Manhattan’s beautiful underground can’t mask The Division’s loot troubles.
Tom Clancy’s The Division was first available to the masses as a beta in January/February and immediately caught my eye for its highly detailed world, easy to follow if repetitive side missions, intrigue surrounding the plot and for the cover-based gunplay which seemed so much more fluid than the older Gears of War titles. When the full game released, the initial grind from level 1 to 30 was fun. It was great to explore this world, learn more about the various trials that Manhattan’s citizens faced and of course, shooting bad guys in the face repeatedly.
Unfortunately, it was obvious in the early going that The Division didn’t have much of an end-game. Even after the first two Incursions and High Value Targets launched, it felt like developer Ubisoft Massive was constantly pushing players into the Dark Zone, the game’s PvEvP area where enemies severely outrank you and players can steal your hard-earned loot.
"Despite exploring some murky Underground sewers and tunnels, the DLC highlights the incredible art design that Massive pours into every aspect of the game."
The Underground DLC was meant to be a solution for PvE focused players. A randomly generated set of dungeons promising Gear Set items and guaranteed 229 Gear Score weapons and pieces? How could anyone resist? Unfortunately, The Division’s Underground DLC is still a textbook example of one step forward, five steps back for Massive.
Though there’s an overarching story for Underground, there’s a sheer lack of story missions to really draw your attention. The first mission has you investigating an IED somewhere down south and battling Cleaners when you’re too late to stop it. The second mission sees you traveling Underground to the Terminal, a new social space to group for Underground missions, and gathering even more intel about the Cleaners’ plans. If we’re being kind, then Dragon’s Nest – the new Incursion – essentially rounds out the story as you thwart the Cleaners’ plans once and for all.
Despite exploring some murky Underground sewers and tunnels, the DLC highlights the incredible art design that Massive pours into every aspect of the game. Posters and advertisements dot the walls with references to pop culture icons. Graffiti is everywhere, including one humorous piece that references the Dark Zone grind. Exploring the Underground for the first time during a story mission leads you through dimly lit crumbling tunnels and a neon-lit “club” of horrors. Further upping your reasons to explore this beautiful environment are the various intel that can be gathered, narrating stories of alligators, rat monsters and the journey of the different enemy factions as they try to survive the darkness beneath Manhattan. What’s going on with Jessica Kandel though? What is the status of the Green Virus? You really shouldn’t expect all that much story honestly but what’s there serves for some interesting lore.
The Underground Operations themselves consist of fulfilling an objective – locate a missing patrol, power up some generators, eliminate a target – and they can be modified using Directives. These Directives include reducing ammo (and causing you to lose ammo if you reload with bullets in a clip), both skills going to cooldown if you use one, etc. The rewards scale with each Directive and depending on the difficulty. Challenging with three Directives enabled stands a better chance of dropping 240 Gear Score items, for instance. Along the way, you can add even more phases to the Operation to gain more experience and thus open more Underground Caches, which deliver guaranteed 268 Gear Set items and 229 weapons.
"Why suffer through Heroic Mode with three phases and five directives enabled, for example, if you don’t stand a chance at getting any Gear Set piece?"
However, the Underground gets awfully repetitive. Even playing through it a few times was enough to reveal every single possible area. Couple this with the limited objectives, which don’t really have any story cut scenes or twists associated with them, and even the beautiful artwork put into the surroundings isn’t enough to dissipate the monotony.
But this is a common problem in many loot-based games, right? Even in Diablo 3, you’ll encounter many of the same areas (even if they have a much wider variety than The Division‘s tunnels and sewers) again and again via Greater Rifts. The difference then comes down to loot and that’s one area where Ubisoft Massive continues to fumble.
The Underground places a very, very heavy weightage on new Gear Set items and weapons. The four new Gear Sets this time around include B.L.I.N.D. (killing an enemy drops a flashbang at their position), Firecrest (killing burning enemies grants 10 seconds of incendiary bullets), Reclaimer (using a consumable grants it to the entire team) and DeadEye (unscoped hits with Marksman rifles guarantees critical shots but headshot damage is removed) with AlphaBridge added through a free update. Killing a boss on Hard Mode with three directives will often net you a 204 weapon or a 214 Gear Set item as rewards…and unfortunately, the reward will mostly be a Firecrest or B.L.I.N.D. piece (maybe Reclaimer or DeadEye if you’re luck). Even if you decide to grind through and earn caches, which deliver great weapons like the new G36C or the Paratrooper SVD, you won’t be getting a Sentry’s Call harness or Predator’s Mark chest piece. It’s a pretty big bummer and takes away all incentive to really fight through the Underground‘s biggest challenges.
Why suffer through Heroic Mode with three phases and five directives enabled, for example, if you don’t stand a chance at getting any Gear Set piece? It would be another matter if the above Gear Sets were actually worthwhile but outside of Reclaimer which is a decent support set, there’s nothing that feels like a worthwhile upgrade over Sentry’s Call or Striker’s Battlegear. Ironically enough, AlphaBridge is probably the best new Gear Set because of the 100 percent health regen speed and ability to grant six weapon talents if you have two of the same weapon type equipped and meet all the stat requirements. And that set is free for everyone!
"I’m not going to lie – the Incursion is lots of fun, even more so than Clear Sky or Falcon Lost thanks to actual discernible sections and some decent mechanics…"
It should also be noted that the old Gear Set pieces were upgraded to 268 Gear Score via Heroic modifiers for Incursions. Some more Challenging missions were added via the free 1.3 update and every Challenging mission now has a Heroic difficulty. This essentially adds level 33 mobs to the equation and has a chance to offer 240 Gear Set items (along with the rather underwhelming Showstopper shotgun). Most times you’ll be disappointed with 204 weapons but hey, at least you get 50 Phoenix Credits per Heroic mission completion.
How do you specifically get the older Gear Set items at higher Gear Score? Why, farming Falcon Lost or Clear Sky at Heroic of course! And Heroic Incursions have level 35 Elite enemies so unless you have a very skilled team and immense patience – and also don’t mind the reward not being what you want – we advise avoiding the madness. Heck, the Dark Zone is still the best place to go for farming Gear Set pieces. It’s a shame that it’s been pretty much walled off for solo players though. Update 1.2 ensured that even 220 Gear Score players stood little chance alone and with the new bracket at 231+ Gear Score, you’re not getting anything – like Alpha Bridge – unless you’re rolling with a very powerful squad. Don’t even get us started on the multiple teams of rogues that will just kill you and steal your loot because they feel like it.
There are other complaints that could be had for the Underground DLC. Bugs seem to be prevalent with every new update and this is no different. It’s possible to get stuck on environmental objects in the Underground, thus necessitating a restart of the entire mission (which can cost you Intel and you won’t be able to join back in since you’re on a “different map” from your team). The delay on healing is still very much an annoyance as is the bug on Pulse which doesn’t allow it to detect enemies close by (which can be death if you have Fog of War enabled). High Value Targets continue to grant mostly Lone Star gear. Enemies still feel obscenely powerful even when playing Operations on Hard and being well above the required Gear Score. Then again, that’s not really a bug as much as a consequence of The Division‘s design. But losing out in the Dark Zone because of random freezes that send me back to the Dashboard? Yeah, no bueno.
I’m not going to lie – the Incursion is lots of fun, even more so than Clear Sky or Falcon Lost thanks to actual discernible sections and some decent mechanics (the new RC cars with napalm will make you want to strangle some randoms though). The end boss fight, despite its simplicity, is still pretty cool and encourages the use of different skills and builds to survive. Unfortunately, the key aspect of Underground feels ultimately unrewarding, especially given the amount of time and effort it takes to complete Operations and grind for Caches. There also isn’t much by way of story missions to really sink your teeth into either.
"In this day and age and especially with so many other games having better progression systems, there’s simply no excuse for The Division‘s current hodgepodge state."
I keep thinking back to Diablo 3’s Reaper of Souls whenever I play The Division and that’s even more obvious with Underground. Whereas the current state of the former allows me to experiment with different, viable builds and essentially find any missing items within a few hours of farming (even less at times), The Division’s Underground DLC has yet to really give me anything I want. Yes, the G36C is pretty cool and fun to use but that’s getting nerfed. Even the Underground vendors with their new Phoenix Credit-dependent loot and blueprints feel like a lengthy grind. Thankfully, the crafting requirements allow for High End Division Tech to be converted into other materials so it makes crafting items much easier now.
The Division’s Underground DLC is very hard to recommend. Solo players who want to net some decent weapons and gear along with exploring new levels, which become repetitive early on, will hit a wall quickly and be forced to the Dark Zone or past Incursions for the really good stuff. And rest assured, the Dark Zone is an utter mess right now with the current Tanktician meta and Reclaimer granting incendiary bullets to everyone in the playable area who’s not rogue (imagine a non-rogue team shielding a rogue team and you’ll understand why this is an issue).
Groups of players will probably appreciate the new challenges in Underground but quickly return to the Dark Zone for more immediate and worthwhile rewards along with better chances at getting the new AlphaBridge Gear Set. Even if you decide to undertake the Heroic Operations in the Underground, you’re far better off heading to the Dark Zone and risk losing your loot than dealing with a mission that limits your ammo and abilities, bestows special ammo to enemies and does everything but breaks your thumbs to ensure you don’t succeed.
At $15, Underground feels like it could have used a lot more time, more random areas, a better loot system, better Gear Sets, more story missions, more common sense to how rewards should be doled out and essentially more polish to really be worth recommending. In this day and age and especially with so many other games having better progression systems, there’s simply no excuse for The Division‘s current hodgepodge state.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
Great art-style for Underground areas. Intel/lore collection provides decent backstory on occurrences happening Underground. Dragon's Nest is a fun Incursion, even with infuriating RC cars. Initially provides a decent amount of rewards and content for solo players. G36C is love, G36C is life.
Lame rewards in Operations unless you go for Challenging with Directives (which is punishing as hell). Rewards limited to new Gear Sets, thus pushing players back to Dark Zone or other Incursions. New Gear Sets are very underwhelming. Underground areas become repetitive very quickly, especially with limited objectives. Could have used some more story and character development. Bugs seemingly never die.
The Division's Underground is the polar opposite of Diablo 3's Reaper of Souls. It exposes the game's snail-slow progression and endless grind while still presenting the Dark Zone as having the best rewards. New players will probably enjoy the new content with the base game but it's a toss-up for the hardcore.