When I embarked upon my journey with The Division, I saw potential. The map is well crafted, the sandbox gimmick is more justified than a lot of other similar games, and playing with friends is fun. But after squaring off against a number of bullet sponges and similar missions, I started to feel drained.
The Division is a great shooter with an intriguing world to boot, but several frequently occurring shortcomings let it down.
The Division (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Released: March 8, 2016
Having spent ample time with the game, I have to say I’m not really digging the cast. The Division itself (the group) isn’t compelling enough, and I couldn’t tell you any of the main characters’ names off the top of my head. There’s a bit of variance there with distinct enemy groups like the “Cleaners” or the “Rikers,” but the rest may as well be called the “Sponges” (more on this later). The setting however, is exemplary.
The more I played, the more I was impressed with the setting. Manhattan is a joy to walk through, and each mission brings you to a new location that’s either brimming with life, or sapped of it in an equally cool way. Gathering new missions isn’t as much of a slog as other, similar titles, mostly because I’m anxious to open up new zones and see what they throw at me. Whether it’s NPCs engaging in silly conversations or a neat sewer area (for once), I was compelled to forge forward.
Part of that well-paced feel is due in part to the breaks I took with the PVP mode. PVP is done by way of the “Dark Zone,” which is cooler than it sounds, as it’s an area where every player could potentially be a hostile. “Going Rogue,” essentially amounts to flagging yourself for PVP, and attempting to go loot others, which can be done with friends or solo.
Taking your own squads in to basically wreak havoc on others is a blast, and one of the most intriguing parts of the game, plus it feels like it actually has a reason to exist instead of selecting a menu option and getting zoned into Halo-like matches. The stakes are actually high in the sense that you can be penalized with experience and currency losses upon death, as well as the loss of acquired loot — lest you achieve a successful extraction. It’s intense, fun, and funnels into the loot-based nature of the game. It has the potential to get old after a while, but for now, I’m enjoying it.
I said I’d reassess the RPG elements over time, and I can more clearly see the pros and cons knowing how it all works. Loot drops can be addicting, sure. But what I see more often than not is that after acquiring all the basic weapon types, the upgrades are actually less nuanced. In a series like Borderlands, you can tell upfront that some giant gun duct taped together is going to be different, but Division often requires multiple looks to discern better equipment. As an RPG purist I appreciate this to some extent (especially since I can feel the difference, gameplay-wise between them), but I’ve seen enough realistic shooters in my lifetime and it doesn’t really offer anything new on that front. Once you’ve reached max level the loot search continues — you even have your standard endgame currency to grind (Phoenix Tokens), as everything is ostensibly the same as it’s always been.
The RPG bits also rear their head at times in a very gamey way, most notably the bosses. They’re generally very spongey, and by that I mean they take way too many bullets to go down, without a real need to drastically shift your strategy. That isn’t to say that the locations and means in which these fights are delivered aren’t enjoyable, but it gets a tad old to see the same type of enemy presented multiple times. It doesn’t outright ruin the game but it robs it of its creativity, since the team could have done some really cool things with the well designed arenas you have to work with.
Online play, I have to say, has been very stable. Despite some midnight launch hiccups I haven’t had any real issues with the game, which is an online-only affair. Having said that, there isn’t an issue going solo, and you can play at your own pace if you want without feeling like you need to be mixed up with a group. A lot of folks are keen to call Division an “MMO,” but much like using that nomenclature for Destiny, I disagree.
It’s a squad-based game that just happens to take place in an open world, and that’s basically it. I don’t see Division lasting as long as other, similar games either months down the line, as it simply doesn’t allow for anything on a raid-like level to truly hook in the dedicated crowd.
The Division is more fun with friends, but let’s face it, what game isn’t? After my group logged off and I was left alone in the world, the veneer started to wear off, and I was left facing the blemishes all on my own. The long-term plan is to pump out more content. I’m unsure of its efficacy but for now there’s more than enough there, especially with the organic PVP.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]