I was first made aware of Tom Clancy’s The Division at an Ubisoft event for E3 in 2014. I was there to check out Assassin’s Creed Unity. The cinematic trailer for The Division caught my eye and piqued my interest. It was well worth the wait. Did Ubisoft succeed in fitting in elements of MMOs, RPGs, and shooters, in a tight, fun package? Well, that’s complicated. The Division is one of the best shooters in years and is thus far the pinnacle achievement of “Good Ubi.” It also suffers from poor storytelling and the creep of “Bad Ubi.”
New York City is under attack from a deadly virus. It decimated the population. Public services bent and broke under the strain of the infected. You are a member of the titular Division, a top-secret government agency. Your goal is to wrest order from the groups that rose up to fill the power vacuum and find out who created the virus. It’s an interesting story, but the story is never at the forefront. At some points, I completely forgot exactly what I was supposed to be doing and why.
In The Division, you are fighting against three major gangs. The Rikers are convicts escaped from New York’s Riker’s Island penitentiary. The Cleaners are trying to burn away all the vestiges of infection from the city. The Last Man Battalion is a private military group. You will fight against variations of the same enemy types: grunts, grenadiers, shock troopers, snipers, and specialists. You also face big bosses and mini-bosses. Extra armor makes mini-bosses harder to kill. Big bosses are just larger versions of grunts with over-sized weapons and more armor.
That can be a problem. The mini-bosses and big bosses are definitely bullet sponges. The boss battles in the main missions and side missions can feel repetitive. You will fight off wave after wave of more powerful enemies while you try to hold on to a map point in many missions. I have seen where some people have complained that all the enemies are bullet sponges – this isn’t the case.
The Division has continued Ubisoft’s recent trend of excellent maps. Much like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the map has districts. Each district has a safe house. At each safe house, you can restock supplies, visit vendors, and use the matchmaking system for co-op play. Districts are also filled with side missions, encounters, and more “collectibles” than you can shake a stick at. The endless stream of picking up bobbles and doodads that are inherent to Ubisoft’s games can be annoying. The map does a great job of scaling the level of detail of the map. The map displays only main missions at the highest zoom level. Zooming in reveals more detail.
Game mechanics are where The Division shines. There is a huge bonus granted to rushing from cover to cover and flanking your enemies in firefights. While in cover, you can “blind fire” over the top of or around your cover, or lean out to look down your sights. The camera stays tight over the shoulder. The camera angle does not suffer from any third-person wonkiness. Guns feel tight and responsive.
The RPG elements in The Division are well done. Gain experience points by completing tasks to increase your agent’s level. Leveling up gives you access to more powerful weapons and armors. Enemies drop a considerable amount of loot. Weapons and armor are level-restricted but also come in five different ranks. Each piece of weaponry is customizable. Some pieces of armor also have upgrade slots. Upgrading your base gives you access to three different tech trees. Those tech trees give you access to perks and specials for use during combat. It’s a class-less attempt at RPG gameplay that works well. You can create your own class based on your playstyle.
The Division portrays the streets of New York City in accurate detail. The graphics are photo realistic and the weather effects look fantastic. It all chugs along quite well on my machine, too. I don’t use an FPS tool, but I never noticed any lag in frame rate while keeping the detail and texture levels at medium.
For an Ubisoft game, there was only one issue during launch. The Division’s overwhelmed servers caused many users to receive connection errors. UPlay services were up and down for several hours after launch. The Division has seen one of the smoother AAA releases in recent memory.
The Dark Zone is the MMO part of The Division. The Division also allows for up to four teammates in co-op to complete main story missions. The Dark Zone is home to powerful enemies and the game’s best loot. Players can choose to cooperate to make sure that loot gets out via extraction points. Rogue agents can attack other players and steal that loot. Going rogue also paints a large target (and bounty) on your back. Ubisoft is still tweaking the Dark Zone to find the right mix of risk and reward for players.
The Division is one of the best shooters in years. Yet, it suffers from a poorly defined story, repetitive missions and side quests, and too many collectibles. You will most likely be having too much fun playing to care.