The Division Review

Dollar Dollar Flu Y'All
Developer: Ubisoft Massive Publisher: Ubisoft Platform: PS4/Xbox One/PC

The Division successfully blends several genres into a compelling experience. It is a game that is inspired by classics but manages to carve out its own identity and become much greater than the sum of its parts

If you had asked the general gaming populace a little over a week ago how they felt about the imminent release of Ubisoft’s hybrid TPSMMORPG The Division, half would have said they were excited for the devision, and the other half would have said they were exited for the Diveshion. So while the general spelling and grammar of the denizens of the Internet is appalling, there’s no denying that there was a fair degree of hype for the new IP. So does The Division ride the hype train to success town or buckle under the pressure and get crushed beneath its well-oiled wheels? Thankfully, The Division’s multiple delays in the face of hype have done it a world of favours, and what has graced gamers around the world is a polished package that is both innovative and interesting in its design and a hell of a lot of addictive fun to actually play. While the story is only passable and there are some balancing issues in the endgame, you get the feeling that The Division’s release is only the beginning for this IP, which now has a strong community and substantial forward momentum.

You feel like a young Macaulay Caulkin is never far away

The Division takes place in New York after an epidemic dubbed the Dollar Flu has decimated the US population. The flu is a result of a deadly engineered virus that was deliberately spread via banknotes during America’s busiest day of shopping, Black Friday. It’s easy for anyone to understand how quickly such a virus would spread given the sheer chaos of Black Friday and the amount of money being handled at retailers across the country. As people start to get sick and die from the deadly poison a state of emergency is declared, but the damage has already been done. The country’s infrastructure has deteriorated to the point where it teeters on the brink of total anarchy. You are an agent of the Security Homeland Division (SHD), an elite sleeper cell unit who are only activated in times of great need. You are not bound by rules or morality; it is a case of achieving your directive at any cost. Your agent is actually a part of the second wave of SHD agents who are charged with investigating the fate of the first wave. After entering Dollar Flu-ravaged New York communication with the first wave has gone dark and it’s up to you to discover what happened to them. Your mission is to restore order to New York and hunt the truth behind the first wave and the origin of the virus.

While the premise of The Division’s setting is promising and provides a great background for the action, the intricacies of its plot gets a little garbled in its execution. I can’t say I was particularly engaged in the characters or the grim tale, although as a vehicle for the Division’s tight shoot-and-loot gameplay it works fine. The game commits the crime of taking itself a little too seriously and tries to get you emotionally invested early on, but perhaps I’m just a heartless cynic because I just couldn’t buy into it. It’s certainly not a terrible story and some of the characters are well-portrayed, but there’s a certain disconnect I felt to the proceedings that persisted right the way through. In saying this, the missions and side activities are quite well crafted and are a blast to complete, but it’s less a result of the way they build the story and more in the way encounters are designed and how well they showcase the slick gameplay.

With most of my knowledge of New York around Christmas coming from watching Home Alone, I was worried I’d be bored by the sprawling map and the wintery weather, but the environments end up being quite diverse. A dynamic weather system with a day/night cycle and a truly impressive use of layered lighting effects makes the city feel radically different depending on the hour of the day. Different areas tell the story of the city’s demise too, with garbage piled high in the streets in some areas and impromptu morgues brimming with body bags popping up in others. The game also avoids the perils of setting every mission in a boring subway or on the same snowy rooftop, managing to create environments within each mission that have a distinct visual variety and tone. A highlight of the campaign involved storming a hellish napalm factory inhabited by a group of insane sanitation workers known as the Cleaners (a gang who believe wholeheartedly in the idea of purification by fire).

The Division is at heart a cover-based third-person shooter and the mechanics behind these are phenomenal. There’s an appropriate feeling of weight to your character and their weaponry that’s reminiscent of Gears of War with some shades of Mass Effect thrown in for good measure. Transferring from cover to cover is achieved simply by looking at it and holding the appropriate button, and you’ll be making liberal use of this in every firefight. The AI is absolutely ruthless, and will attempt all manner of manoeuvres to flush you out of cover and overwhelm you. It has been a long time since a shooter really challenged me with its AI, and I was continually surprised by the

Lie down. Try not to cry. Cry a lot

I just wanted to axe him a question

intelligence of the enemies in the way they both coordinated their attacks and responded to mine. If you push up too close to snipers they will run back and let the mid-range enemies give them cover. If you are sitting back behind cover then they will distract you with close-range shotgun troops while the remainder of the mid-range force attempts to flank you. If the enemy feels they have the drop on you they will push the advantage. This is no tedious whack-a-mole stop-and-pop shooter, there are deep tactics to the shooting and this is primarily where the Tom Clancy name shines through. It’s not a realistic shooter by any means though; both you and your enemies are bullet sponges capable of taking a huge amount of damage and this necessarily has to be accommodated in your strategies. Armoured enemies in particular are going to require a fair amount of lead to stop them pushing forward.

…missions and side activities are quite well crafted and are a blast to complete, but it’s less a result of the way they build the story and more in the way encounters are designed and how well they showcase the slick gameplay

So that’s how napalm is made. Fascinating

Bill from Guess Who? has come a long way

With most of my knowledge of New York around Christmas coming from watching Home Alone, I was worried I’d be bored by the sprawling map and the wintery weather, but the environments end up being quite diverse. A dynamic weather system with a day/night cycle and a truly impressive use of layered lighting effects makes the city feel radically different depending on the hour of the day. Different areas tell the story of the city’s demise too, with garbage piled high in the streets in some areas and impromptu morgues brimming with body bags popping up in others. The game also avoids the perils of setting every mission in a boring subway or on the same snowy rooftop, managing to create environments within each mission that have a distinct visual variety and tone. A highlight of the campaign involved storming a hellish napalm factory inhabited by a group of insane sanitation workers known as the Cleaners (a gang who believe wholeheartedly in the idea of purification by fire).

Luckily, in rising to the challenge set by your enemies you have an impressive arsenal at your disposal. This includes the standard array of shotguns, SMGs, pistols, assault and marksman rifles as well as abilities that fall into three different skill trees: Medic, Tech and Security. These abilities take time to recharge and include things like throwing out a support station to heal or revive allies as well as deployable turrets and mobile shields. Your abilities and gear (both weapons and armour) feed into the game’s heavy RPG elements, and I was reminded constantly of brilliant loot-driven experiences such as Borderlands and Diablo. As you gain levels by completing missions and killing enemies you will gain access to higher-level gear that improves your character’s stats and offensive and defensive capabilities. As you complete missions you’ll gain points to feed into the three different skill trees that give you access to more abilities and perks as well as mods that make them more powerful.

The game excels at giving you a steady stream of tasty loot and you get a consistent sense of rapid improvement as you climb towards the level cap, which is 30 at this stage. Unlike other games I could mention (like Destiny, I could definitely mention Destiny here, I’m going to mention Destiny), the loot drops are frequent and generous. In the spirit of many shoot-and-loot RPGs, the gear drops are colour-coded and you’ll often be seeing the inviting glimmer of Blue (High-Quality) and Purple (Superior) gear, and praying fervently to RNGesus for those sweet, sweet Yellow (High-End) drops. The Division seems to revel in eliminating the painful grind that typify many RPGs; every time you venture out you are very likely to return with something that is better than what you had before. While weapons and gear are varied and interesting, it has to be said though that the customisation in regards to clothing is fairly terrible. Cosmetically, everyone is a dreary shade of bleak and shabby and it’s hard to look or feel distinct based on what you can find to wear. The clothing items have some of the most boring appearances and descriptions to ever grace garments and it’s very unlikely that your Mint Sports Jacket or Cool Turtleneck Sweater is going to turn many heads as you trot past them.

Wrong neighbourhood…

Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care. Oh wait, they’re dead

The Division seems to revel in eliminating the painful grind that typify many RPGs; every time you venture out you are very likely to return with something that is better than what you had before

Garbage. Glorious garbage

The urge to play piano can strike anytime

The Division also totes qualities of the MMO genre, and like any MMO reaching the level cap (which took me about 20 hours) is only the beginning of your adventure. The Division’s endgame is primarily fuelled by that insatiable lust for better loot that seems to be engrained deeply in the gamer psyche, and there’s only one place to go to get the very best of it: the Dark Zone (affectionately known as the DZ). The DZ is a massive quarantined area within the map that is filled with high-level loot and tough enemies. Any loot you collect in the DZ is considered contaminated and must be extracted by helicopter before you can make any use of it. The area has its own levelling system, with a current level cap of 99. Progression towards 30 is fairly rapid, but things start to slow down considerably after that. The brilliant and innovative twist of the DZ comes in the form of the PvP elements it brings to the table. Until you’ve extracted your gear, any other brave agent that is willing to accept the consequences can murder you in cold blood and wrest it from your dead hands. Inflicting damage on a fellow agent will mark you as a Rogue Agent however, and everyone on the map will receive a ping of your position every five or so seconds as you attempt to run down a timer and shake your wanted status. Going Rogue will bring your fellow agents out in droves as they try to find you and dispense a little bit of street justice. There are XP bonuses to be gained on both sides of the fence: Racking up kills as a Rogue Agent will net you large bonuses, but taking one down is similarly lucrative. It creates an interesting risk versus reward dynamic, however currently it is far from balanced. You see, if you die in the DZ you die in real life you stand to lose both DZ cash (used to buy DZ-specific weapons and blueprints) and DZ XP. These losses increase exponentially when you are Rogue and it gets to the point where these things (XP in particular) become so precious that going Rogue is simply not worth the mammoth risk. While killing fellow agents and trying to survive the bounty hunters that come swooping in is an incredibly thrilling experience that is guaranteed to get your heart racing, there’s simply not enough incentive to do so. It’s a pity really, because being a dick to people is undeniable fun. At the moment the focus seems to be on trying to make people accidently go Rogue by running in front of them while they’re shooting or trying to get caught in grenade splash damage. Hopefully Ubisoft listen to the community and increase the rewards or decrease the risks of going Rogue, as it’s a little too peaceful out there currently.

Class dismissed

When someone does star jumps behind you in the DZ you know it’s about to get real 

The Division is most certainly a game to be enjoyed with a group of players, but in a testament to its great design it is completely able to be played (and completed) solo. You’ll find things are much tougher if you can’t wrangle a few agents together though, as you’ll have less support and tactical options during missions and you’ll also be targeted in the DZ as a quick and easy kill. I enjoyed doing some of the earlier missions solo and appreciated the challenge of the superb enemy AI, but nothing was finer than rolling with my partners in crime at DYEGB as we did speed runs of tough missions and terrorised the DZ together. The game features an excellent matchmaking system though for all main missions and the Dark Zone, but I really wish I had to go to an external website to find people to play with. Oh wait, I’m really glad I don’t have to do that what a terrible idea.

Kill people in beautiful places

Final Thoughts

The Division manages to successfully blend elements of several genres and channels the spirit of great games that represent them such as Gears of War, Mass Effect, Borderlands and Diablo. In many ways it delivers on the lofty ideas that Destiny aspired to and so gracelessly fell short of. The executive decision by Ubisoft to not release an unfinished product by giving themselves enough time to enact their vision and delay the game multiple times is proof that games can only benefit from this strategy. Indeed, timely delays are something we should be encouraging and not crying rivers of tears over in internet forums. Ubisoft have promised free updates in the future, and hopefully this involves bringing balance to the Rogue mechanic and providing more endgame activities. It has been reported that a mode akin to a raid is coming in the form of Incursion, but in the meantime you’ll find me chasing that high-end carrot on a stick and trying my best to become the scourge of the DZ.

Good

  • Solid third-person shooter mechanics
  • Frequent and generous loot drops
  • Heart-palpitating Dark Zone PvP/PvE
  • Constant sense of progression
  • Masterful lighting effects

Bad

  • Garbled story
  • Rogue mechanic needs balance
  • Endgame will require more activities to keep it sustainable
  • Clothing options are abysmal
8.9

Get Around It

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy
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