanted to carry on playing it to uncover further what has happened to the city and its residents, as well as seeing my attempts to save the city come to fruition.
What has made The Division enjoyable for me is the setting and the story, more so than the actual gameplay itself. When it comes to gameplay and its missions, it’s all basic stuff which we have seen a thousand times before. Leveling, loot, skills, perks, talents, it’s all here. Guns have a kick to them, sound superb, and look incredible. Shooting guns in The Division should be fun and satisfying, but they just aren’t. That’s down to the enemies who are able to take a whole clip before going down. They’re spongy, so spongy they could soak up the Hudson river and still have room to spare. It breaks the immersion and makes engaging in random encounters while wandering the streets of New York a chore. I’ve now actively tried to avoid engaging in combat with enemies outside of missions, and that’s a shame.
The bosses are even more ridiculous though, lacking any sort of individual identity when it comes to special abilities or weapons, instead opting to take you down by sheer brute force. They hit hard. Really hard. But that’s it. Stay in cover and you’re safe. Some try to force you out of cover, but it’s predictable as you move to the next piece of cover.
But I am enjoying The Division because I feel like a part of the world, at times. See, the setting is breathtaking. Ubisoft and Massive have re-created New York in such a way that it feels real. The world is believable, as is the virus. As an RPG player, this makes the game immersive to me. I feel like I’m a part of this breathing, living, and barely surviving world. Yet, that immersion is broken when a looter absorbs a whole pistol clip and lives. The immersion is broken when I have to fight a boss who sits behind cover spraying me with his LMG while absorbing hundreds of bullets.
Another issue I have is that I am the hero, or so I am told until I see a dozen or so agents in a safe house who I have no real connection to. You are made out to be the hero in a game which has millions of heroes. I remember The Elder Scrolls Online having the same problem. An RPG in which the universe is centered around you, turned into an MMO in which everyone is the hero, it just didn’t feel right. It’s a similar thing with The Division. I have no connection to other players apart from when I am in the Dark Zone.
Having said all of that, The Division is a game I am having lots of fun playing. As for how long it will keep me, I’m not sure. The gameplay gets repetitive, as do the side missions and encounters. Once you’ve done a district or two, you’ve seen them all. Even the story missions are repetitive when it comes to gameplay as well as being a tad predictable, but I am compelled to still play and save New York which is credit to The Division for the world it has managed to create. And when it comes to the Dark Zone, that area may just be the game’s saving grace, despite it being a place full of death, despair, and destruction.
The best thing which will probably come out of The Division though is the fact that it is seemless, with you being able to transition between the Dark Zone and other areas without any loading screens at all. It’s something we aren’t used to as gamers and will definitely push more games to be seemless in the same way The Division is. It’s quicker and makes the game so much more enjoyable. I often thought about not doing an action as I expected a waiting screen, only to realise that there isn’t one. That feeling is great. This is how gaming should be.