Tom Clancy’s: The Division should probably be tagged as ‘Exhibit A’ in the argument for why publishers shouldn’t bother holding preview and review events for MMOs.
Given its size and scope, decent appraisal of The Division can only be determined once the game’s on general release and the servers are packed with players. A diet version of the game simply will not do and, worse still, can create a lousy impression of the full release.
Admittedly we fell foul of this over at htxt.africa.
When we first got our hands on The Division it was during a 20 minute demo at last year’s rAge, and to say we were disappointed is an understatement. The cover system felt fiddly, the weapons felt lightweight and seemed to be loaded with frozen peas for all the good they did and there wasn’t much time to get to grips with the RPG features. Furthermore, the erstwhile Clinton Matos didn’t see much that convinced him otherwise in the beta earlier this year.
What a difference a full release makes. Rather than being the arduous slog that was expected, The Division, it turns out, is a fiendishly addictive game, which players are likely to lose days, weeks and even months to.
The Division Review – Mechanics
Nitpickers will note that technically one could argue that The Division isn’t a true-blue MMO; it’s more a shooter/RPG/MMO hybrid, its DNA owing as much to the likes of the Fallout and Borderlands franchises as it does to the MMORPG heavy hitters. Due to its disparate components, not everything in The Division works as well as one would hope, but in its best moments, this is an ambitious and compelling experience.
Set in an extremely authentic recreation of New York, which has been mostly emptied of its population in the wake of an epidemic outbreak, The Division plonks players in the boots of a sleeper cell agent, activated to help efforts to restore order to the Big Apple. At its core, the game is a third-person cover-based shooter set on a massive open world map in which shooting, looting, levelling up and unlocking abilities constitute the lion’s share of player activity.
The shooting and cover mechanics are slightly hit and miss. While the largely destructible environments lend a visceral atmosphere to every gun battle, the fact that transitioning between cover isn’t as smooth as it should be, and that every character – both player and NPC – in the game is a bullet-sponge, will likely frustrate a lot of players.
The Division Review – Structure
The Division also suffers somewhat from slavishly sticking to Ubisoft’s basic template for open-world games. If you’ve played an Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry game recently, you’ll know the drill; head over to a node – in this case Safe Houses stand in for Eagle Points and Radar Towers – and you’ll open up a fast-travel point and populate the map around it with side-quests and encounters. In terms of its structure and mechanics, The Division isn’t really reinventing the wheel.
Once players get over the fact that some of the game’s elements are a bit too familiar and that headshots aren’t a premium here as they are in most shooters, The Division reveals its pleasures at a pretty decent pace. The sprawling New York map is filled with activities, all of which will lead players into battles where new loot, XP, in-game cash and new assets are up for grabs. The game actively encourages players to pick fights; how else are you going to armour up, buy new and better weapons and unlock those talent and perk trees?
The Division Review – Co-Op Play
While The Division is being promoted as a co-op experience, it’s perfectly possible to take on the game solo, as long as players make sure their agent is a level appropriate to the mission they’re tackling. If they don’t take heed of the game’s level suggestion for a mission, they may find themselves being turned into paint by enemies that are simply beyond their ability to take down.
The Division is best played in a posse and, presumably for this reason, the developers have made joining up with other players a cinch. Once in a party, not only do players have extra firepower to back their play, they’re actively encouraged to experiment with their load-outs – equipment, perks and class-based abilities – which incidentally, can be switched up on the fly. By mixing up abilities, a squad gains a better tactical edge and a fully complemented squad is also better able to deal with the rather decent AI, which will move to flank lone wolves really quickly.
The Division Review – The Dark Zone
The biggest advantage of teaming up with others is that it makes The Division’s Dark Zone – the PVP area that sits at the heart of the game’s map – assailable. The Dark Zone offers the best loot, but also the hardest challenges in the game. Filled with rock-hard enemies and other player groups on the lookout for lower level players to gank and loot, the Dark Zone is The Division’s brightest drawcard.
Alongside the fact that anyone you run into is a potentially lethal threat, members of your own team are more than capable of turning on you. Every single mission in the Dark Zone is a tension-packed affair; players can pour boxes of bullets into NPC boss-type enemies, pick up oodles of loot and then find themselves gunned down in the extraction zone by members of their own squad. Depending on whether or not they know their fellow agents in real life, friendships may very well end in the Dark Zone.
The Division Review – Conclusion
The Division, then, doesn’t wholly break the mould for Ubisoft open-world games, but for the first time in ages, the size and structure of one of the publisher’s sandboxes feels just about right. Furthermore, co-op play doesn’t feel as shoe-horned into the proceedings as it has in other franchises – Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 3, for example – and the wealth of activities doesn’t feel as bloated here.
The Division has its peccadilloes, sure, and at times its mechanics feel irritatingly janky, but in its best moments, it succeeds at being what most games aim at yet fail so often at being: addictively enjoyable and, you know, fun.
- Tom Clancy’s: The Division was reviewed on an Xbox One. A retail copy was provided by the publisher.