The Division represents all the promise that Destiny promised. It's a solid shooter title with RPG elements and a squad-based online system that actually works. The game offers moments of zen run-about and baddie killing, with an option for some of the most intense moments of competitive gaming within its "Dark Zone."
+Tight shooting mechanics that never get old.
+Inivative online multiplayer via its "Dark Zone" mechanics.
+Incentive to grind/replay for late game gear and incoming new content.
-Severely lacklustre story telling.
-Suffers from the trend of "map clear" games, which has got stale of late.
The Division is a game I've been sitting on for a little while now. Not so much because I was looking forward to playing as much as humanly possible before I wrote the review but more so because I'm a little confused about my time with it. My experience was that Division burns hot and fast, it was a whole lot of fun to the point of near addiction for about a week... then my desires to continue faded out rather quickly.
I think that the key component of this review is that The Division is a mechanically tight game with enough story elements to drag the user along and multiplayer gaming like we haven't seen in sometime. For my money it is everything that we were promised by Destiny and only wound up actually receiving when The Taken King expansion released.
The Division plays really well, more than that I appreciate the mechanics from a technical level. I've often said if you're going to make a gamer repeat an action over and over for extended periods of time is has to feel good. The action has to be rewarding, each and every time. To its credit, The Division nails that. Because at the end of the day you're going to be shooting basically the same enemy type from minute one straight through to the end, with very little variation. That component didn't wane. So where did I lose interest?
Well, it's actually a common issue that I have with modern "open world" video games. The formula of "open an area, clear an area" has completely run its course as far as I'm concerned. After clearing my fifth or sixth zone on one of these maps I find my interest in opening another and seeing it light up like a Christmas tree, showing off all the little collectables and side-quests, completely disheartening. It begins to feel, after a long enough stretch, like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the side of the hill. You know it's just going to roll back down...
Though, that might not be a fair comparison. In the case of The Division you can, eventually, clear out all of those sections of the city and have a nice clean map. I guess the division (if you'll pardon the pun) between that being fun and rewarding and needlessly tedious is in the eye of the gamer. For me, I lost interest quickly, more than likely because I've recently had to do the exact same thing with other action/shooters like Far Cry Primal and Just Cause 3 (which was probably the best example as the game becomes taking down each of those objectives in a new ridiculous manner).
Perhaps this too is a symptom of a greater problem that I notice, upon reflection. Most everything in The Division feels a little bit forced. There's an overlaying sense of mystery and intrigue within the story of Division that feels a little bit like Ubisoft is trying to keep things interesting by making them intentionally shrouded. Instead of giving you any information about who you are, your motivation, or the organization that you represent it's something that you're sent out to find for yourself... while attempting to restore order to a "post-apocalyptic" New York.
I say "post-apocalyptic" because at the end of the day, it might not even qualify, seeing as the events seem localized and contained. It's a little more like Escape from New York then it is some world-ending event like say, Planet of the Apes.
Either way, Ubisoft hopes that by not giving you any information at all you'll inherently have the desire to reverse engineer what's happened via collecting data from cellphones, laptops, and other Division agents remains as you plow through the game, clearing section by section of the various coloured task indicators.
I didn't feel a particular pull to any of that.
I think there will definitely be those who find a vested interest in playing detective and working out each of those little bits that you come across... but during my gameplay I found myself quickly losing interest and each cell phone, dashboard cam recording, email chain, or holographic recreation of a recently passed action item became no more than a token towards my completion of the overall game/map clear.
Returning though to what the game does well, the grind, at its core at least, is enjoyable. While the "find your own story" and "clear the map piece by piece" component might not play the standard shooting and RPG elements work well.
There's something almost zen to the game's mechanics wherein I would find myself just wandering around and jumping in on random encounters to shoot a few more people and see if that would nudge me over the edge into the next level. It kind of reminded me of the old Spider-man open world titles where I found far more enjoyment just cruising around the city and role playing a superhero out on patrol then I did clearing the main storyline missions.
The RPG elements are light and, bringing back the comparison once more, are very similar to those defined in Destiny. You have a couple of different class options (though to Division's credit you can mix and match those for greater diversity). You have your medic, tech, and assault base classes that each have an assortment of abilities (healing packs, turrets, increased damage or shielding respectively). Then everything else is based upon the gear you collect, acting as another incentive to grind out and, eventually, leading you into the need to dive into the mass of chaos that is "The Dark Zone."
This is where The Division most notably divides itself from predecessors in the RPG/Shooter genre. The most direct comparison I can make to the operation of The Dark Zone is the multiplayer component of Kane and Lynch 2. Once you've entered into The Dark Zone your "questing" becomes a little more open ended. There aren't mission markers for side-quests and cellphone data drops to pick up here, instead you wander around killing high-end or "elite" versions of the mobs found in the regular sections of the map which drop significantly better items and gear than you'd normally find.
The twist being you can't simply fast-travel or walk out of The Dark Zone when you've loaded up your satchel with goodies.
Instead you need to start an extraction, a timed wait inside of the Dark Zone where you hope to get your goodies onto a dangling rope so that a helicopter can air-lift your rewards out of the area and clean them of their contamination for later use.
As with Kane and Lynch before it, this becomes the tensest moments of the game. Once you've called for the air-lift, to take your toys out and get them all shined up for later use, you alert the whole of the Dark Zone to your going-ons... allowing the other players an opportunity to come and relieve you of your newly-acquired gear.
Of course there's a bit of risk-and-reward to that from their end, as killing another player will mark you as "rouge" and mean that any other player can shoot that "bad" person free of guilt (or repercussion). If you die as a rogue, you're also severely penalized, losing all the DZ (Dark Zone) gear you've collected during that venture as well as sacrificing both experience and currency.
I think the highest praise that I can offer the game is that it has that ability, to switch between something very zen and low-key (in the neutral zones) to some of the most intense and nerve-racking gaming that I've played in the last few years. The Division's main strength is in its gameplay and the diversity it offers between the two different zones presented. Eventually Division will be opening that up further as well with various "end game content" including "raids" against larger scale bosses with larger groups, and item trading between characters. So, for those who are interested, there is plenty of re-playability.
The Division, for those looking to get the most out of it, is very much an investment. Not only in the purchase price of the game, which is obvious, but in the time you'll need to put into the game to get the most out of its late-game elements. Of course it is worth mentioning as well, this game very nearly demands a group of like-minded players (friends) that will not screw you over... too many an adventure with randomly joined groups have ended with one (or more) player dropping out of the group in time to shoot everyone in the back and loot their freshly-dead corpses.
Review based on a retail copy for PC provided by the publisher.
Release Date: March 8th, 2016