Our take on the popular NYC pandemic fashion simulator.
Tom Clancy’s The Division on PlayStation 4
It’s a bit strange to call The Division a risk, considering just how much The Division is obviously inspired by, and borrows ideas from, other similar games; but that’s exactly what the final product feels like. Ubisoft bet on itself, its in-game infrastructure, and its ideas with great results. The end product of this gamble is a game that mostly improves on its direct competition while still feeling unique. That being said though, where The Division falls, it falls hard.
First things first, as an obnoxious New Yorker, the thing I need to discuss right away is just how well The Division nails Midtown Manhattan. It’s an incredibly faithful rendition that is a blast to explore. While it’s not as large as Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City, it’s still very detailed. Also, in a nice touch, unlike other modern games that lock out higher level areas to prevent you from getting yourself killed, The Division let’s you explore all of Midtown Manhattan without any restrictions.
What’s also great about the setting is that Ubisoft did a good job of creating a believable post-pandemic world. The U.S. Government was able to partially control the outbreak in Manhattan before it got too out of control. It isn’t total chaos as federal Division agents such as yourself are still able to operate and make progress in the city, but other more nefarious factions are able, and willing to take advantage of the chaos for their own benefit. It’s effectively set up so that Manhattan is teetering between recovery and chaos, and you’re the force that’s going to save it.
As far as the execution of that premise goes, it’s a little hit and miss. It’s certainly more interesting than what was presented in Bungie’s MMO hybrid game, but it’s no Uncharted or Grand Theft Auto either. For the majority of the game, the missions themselves have a severe lack of memorable moments or characters. Just go somewhere, shoot some bad guys, and do something that makes Manhattan a little safer. Nearly the entire game is running errands for the three primary mission givers with very little payoff story-wise.
However, the tidbits of insight into the backstories of the various factions, or the times we get to learn about the pandemic itself, is where The Division shines. Clearly, Ubisoft is capable of presenting interesting story material, but similarly to Destiny, it’s tucked away and drip-fed instead.
There are optional cutscenes and audio logs that add a lot of useful and interesting information. So when you take that into account, it’s certainly passable and at least par for the course as far as MMO-like games are concerned, but it would have been better if Ubisoft beefed up the actual campaign for the casual player just running through the motions. You certainly aren’t bombarded with cutscenes or dialogue playing through The Division, so it’s a little puzzling why Ubisoft would pump the breaks and hide important content in a menu. At least it’s still in the game at all though.
So okay, story-wise, The Division is passable, but nothing special. Luckily, The Division does a lot better job at being an open-world shooter.
Early on, exploring The Division’s take on Manhattan is an absolute blast. The map will remind you a lot of Grand Theft Auto in the sense that there are tons of missions, side missions, random encounters and collectibles for you to discover. Around any corner could be something for you to find. There are also safe houses, which serve as settlements or towns essentially, for you to reload, pick up new side missions, meet up with other players, or just AFK safely in. Each of these safehouses have personalities based on where they were set up. For example, there’s a safehouse in a former boxing gym called Southpaw, and another that is just a converted old movie theater. It’s a small detail, but it goes a long way for MMO fans that enjoy that kind of stuff.
The Division, is also a great cover-based third-person shooter. The shooting is smooth as it should be, and while the cover and roll mechanics can be clunky at times, more or less that works fine too. Also, players are given Diablo III-level amounts of customization over their character (which is a good thing in case you didn’t know).
Players are free to mix and match skills and talents from three different ability trees. Be a hybrid-tank healer, all-out support, or defensive specialist, the choice is yours. You can map up to your three favorite skills (most of which can be specialized further via skill mods), along with talents, which are passive perks that you choose from. Leveling up and playing through the game will also add-on additional passive perks which are all always active.
You can also customize and fine tune your gun to your liking. You can obtain and swap out modifications such as scopes and grips ala Call of Duty. Higher level guns also come with different perks and stat bonuses to your skills that can be re-rolled in order to get your preferred build perfect.
Also there are plenty of non-beneficial clothes that you can obtain to change your appearance. You can be a Rick Grimes lookalike, a solider, or just a normal person with a keen eye for pandemic appropriate fashion. Or, you can be like me, and fancy yourself a Williamsburg hipster. Locked, loaded, and accessorized properly to take back the homeland by any means necessary. No scarf left behind!
In all aspects of personalization and customization – aside from its hilariously shallow character creator – The Division does a great job.
There is one black eye though on The Division’s gameplay that cannot be ignored: it will get quite repetitive by the time you hit the higher levels. At first, snowy Manhattan is beautiful, huge, and filled with optional content to keep yourself busy. However, once you start getting your character level into the high teens, early 20s, you will have just about seen it all. The side missions and encounters will start to repeat and because snowy Manhattan never ceases to be that way, everywhere you go will start to look the same. Sure, New Yorkers might appreciate the subtle differences, but most people will just view it as more NYC during winter.
By far though, the worst offense is the repetition and lack of imagination when it comes to boss enemies. The missions mostly lack any memorable moments or enemies. Just about every boss, be it a main mission boss, or a bounty side mission, are just damage sponges. Bigger, bulkier version of normal enemies with a ton of health. The Division’s “bosses” are far worse than the worst bullet sponges that are seen in Destiny for example.
Thankfully, not every enemy encounter is a drag because of that flaw. The Division can actually be quite challenging, but not because of any creative mechanics from an enemy. Instead, in order to get through The Division’s toughest encounters, you’ll need expert knowledge of your abilities, and when to move around cover. The AI can be extremely punishing and is quite intelligent. The AI will flank you, force you out of cover with grenades or berserker enemies, and punish you with turrets, machine guns, or sniper fire the moment you put yourself in an ill-advised place. There’s not a lot of room for error.
The amount of strategy and smart play needed to overcome tough fights, salvages the dull enemy design a bit, but certainly having both would have put The Division over the top. Because of these issues, many players will eventually flock to the Dark Zone, The Division’s take on a PvP mode of sorts.