If you read our impression of Tom Clancy’s The Division you know where I stood on the beta of this highly anticipated release. I was somewhat unimpressed, felt like it had its fair share of problems and was left wanting more. Sufficed to say, after spending 15 hours with the full game I got a lot more and then some. This game is perfect, as a game rarely ever is, but The Division does a whole lot more things right than wrong.
Right off the bat one of the weaker aspects of the game is the story, for being a Tom Clancy game The Division isn’t heavy on exposition or political thrills. While I wasn’t expecting a Splinter Cell level of political intrigue, it is not really apparent why the Tom Clancy name is headlining. Don’t get me wrong, it starts off well enough and for a shooter it is at least coherent. The gist of it being you are a sleeper agent activated by the government after New York City suffers a pandemic due to a super smallpox outbreak. It serves its purpose in driving you from one mission to another but it just isn’t anything out of the ordinary or groundbreaking, it’s no Last of Us. One saving grace is the game is absolutely littered with world building audio diaries in the forms of incident reports, cell phone logs, and “Echos” hologram-like recreations of various events happening during the outbreak. However, if you were to ask me to name any of the characters I would draw a blank, they all fit the stereotypical military archetype in one way or another.
New York itself is beautifully recreated here and overall this is a very good looking game as far as environments go. The real time day-night system and randomized weather system are also treats as well, I had to do a double take when I saw actual snow accumulating on my characters backpack, shoulder and head during a snowfall. The attention to detail is also worth mentioning for being outstanding, streets are littered with debris, sewer systems feel almost tomb like in isolation and some apartment interiors are littered as if looted while others are untouched. It is kind of disappointing that the NPC’s that occupy this beautiful environment are so light, especially compared to Assassin Creed games, but it could be a design choice since it is a pandemic we’re talking about. One small nuisance is while the map is large your options for traversing it are either on foot, or using a Fast Travel option to previously visited mission sites or Safe Houses. This complaint is somewhat remedied later after you have visited more and more areas, but the process of getting there is long and full of running. What this game really has going for it is it’s sound effects, from your Jarvis/Siri-like companion ISAC, to the guns and skills you deploy. Everything is top notch as well.
The missions themselves offer a good variety of different objectives to accomplish, for example one mission you may need to explore an abandoned apartment building looking for virus samples while another tasks you with fighting through a construction yard to face a flamethrower wielding boss at the end. As I mentioned in the impression all missions are fully playable coop or solo, and Hard mode is the way to go for the right amount of challenge / reward. The gunplay is the standard 3rd person cover based flavor; use a button to stick to cover, aim the cursor to move from cover to cover by holding down same button or use another button to vault over cover and move back to free movement. Of course you can blindfire or pop out to take more precise shots at enemies, it all works together very well and is up there with the likes of Gears of War and Uncharted in that regard. The standard military guns are all here, but in The Division you are given just the right degree of customization to make a gun your own. Scopes, Muzzles, Clips, Underbarrels and Paint Jobs are all customizable with stat altering mods such as grips or silencers.
Speaking of Mods and customization there are several layers of each in this game, from weapons to armors to skills. You are given a wealth of options to make your character your own; from full Medic builds to nothing but DPS (Damage Per Second if you’re not caught up on gaming lingo) The Division truly lets you make a character to fit your playstyle. It strikes a nice balance between the casual and more in-depth statistics. Don’t care about character builds? Just play by equipping the highest rating armor and gun, want to heal teammates faster and more often? Better find and equip armor with high Medical rating then. It is that option of basic stats with another layer of optional, or if you choose vital, stats that can make your character vastly different from one another. A small but noteworthy feature is the ability to customize on a purely cosmetic equipment level, no more max level players all looking exactly the same ala Destiny. As you loot in the Division you can find clothes, beanies, and shoes to dress your character up in over your armor equipment, it isn’t vital but it is welcome for those of us vying to be cosmetically appealing.
The Division’s only mode of competitive multiplayer right now is the Dark Zone, a unique mixture of PvE and optional PvP combat. I say optional because it is entirely possible to explore this separate section of the map and not fight another player. On the flip side you can be fighting against AI enemies but all of a sudden be blindsided by a live person that wants your loot. The consequence of killing another live player is the Rogue status, basically putting a bounty on your head to all the other live players. It is this risk / reward system that really makes the Dark Zone a one of a kind experience that no other game can really match right now. This mechanic can really put you on a heightened sense of caution whenever you see another live human player, especially at the Extraction Zones, the only area where you can get your loot out of the Dark Zone. Yes, all loot found in the Dark Zone is ‘contaminated’ and cannot be taken out, or even equipped, without first extracting it via helicopter. Now that sounds easy but when you shoot the flare into the air at the designated zone, you are alerting all nearby enemies to your position. As well as letting live players know you have loot you are trying to get out, creating an almost indescribable feeling of tension and urgency. The area of the Dark Zone is large and expansive with multiple zones complete with brackets of enemy levels that keep you in check, no lower level players running straight to the high end gear in other words.
The Division excels at giving you the tools and options to mold your Agent into the character you want, from Skills, Weapons, Talents all the way down to how they look on a cosmetic level. Content wise there is a lot to do here, of course some missions are filler and repeats but I never felt bored playing this game. There is always something to do, some goal to strive for, some new skill to unlock or weapon to upgrade. End game sounds like it can offer just enough incentive to continue to work for loot. Yes they do pull a Destiny of Daily and Weekly mission type structure, However unlike Destiny you can replay as much as you want for loot/endgame currency. This may sound game breaking but Challenge Mode missions, a difficulty above Hard, are no cakewalks; you will need a 4 man well balanced squad to tackle these missions. As you can tell there is a lot to this game, check out our Day One Impression for more on enemies and skills, and also check out our friends at the Jacked In Podcast. They just released their Division Themed Episode, check it out here, where we go into even greater detail about various aspects of the game.
Verdict: Buy It
- Customization on top of customization, really make your Agent your own
- 3rd Person shooter / cover gameplay is nop notch
- The Dark Zone is a one of a kind experience
- Story is weakest aspect
- While it is good New York is basically recreated in 1:1; ratio your options are either running places or “Fast Travel” which is anything but fast
- Some might scoff at the reused missions/objectives for now, especially when you start getting 40+ hours in