By now you’ve heard about the extensive detail in Tom Clancy’sThe Division. The sheer amount of man hours that went into faithfully recreating Manhattan, bringing it to life with graffiti, billboards and oodles of wrecked surroundings. Even with its general debris-filled environments, The Division comes to life in its own post-pandemic way. The question on everyone’s mind is pretty straightforward though: How fun is to play? Is it worth the hype, starting from the game’s initial showing at E3 2013 till now? Does it “kill” the other major MMO shooter, namely Destiny?
"As an agent of the second wave, you have the jurisdiction to carry out the President’s will and rebuild society. With the utter warzone that Manhattan has become, you’ll certainly have your work cut out for you."
First things first – Tom Clancy’sThe Division is its own game. That means it has its own identity and unique gameplay that may not appeal to everyone. However, if you’re a fan of tactical cover-based shooters, co-op squad-based gameplay, a huge open world to explore and a heaping helping of MMORPG elements, then The Division just may become your main gaming squeeze over the months.
In The Division, a previously unseen and engineered form of Small Pox has been unleashed on New York City during Black Friday. The main mode of transmission for this Green Poison Virus was dollar bills and as a result, the government’s key departments fell quickly. Enter the Strategic Homeland Division, a group of sleeper agents activated in situations such as this. As an agent of the second wave, you have the jurisdiction to carry out the President’s will and rebuild society. With the utter warzone that Manhattan has become, you’ll certainly have your work cut out for you.
There are plenty of ways this has to be done. After establishing a home base of operations, you’ll immediately be tasked with locating virologist Jessica Kandel and helping her devise a cure for the virus. In the meantime, you’ll be upgrading your Medical, Tech and Security wings to unlock new perks, talents and skills. The campaign is told through a series of main missions, with each wing receiving its own set of missions.
"The enemy AI is similarly up to the task, flanking you and retreating whenever necessary. One should probably avoid asking why a rioter with a baseball bat would run at a heavily armed Agent though."
The order you play them in is determined by your level alone so it’s entirely possible to do nothing but Medical wing missions and unlock all the upgrades there first (though the enemies don’t kid around). That freedom dictates The Division’s flow in a variety of ways – the main missions are punctuated by encounters, virus scans, hostage rescues, mercy drops and much more. There are cell phones to collect, ECHOs to investigate, missing agents to locate and resources to gather. The Division rewards exploration but it also offers plenty of distractions to keep you busy.
Which brings us to the game’s shooting mechanics. The cover-based movement system is incredibly fluid and anyone who doesn’t quite like the “heavy” feel of Gears of War will find plenty to like. Though enemies can be bullet sponges, it all depends on your overall gear and load-out. Modding weapons also offers perks like better stabilization, faster reload speed and bonuses like health recovery on headshots. There’s a fair amount of variety in the weapons and loot, allowing players to spec for DPS, skill damage or health. The skill load-outs influence the kind of role you’ll play in your squad but it’s entirely possible to make something fits your play style rather than any pre-determined class. Shotgunners can equip a perk to reduce incoming damage by moving from cover to cover while equipping a Ballistic Shield for increased protection.
One favourable set-up I discovered was the ability to modify Smart Cover, which provides increased damage resistance, to heal while in cover while my un-upgraded turrent provided suppression and one of my perks allowed skill times to increase as kills were made. It’s that perfect synergy of abilities that The Division rewards and honestly, this was a fairly basic set-up. When you’re working with a squad and coordinating in more challenging content, it’ll be interesting to witness the combinations that players can come up with, especially with High-End gear. The enemy AI is similarly up to the task, flanking you and retreating whenever necessary. One should probably avoid asking why a rioter with a baseball bat would run at a heavily armed Agent though. Also, for as fun to fight as the AI can be, there is a limited variety of enemies to tackle. Thankfully, the different factions shake things up along the way.
"Considering the history of MMOs – and game releases in general – The Division sets a new standard for how launches should go. Yes, this is even keeping in mind the whole laptop fiasco."
It’s a good thing there’s a lot to explore in The Division because the main missions tend to feel fairly similar throughout. You’ll be running through locations and taking out enemies. There is a bit of diversion here and there – like protecting a detonator from waves of enemies or locating contaminated bills – and the environments provide some great variety in how you want to tackle different situations. Playing with friends is also great because enemy numbers are increased to provide a tougher challenge. That being said, when you’re running through the story, you’ll be doing a whole lot of shooting, something which The Division excels at.
Another criticism surrounds the game’s characters, specifically their dialogue. It can be appropriately cheesy at times with Faye Lau and Jessica Kandel being some of the more scandalous offenders but there are personalities to interact with here. Even the random NPCs with their repeating dialogue and words of gratitude provide some great immersion into the world of The Division. The story structure is appropriately intriguing, if not particularly inventive. Take down the enemy factions and investigate a cure for the virus is the long and short of it. The open world is a different story though – the various plots, sub-plots and past events help fill in the blanks for the game’s setting, providing a better look at the JTF, rioters and other unfortunate individuals to be caught up in the chaos.
The best part about The Division is just how enjoyable and non-grindy it feels. The Dark Zone provides a unique challenges to PvP and non-PvP fans alike, the missions are appropriately reward and gear and progression are handled extremely well. Matchmaking exists for all activities but you can still enjoy pretty much everything on your own. Online performance was incredibly smooth, save for that few hours of downtime on launch day and the odd error or two. Considering the history of MMOs – and game releases in general – The Division sets a new standard for how launches should go. Yes, this is even keeping in mind the whole laptop fiasco.
Tom Clancy’sThe Division may not reinvent the wheel but it provides something we’ve been clamouring for – an involving, immersive, rewarding MMO shooter that raises our expectations for what the genre could achieve, despite its blemishes and somewhat repetitive mission design. It may be a commitment in the early going but The Division amply rewards your patience.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
Gorgeous visuals and awe-inspiring attention to detail. Tons of stuff to do and discover. Solid gunplay and excellent diversity of skills and perks. Rewarding gear progression and compelling if typical storyline. Challenging AI, even on Normal setting. Dark Zone is a great twist on PvP as a whole.
Main missions don't have much variety. Tough to get into initially. Cover-based shooting may not be for everyone. More varied enemies would have been appreciated. Dialogue can err on the side of cringe at times.
Creating a mix of MMORPG and third person shooter elements was never going to be easy but Tom Clancy's The Division gets so much right. It's worth investing in at this stage.
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