It has been an interesting journey but finally we can sit back with the finished version of Tom Clancy's The Division. From the initial hype videos from 2013 to the final open beta, the game has seen plenty of changes but, as promised, my closed beta summary was the last time I focused on how the game has seen some fairly substantial downscaling - until now. Now it is time to look at what the final product has to offer: will this be a weekend wonder or a long term IP that is set for years to come? Let us have a gander.
The story behind the division is that a biologically engineered strain of smallpox has been released on the population of New York and which now sits devastated and in lockdown. It is still not clear how the rest of the world has been affected by the pandemic but from the information you uncover in game it is clear many other cities in America are also suffering. It is interesting that the vehicle for spreading the virus was the copious amount of cash floating around on Black Friday: a dig at western greed maybe?
So with millions dead or dying and the government still reeling from near total loss of order, agents secreted into the population are 'activated' as the last line of defence between the remaining civilians and the gangs that now rule the streets of the Big Apple. Initially we are not told a great deal about the Division agents other than that they are specialists, trained for exactly this situation and are expected to put everything aside for their role - including their own priorities and loved ones.
Off the boat
So very quickly we are dropped onto the snowy streets and as the game flips to a view of yourself in a car window we come across the first huge disappointment. The character creation in its current state is woefully light on options. I usually play female characters and I have to say not one of the preset faces was one I would choose; additionally the hair options are all shaved or short bar one. Now for some of you this won't matter one jot but everyone who I have spoken to has said they found it lacking. If you are going to make an RPG you absolutely need to give players the ability to craft their own character, sure we may not be looking at the face much once we've got a beanie hat on but this needs improving, if only for the simple reason it starts the game off on a negative note.
The Brooklyn Bridge was used a few times in promotional videos but then it seemed to disappear, now we know where as the game's tutorial takes place here. This then leads players on to the sequence where the beta started and the game proper.
A slice of Apple
Essentially what we have here is a cross section of New York City, from just below Central Park running right across from the Hudson River to the East River. This has to be the most stunning recreation of New York the world has ever seen. The art team have gone into an astounding level of detail from the monuments and landmarks they have faithfully recreated right down to the interior of a standard New York apartment. I have spent time just looking, having a nosey around the places people once called home: because the detail is so high it adds to the poignancy evoked when walking the city streets alone. Cars now sit silent, snow drifts claim the landscape and a whole manner of debris is visible from the many people trying to flee the city. If you have seen "I am Legend" you will know what to expect and I am sure the development team will have been inspired by the New York in that film.
When you start the game the only place you can see other players is in safe houses that are scattered across the city; once inside other players can be seen and interacted with. Here you can also buy/sell weapons and equipment as well as restock on ammo and organise your missions. Once out in the city you see other players if you group with them and this process is surprisingly slick. You can even see your friend on the map (as long as they are added on Uplay) and so while I've never really rated Ubisoft's DRM software it really adds a good feeling of integration for this title.
As you progress through the game missions grow in difficulty until the final confrontation is looming and for the sake of spoilers I won’t discuss it other than to say it ends this phase of the game well. I do love how the makeshift Headquarters you start of in evolves over time and each upgrade has a visual representation as well as all the new perks, skills and talents you acquire. As with any Ubisoft game there is an array of collectibles to scour the city for and while many are inane some do genuinely add some great back story
The story is a decent yarn and apart from the crazy lass who gets half her head blown off in the opening sequence the acting is pretty good: just be warned though that in typical Tom Clancy fashion the game takes itself very seriously. When you set out you have three weapon slots, two for main weapons and one for a sidearm. Very quickly you also unlock two skill slots which will act to define your role in combat. You could maybe focus on healing and protecting your teammates or perhaps go offensive with intelligent rolling grenades or automated turrets. While there may not seem like there are many variables to the combat equation this is a tactical game that when on hard mode will require good communication (we use Teamspeak) and fast decision making.
The enemy AI does leave a little to be desired for sure, sometimes they will catch you off guard and often seem to know which side to flank your team on. However most of the time the waves of enemies will just spawn in and advance towards you with little concern for being shot. I do like how the enemy comments on things you do: when deploying a shield or taking out the guy next to them this will be recognised. I have even heard gender specific comments which is a nice touch.
The art team actually had to design a whole range of fake products, films and media just for the game, impressive stuff.
To spite there being no jump or crawl/stealth mode in the game I do like the way your character moves around his/her environment. I attached the vault move to my mouse thumb button and would advise you do the same if you have one. The game does have a wonderful sense of verticality which is great and adds so much depth to the overall experience. There is also nifty little mechanic in the game which I think has been lifted right from Watchdogs then tweaked a little, you can basically point to cover, hold space and the game will get you there. For a game which could have really fallen foul of wonky controls it’s a lovely system to have in gun fights.
If, like me, you watched the 2013 E3 reveal trailer you came away with a very distinct impression: this game was first and foremost a shooter. The developers know that right there and then the decision to buy this game will be made by many watching that trailer - so it seems somewhat disingenuous that many aspects of it were smoke and mirrors. The way the 'sick loot' was carefully lifted out of the loot crate, the player controlled drone and even the way the guy running the demo was doing so on a Dual Shock 4 ("look guys this will run on your PS4!").
So when we learned the game would be more akin to an RPG this didn't sit well with many players, they wanted the shooter they had seen at E3. Here we really do see one of The Division's major weaknesses: when you make such a faithful representation of a real place you are then bound by context. We have guys wearing nothing more than a hoodie and being able to take tens of shots to the head with a high powered sniper rifle: it just doesn't feel right.
What I would say is this: don't let this clash of context keep you from enjoying the game because that would be a shame. As gamers we are experts at accepting creative licence in The Division this is just the way the game is made.
The long road
So one of the biggest challenges facing The Division is how it will do long term and whether Ubisoft can keep players engaged with the end game. As I type this review many tired souls out there are already crossing the level thirty level cap, so the big question: what next?
One problem with Destiny was that very quickly players burned through the available content and many who do not wish to repeat the same mission fifty times went to do something else. The combat in Destiny is fun but once you have progressed as far as you can, collected every collectable and are sporting the most powerful gear in the game you may ask yourself - why stay? In games like Warcraft there was always something else to work towards but so many games these days fail to generate the same amount of desire in players to stay on the loot treadmill. Maybe it is because we just have far more games to play these days?
The Dark Zone is essentially the area of the map where you can engage in open PVP with other players and may just be the most interesting part of the the Division at launch. It takes many months to make content for a single player game but if developers can tap into human nature this can generate endless fun. This is why the Dark Zone, in my opinion, will dictate whether the Division lives or dies. Any loot you pick up in the DZ is contaminated and so must be airlifted out at drop points, the fun part is that as soon as you fire that flare everyone in the DZ knows where you are and that you have loot. So like a watering hole on the plains of Africa it can become a place for predators and prey. When a player does kill another non-rogue the aggressor will become rogue themselves for a set amount of time, other players will then hunt you and thus PVP is generated. Kill enough non-rogue players and you will be made into a manhunt for the whole server. The incentive for surviving is that the longer you last the more Dark Zone points/currency you will receive: die and you lose points, currency and potentially all your loot. When the embers of PVE have faded it will be the PVP in this game that keeps players logging on so Ubisoft absolutely must keep any exploits or hacking at bay. One other great feature of the Dark Zone is that the game allows you to talk to players in your immediate area - well, you can imagine some of the colourful conversations one might have while exchanging bullets . . . .
So we know not every game is for every player and sometimes a review cast out there into the abyss doesn't really tell you what you need to know. So this is a new introduction to my reviews where I tell you about some of the game's features that may sway you either way.
If you like loot games, the Division certainly does a good job of scratching that itch - most items are graded by colour (green is standard, then blue, purple and so on). While these items are nowhere near as sexy as say Borderlands they do look the part and you can also mod weapons and gear with a satisfying array of upgrades. Weapons also appear on your character's body and because you are not carrying twenty weapons and the kitchen sink the game can do this. Weapon stats are also deeper than I'd originally considered and with weapon perks on top it is, to be fair, a pretty satisfying system. However if you want the crazy triple RPG firing sword from Borderlands 2 you will be disappointed. It is also worth mentioning that the game has a decent crafting system that is both well put together and more importantly relevant.
If you love deep RPG elements to your games then The Division will disappoint you on some levels because, as mentioned above, the character creation is very poor. In addition, the skill tree is limited with only two skills being active at any one time. For some this will just equate to a streamlined RPG but those who want a deeper level of stat-bothering will be left feeling cold.
I've been looking through many stream reviews and other sites in order to see how this game has been received. While there is no doubt the sales will be high there is certainly a very vocal slice of gamers who are not happy with The Division. The main gripe so far seems to be the content itself being too repetitive and 'grindy'
The Division is not perfect by a long way but if I am being fair some of these problems are rooted in how we perceive games and what we expect from certain genres. I have had much more fun than I had expected to have playing this game and I must also hold my hand up and admit the missions are actually very good. I have been playing exclusively with close friends from my gaming community so I would be interested to see how players have faired with the matchmaking system: it did seem to work very well in the beta.
The upcoming DLC certainly sounds interesting and will stoke the fires of player interest for a while, but where will the series head next? We will almost certainly see more areas of New York opening up over time but I wonder will we ever get to see any more cities across the world? I will say that giving Xbox owners access to some DLC thirty days in advance was a bad move because you run the risk of pissing off a huge slice of your player base: especially when this news was dropped on launch day thus not affecting pre-orders. I am increasingly weary of gamers being taken for a mug so the console manufacturers can sell a few more units. Regardless Ubisoft have a very interesting and solid IP here and, if they play their cards right, one which could be around for years to come.
Thank you for reading my review of Tom Clancy's The Division on PC. If you enjoy my work please tell your friends about my site and bookmark me. You can also follow me @riggedforepic as well as find me on YouTube under the same name.
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