The Division review
I’ve spent the past half hour repeatedly spelling the word “Division” out on a blank document. For some reason, my brain could not properly understand how it’s spelled and I kept trying to spell it as “divson” or “devision.” Here’s to hoping my brain holds out because I’ll most likely be using the word Division a lot.
First announced at E3 2013, The Division is set in Manhattan, after it’s been devastated by a smallpox outbreak. The player controls a sleeper agent of The Division activated under Directive 51. Your goal? Take back Manhattan and “ensure the continuity of the government.” It’s a phrase heard a few times, but never quite made sense to me.
The Division largely plays as a standard third-person cover-based shooter. You can quickly move from cover to cover during combat, with the player supported by a range of abilities and gadgets. To unlock these abilities and gadgets, players have to upgrade their base of operations by obtaining supplies from story missions and side missions. The base of operations is split into three wings, Medical, Tech, and Security. Each wing has 10 upgrades, each one unlocks perks, talents and abilities. It’s a simple hook to give The Division players good reason to upgrade their base early.
The gunplay is solid, it plays as any third person shooter should. Aiming and movement is smooth and responsive. The cover system takes its cues from Gears of War with a simple one button system. The handling and accuracy on weapons is balanced perfectly so that you can’t just fire a hail of bullets with perfect aim, actually hitting targets is satisfying in the right way. There’s also a disturbing, yet somewhat satisfying noise (I know, sorry!) when you kill someone with a headshot. It’s all made better with the game’s drop-in, drop-out co-op. Friends or other players can join and leave your game at will during missions or whilst you’re exploring Manhattan.
The real star of this game is Manhattan though.
Here’s the part where someone would make some sort of joke suggesting Manhattan is a crappy place anyway but I’ve never been there so I’ll refrain from it. In the wake of the devastating virus, Manhattan is littered with cars, trash and conveniently placed chest-high objects all lightly sprinkled with snow. Despite the virus that has devastated the area, it still looks beautiful. This carefully crafted replication of Manhattan is a sight to see and a wonder to explore in The Division. Sometimes the snow can get heavier and leave behind a trail of fog that obscures your vision reminding you of this harsh environment, but when your fighting in darkness and the only source of light is a nearby fire it’s an even prettier sight.
It’s a shame that The Division’s biggest downfall is its story. The game’s story is extremely barebones and barely developed. All of your missions have simple context, sure, but the game’s main factions have barely any detail to them. There are your standard rioters and looters, then you have “The Cleaners.” Trashmen who have taken the fight to save Manhattan into their own, somewhat twisted, hands by trying to cleanse the city with fire. “The Rikers” on the other hand are fairly generic, they’re convicts that escaped from their prison in the midst of the chaos and are enjoying their freedom. Finally, there’s the “Last Man Battalion.” A shady PMC whose presence in Manhattan are unknown. There’s not much to them other than that, even the faction’s leaders receive barely any basic storytelling. You get their names and a somewhat basic backstory and that’s it. So it’s hard to really find any emotions as to the story or characters in Tom Clancy’s The Division.
It makes it more disappointing because the mission design is sharp and incredibly fun, one mission, in particular, remains an absolute favorite for me and involves the player fighting their way through a police academy, several missions follow a similar suit. Missions can take place in tight interiors. These encounters provide much more intense shootouts that require serious environmental awareness to avoid being flanked while searching for chances to flank your enemies. That’s not to say outdoor encounters in The Division are terrible; they are great because they can play out completely differently with more opportunities to move around and flank enemies. Sometimes the fights even go to the rooftops which can provide a sense of verticality to a fight. It’s all backed by a solid cover system and shooting mechanics.
As an open world title, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from an open world Ubisoft title. Towers have been replaced by notice boards and JTF operators who basically give you all the locations of nearby side missions, which are all pretty standard things. There are supply recovery missions in which the player has to defend supplies from waves of hostiles, the thing that keeps them somewhat interesting is that the player has to defend multiple locations. Once you’ve defeated one wave, another wave will attack at another location while some missions are simple “Kill the Target” missions. Most missions largely follow a simple “Arrive, Kill Stuff, Leave” style with some other missions just involving simple exploration and observation.
Finally, there’s the Dark Zone. A specific walled-off section of the city, it’s filled with the most dangerous enemies in the game but they drop some of the best loot in The Division. Inside the Dark Zone it’s completely different experience to the standard areas, players who die inside the Dark Zone will drop any contagious loot they’re carrying as well as losing some Dark Zone XP and DZ credits. The real kicker here is that PVP is enabled in the Dark Zone, players can freely attack and kill each other to steal loot at the risk of becoming a rogue agent. So when you’re trying to extract your loot it creates a level of serious tension because the enemies are tough enough on their own, but you might not be able to trust your fellow agents either. It’s seriously nerve wracking. The only real drawback is that the Dark Zone is a little lacking in content, all you can really do is explore and search for the best loot, or stalk and attack other players if that’s your thing.
The Division is a solid open world game, it follows Ubisoft’s standard open world design blueprint. There’s plenty of side content to keep you occupied. The main story missions can feature intense, exciting firefights, but the game’s biggest drawback is it’s lackluster story. Yet despite this, I still found myself thoroughly enjoying my time with The Division, both when playing on my own and in a group with friends. I’m excited to see what The Division’s DLC will bring to the table.
- Great Gunplay and Cover System
- Manhattan’s World Design
- Drop-In/Drop-Out Co-op
- Range of Weapons and Attachments
- Actually Having a Reason to Upgrade your Base
- Barely Developed Story
- Repetitive Side Missions
- Supporting Cast of Characters Are Forgettable