The Division has been out for a week now and it’s time for a review. Is the game good? Or is it another Watchdogs? If you played either of the betas, as I did here, then you most likely already have a formed opinion of the game. Having played the full game, logging almost 30 hours, I can say confidently that the beta sums up the experience pretty well.
This review is mainly for the benefit of players that didn’t play The Division betas. Spoiler alert: the game is good.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
The story hasn’t changed much from what has been revealed in trailers and what I covered in the preview. A bio-terrorist attack with weaponized smallpox ravages the world in a pandemic, with New York City as ground zero for the infection.
You are part of The Strategic Homeland Division, or simply “The Division”, a government agency whose agents act as self reliant sleeper cells until activated by a major catastrophe. Then, your only mission is to restore order and government by any means necessary without any oversight.
With that out of the way, I want to talk about the world the writers built. When the story advances, you feel like you’re being treated to a big summer blockbuster. The premise isn’t going to wow anybody, we’ve seen it a million times, but it’s presented in an entertaining way so I’m not complaining. We knew from the start this wasn’t going to be a cerebral study of choice in gaming like Bioshock or meme theory like Metal Gear Solid 2.
So I’m gonna nitpick. Through The Division, you encounter collectibles that tell you bits of the world of post-outbreak Manhattan. The trailers do a pretty good job of showing how bleak the situation is, and the actual game builds on that heavily.
ECHO devices, holographic reconstructions of a scene frozen in time made with surveillance equipment in the city, show you a snapshot and dialogue of a given situation. It could be a trio of survivors, trapped in a car being torched alive by the insane “Cleaners” faction. It could be a woman, desperately screaming for her partner while people in hazmat gear separate them in a refugee camp.
There are cellphones strewn around, which playback the last conversations had in them when you find them. You hear about a little girl excited about winning tickets for a play in the radio, an escaped convict calling his ex-wife, an emergency call after many children get sick in a school at the same time…
You also find data from drones and laptops from personnel attacked by rioters, showing you how bad the situation got.
Their purpose is to make you feel about the plight of these people, to care about them. And it works like a charm. The voice acting is spot on, the body language expertly crafted, the cold truth of how down humanity has fallen cuts like a knife.
And then you talk to the safehouses’ NPCs, the ones that give you quests, and cringe at the most bland and stereotypical 2D characters someone invented. I’m sure they were done at last minute and you were supposed to get quests from bulletin boards, because there is no way in hell the same people that made me feel anguish at the plight of an unnamed character I’ve known for 10 seconds also wrote about a character that talks about being an actor in a TV show and how you’re almost as cool as he is RIGHT AFTER A BLOODY FIREFIGHT TO SAVE A GROUP OF HOSTAGES.
All that care in worldbuilding to have it ruined by gimmicky characters. The one that won’t shut up about his allergies, the one that reminds you all the time about how much you’re gonna die, the one that’s totally not a mob boss. It’s jarring, but after completing the side missions for each neighborhood you never have to deal with them again.
Graphics and “Snowdrop”
Snowdrop is the brand new engine Ubisoft created for the latest generation of videogames. There was a lot of hype surrounding it, from what you can see in that link it certainly is an ambitious project. Did it deliver? Well, considering PCs are capable of much more than consoles, let the community of PC gamers make my point for me:
These are not from a press release, but actual screenshots taken by players using custom settings to remove from the shot the HUD and player character. There is a lot of focus on light in this game, and through the morning fog, blazing fires spitting ashes, snowstorms and more it truly shines- pardon the pun. There is nothing like walking in Tenderloin, near the napalm fires started by one of the enemy factions, as the mix of snow and ashes swirls through the air. Looking at fire you can see the air shimmer as the heat distorts your vision.
One weak aspect though, is the character creation system and the character customization. There are very few options, and call me spoiled by other RPGs, but I expect to be able to make my own character instead of choosing from half a dozen faces. And when you want to equip cosmetic gear, you can’t turn your character around or zoom on anything, which kinda defeats the purpose of this. How can I customize a character when I can’t see what I’m doing?
Level-wise, when you look at the world you won’t see copy pasted environments. I looked at photos of landmarks and the layout of the streets in maps, I’ve looked for real New Yorkers opinions of the game and I can say with 100% certainty this is the best representation of the city in a videogame in history. Props to the artists and level designers for executing this so well!
The Division runs very smoothly with pretty much everything turned to the max with a 970. “Snowdrop”? More like “jaw drop”. Anyone? No? Ok, moving on.
Many people drew comparisons to Destiny. I wouldn’t know, because it’s not on PC and I don’t like console exclusives on principle. But if this game truly is like Destiny, then Destiny must be a pretty sweet game because I can’t quit playing The Division.
The gunplay of this game is cover based, like Gears of War and Rainbow Six. You move from cover to cover. Except not. Because there is no stealth in The Division, you can’t do ambushes and clever aiming like in RS, and because the focus is on the RPG side of things you can’t just shoot and hide while your health regenerates.
You can unlock abilities and passive talents that can change the way you use cover. You can reinforce it, set up defensive turrets on it, you can move faster with less damage from cover to cover. My favorite is one that give you extra damage for each meter you walk from each point of cover. And since your health is divided in blocks with very limited regen, you’ll want to fight smart and not hard.
The Division is really hard for solo players like me, but I was surprisingly pleases with the matchmaking system. I know a few players had some issues with queuing for a game. Literally, as in standing in line at the DMV. Well, apparently those were sorted out fast, because I missed any hilarious moments such like this one below. I had a lot of fun playing with complete strangers so I can imagine it’s even better with friends.
The guns themselves feel very Borderlands-y. They have randomly generated stats, is what I’m saying. There aren’t a billion kajillion zillion guns, but there is the option of customization with mods. You can build new weapons yourself, which will have randomized stats- inside of a certain margin- so you’ll want to find blueprints and try your luck with the gathered materials you have. There’s even an unlockable for your base that allows you to re-roll some attributes!
So, the city is massive. To encourage exploration, the devs not only filled Midtown with collectibles, but also weapons and loot. And unlike most RPG vendor trash, a lot of what you find is useful in more ways than one: even if the gun doesn’t have the stats you need, you can re-roll it at your base or dismantle it for high quality crafting items. Even then, the best gear is often out of your way. As you explore the excellently rendered environments, you stumble at truly useful pieces of gear.
But, what about your character? Well, leveling up does nothing to your attributes. What it does is enable you to equip gear with a level cap. Your weapons and items directly affect your damage, health and tech abilities. You unlock active and passives skills by upgrading your base, which needs the completing encounters and missions. Grinding is pretty much useless, because the best way to move up is to move forward.
And my favorite part? Because the abilities are completely modular, you can change absolutely every aspect of your character’s role in combat on a whim, without having to level up a new one all over again!
The enemies are total bullet sponges. Again, it feels Borderlans-y, and it’s not only a little bit weird to see how superhuman some enemies are in a Tom Clancy title. Then again, this IS an RPG as well. I couldn’t decide if the AI is brilliant or stupid sometimes. I figured it was both. Because I noticed that each enemy type behaves differently according to it’s faction.
So the gangsta wannabe Rioters rush at you with baseball bats and point their guns sideways, while the Cleaners try to flank you to use their flamethrowers, the enemy snipers try to blind you with flashlights to hide their position before firing, Rikers go for the overkill and so on. And then comes a special type of spoilery enemy that gives you a run for your money, including the ability to hack your own abilities and pit them against you!
The OTHER game
There is another, darker side to this game. The DARK ZONE is the PvEvP area. It has been called “Triple A Rust” because of it’s lawlessness. While you can enter it at practically any point of the game, I recommend waiting until the middle act because the difficulty ramps up to brutal levels. The loot here is the absolute best too, but to get it out you must call for an extraction helicopter and bunker up against enemies that will be attracted to your position.
The in-game justification for the Dark Zone is that the Joint Task Force- the combined efforts of cops, soldiers, firefighters, EMTs and other surviving emergency personel- underestimated the threat of infection and riots. They had to pull out and wall of almost the entire center of the city, leaving all their best gear behind in the effort. Now the area is lawless and riddled with the virus and the worst humanity has to offer.
Because the gear is so good, you have to content with other players that might want to kill you for your loot. Or trick you into attacking them, making you fair game. You see, when a player attacks another one in the Dark Zone, he becomes a Rogue Agent. The longer he attacks and the more he kills, the longer he’s branded as a traitor and has HUGE bounty on his head.
Since Dark Zone gear and crates have their own level requirements, and dying here can cause you to level DOWN in that ranking, players have to evolve tactics constantly. It’s a lot of exhilarating, tense moments and the adrenaline rush when you pull of an extraction feels very good. The Dark Zone is BRUTAL so be sure to play using co-op or prepare for a huge challenge.
We have here a game with superb voice acting even for bit characters you never see their faces, with a bleeding edge graphics engine and excellent gameplay. Many people find the fighting repetitive, and yes they are right. But also they’re doing it wrong: if you don’t want repetitive combat, then why are you playing what is essentially an MMO? And with all the crazy options you have to create very different combat abilities, addictive gameplay and strategy involved in the meta-game, you’ll find The Division is more than it seems at a first glance.
This game is a must buy for co-op fans, and in the future it will be updated with both free new content and juicy expansions for Season Pass and Gold/Collector’s Edition holders!