Tom Clancy’s The Division (PS4 Review)
A friend and I sit huddled in a corner, waiting for a much needed extraction helicopter to come. We are amidst a battle between other agents and the ensuing enemy AI. Bullets fly over head and eventually the area is cleared. We slowly amble towards the extraction point and do a few star jumps, The Division’s way of saying “I’m a good guy”, and start to load up the chopper. Moments later a bullet burrows itself in the back of my skull and the once star jumping man is now collecting whatever he can and running. A let out a soft sigh and load back. This is both The Division at its best and worst, an ongoing series of repetitive scenarios that fester tension.
The Division’s release and success should come as no surprise to anyone, it is now firmly atop of Ubisoft’s most successful launch list and the biggest release of 2016 so far. First appearing at E3 2013 to a lot of critical speculation and excitement, The Division remains largely unchanged beyond a few graphical down grades and amendments to the HUD. In spite of many outcries about graphical downgrades The Division remains a gorgeous and realistic representation of Manhattan.
And Manhattan’s design and visuals are imperative to The Division and the story therein. As a member of The Division it is your aim to reclaim Manhattan from the clutches of several organised gangs after a terrorist attack releases an altered version of smallpox. The story will see you come against the likes of Cleaners, a small group of survivors have banded together and aim to cleanse the city by fire. Alongside them are Riker’s Gang, a group of organised escaped convicts, and the Last Man Battalion who are comprised of ex-soldiers. Throughout the campaign you will push back and eliminate these gangs in the hopes of reclaiming New York. In spite of an interesting premise The Division really struggles to get you to buy in to this story, with the vast majority being played out before your arrival in the second wave of Division agents to arrive in Manhattan and the remaining sections of story being relayed through the communication devices- which can be frequently interrupted by errant NPCs or side missions if you draw too close. The fact that the more interesting parts of the story and the more human side of The Division’s story resides in the mobile phone devices and other collectible scattered around the game. So even if the story is a bit over the top and lacking realism, Manhattan feels like a real city in the middle of a crisis.
However, as much as Manhattan and the premise are grounded in reality The Division asks the player to frequently put aside their understanding of the real world and embrace the RPG and design aspects wholeheartedly. As a third person shooter with RPG aspects adopted to create a new experience you will often find that enemies don’t die to a standard headshot, something we have been trained to expect in shooters since their inception – or what we have come to expect from shooters that opt for real world scenarios. The RPG aspects of The Division ask the player to grind out loot, scour the world for collectibles, and level up in the hopes of progressing further and for the ever elusive gold coloured equipment. The same RPG aspects apply to your base, as completing story missions and encounters will reward you with a form of currency used in the upgrading of your home base. It really feels like Ubisoft are trying to have their cake and eat it, but falls short of providing a truly encompassing experience as I often struggled to accept the bullet sponge enemy classes and the unsmashable windows of world full of smashed windows.
The Division’s marrying of RPG and third person shooter truly comes in to its own in the Dark Zone, the player versus player aspect of the game. Here players forage for loot and bet it all on the honesty and integrity of those next to them. In the Dark Zone players kill enemy AI to scavenge for high level loot and call for extraction helicopters to export the items. It seems simple enough in explanation, but the player dynamics make it just that bit harder. In the Dark Zone any player can become rogue if they fire on to other agents. This means that some players will be eagerly awaiting your arrival to the extraction zone, hoping to kill you last minute. Although others will deliberately run in front of you while you are killing AI and force you to go rogue, stealing your loot in the process but with half the risk. As The Division’s only real answer to PvP you will spend a large portion of your time here, hoping for better gear drops and praying that no sinister beings lurk in the shadows.
Once you have toyed with the Dark Zone, completed the main missions, and reached max level The Division tries to offer end game content in the shape of Phoenix credits and daily missions, it’s here that the stark comparisons between The Division and Destiny become apparent – a comparison it’s almost impossible to avoid when it comes to online shooting and looting based games. The Divisions end game feels fairly lacklustre just now, although there are promises of free DLC to support the end game content at a later date. Although once you have completed all the missions the only aspects left are to collect the fluff of those left behind in the form of phones/reports/missing agents/drones or the completion of previously completed missions on a daily basis on a harder difficulty. If neither of those two aspects really entertain you, there is currently nothing really left for you in The Division, unlike Destiny which offered; a real PvP experience, strikes, daily missions, weekly vendors, and a plethora of events. Although that’s not to say things won’t change, so if you are willing to pay for the season pass or wait for the updates there could be a lot on offer in the future for The Division.
Aside from the season pass there is one remaining key component that is a staple in all Ubisoft games, bugs. Ranging from the most basic of floating item bugs to the ever frustrating sever bugs, The Division is not without it’s issues. At times NPCs will loudly start a sentence to be abruptly cut short by nothing but an audio bug, which is entirely unwelcomed when playing with a set of headphones set fairly loud. Although the most irritating of bugs is definitely the hit delay on shooting enemies, even when you are technically playing offline alone. This delay in the game registering a hit can be the difference between life and death. On top of the issues with hit detection, later missions appear to stutter in frame rate when numerous enemies are on screen. Sometimes these stutters will result in enemies slowly phasing through objects, or teleporting on very rare occasions. Thankfully these bugs are infrequent, and even the one scenario I lost a fair bit of progress appeared to be a one time only issue with the absolute minimal progress lost thanks to the servers storing progress.
Ultimately The Division isn’t a bad game, it just lacks character. With little to no real customisation in the early game you often feel hard pushed to really invest in your character. Clothing items you pick up are fairly dull and the inability to tweak the colours can prove frustrating. There are undoubtedly a lot of people out there that will get a lot from The Division with a few friends. Although without these friends the world is rather lonely and uninhabited, something I never thought I really appreciated in Destiny was the ability to run alongside those I didn’t know and tackle the events with them, regardless of knowing them or not. A lot of The Division’s play time relies heavily on collecting the scattered items, without them my 30+ hour playthrough would have probably been a lot closer to 16 hours. Then again, the Dark Zone is an absolutely marvellous experience and probably something you have to try at least once, so in spite of my criticisms I will probably return to The Division, if only to ruin somebodies time as they tether their precious belongings to a sky rope, going nowhere but my backpack.