Modern day gaming see’s the hype train at full speed for just about every title, but Tom Clancy’s The Division from Ubisoft has easily been one of the most hyped releases of 2016.
We all know how that usually ends up, so let’s take a look and see if The Division is more of the same, or a different class.
New York city and a deadly genetically engineered strain of the small pox virus has been released via bank notes on Black Friday. Quickly spreading and wiping out a large percentage of humanity around ground zero.
The Joint Task Force (JTF) have sectioned off a large area in the center of Manhattan, known as the dark zone, but many of those trapped inside have formed a faction of their own known as the Last Man Battalion. (LMB) to combat against the hierarchy of the JTF that made the decision to isolate so many innocents in what turned out to be a failed attempt to contain the virus, the cleaners believe burning everything in sight is the ideal way to rid New York of the virus, and the final faction the Rikers is a group derived from escapee’s from the nearby Rikers prison.
You play a member of a specialist sleeper group known as the Division and as part of the second wave, you begin to find most of the first wave wiped out at the hands of the LMB.
Gameplay follows a third-person cover-based shooter system which has borrowed plenty from titles like Ubisoft’s own Rainbow Six Vegas, but there’s plenty of other aspects such as a deep RPG and loot system and an immersive game world.
Control’s feel familiar to anyone who’s played a similar style, and snapping to cover is effective, with cover-to-cover movement a little less so, to the point where I can count on one hand the times I used it in the first 50-60 hours.
There’s no jumping, which is probably a god-send as there’s never enough animations in the world to make jumping look convincing, but it’s great to say that everything works incredibly well, especially flicking view from one shoulder to the next to give yourself dynamic cover as you move.
There’s also Skills, Perks and Talents which you unlock as you progress. The Medical Wing will unlock mostly health and related items such as a health restoring device that heals all in proximity, while the Security wing will help more with defending yourself with items such as a ballistic shield, finally the Tech wing is more about attack, and includes my preferred combination of skills, an automated turret and a enemy-seeking ball mine that heads for the nearest enemy. These all have various modifications which unlock with wing upgrades giving plenty of variety on how you want to kit yourself out.
You also unlock a signature skill which has a much longer cooldown, but gives a situation changing moment such as instantly healing and over healing all nearby allies, or by boosting damage.
Best of all these skills can be changed anytime you have the time to jump into the menu, which means you don’t have to worry too much before heading out to start a mission.
Talents are triggered by an action, such as boosts for medikits and as you level up you can equip up to four at once, finally the Perks are constantly active unlocks, such as an extra medikit slot, or giving regular components to collect from the base of operations every hour.
Back to the game and after a brief tutorial area, you head to Manhattan and begin with 3 main missions which will get your new base of operations started and introduce you to the Security, Tech and Medical wings. Each primary mission will be defined to one wing and completion will see a healthy bundle of credits for upgrades. There’s also micro-missions called Encounters which will task you with an objective and will equally reward you with a micro bundle of credits for the relevant wing.
These upgrades range from new abilities, perks or an extra slot to carry a Medikit or more gear while in the Dark Zone (We’ll get to that later). These also give you a little XP for leveling up your character, but there’s also plenty of side missions, which are generally longer than an encounter, but far quicker than a primary mission.
While the objective or location’s may be similar across various encounters or side missions, there’s none of the Destiny grind where you’re forced to play the same mission or section time and time again.
While I wasn’t rushing to get through, I worked through the entire story, taking some time out for exploration, and voluntarily back-tracking a few missions to help friends catch up.
I’ve certainly not got any problems at all with the longevity of the game, with about 20-30 hours required to hit rank 30 and complete the game and side missions, but then there’s the Dark Zone, in here you have similar AI opponents, and killing them will generally give you far better loot, the problem is, due to the JTF restrictions you can’t just carry them out of combat, instead you need to call for an extraction helicopter that will come and pick up your goods and take them off to be decontaminated.
And this is one of the best parts, not only for The Division but for many games that feature a crossover between players against players and AI.
Because within the Dark Zone you’ll come across other players like yourself, who eqully want to extract some loot. The problem is, some might want to extract your loot, firstly from your corpse and then from the Dark Zone, This means anytime someone calls for extraction there’s a heated mexican stand-off, is someone going to shoot you just before the chopper gets close, and if so, while others might avenge your death, do you really think they’re going to leave your shiny new weapons and gear laying on the floor.
Thankfully anytime you enter the Dark Zone you have strict player brackets to ensure everyone in your instance is in a similar situation. It’s worthwhile getting a team of up to 4 together for venturing into the DZ, because no matter what you’re certain to encounter a few rogue agents.
It’s not always easy though, because if you do go rogue, by attacking another member of the Division, you’ll be targeted as rogue with a red highlight for everyone nearby to see. Being rogue has it’s XP bonuses, because of the loot you’ve picked up by doing so, but killing a Rogue agent nets you a healthy boost as well as the loot they’ve stolen so it’s worth while chasing down any rogue agents you see nearby.
Dark Zone has it’s own level which sits aside your standard Rank, though the DZ level currently stretches to 99 and if you’re thinking about Longevity, one player has done so and it took over 150 hours. Add to that the continued chase for loot, and you’ll soon be heading back to the main story missions to retry them on the enhanced loot Hard and Challenging modes for a much tougher challenge which with challenging mode especially requiring 4 players, all with high end gear and the ability to work together as a team.
There’s also end-game currency called Phoenix credits, which like the Challenging difficulty, won’t unlock until you hit level 30.Standard currency will purchase weapons and gear that are sometimes just a little better, and the Dark Zone’s own purple credits have a greater range of decent gear but require a DZ level of 30, whereas the Phoenix credits are harder to obtain and will need a little grinding through the story missions on hard/challenging to build them up, but doing so can net you some high spec gear that will not only prove more powerful than anything you’ve collected so far, but also give a healthy boost to your damage, defense and skill powers.
Thankfully for any mission, or even just for exploring you can match-make at any safe-house or prior to a mission, this means you’re never short of a game, and while I wouldn’t suggest relying on the Division as an offline game. Online however, even if your friends aren’t playing, you can always find people to enjoy the game with and every time I’ve used matchmaking, whether it’s been to find a group, or add one or two to my own, it’s worked perfectly pairing similarly ranks players.
Ubisoft have already announced the forthcoming plans for future content, with initial monthly drops for new content as well as the extra paid DLC outlined in the season pass.
It all amounts to an impressive package, both out of the box and still to come, and there’s a real Borderlands vibe to loot, meaning you can do a mission and you’ll usually find yourself with some sort of upgrade even if it’s only slight. This makes the search endless, especially when you can pay to re-spec a certain category to get various boosts from your weapon, such as an overall damage buff, or an increase to how long a skill remains active.
Graphically there was initially some confusion over The Division, with PC players feeling home computers had been held back and console players worried that the performance wouldn’t be up to scratch.
Thankfully all of those questions have been answered with the launch of the game, and everything runs smoothly with edges sharp and effects such as light, dust and snow all effective and equally impressive.
There’s some repeated textures and map sections such as rooftops and subways, however when you consider the sheer amount of content from the depths of an abandoned subway station to the roof of a multi-story building with plenty of interiors to discover ranging from pre-defined routes, to those off the beaten tracks with collectibles to find and collect.
Sadly one down-side has to be the customization options. While there’s near endless variations of weapons, gear and armor and varied stats across each, character customization isn’t as plentiful, there’s literally a handful of face’s to choose from at the start, and shoes, shirts, trousers and scarfs make little visual difference to others looking on, so the choice of maybe half a dozen styles of hats and jackets mean their color is the only way to really individualize your character.
I lost count how many times I’d join others online to see them wearing the exact same hat or jacket which is disappointing considering the depth elsewhere.
Audio is another area that’s mostly impressive but has room for improvement, weapons sound weighty, voice acting is mostly pretty good, and there’s a realistic ambiance around the city, but AI voices seem as predictable as their attack patterns on normal difficulty meaning you’ll often hear the same calls from your foes.
I will add there’s been a few issues surrounding the launch, from queues to use a laptop required to progress and collision detection meaning players could block others from leaving or entering a room. Thankfully Ubisoft worked quickly to fix both these and numerous other issues, and if development support is anything to go by, the year ahead for The Division looks to be a very exciting one