When first announced Tom Clancy’s The Division caught everyone’s eye as an innovative game oozing with potential, but after a waning development cycle many were left to question if this game could truly live up to the hype? As it turns out The Division has some of the best gameplay out there and has a solid story with interesting characters. However the game has many flaws and can’t quite deliver enough thrills to be a multiplayer game to keep us occupied for the foreseeable future.
The Division is an open world, multiplayer game, set in post-apocalyptic New York (specifically Manhattan) a few months after a virus has ravaged the city. You are an agent of the Division, a federal organization that is tasked with stabilizing New York. Your tasks are to figure out what kind of virus it is, who released it and hopefully find a cure. You must also shut down the independent groups of enemies terrorizing citizens, as well as find out what happened to the first wave of Division agents that arrived before you but have since disappeared. It sets up for a lot of story avenues that are genuinely intriguing and personally I couldn’t wait to see where the main plot threads lead. On top of that the characters, for the most part, are excellently realized. Both allies and enemies are interesting and wonderfully acted. The only problem with the whole package is how poorly connected it is. The only time characters ever interact with one another is when talking to your boss, Faye Lau, who in a way is a proxy for your character not having dialogue. While this is already less than ideal Faye Lau is a generic insufferable character with little to offer. It’s a shame because literally every other character has interesting personalities and motivations. It’s clear The Division would have benefited greatly from a speaking protagonist not only for the other characters sake, but also to allow us to be more invested in the story.
On the other hand Manhattan is stunning and built with a lot of care. The detail is staggering and it genuinely feels like walking the streets of a real city. While at least I found the world to feel repetitive genuinely grew to like the gritty, snowy, personification of New York. The winter weather effects lend to a very somber, tense tone, and also lead to some interesting gameplay elements. The city is not an empty shell either. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to investigate filled with collectibles that have interesting stories to tell. These collectibles range from audio clips to written notes. The best of them is the echo, which tells a story in a 3D space. The echoes tell stories that are often visceral and never fail to deliver a gut punch, giving a glimpse into a desperate moment in time for those after the epidemic. They allow you to step into the story, making it more personal and are an interesting evolution on collectible story telling devices. These pieces of intel tend to be more personal, usually surrounding characters in the main plot, while the plot itself focuses on the bigger issues of the virus and control of New York. It’s a decent counterbalance, but I can’t help but think that the main story-line would have been better served to dig deeper in these areas. One such character, a villain named Larae Barrett, sent chills up my spine when listening and watching her, in fact she reminded me very much of the joker. Her role in the primary story is glossed over and it feels like a waste of a great character.
The Division has flaws, but the things it does well are those you walk away from the game with.
The Division’s cover shooting gameplay is top notch and probably has the best cover shooting mechanics I’ve ever used. Getting in and out of cover is easy and intuitive. The spaces in the world are always designed so there is something to get behind no matter what angle you want to engage your enemy from. The shooting feels great and there seems to be a weapon for any play-style or preference. Each gun also sounds incredible, with every bullet a symphony for the ears. The missions are overall designed well and are certainly fun but they all seem to blend. Each one is your character going from room to room eliminating hostiles. There are no set pieces or even memorable moments really. This probably comes down to the fact that this is a multiplayer based game. Additionally, there are few memorable bosses because harder enemies are basically humans with more health. It’s more a symptom of the game being grounded and on earth, which limits enemy design. Speaking of enemies, I found the AI pretty good, as enemies will tend to change cover once hit and some will rush and flank you. I found certain areas difficult not only because of enemies having a lot of health but also because they kept getting too close. It was rewarding to conquer these sections. The greatest personal reward is achieved when playing alone because its definitely more difficult. Although the enemies are scaled for how many members are in your party I found it relatively easy with others. On that note it was surprising how little you see other players if you don’t want to. The map is your own unless you join others on purpose and most of the time The Division feels like a single player game.
The only real issue I had with gameplay was the lack of stealth mechanics. While I understand that in a multiplayer-centric game it’d be difficult to implement, every time I enter an area I salivate at the idea or being able to tackle it stealthily. Since this game feels single player a lot of the time not having stealth just doesn’t fit. When taking a step back to look at the game’s features it’s clear that it’s a game that’s built to be played with others.
So what exactly are the games features? Well, The Division is built around a system of improving and upgrading not only your equipment, but your base as well. Each weapon can be easily modded and the game is constantly dropping new loot to collect. It’s an incredibly addicting cycle. Your character can also upgrade your base which grants new abilities, talents, and perks. Abilities and talents essentially allow you to choose whatever character type you’d like to be and can be changed at any moment. If you want to be a healer you can equip a portable healing drone. If you want to do more damage you can use a turret. Each of these abilities are useful and really allow you to differentiate yourself. The talents on the other hand are significantly less useful and I had trouble find any that I found might be decent let alone good. They feel like a waste.
The real highlight of The Division is the dark done
Perks are skills that are always on and were the main motivator for me when upgrading my base. While customizing is the name of the game in The Division, the exception is your characters appearance. The character builder at the beginning is dreadful and every item of clothing you find is drab and doesn’t stand out. It’s a multiplayer game, part of the fun is dressing in unique stuff and showing off! But other than that minor gripe tinkering with the actual items at affect gameplay is excellent and there’s a surprising amount of depth.
The real highlight of The Division is the dark done. The dark zone is a section of the map where groups of players can fight enemies and each other for valuable loot. In order to use the loot however you have to extract from a certain zone meaning that other players can kill you and steal your loot. Killing other players has its drawbacks though because for the next 90 seconds everyone on your server will know who and where you are so being cautious and taking advantage of opportunities is the key. It’s an incredibly fun and dynamic sandbox. It’s here that I truly felt the tension and fear associated with a post-apocalyptic world. The dark zone has consequences, and the fear of losing loot you’ve waited so long for is real. Remember what I said earlier about this game being significantly more difficult alone? That’s the case for the dark zone but times a hundred. Players and mobs alike will take advantage of you so never go alone. However, there is a thrill of seeing what you can accomplish by yourself so if your a daredevil have at it.
So what will you be doing once the campaign is complete and you’ve hit the level cap? I just talked about it. It’s the dark zone and that’s basically it. There are daily story missions at higher difficulty that offer bonuses but because the missions aren’t that memorable it doesn’t feel like much. On top of that going back and doing side missions ismostly repetitive and boring. And while the Dark Zone is fun and innovative there is only so much time spent in the dark zone to loot grind that can be done before you hit a wall. It’s interesting because the story and leveling up actually takes quite a long time, it feels like this game is more about the journey than the end game. While that’s perfectly fine for most games I can’t help but feel disappointed because The Division was supposed to be more. One can only hope for more content in the future but in its current state this game just doesn’t have legs
While I may have a fair amount of criticisms for The Division there is one undeniable fact. This game is incredibly fun and addicting. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the motto that gameplay is king The Division makes a compelling argument. The looting and customizing of weapons and mods is very enjoyable. Its simple on the surface but has a surprising amount of depth. And while the end game could be longer and the story could be tied together better, the dark zone and characters are compelling and exciting. All in all, The Division has flaws, but the things it does well are those you walk away from the game with.