It’s the end of the world. Or the end of New York (again – it’s like the Tokyo of the western world) and of course it would happen while Americans were running around spending money and punching other shoppers on Black Friday. It seems… apt. That’s the premise for The Division; a dreadful strain of smallpox has been introduced to the money being handled on the shoppiest of shopping days and a large section of New York has been cremated as a result.
There are survivors, of course, and some of them are good people, just trying to get by. Others are part of gangs of looters or misguided ‘saviours’ of the city, while you (and any companions, should you choose to take them on) are a member of the Division. These are elite sleeper agents who have lived though the epidemic and who are activated from their normal lives as part of the second wave of response to the widespread mayhem taking place. The first wave, it seems, has been wiped out, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.
There are choices when it comes to figuring out what’s going on in New York, both with the initial terrorist attack and the current inflammatory situation. Gameplay choices. Want to be a lone wolf? Done. Want to work as a team with online players? Also done. How about making use of MMO elements? That’s cool. Just in it for the loot? There’s something in The Division for you too.
The Division owes its existence to Ubisoft’s various open-world games as well as Activision/Bungie vehicle (not a Warthog) Destiny. It’s an always-online, MMO, RPG, third-person, cover-based, shooter. So yes, there’s a little Gears of War in there too. Only no Locust and no chainsaws. You will get to shoot literally everything else in the face though – that’s how Division members resolve all of their conflicts. They fill them with enough bullets to start a shooting range.
It Gets Better
The Division puts players into a third-person view, similar to the Assassin’s Creed games. You’re not going to be scaling buildings, you’re going to be shooting up checkpoints and enemy gangs and at first, the bullet-based combat is going to seem loose. That’s because this is also an RPG and you’re rocking entry-level gear.
As time goes by, players will be rewarded with improved items or plans for them (you need to find the resources to craft them out in the ruins of New York). Or you’ll be customising your character with items dropped by enemies. There’s a ton of variety when it comes to weapon and gear effects effects but players will find that their weapons boil down to just a few stalwarts: assault, SMG, LMG, shotgun, and handgun. There are a couple of models of each but you’re going to be more interested in the stats of each than which company made the bloody thing. Does it boost your health? Does it deal extra damage? Is it green (kinda-rare), blue (rare), purple (at last) or gold (WHEN?! Just one drop… please)? The manufacturer pales in comparison. After that you get to add silencers, grips, weapon skins and special ammo clips, to further boost your damage-per-second. And cos it makes your gear look awesome.
You’ve also got to outfit yourself with knee pads, gloves, holsters, a backpack and a few other essentials, which stand in for the kind of armour you might wear in a medieval fantasy RPG. Like the pauldron-sort, your items will give you various buffs and, at later stages of play, can be modded like the weapons. The end result is that players become more capable as their time in The Division passes. And you need that, because your opponents are going to get tough.
Enemies And Bases
It’s too bad that your enemies aren’t going to vary much. Gang with pistols (the Rikers), gang with flamethrowers (Cleaners), gang with military hardware (shhh…) and a few named enemies are about the size of it, unless you’re venturing into the PvP Dark Zones. Each of your enemies will have assault-rifle wielders, shotgunners and snipers, as well as a few heavies with LMGs to make life difficult. Once you’ve seen them, though, they’re not going to change much. Tactics are static, so you can use the same methods over and over. That’s not a good thing at all.
Happily, the repetition that can be found in The Division doesn’t detract too hard from the rest of it. You’re going to be too busy completing all the little side missions which feed into the main storyline, in an effort to restore order to New York. And you’re going to be doing it in stages. Taking a Level 9 character into a Level 11-13 area is a recipe for disaster, unless you’ve lucked into some impressive gear early on.
Taking each area as it comes makes sense, though, as you’re going to be restoring your base of operations, a rather large Post Office. You’ve likely done this before, first with the villa in Assassin’s Creed 2, but saving the three people responsible for medical, security, and tech and then completing missions to get them resources for upgrades makes sense in this context. Clearing each area puts you on a clear upgrade path, where the challenge is neither too hard or too easy. You’ll need to progress naturally before jumping ahead anyway – some areas are still too infectious for low-level players and you need improved filter tech to explore them without dying.
If you’re a fan of stories then the challenge isn’t going to be an impediment. You’re going to be sucked into the story in double-quick time, wondering what happened with the initial Green Poison attack as well as why your ride over New York was shot down with a rocket launcher. There are also smaller stories to explore, told though minor side- missions and something called ECHOs. These are reconstructions of past events using surveillance data and they seem to have been pulled right out of Watch_Dogs. Could be we’ll see more of these.
Then there are the usual run of collectibles, like cellphone recordings and other items of a digital nature for you to listen to, read, or watch. Evidence, in video form, is a frequent reward for larger missions. There’s a lot of story in The Division and it’s almost universally good. You don’t have to go looking for most of it, it’s usually given, but you can seek out more if you like.
You can judge how big The Division by just how long this review has rambled on for. We haven’t touched on everything yet and there are a few niggling points to be had, like the limited enemies and lack of endgame purpose. Seriously, the Dark Zone might be fun for a while but salvaging elite gear so you can go and salvage more elite gear only works for so long. But this remains Ubi’s best open-world to date and it’s a finely honed machine of projectile-weapon combat and exploration. New York is at turns frantic and desolate and a Division agent’s work is never done. The upcoming expansion content’s going to be the real decider here but for now it’s worth a considerable chunk of your time.