A commendable effort, but not perfect
It took me a long time to get excited for The Division. After the naff faux-voice chat in the E3 reveal and the heavily hand-held demo I played at EGX, it wasn’t until I played the beta only a few weeks ago that I considered it might actually be something worth checking out.
Since then I’ve been really excited to see how the final release works on PC. I’m pleased to say that not only is The Division a (mostly) solid experience, it’s also a new highpoint in Ubisoft’s often spotty offerings on the platform.
Rig: Intel i7-4790k 4GHz 4-core processor, 16GB of RAM (2x Corsair Vengeance 8GB DDR3), GTX 980.
Tested with existing drivers (explained below). Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. Framerate measured with in-game benchmarking tool and with Nvidia GeForce Experience. Game played at Ultra preset on 1920×1080.
First up, the options menu is easily one of the most expansive, comprehensive options menus I’ve ever seen. There’s full key remapping and controller support, and even a pre-made left-handed configuration for those who prefer to have their right hand on the keyboard.
But the most impressive thing is the graphics options menu. Not only are there resolutions for everything up to and including 4K, but there’s also multiple settings for anti-aliasing, volumetric fog, ambient-occlusion, parallax mapping, chromatic aberration, depth of field and a whole load of other bits. There’re even some options that I’ve never heard of! And if you want to configure your settings to be as easy as possible, there is a benchmark tool available.
However, there is one major oversight here, and it’s the absence of FOV options. They’re not as crucial in games with a third-person view, but I still would have thought that with all the other options included, field of view would be one of the first ones on the list.
There’s also the ability to configure the UI to exactly how you want it, much like in many more standard MMORPGs. I personally stuck with the default settings, but made sure they faded away when I didn’t need it. The default layout can be a bit overwhelming, with lots of information being thrown on the screen all at once, so the options to tweak and reposition things is greatly appreciated.
The performance is probably the biggest stumbling block for The Division. Using the in-game benchmark, I got an average of 55FPS on the ultra preset. In smaller or less complex locations, The Division easily hits a steady 60FPS and feels fantastically responsive to play. It’s just a shame that doesn’t hold up for the entire game. The framerate suffers in larger or more detailed areas: big gunfights or cluttered streets can see drops to the 45-50FPS region, which, while absolutely playable, is still noticeable and distracting.
Now it’s important to note here that I’m running on pre-existing drivers. The game-ready drivers Nvidia released to optimise The Division at launch have been notoriously causing major problems for people, with everything from crashes to broken hardware resulting from it.
When I braved installing them, between the crashes and checking for smoke I did find the performance was slightly better. I still suffered dips in busy areas, but they weren’t as extreme as they are on the existing drivers. If Nvidia ever gets around to releasing fixed drivers, I recommend you install them, but they’re not going to fix all of your performance problems.
It’s an improvement over the performance I saw in the beta, where the game would sometimes dip for seemingly no reason, but it’s still not great. I hope Ubisoft optimise the game a bit more in future patches, because with my rig I would expect to get a solid 60 on Ultra, which isn’t even the game’s absolute highest settings.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with The Division’s port. While it’s not perfect, it performs well enough to be playable and it has a vast range of options and settings. It needs a bit more work, but it’s by no means lazy. I hope it’s set the standard for future Ubisoft ports because the difference between it and something like Assassin’s Creed Unity is like day and night.
Thanks to Ubisoft not giving press access to the game until the launch servers were up and running mere hours before official launch, you may have to wait a bit longer for Chris’ official review of The Division (here’s what he thought so far). From my six or so hours of playing it, though, I really like it!
My biggest criticism of the game so far would be with the PvP area known as the Dark Zone. It’s absolute pants. There’s very little to do other than wander around aimlessly, trying not to get horribly murdered. It’s obvious Ubisoft was going for a Day Z or Rust vibe, where other players are both your biggest ally and your greatest threat, but it doesn’t work in a game that already has fantastically scripted content. After a while, I just drifted back to the single-player area and went back to having fun.
But boy oh boy is that single-player content great. I wasn’t ever really wowed by Destiny like other people seemed to be. With a bland story and fairly limited multiplayer offering, I wasn’t able to get my teeth really stuck into it. The Division feels a lot like what I was hoping for Destiny: a story-rich, detailed world that’s actually worth spending ages grinding in.
Much like Destiny, the missions in The Division are a bit repetitive: go to X, shoot a load of dudes, go to Y, shoot a load of dudes, rinse and repeat. But the sheer variety of locations these missions take place in managed to mask that repetitiveness. Trudging through the mass graves in the subways of New York one minute, and fighting through a swish department store the next really helps to ease the potential boredom of samey mission design.
The light RPG mechanics work really nicely, too. In one mission I was struggling to take down a beefy flamethrower-wielding guy, so before engaging him for the eighth time I decided to swap out my healing skill for a small autoturret that could draw his fire, and it actually worked. Swapping out abilities in other games never really feels worth it, just because playstyle often moulds to what the player already knows, but being creative and taking risks in The Division somehow pays off in a way rarely seen in RPGs.
The Division isn’t a perfect game: the missions are repetitive, enemies border on bullet spongey, and there are very limited character customisation options. But despite that, I’ve been pleasantly surprised and often find myself itching to get straight back to it.
I really hope this feeling lasts long enough to see how the expansions turn out! Stay tuned for Chris’ full review in the next week.