It’s finally here, Ubisoft’s ambitious, much delayed game that nobody really knew what it was is here, and it’s really rather good, if a little scrappy.
When the Division was first revealed at E3, it looked great. The new Snowdrop Engine was working over time with gamers on stage playing the game, others on tablets commanding the area. The thing is, Ubisoft didn’t actually tell us what the game was.
It turns out The Division is an MMORPG, third person cover shooter set in an open world New York were gamers can go it alone, or team up with pals and take on lofty task of saving this once fine city. Many have made comparisons to Destiny, and in some respects it is, but it has also carved out its own identity and for the most part it works excellently.
Being an MMORPG which seemingly has no end due to the nature of the game, a week on I’m still struggling to level up to decent level, so wouldn’t be fair to review a game that hasn’t been completed. Instead, I’m going to break the review down into all its elements and tell you how they work, what doesn’t work and give you an overall impression of the game. Here we go.
The Game World.
Frankly, New York looks fantastic, a 1:1 scale representation, re-created in the finest of detail only it’s a destroyed, empty city, with silent snow covering the streets and cars. A startling reminder of post 9/11 ash laden streets. Citizens are running around lost and in distress, rats scurry away from you, dogs sniff around bins and the like searching for food. As far as atmosphere goes, it’s hard to beat. The persistent weather system changes the game too, rather than just going down the sunny/rain combo from most open world games, Ubisoft decided to go the snow/fog/sun route. This changes the game dramatically because your field of vision is reduced leaving you to adjust your tactics accordingly. It looks stunning and if it wasn’t for Star Wars Battlefront, would arguably be the best looking game on PS4. If I was to level one gripe at New York it would be the lack of variety. It’s all streets and buildings. Not even Central Park is accessible (although I think that will come soon by way of DLC). If The Division was a fantasy game, we could expect different worlds – fire, ice, forests and the like just to add some variety to pounding the same streets over and over again.
Take away all the RPG elements, what we have here is a basic 3rd person cover shooter, and one that works exceptionally well. In fact I would go as far to say that it has one of the best cover mechanics found in any game. Your character can practically snap to any object for cover. If you want to turn the corner you simply hold the stick in the direction you want and after the briefest of pauses, your character will slide around with ease. If you want to move to another section of cover, then you just point at where you want to go, hold X and your dude will run and snap to the new cover. It’s silky smooth and very enjoyable to use. Personally though I would prefer a button tap to move around cover, rather than that small wait, because when you’re under fire, you don’t have time to wait, no matter how brief it is.
In typical Ubisoft style there are tons of side missions and fetch quests for you to take on, Thankfully though not quite as bloated as the likes of Assassin’s Creed. There are safe houses to find, if you’ve played any Ubisoft game you know unlocking these will reveal more side missions and collectibles. Either love ’em or hate ’em these side missions are essential to grab all the XP you can so you can upgrade your base of operations, get new gear and level up your character. These side missions make you want to explore the game more, than perhaps if it was just a standard third person shooter, it all adds to the story and atmosphere and, well there is something quite heroic about patrolling the streets of New York City.
The shooting mechanics are solid too, perhaps it does feel a little light and floaty, but each hit lands with satisfying thud. Of course all weapons can be upgraded and modded to make them more powerful. You can even craft your own weapon providing you have the right parts and the blueprint. The downside with the combat isn’t with the weapons but the enemies you’ll be firing at. (So far at least) they are all the same. you’ll be facing either street thugs or flame thrower welding ‘cleaners’ no matter what level you’re at, or where go in the city. Your level one boss encounter is the same as your level 12 boss encounter, the only difference being the amount of bullets it can take. That’s the other thing about the enemies, they are all bullet sponges, but then I guess that’s the nature of this type of game. The AI of the enemies can range from pretty clever, to downright stupid. Some can run or cover and flank you, others, when in cover under fire, will just stay there, leaving you to just move around and shoot them from behind. They also have an annoying habit of just appearing behind you. Which kind of sucks.
All of this can be done in single player too, and actually gives you a decent game. It’s possible to complete the story missions on your own if you choose, and found this part of the game far more fun than Destiny’s offering. The structure of the game is perfect for grinding up the levels, and building/upgrading your base seems to give you more purpose than just levelling up your character. And the good news is, at least so far it doesn’t feel like a chore, you actually don’t mind doing similar side missions over and over. But if you have friends the multiplayer is where it’s really at. More on that later.
Upgrades and stuff.
The Division has a hell of a lot of stuff, or junk as we here at PSG have come to call it. The list is pretty much endless, there are more guns and varieties than you ever thought possible, each one although looking the same could have a minute attribute increase, so each one needs to be examined closely. Same with armour, there is also a hell of a lot of extras including face masks, gloves, knee pads, and back packs, all of which have many many different items. It’s all a bit overwhelming at first, not helped by the clunky menu system the Division has in place.
At first you will be fumbling around wondering what the hell to do, there isn’t much of a tutorial to guide you round the intricacies of the menu system. Put it this way, a week in and I’ve literally just discovered that bottled water and cans of drink can actually be used to give you small boosts, and not just for giving out to the walking wounded.
But you will get the hang of it eventually, and soon it will all become second nature. Which is a good thing, because other than your weapons and armor, there are some nice skills to acquire. These can range from a sonar pulse to a mini turret that will be your best friend when taking on the harder levels. Each of these can be upgraded too to make them even more powerful. These skills are upgraded by upgrading your base which you can do once you complete specific missions. I have to admit it’s exhausting and found myself having to set aside some game time just to go through all my loot, weapons, buying and selling crafting, and base upgrading. There certainly is plenty of bang for your buck.
Ahhh multiplayer, the mode where The Division really comes to life. Here you can lead a team of fellow gamers and take them on a merry journey of tackling the harder missions the game has to offer, and it’s utterly brilliant. I’ve never felt such a feeling of camaraderie and team spirit than I have with the Division. I think this is helped by the fact that what ever you do affects the whole team. If you find something that gives you XP, your team gets XP, if you find a loot crate, then the contents are available to all, there’s no in-team fighting here. If you set it up right so each one of you has different skills, like medic and assault there really is nothing like it, Shouting “MEDIC” and see your pal running through a hail of gunfire to give you a medi pack or to revive you if you’re downed. It’s also a perfect game to allow the planing of tactics to take down the more tricky bosses. It’s a joy to play and super smooth, bar the initial server downtime at launch I haven’t experienced a single bit of lag since. If you don’t have friends who play the Division, then you can always invite other players in the game world to join your cause and even this still feels friendly and full of team spirit, even if you don’t have a mic or talk to them.
Then of course we have the Dark Zone, a place that seamlessly transfers you from the normal game to the PvP zone and things get a bit more bit more difficult here. First up you need to make sure you’re at a decent level before entering else you’ll get ripped to shreds. If you feel brave enough to venture in though, this is where you’ll find the good weapons and items. However if you do find them, they don’t go straight into your inventory, you’ll have to extract them.
Extraction points are madness, as you’re waiting for your helicopter waves of thugs come at you doing their best to keep you from obtaining your treasures. But worse than that, other players can come along and do their best to kill you so they can grab all your prized loot. But if they do that, they themselves become rogue letting the other players in the Dark Zone know that they have some good stuff. It’s an interesting idea that works well, providing your leveled up enough.
The one niggle I have with the Dark Zone is that on the whole, it seemed like a friendly place, no one really wants to go rogue. But, when you’re in a fire fight and say some other dude comes to help out in the midst of battle you could end up shooting this dude, entirely by accident, which then sends you rogue. A little frustrating but I guess that just teaches you to be more accurate with your firing.
So, The Division then, it was ambitious from the start, and it’s a refreshing change (for Ubsoft at least) the game has actually delivered what was promised. It’s a brilliant third person cover shooter with superb (if not clunky) RPG elements. Ubisoft have sewn these genres together with expert skill and have created one hell of a fun ride to be a part of. Hopefully future DLC will unlock other parts of the map, which seem to be there, but inaccessible, like Central Park for example. and of course DLC will mean more items and gear so the longevity of The Division is almost endless.
If you’re not really sure what the MMORPG thing is all about The Division is a good place to start, and despite the lack of variety in locations, does make a refreshing change form the usual fantasy or space settings these games are known for. If you take the best bits of Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, you’ll have a fair idea of how good this game actually is.
The Division is officially the best-selling new IP surpassing even Activision’s Destiny, that should tell you something.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Tom Clancy’s The Division is available now on the PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game.