Ubisoft takes us into a war-torn post-apocalyptic future in Tom Clancy’s The Division.
Very much in the same vein as Activision’s Destiny, The Division is a third-person shooter-come-role-playing game. It features a persistent online, multiplayer, open world and thus an internet connection is required to play.
When you think about a future where society has crumbled, you think about war, usually nuclear, as the cause. The dystopian world of The Division is a result of a virus, spread by bank notes, across a consumer-obsessed population.
It makes for a nice change, giving us a frightening world on the brink without being set in a clichéd, dusty post-apocalyptic future, or a world where the dead walk. The world of The Division is only a few days’ in the future from our own, and that’s one scary thought.
As an agent, you are a member of an undercover sleeper unit, The Division of the game’s title, brought into action to deal with the aftermath of the deadly pandemic that has claimed so many souls.
A snowy New York, full of abandoned cars, looters and scavengers is your sandbox. This version of New York, laid out for us to explore is full of detail, a living, breathing world of despair. Neighbours bicker for scraps, whilst violent gangs take want they want. Then there’s The Cleaners, with their flame throwers, burning everything in sight.
The Division is Ubisoft’s most original game in years and a major departure from their increasingly contrived efforts of late. The game successfully creates a post-apocalyptic New York on its edge. The atmosphere is helped by the game’s gorgeous visuals. The graphics are top stuff, recreating a believable snowy New York with a full day/night cycle.
As a wandering agent, your mission is to reinstate order in a world fast going downhill. The game is played from an over-the-shoulder viewpoint similar to that of other Tom Clancy shooters like Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. The cover system allows players to dash between points with just one button press to gain ground of get in a better firing position.
The game world is divided up into districts, each with its own difficulty range. Wandering enemies and missions are tied to this range. Within each district is a safe house. Once found you can fast travel to the safe houses, which also act as social hubs for forming groups.
The first task is to get your HQ up and running via three different missions unlocking the Medical, Tech and Security wings. All future missions, side-missions and encounters will provide you with resources allowing players to unlock HQ upgrades and new abilities based on these three groupings.
The Division suffers from the bane of all MMOs- vast beautifully details but sparkly populated environments. Running around picking off random enemies is fun at first, but it soon gets old as the game grabs you and the grind starts. And it is a grind. The reward for your endeavours is loot, loot that’ll allow you to grind faster and beat more powerful enemies.
Your progression relies on constantly upgrading your equipment, which is looted from your victim’s corpses, purchased from vendors or crafted yourself. Whilst powerful enemies drop rare items, you do tend to end up with a lot of mediocre kit that you either discard or trade in for next to nothing.
Good gear is not just required for combat. Some areas are contaminated; requiring an air filter of a certain level to access. You have to constantly be aware of what item’s you’ve got equipped and what you have in your inventory. It’s no good lugging around junk, taking up valuable space in your backpack.
As polished as the game is, there’s still some work to be done. A couple of times I faced annoying glitches which meant starting the mission again. The Division is a very controlled experience. You fight where the developers want you to fight and you jump where they want you to jump.
This was really apparent during a glitched mission where my teammates and myself were trying our best to kill ourselves without success. There really needs to be an option to go back to the previous checkpoint rather than have to throw away an hour’s worth of effort.
The game only wants you to die where it wants you to die, at other times you are pretty safe. No accidentally jumping off buildings to your doom. The Division has you covered.
Thankfully, the combat is fun. Still, I didn’t find it quit as satisfying as Destiny– an altogether better game than The Division. Enemies seem to lack initiative, either staying put or just marching towards you- the difficulty being that you are often given know where to retreat to instead of challenging AI.
Of course, things get more interesting in the tougher PvP Dark Zone. Here, not only are there tougher enemies, there are also rogue agents- other PvP players that have a bounty on their head which in turn other players can collect. It’s a dangerous place, but one that most definitely has appeal if you like a challenge.
It’s not a game you can jump into for a quick go. The main missions are long and the game paces your character level (unless you are a master grinder) so that you soon really need to be part a team to succeed later on.
Multiplayer interactions are advised, as well as making time for extended sessions. Some options are, however, available for the unsociable and time-poor gamer. As well as random interactions with hostile looters and cleaners, there are a number of side missions and encounters scattered about the maps. These short excursions allow for bite-sized gameplay sessions granting a moderate amount of loot and resources for your HQ.
This being a Ubisoft game, there are also loads of collectables in a form of intel, mobile phones and the somewhat interesting echos. Echos provide an 3D AR snapshot in time of an event which can be analysed for more information.
The games’ online-only status means that pausing for a quick wee isn’t going to work for you, unless you are in a safe house. Similarly, having to cut a session short mid-way through a mission will require you to start, again, from the beginning when you are next on.
Whilst at the moment it’s pretty easy to find a co-op team to join on a tough mission, it may not always be the case. It’s clear that the game currently has a lot of players on the PS4, which is really important for a game with one foot in the multiplayer camp. My biggest fear with The Division is that as players level up, new players will find themselves alone and without other players of a similar level to accompany them on the lower level missions. Only time will tell if the game has legs.
The Division is a great game. Right now is a fun shooter with a good multiplayer community. Ubisoft have stepped out of their comfort zone and offered us something a little different from their usual fayre. It is both polished in presentation, but a little rough in execution. It relies less on the sort of narrative adventure that props up the aging mechanics of their Assassin’s Creed series, revealing a few cracks.
Recent patches and the inclusion of incursions, the game’s equivalent of raids, has seen the amount of players using exploits to get top-end gear spike. Ubisoft needs to keep this in check in or to maintain the community else The Division becomes just another great formally great game that nobody plays anymore.
The Division is most certainly worth a look, but it’s future rests with Ubisoft and the quality of its continued support.
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