The Division Review

by

It’s dangerous to go alone…

It’s felt like The Division has been a long time coming since Ubisoft’s reveal a few years back. Such was the intrigue and promise laid down by the announcements, it’s arrival couldn’t have come soon enough for wide-eyed onlookers. Fortunately, The Division’s blend of easily accessible social shooting and addictive MMO gear looting mechanics manage to tick just enough boxes to make the wait worthwhile.

Game: The Division
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft
Reviewed on: (Review copy provided)

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I can’t say I was that surprised, though. The same social mechanics that Destiny somehow managed to pigeon hole after drawing inspiration from other genres still holds strong. Yet, The Division does manage to do a number of things better, and I can say with full confidence that it is by far a more fleshed out and appealing proposition at launch than Bungie’s shooter was – and that’s coming from someone who’s sank untold amounts of hours into Destiny, without regret.

Void of all the bright colours, superpowers and well… spaceships, you’d be forgiven for thinking that The Division was a more mature gamer’s alternative. That’s not really the case, and in some ways it may work against Ubisoft when the lack of pallette restricts the variation they’re afforded when developing the game further. Moreover, Ubisoft’s recreation of a plague-ridden Manhattan is astoundingly beautiful, yet worryingly forgetful; detailed, but baron; full of surprise, yet largely repetitive – I’ve yet to fully wrap my head around The Division’s quirky gaming paradox.

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As you can probably imagine, the narrative is a cocktail of typical Clancy-esq parables designed to paint a dire picture of the desolation and turmoil around you, but it is executed well. Cutscenes break up the gameplay when you need it to most, whilst every mission you choose to embark on is greeted by useful radio chatter that fleshes out motives and carries pacing equally well. As previously mentioned, there’s holes in this world that desperately need filling when it comes to actual interaction, but as you step out from the initial safe zone, you’ll feel the eerie tension of a biologically ravaged New York City and I personally found myself instantly invested in its plight.

Most of the gameplay revolves around The Division’s third person shooting as you endeavour to rebuild your sleeper agency and restore some order to NYC. Side missions are generally pretty straightforward cases of hostage rescue or enemy clearance that feel a tad recycled even early on. The main storyline offers some better twists and scenarios, but you’ll need to spend time away from them, building your levels up to meet recommendations and improving your load out through drops and rewards. Unusually, these missions offer up some the game’s most memorable moments, whether it be through interesting locations, tense narrative or strategically tough boss fights.

In that sense you’ll almost wish that it was a classic shooter of old, with no open world or multiplayer facets. The MMO trappings can feel like an unwanted distraction at times. Not because they’re bad, but because you’re almost forced to engage in them to level, in turn allowing you to progress further into the excellent story missions. You’ll feel the grind at some point, too. Although it’s not quite as bad as you’d imagine, baring in mind the absolute wealth of content available from the outset. The main story will most likely set you back over 25 hours alone, which most dedicated single player shooters would be immensely proud of.

As with typical MMO’s, the longevity is in the loot and The Division sticks to those staples with an iron fist. White, blue and purple named weaponry dictates how ‘special’ that piece of gear might be and what perks it might contain. There’s also a ton of customisation options and upgradeable character paths that’ll keep RPG lovers happily flicking through menus for hours on end – it’s actually quite impressive when you think about all the mechanics on show; you could throw The Division into a meat grinder and come out with three or four perfectly acceptable games, each attaining to different sub-genres of their own.

Whilst you can go alone, a lot of death and frustration can be avoided by grabbing some friends along for the ride. Where some similar games falter at bringing people together, The Division excels. Matchmaking is effortless with well placed and easy to use in-game tools that can bring you together with random players or friends. Sometimes you might even see friends wondering your map that are instantly joinable, or need a little back up for a story mission. It’s all so easy and accessible, it feels almost embarrassing that there’s multiplayer games out there not using the same methods – methods that some mmorpgs have been successfully adopting for years.

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The combat is pretty solid, without being fantastic. In one respect the shooting feels weighty and satisfying, with enough variety in loadouts to keep things interesting. On the other hand, enemies can be a mixed bag of bullet sponges and overly aggressive nuisances that make you want to gouge your eyes out with the L and R sticks. The cover system follows suit; by pressing the relevant button you’ll take cover behind walls and objects, then by aiming and holding the same button you’ll leap out of cover and automatically run to the next position. It’s very tidy and immersive, but again, can lead to hair-pulling frustration as you desperately try to find spots whilst simultaneously getting chased down by bad guys who clearly didn’t get the memo about this being, in actual fact, a cover-based shooter – get back behind your wall, damn it.

Once you’re done swearing at the AI, you can continue to do so at other humans in the Dark Zone. Due to excessive contamination this area was apparently abandoned completely and now acts as a free-for-all area where bad guys are just as likely to be other players scrummaging for special and more powerful items. The catch is, once you’ve acquired said gear, you can’t just walk out with it, it needs to be extracted by helicopter at certain rendezvous points. The process is just long and loud enough to alert everyone to its presence, leaving you to become a target for other exploitative players to have a pop at you and steal your sweet loot. It’s a fun and novel twist on PvP that pits you in more than a few mexican standoff situations. There’s nothing quite as tense as a group of strangers cautiously waiting for a dangled extraction rope to drop down, all with itchy trigger fingers and beady eyes.

VERDICT

So, even after many hours with fatigue starting to set in, I still find myself drawn to The Division. The shooting, the easy access to multiplayer mechanics, the promise of loot and a wonderful story campaign all manage to cloud over any frustration and repetition the game suffers from. I do have fears over end game content and how Ubisoft plan to keep The Division relevant long term, but even as it stands, the bulk of high quality content on offer in this initial package is well worth the outlay alone.

All I ask is that you let me extract my gear in peace… please?

8.5/10

Began gaming on a hand-me-down Commodore Vic-20 back in the mid 80's and hasn't managed to shake the addiction yet. Genres of choice include anything that contains bullets and/or bouncy balls. Has been known to dabble in Destiny content.

@nickjh82

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