Ubisoft stole the show at E3 in 2013 when they closed their keynote presentation with the announcement
of Tom Clancy's The Division
, a third-person, online RPG-shooter. With delays mounting prior to release, doubt began to set as to whether The Division
might ever live up to the hype it had generated over the past three years. With the game now in the hands of gamers the good news is that it largely does, and the end product is a game that combines slick shooting mechanics, well-paced level progression, and addictive loot grinding.
Tom Clancy's The Division
Set weeks after a weaponized virus called the Green Poison has been unleashed upon the streets of New York City causing widespread death and chaos, an emergency evacuation transforms the city that never sleeps into a lawless ghost town. In classic Tom Clancy setup, you play as an agent of the titular Division, a covert government sleeper agency that has been trained for exactly this type of doomsday scenario, and it’s your job to bring law and order back to the city and investigate the origins of the outbreak.
The overarching story ties all of The Division
's different missions, side objectives and collectible items together extremely well, allowing you to gradually paint a picture of what happened between the start of the outbreak and the present day. This is further built upon thanks to the stunningly detailed setting that captures the very moment in time that the city suddenly ground to a halt, offering a genuinely immersive open-world to explore. Every action you take feels meaningful in your broader mission to save New York from the factions who are operating in the city, even though key bosses feel undeveloped and largely forgettable.
Your first major task upon arriving in Manhattan is to establish a base of operations, which is made up of three wings: tech, medical, and security. With no class system in place, you shape your character’s skill set by upgrading each of these wings through missions and side encounters which unlock new abilities, talents and perks that can be switched on the fly throughout the game rather than tying you down to one set role. At first look the leveling system may seem basic, but when combined with other players in co-op there is a great deal of depth that will allow you to turn your squad into a well-oiled machine. The Division
’s gunplay is slick and is reminiscent of Ghost Recon
, which is surprising considering the games open-world nature and the fact that this is an RPG veiled as a shooter. Weapons feel meaty and powerful against enemies below or equal to your level, and well thought out environment design allows for varied and tactical approaches to most battles. At first, the cover based mechanics can feel a little bit clunky as you snap into areas of cover that you didn’t mean to, but after a few hours it becomes second nature and you’ll find yourself easily moving from point to point to gain a better position.
This is especially important as the vast majority of the game’s action revolves around you fighting from behind cover due to the ease in which the enemy AI can absorb bullets. Unlike other games in the Clancy-verse where a headshot results in an enemy death, The Division
’s enemies have more in common with those found in Borderlands
where damage numbers appear and loot drops to the floor. Against the backdrop of the immersive world it’s off-putting at first that an enemy wearing nothing more than a hoodie can take a clip or more of ammo and still manage to slam a baseball bat into your head, and how well you adjust to that will play a large role in how much you enjoy the combat or not.
The best of The Division
’s action comes in the main story missions which take place in interesting locations across Manhattan and provide some intense and well-designed battles. These can all be played solo, but they are far more rewarding when played in co-op where you can make best use of the different skills and abilities as a strategic unit. Fortunately the game makes teaming up with other players especially easy. If you already have friends playing the game you can see them on your map and join their game quickly and easily, and for those of you that don’t, matchmaking is available at each of the game’s safe houses or at the start of each mission. Missions change the difficulty dynamically depending on the number and level of players, which means that no matter how you choose to play, the game feels balanced and rarely crosses either lines of being too easy or too difficult.
Each of the main story missions come with a recommended level to play, which will halt progression at times leaving you to level up via side missions and encounters. Side missions generally offer quite a bit of diversity ranging from finding missing people to bounties, whereas encounters tend to be limited to repeating the same few actions with only the difficulty increasing and can become tiresome. While it does break up the flow of the story and add some grinding to the experience, you’ll only really be three or four side missions away from hitting the level required to carry on, and it does help to remind you that The Division
is an open world that is begging to be explored rather than a linear shooter.
Once the main story is completed and you reach the level 30 cap The Division
’s end game is currently limited to tidying up any leftover side missions, collectible hunting, replaying missions on harder difficulties or as daily challenges and loot grinding. If you decide to leave the game at this point, you will have enjoyed a compelling story set in a beautifully detailed environment for 30+ hours. For others the addictive temptation to find better weapons and accessories will keep you coming back for more, and it’s at this point that playing through the game’s missions again on harder difficulties make them really standout.
The AI in general are predictable in their movement throughout, which makes smaller gunfights often feel repetitive, in larger battles and on harder difficulties, however The Division
’s battles take on a new lease of life. With enemies taking so much damage to kill, you’ll need to really pay attention to the cover available and work with any team mates to avoid being overrun and make the most of your available skills and abilities.
The Dark Zone is where much of your time will be spent after finishing the main missions in the pursuit of more impressive loot, and it’s strongly advised that you take a friend or three with you rather than going in alone. Taking up a large amount of the map, the Dark Zone is an area that is walled off from the rest of the Manhattan due to excessive contamination. Inside you’ll face groups of AI who are guarding chests of loot, as well as other players who could potentially be friend or foe.
Due to the high levels of contamination in the Dark Zone, loot needs to be extracted via helicopter and decontaminated before you can properly get your hands on it. Anything can happen once an extraction is called in, with waves of enemy AI charging in and the addition of other players who may or may not shoot you in the back to steal your hard earned gains. There’s a genuine level of tension that is unlike anything found in other shooters, and the importance of better loot back in the main areas of Manhattan make each extraction feel significant.
Should you decide to go rogue and steal another agent’s loot a bounty will be placed on your groups head, alerting other players to your location until justice has been served or they run out of time to catch you. How you decide to play is up to you, and both sides of the coin can be equally rewarding and fun.The Division
achievement list is pretty straight forward, requiring you to complete the main story, experiment with some of the different special abilities, complete specific actions X number of times, find all of the collectibles and explore the Dark Zone. All in all, it’s a pretty simple completion - although it’s going to take you around 60-80 hours in order to unlock them all.
’s dense and stunningly recreated version of New York City provides an interesting environment for you to explore, and the overall story arc ties each of its components together in a cohesive way. There are a few bugs here and there that need ironing out in post release patches, but none of them felt game breaking or detracted from the overall enjoyment of the game. As a cover-based shooter it’s more than competent and will provide an entertaining and worthwhile experience for those of you that want to play through the story and then move on to the next game. If the enticement of better loot and stat optimization catches hold of you however, there’s a chance that The Division
may well become your next addiction, especially if Ubisoft and Massive can keep a steady stream of updates and DLC coming.
- Immersive dense world to explore
- Addictive loot grinding
- Dark Zone is incredibly tense
- Matchmaking is quick and easy
- Combat can be rewarding with friends
- Bugs and technical issues need to be fixed
- Can feel repetitive if the loot grind doesn't grab you
The reviewer has so far spent 58 hours cleaning the streets of New York City and plans to spent many more hours there in the future, earning 41 of the game's 50 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.