Disclosure ‐ We would like to thank the wonderful people at Ubisoft for providing us with this review copy at our request!
The Division is an always-online, massively multiplayer, third person shooter from Ubisoft. It lands you, an agent of The Division into a quarantined New York City where you must fight against groups in order to secure strongholds, supplies and territory to “take back” the city of New York.
New York City is really the star of this whole game. Ubisoft have really nailed the atmosphere and intensity that comes with an overrun, virus-ridden New York. The key to these being ‘logs’ that you pick up throughout the city and via completing missions. These logs, known as ‘intel’ or ‘echoes’ within the game carry most of the game’s narrative. Showing you the environment and the events that happen leading up to The Division being called in. They were my personal favourite parts about the entire game,each one being captivating, gripping and left me with a feeling of awe. I could not wait to collect more, simply to dive back into the atmosphere that Ubisoft have set out. Unfortunately, the praise for the story-line ends there. It does this because, well, that is really all the story there is. They try to cram some stuff into the last few hours of the single-player “campaign” but it is so shallow and unnecessary that they may as well not even have bothered. It is the perfect game to have on while having a conversation, or listening to podcasts. Simply for the fact that you do not need to know, nor should you really care what any of the characters are saying. Luckily, I am the sort of person who is able to imagine, and the story that comes naturally with the world and audio-logs is brilliant. I feel it would be an injustice to write about this game and not give the highest award to the world designers on The Division. New York breathes life, it is multi-layered and everywhere from the subway stations to the rooftops is so meticulously crafted that you cannot help but adore the love that has somehow been worked into a world that is otherwise so bleak. Sure, it is “just another Ubisoft open world” where radio towers are replaced with maps, but it is the best Ubisoft world to date.
New York breathes life, it is multi-layered and everywhere from the subway stations to the rooftops is so meticulously crafted that you cannot help but adore the love that has somehow been worked into a world that is otherwise so bleak.
At it’s heart, the Division is a third-person cover-based shooter. Your sole purpose to play is to watch your numbers get higher. Whether it be your stats, the Borderlands style damage numbers that pop out of enemies as you shoot them in the face several times, or the number of credits you have earned. It is the age-old problem of getting gear, in order to beat more baddies, in order to get better gear. Games like World of Warcraft and Diablo have shown that there is a market for this kind of thing, so if you want visible progression, The Division will be right up your alley. Unlike those sorts of games however, the enemy variety in The Division is low. You come up against four different “factions” in the world. Rioters, Cleaners, Rikers and the Last Man Battalion. All of these baddies can be summarised as “dudes with guns”. Sure, their type of gun will vary sometimes, but I guess in a game rooted in the “real world”, it would be foolish of me to anticipate dragons or cool robot guys. As foolish as it may have been, it did not mean I was not disappointed.
Once you are satisfied with your outer world gear an/or tired of fighting “dudes with guns”, you can head into the PvP oriented Dark Zone and fight more “dudes with guns”, but this time they are player controlled. The Dark Zone is where you will find a majority of the always-online components as you and other Division agents are in a “no man’s land” of sorts where the virus outbreak hit hardest. It is a blackout zone where there are no rules and players can turn on one another at the drop of a hat. It is tense, exciting and incredibly frustrating as the gear you collect from within the Dark Zone is a) leagues better than the gear that you collect outside the Dark Zone and b) very easily lost to a temperamental players who wants to be less than cooperative. Opening fire on a player will mark you as rogue and other players in the area will be incentivised to take action against the rogue Division agent. This can be both a boon and a bane for solo-players (such as myself) as when you are in a party, one member going rogue sends you ALL rogue and dying while rogue means that you lose EVERYTHING you have picked up in that area. However, going at it solo means you have no one to worry about except yourself, and most players are happy to just get in, kill some baddies and get out again and if you happen to find yourself on the wrong end of a rogue agent’s gun, you will only lost one piece of gear, as opposed to your entire haul. However it does not meant the group “extraction zones” where you must take your loot for decontamination are any less stressful. Players will take their goodies, call their airlift and hide until it has arrived, it is where the game really shines as it emulates wonderfully the feeling of mistrust that you would have in a combat like situation, in the words of Deepthroat, “Trust No One”.
It is interface is cluttered and confusing, but beautiful. The game has a style that it is trying to achieve, and it does it brilliantly.
The missions in the Division are repetitive at best, which is something that often hinders these types of games. Once you hit level cap, they are replaced with dailies that feel much more appropriate for the tasks that you are completing, but in each district there are rescue missions, supply drop missions, assassination missions and MIA missions that give an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. It is lucky the moment-to-moment gameplay is so strong, especially with a good group of mates, as going at these solo is going to render you bored VERY quickly.
Outside of the gameplay, the division suffers from an excruciatingly long load time or two, but that is it! Everything from the transition from the outside world to inside an apartment complex or movie theater is fluid and seamless, as well as the transition from open world to Dark Zone. And if one or two long loads is the price we pay for an almost seamless gameplay experience, it is a price I will willingly pay. Its interface is cluttered and confusing, but beautiful. The game has a style that it is trying to achieve, and it does it brilliantly. Everything from the contents of your backpack, to the HUD elements of your health and level are stylishly worked into one conventional, although a little convoluted unit. It’s mission structure is very appealing to those who love a good list or two and although the missions itself are very repetitive, the great gun-play makes a big list of people to rescue, supplies to gather and missing first-wave Division agents to find a great experience. Not quite to the level of Metal Gear Solid V, but great nonetheless.
My personal feelings towards this game are a puzzle, wrapped in a conundrum and dunked in a big vat of boiling “why?”. It is not a fantastic game, but I had a lot of fun playing it. It is not a terribly gripping game, yet I was unable to put it down. Its story left a whole lot to be desired, and, well, I desired a whole lot more story. But when push came to shove, it is a game I am glad exists. If you have a good group of gamer friends, talk them into buying it, sit down together and have a blast. But if you are a solo player and want a great narrative shooter, look elsewhere. The Division is not for those who want a game to end in a satisfying way.
This is a game that will require further reviewing as the content patches get released. So do not be surprised to see this review pop up again on the website as each new content patch drops.