Despite being primarily a third person shooter, like Destiny and other hybrid games before it, The Division has a lot in common with RPGs and MMORPGs. You don’t just hop from mission to mission like in other shooters (well maybe you could, but you’d need lots of help probably). Even in shooters that utilize experience points and levels, more often than not, you get what you need naturally from progressing through the campaign. That’s not the case in The Division. There’s a bit of downtime and grinding necessary to get your character powerful enough to reach new areas.
The ebb and flow goes something like this: On the map you’ll have your main missions which have minimum level suggestions. Considering The Division is tougher than your average shooter, usually you’ll want to stick to them unless you have help. These missions often have gaps of about two levels between them. The best way to bridge that gap is to clear out the side missions and encounters in the surrounding neighborhood. These side activities give you supplies to help learn new abilities and XP to level your character up which gives you access to more powerful weapons and armor.
The pacing is just enough to keep you from getting worn down too quickly, although the repetitiveness of the setting and side activities might bore some people.
Regardless of where you are on the map, the side missions and encounters all draw from the same activity well. Go take out some named enemy, assault a stronghold, defend a JTF patrol, etc. It may take you a while to notice it at first, but by the time you’ve hit the upper levels, you’ll know the routine pretty well. It’s certainly tolerable because The Division is a fun, well-made shooter, making it enjoyable to just play, but it can get boring after a while. Luckily, there’s a lot of little surprises on your way from point A to point B. You’ll run into contaminated areas, buildings with useful supplies, echoes with interesting lore tidbits, and missing agents to investigate. All of that plus the missions means that The Division’s leveling grind never gets too dull.
Missions are much longer than your average activity, and can be pretty epic if you’re playing them at the suggested level. A lot of the firefights will require excellent teamwork and full use of your arsenal to counter the enemies’ intelligent AI, and the overpowered foes. Some missions also throw in mechanics that add to your stress. Such as being timed to find and disable safety valves to keep a Power Plant from blowing up, while also taking on hordes of enemies.
Early on at least though, there is a noticeable lack of memorable moments or individual enemies in the missions. The Division is grounded in realism so there aren’t many bosses that you remember because of some crazy thing that they did. They just have more health and more support than you do. The fun comes from the satisfaction of knowing that your superior tactics and teamwork were good enough to overcome a real challenge. There’s a big difference between playing with people who know what they are doing and people who don’t, which is probably a good thing.
The other drawback on leveling up in The Division is the setting. The Division is gorgeous, and sometimes you’ll entertain yourself by just walking around the streets of Manhattan, taking in all the sights. I certainly did. However, I’m also a New Yorker, and got a kick from exploring The Division’s excellent rendition of streets that I have walked many times in my life. Some people, though, might get tired of snowy midtown Manhattan pretty quickly. Most likely only native New Yorkers will really appreciate the subtle differences between the neighborhoods. Everyone else? It’s just another area of Manhattan with a different name. At least in other MMO-like games, you’re rewarded visually with new different looking areas to explore when you get stronger. This is not the case in The Division.
There are a couple of things that need to be in place in order for you to fully enjoy your time working your way up the ranks in The Division. First, you have to be OK with a little bit of grind. It’s not an offensive amount, especially if you’re coming from a MMORPG background, but it isn’t non-stop story action like Uncharted either. There’s downtime between significant action and you yourself is responsible for finding something productive to do.
Second, you should enjoy exploring and watching/listening to the optional story material that is earned after missions and discovered around Manhattan. The cutscenes and other heavy story material are few and far between when you account for the time you’ll be spent doing side activities. While this isn’t Destiny where almost all of the lore is locked away on an app, it isn’t right in your face either. To make sure the main missions don’t just feel like longer side missions, you’ll need to be OK with doing some prep/post work by viewing any optional cutscenes/audio to get the full story experience.
As long as you’re good with all of that, you should enjoy your pre-endgame time with The Division.
Ubisoft decided to not provide early access to reviewers and instead opted for having everyone start the same time on launch day. So with that, Twinfinite will be on the front lines of Manhattan with you all giving our impressions on The Division as we play through it. This is part two of a series of logs that will eventually culminate into a proper, scored review. You can view part one right here.