The Division is a huge release so we have a huge review for you. Both Dylan and Matt take on Ubisoft’s ambitious title to make sure it gets the thorough examination it deserves.
Tom Clancy’s The Division – Review
PC, PS4, Xbox One.
The Division is a highly visual game. It’s about waypoint lines and hit points and colour-coded elite enemies and statistical numerals. It’s about New York’s grid chocked with barriers, abandoned city works, cars, vans and trucks. It’s also about packing every square metre of this post-viral world with detail, from the dirty, ice-slicked streets, to the refuse-littered alleyways and thoroughly looted stores. It is impressive and it hits you every time you load it up.
It is a game all about visual shortcuts. Baddies are hoodied looters who lurk about in numbers and can’t stop talking loudly about their conquests. On the opposing end of the NPC spectrum, you have useless plebs wandering desultorily through the streets, begging for food and water and generally accepting their status as victims. So who exactly are you fighting for? Many players won’t care, so easily able to plug into this Ubi-game online hybrid, a perfect hybrid of Destiny and Tom Clancy’s Everything.
For all the action you encounter, New York seems already abandoned. The streets are dead apart from a handful of people, and there’s no real sense that you’re making things better unless you visit your base of operations to witness the slowly growing number of refugees ready to spout lines of congratulations. And when you are yourself little more than a highly effective looter, the question becomes: what is the point? Who exactly are you helping if those few citizens you’ve managed to gather have no other recourse but to mill about helplessly even when you’ve spent days liberating their sections of the city? As a shooter and random loot addiction, I’m happy to say that The Division is right up there in quality, but there’s something about its fictional dissonance that laces the taste with that of careless poison.
Engaged with as a videogame, The Division offers a breadth of content, albeit with the form repetition that characterises these types. After your seventh hostage rescue or arms deal interruption, it’s hard not to feel like you’re dutifully going through the motions, hoping that the final enemy will drop a great gun or item. As you level up, you open up more skills with which to tactically deal with the ever-increasing difficulty of the opponents propped before you.
Thankfully, the social side of The Division is extremely easy to enact by either dropping into a friend’s session or standing before the window of a main mission and jumping into matchmaking. Missions tend to average out the level of its combatants depending on that of your team, making replays quite tense and exciting even if the actual mechanics don’t change.
I really can’t add any more to what you have written. The city aspects are all as you describe them, fun but repetitive. But The Division has an ace up its sleeve and that is the Dark Zone. This is where The Division will make its name and this is what the game will be remembered for. The Dark Zone is an area in the centre of the city that has been walled off and is only enter-able through various checkpoints dotted around its edges. Inside the Dark Zone is a lawless PvP area that encourages teamwork and treachery in equal measure and it is a heady mix of risk and reward.
The principle goal of the Dark Zone is to score sweet loot and that can be achieved by killing AI enemies, looting chests and taking down other teams. The catch is that to get access to the loot it has to be air lifted out of the zone. This creates a perfect storm of players waiting for a helicopter to arrive and take their hard earned goodies back to base. Every player is on edge at this point because no one knows if the player next to them will suddenly go rogue and take them down for their guns and armour. It is wonderfully tense and when someone does actually go rogue it becomes an insane fire fight in an instant.
Going rogue is a tough choice to make. On one hand you could steal some great gear and earn a massive amount of experience points but on the other you become a target for everyone else currently in the zone. If you die while you are marked as rogue you not only lose everything you were carrying but a significant amount of money and experience. The key to being the bad guy is to know your exits and escape routes, making your move and getting the hell out of dodge. Anything less than a perfectly executed attack will leave you lying on the floor, waiting for the respawn counter to tick down.
The Dark Zone can be played solo or in a team and both are perfectly valid ways to play. Soloing the zone is tense and more akin to a stealth experience (at least until the shooting starts) with avoiding trouble the priority. Roaming the world as a team of friends however is the real joy of this mode. Working as a team, prioritising targets and securing landmarks it is supremely entertaining. As is always the case in these sort of games however mileage may vary when using matchmaking. You may be lucky and get a great, helpful team mate but there is every chance you may get a muppet who wants to go rogue every 10 seconds. If you can play with friends, make sure you do. The Dark Zone is where I see myself spending a huge amount of time and I can’t wait to see the promised updates from Ubisoft and see what they bring to the table to keep the concept fresh.
My brief foray alone into The Dark Zone was as you described, and although I understand the appeal of it, I’m not so certain that it will keep me playing. We shall see. I’m much more impressed with the overall world created here. The attention to detail, the environmental storytelling and the just-right amount of exploration possible inside apartment blocks and across rooftops has made The Division’s New York a truly exciting place to be and explore.
The shooting has a satisfying feedback to it, so that making headshot kills, with the accompanying squelch sound effect, provides a profound sense of accomplishment. So while the thematic aspects of the game trouble me, it’s certainly not the only videogame to be guilty of such shallow engagement with its own themes. Kudos also has to be paid to Ubisoft for including characters who explicitly speak out against The Division’s implementation of blanket justice, as well as an openly gay character.
At around thirty hours spent with this, I can say that I’ve enjoyed every moment, with only the last few hours starting to feel repetitive. A few connection glitches have tainted the experience a little, but it’s difficult to know whether that’s my tethered 4G connection or the servers. How have you found the connections on PC?
It is funny you should ask because up until last night I was having a dream run with no connection issues at all and only the occasionally lag spike (which could quite easily be my internet connection). However my last session was a nightmare of disconnects and kick outs which caused me to say more than a few nasty words about the whole ordeal. Hopefully though that was just a rare instance and things will be fine for the majority of the time. This could also be the fact that prime gaming time for Australia’s east coast (7-11pm) seems to be also prime maintenance time for Ubisoft’s servers which is a major bummer.
I find it interesting that both of us found different highlights within the game. For me the Dark Zone is where it is at, especially with a group of good friends. I guess it is testament to Ubisoft and what they have created as it appeals to a wide variety of players who enjoy different styles of gaming. There is no doubt that The Division has its share of problems but those are easily outweighed by the core experience that Ubisoft have built. Like Destiny I feel that The Division will only get better with time and tweaking so I look forward to playing this one for a long time.
Now if only someone could explain to me what it has to do with Tom Clancy, because frankly it isn’t very similar to any Tom Clancy novel I ever read.