The Division is an incredibly ambitious game. Although its too early to judge The Division as a whole, it only takes a few hours of gameplay to see its not so subtle inspirations. So far, what The Division feels like is if Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto, and Destiny all had a test tube baby in New York City, and the baby is, well, actually kind of cute.
The Division doesn’t waste a lot of time holding your hand. In a succinct, non-offensive tutorial to start the game in Brooklyn, you’re quickly introduced to the basic gameplay and mission structure. After a couple of short missions, you’ll be dropped into the open world of Manhattan. Shortly thereafter, you’re shown your home base, that you will be building up throughout the game and really after that, you’re on your own to explore.
This structure to start the game feels a lot like how Grand Theft Auto is set up. You’ll be checking your map often as it will constantly evolve to include more destinations that you can set your waypoint to and check out. Similar to how GTA has different mission givers that you can visit, The Division has that same kind of structure with the Medical, Security, and Tech wings. Once you kick each one of them off, you’ll get a steady stream of missions and side missions to take on for them.
You’re not anchored to those missions though. At any point you could just go kick it in Manhattan and do whatever you like. The Division’s open world is very similar to Destiny’s but with some big improvements. There are plenty of encounters and side quests – which are quite similar to public events and patrols but more ubiquitous – for you to take on anytime you leave your home base. Some of those missions are tied to the three wings in your home base. Completing them provides supplies to the wings which allows you to upgrade your base and gain new skills, talents, and perks. While it’s hard to say how interesting they will be 30+ hours in, early on at least, they are quite fun.
You’ll be able to meet up with other players at the various safe houses around Manhattan or out in the open; and with just a couple of button clicks, you can team up with them. What’s especially handy are the matchmaking stations which are found right outside of the start of main missions. Want to go at it solo? Just go ahead and proceed. Want buddies? You can start matchmaking right within your own game. This always online open world is obviously inspired by games like Destiny, but feels way more fluid and natural.
The Division’s take on an open world Manhattan leaves a strong first impression, however, that’s not the only aspect that shines. The Division’s RPG elements, which take a page from Mass Effect’s book are also very promising. As mentioned earlier, through upgrading your base, you can unlock new abilities to customize your character from the three main skill trees: Medical, Security, and Tech. In a lot of ways they feel similar to the classic MMO paradigm of healer, tank, and DPS, but not as rigid. Like Mass Effect, you can map your favorite skills from any tree to be used in battle seamlessly and eventually upgrade them to further enhance them.
However, Commander Shepard rarely went at it alone and ideally, you’ll show up to battle with a squad of teammates each with complimentary abilities because The Division can actually be pretty challenging, at least to start. The AI will punish you if you run in with guns blazing. You’ll need to take advantage of your full set of perks, skills, talents, and grenades to survive. If you’re the only one around to take all the enemies’ heat, expect to have a much rougher time.
What would have been nice though is if The Division could have also pulled a page from the Gears of War series, and done a better job with its cover mechanics. If there is one not so nice thing to say about The Division that you could pick up on right away is that it’s kind of a clunky game. Shooting and using abilities work well enough, despite not being groundbreaking; however trying to move around between cover feels very stiff and janky. It’s the only aspect so far that feels dated and sub-par.
At least so far, while everything is fresh, it’s hard not to be optimistic about The Division. It takes some really intelligent inspirations from great games, while still feeling like it’s own unique product. As of now though, it’s still too early to tell if The Division will be closer to Destiny or Mass Effect as far story quality goes.
More importantly, though, it’s unknown how much depth The Division’s endgame will have. In order to be this massive open world game that’s going to stretch an entire season pass and beyond, there needs to a reason to stick around once the main game is complete. Its peers such as Destiny and Grand Theft Auto Online have done this admirably, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Based on what is on display early on in The Division, there’s no reason not to believe that The Division couldn’t pull it off just as well, if not better than the rest.
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 one of a series of logs that will eventually culminate into a proper, scored review.