The Division Is Engaging, Gorgeous And Totally Punishing
Deep in the Dark Zone, and I’m pinned behind a car with bullets fizzing over my head. With my health dwindling, I thought this was it for my character and the loot it’d taken me the better part of two hours to scavenge. Just as I was making my peace with God (mostly by swearing loudly at the Rogue Agents who had taken it upon themselves to pick me off) a trio of strangers rallied on my position. As I stood there, thanking them for their help and, y’know, for not murdering me themselves, it dawned on me that this is what makes The Division such a great game.
People have rightfully been stacking The Division up alongside Destiny since pretty much day one, and even more so after the game’s multiple betas. Both are MMO-likes, both demand your time and attention, and both will split the gaming community down the middle. To some, The Division will be a grind – loot, shoot, rinse, repeat. Another missed opportunity cast into the bargain bin barely a month after release. But to others, it will become an obsession. Every new piece of gear, every mission completed and every enemy killed will be a small victory on the way to reclaiming a defeated New York. But the funny thing is – neither group of players will be wrong.
There’s no denying that The Division‘s missions can be a bit of a grind, though if you’re willing to invest in the larger-than-life plot, it’ll probably keep you engaged long enough to get through the 20-25 hours it takes to hit end game
So the plot, in a nutshell, is typical action movie nonsense. Somebody has unleashed a hyper-infectious strain of smallpox (called the ‘Green Death’) onto the population via ‘murrican dollar bills in an attempt to show everybody just how evil capitalism is. Naturally, society swiftly implodes and all hell breaks lose, leading to major cities – like New York – to be quarantined in an attempt and stop the spread of the virus.
As a Division agent, you’ve been living a normal life for years, ready to spring into action when called upon for something like, oh, say the downfall of the human race. Bloody good coincidence, that.
It’s your job to set up a base of command, and retake the city by providing basic amenities like water and security to residents whilst battling against baddies who seek to capitalise on the situation. The enemies you’ll be pumping full of bullets are unfortunately pretty dull. There are a few different factions – Rioters who mainly pack pistols, Cleaners who use flamethrowers and Rikers who have machine guns. The AI in The Division can be pretty hit and miss with a few glitches causing enemies to stand around harmlessly while you pump them full of led, but when all cogs are whirring, you’ll likely get a good kick out of the action.
There’s also the problem of enemies being unrealistic bullet sponges, as guys in hoodies and t-shirts usually take 7-8 bullets before going down. It’s understandable why they do this, but it does take a little of the shine off. If you look closely, you can see where a good portion of the influence come from. There’s a heavy emphasis on cover based strategy from Gears of War and there’s no denying the impact that Destiny has had on proceedings.
Thankfully, The Division cares less about who you’re shooting and more about where you’re doing it, and New York City has been recreated here just stunningly. It’s easy to lose yourself for hours watching snow flurry through the hauntingly empty streets. The lighting as well is absolutely superb, as fairy lights dwindle in the dusk and fire glints menacingly off the screen. It’s almost a 1:1 scale recreation, so you’ll be able to spend plenty of time sightseeing during mission downtime.
The gameplay feels familiar while bringing a lot of unique elements, which is testament to the great design. The shooting is solid (a pretty important factor for a game that revolves around shooting everybody that’s not you) while the cover system adds a strategic element into every firefight. Since the game is rooted firmly in reality and what could feasibly happen, you’re limited to assault rifles, sniper rifles, sub machine guns and the like.
It also defies the usual tropes of an MMO by not having a rigid class system. Rather than picking your class, you have a bunch of perks and abilities that you can swap in and out when you need them, essentially enabling you to create your own class on the fly. It’s a great little inclusion that allows you to think strategically as a group or on your lonesome, rather than ticking boxes for dps, tanking, healer etc.
Ultimately, The Division is best enjoyed with friends. The main game can be played alone, but the missions themselves do suffer from fatigue as you progress, and you won’t likely remember many stand-out moments as you go through . Naturally though, everything can (and should) be played through with trusted survivors if you’re looking to really get the most out of it. Which brings us back to The Dark Zone.
The Dark Zone is a high risk, high reward PvP area where you must collect contaminated weapons and gear from super dangerous enemies and places, with the objective of getting them air lifted to safety so you can enjoy them at a later date. This becomes troublesome when you consider that anyone else in the area can murder you up and steal yo shit. You’ll be dying a lot in the Dark Zone – especially at the lower levels – but that unquenchable thirst for better gear will have you coming back again and again.
It’s good (see also: tense) fun, and is sure to draw people in for a long time after the credits role in order to get the best gear. With Ubisoft planning free updates and the obligatory season pass and DLC content still to come, I can see The Dark Zone staying just as popular in the coming months.
A lot of people were worried that The Division would fail to live up to the hype created for it, and its seemingly unending development cycle. Those fears melt away as soon as you set foot into the snowy, desolate New York City and get to work. The Division is surely going to be one of the must own titles of this console generation.