Review: Tom Clancy’s The Division
When the closed beta dropped for Tom Clancy’s The Division, I was a little less than thrilled with the product. The missions felt flat and while I knew the enemies were bullet sponges, I wasn’t expecting the amount of bullets it would take to take down a single enemy on hard. There’s been several games I’ve enjoyed over the years with damage absorbing enemies including Destiny and Borderlands. But I guess when you see an enemy with nothing but a hoodie taking a shotgun blast to the face and not dying, the immersion becomes a bit dry. It was my biggest issue with the beta. It wasn’t until I jumped into the Dark Zone – The Division‘s hardcore PVP area – that I grasped the spectacular game I was getting into. During the last open beta, I spent the majority of my time in the Dark Zone with friends and had a blast. Now that the final product is out, it’s time to roam the entirety of New York City’s quarantined disaster zone.
The Division is a massive multiplayer third-person role-playing game. From screenshots and some videos, you’d assume it’s a typical Tom Clancy cover shooter but it’s not. It’s important to understand this so you won’t set yourself up for disappointment. While it’s true you are shooting in third-person while sitting behind cover, the game is an action role-playing game. A headshot (as described above) will not instantly kill an enemy unless you have an incredible amount of damage associated with your weapon. Headshots will generally do a critical amount of damage to an enemy or player and will rarely end the digital life of your enemy. When you shoot an enemy, you’ll see numbers flying off the enemy indicating the damage you’ve done similar to many RPGs.
Since this is a cooperative multiplayer game, they’ve mastered how you join your friends. Instead of inviting friends through external means, you can do everything in-game in a group management menu or by pulling up the map. On the map, you’ll see dots representing the location of your friends and with a click of a button, you can invite or join them with ease. While Destiny was incredible easy to join friends as well, there’s a better visual representation of this in The Division.
I won’t reveal too much of the story but I’d say that while portions of it are interesting, the main story falls flat and isn’t very “Tom Clancy”. It’s about as ridiculous as some of the older Call of Duty campaigns. The Division takes place after a small pox-like virus breaks out in New York City during Black Friday. The government quarantines Manhattan and brings in some military personal known as the Division to stop violent rioters and the controlling gangs. The story really never goes places and is just a filler to break up the monotony of shooting and looting things. Most of the more interesting events comes from exploring the map and running into ECHOs and cell phones. ECHOs are found around the city using surveillance footage that display a holographic image of a specific event around you. You can interact with some of them to really display how violent people have become during this outbreak.
Most of your time spent is leveling up your character, finding or crafting loot, and upgrading your main base for additional skills to use in the war zone. There’s also the Dark Zone I mentioned before, but we’ll get to that later as that seems to be more of an end game experience along with the daily challenges. Crafting new and better gear is done by finding blueprints obtained by completing various mission types. Crafting resources are found by breaking down items you find, completing side objectives such as holding a position for a few minutes, or by finding loot containers throughout the city.
Every weapon you pick up has slots to mod certain aspects of the gun. Your basic AK-47 will have options to add a scope and extended ammo clips to give yourself an extra boost for your guns. Weapons also are color coordinated to quickly identify rarity similar to many loot based games. I’m sure level 30 characters won’t want to waste time picking up common white items.
One of the best features in the customization department is the ability to change your character’s look without adjusting affecting your armor’s stats as clothing options and armor are completely separate from each other. You’ll find new puffy jackets that you can change out and still keep that nice vest on that protects you oh so well. There’s also sets for clothing so you don’t look like a guy without a sense of style.
If you couldn’t tell already, The Division is a nice looking game. The aesthetics may not be incredibly interesting since it’s focus is on a real city under martial law. But it is a very beautiful game without load times and a smooth frame rate, even on consoles. If you’ve seen pictures of Manhattan and compare them to in-game footage, it’s remarkably accurate. Outside of having great texture quality and a sense of realism for it’s location, the effects that are presented are top notch. Flames engulfing a room make for a real sense of urgency to evacuate the area. There’s times where I’d leave a mission area and be in the middle of a heavy snow storm that caused my view to be extremely limited. And that’s a good thing in terms of eye candy.
Like a lot of Ubisoft titles, there’s an overwhelming amount of side missions to do and collectibles to track down. The side missions range from bunkering down while defending waves of oncoming enemies to protecting a group of friendly units from bandits. It all boils down to shooting every enemy dead or a timer runs out. Everything I’ve ran into has been very repetitive outside of the main campaign. If you find grinding out the same thing over and over a blast, the side missions may be up your alley. But I’ve grown tired of Ubisoft’s copy/paste formula for collectibles and side missions. I was hoping for something different this time around.
Before I explain the biggest issue with the core game, I wanted to go into how the missions are structured. While exploring sections of New York City, you’ll run across main story missions in different areas of the map. These missions will be the meat of the game until you hit that teasing Dark Zone. Brutal honesty here: they’re not very interesting outside of seeing different environments. Each story mission require you to kill waves of enemies until you reach the end where a deadly boss appears with an amazing amount of health and damage. And each mission is exactly that and it never strays from this formula. They’re fun in a group of friends, like most any coop experience, but the missions never try to hide how repetitive they are.
In regards to playing with others, the downside is that anyone that’s a higher player level will make the main missions too difficult to play for players that’re too low level. An example would be someone joining a friend who’s level 30 and trying to take on the first story mission. The higher level player will buff the enemies up to the point where it’s unplayble for a low level player. I had this happen myself and it wasn’t a very fun experience. So make sure you run with your friends of a similar level until you hit the cap.
The comparisons of vanilla Destiny and The Division have been made several times, Destiny being the standard to learn from. The only thing different in favor of The Division in terms of missions is I don’t have to activate the waves of enemies by using a Ghost at a key location. But all you’re really doing is fighting waves of enemies until the boss dies which is exactly what Destiny did. Only The Division has less interesting enemies and very mediocre AI. And these two things are the most damning parts of the core experience.
The enemies you’ll encounter don’t become more interesting in design than guys wearing hoodies until near the end of the game when you run into military-type soldiers. But I could easily ignore repetitive enemy design if the AI wasn’t a bore to play against. The most complicated thing I’ve seen the enemy do is hide behind cover and occasionally flank. The rest of the time, they’re charging at you like maniacs or climbing the cover they’re behind to shoot at you. It’s really disappointing to see a game in 2016 have less intelligence in combat than Halo: Combat Evolved.
Kicking the difficulty up to hard on each mission doesn’t do anything to solve the laughable AI. Hard creates a super sponge and gives the enemies much more powerful weapons. You’d hope they’d change the behaviors, but they’re the exact same. While Destiny had smarter AI to fight against such as hiding if their shields went down, Destiny‘s hard modes didn’t just cause the enemies to become spongy. It required you to think about which weapons are more effective against a certain enemy’s shield to reveal their softer alien flesh. It’s a real shame that The Division didn’t do more for their hard mode other than create super sponges. But hey, at least the loot drops are better!
The level cap is at 30 and there’s a question about what to do after you finish the campaign. What do you do after the missions are done? Do you just do side quests over and over? Boss fights? Raids (which are releasing at a later date)? As of now, it looks like you’ll grind out materials for blue prints, doing daily challenges, or doing the meat and potatoes content of the game: The Dark Zone.
The Dark Zone sold me on the game and it’s the main reason I wanted to hit my level 30 cap. You can join the Dark Zone at a low level, but it’s almost pointless unless you’re grinding out the separate Dark Zone levels. The Dark Zone is The Division‘s version of PVP. Unlike a lot of modern PVP games, your deaths actually mean something. You may have found an elite boss wandering around the streets that dropped an incredible piece of gear. To take that use this gear, you need to take it to one of the eight different extraction zones. At this point you’ll bunker down and hope that the helicopter gets to you to extract your gear. The kicker? Any player in this mode can kill you and take the gear that you worked hard to get. As an unnamed old man once said in video games, “It’s dangerous to go alone!”. So make sure you bring your gang along. You can also team up with anyone before entering, or while already in the zone. But make sure you trust them. Seeing a sparkly purple item drop is very tempting for some to kill their friends for that sweet loot.
The punishment for mean players is that killing another player forces the attacking player to go into a rogue status. A timer is displayed while the rogue player hopes no one tracks them down. If a rogue player is killed, they’ll drop any loot that they haven’t extracted yet. If you and/or your team kill too many players while in rogue, there’ll be a manhunt marker placed on your heads with a minimum of 5 minutes to pray no one finds you and stops you. Each kill adds more time onto your count down meter so escaping is limited in a lot of cases. The ultimate reward is the satisfaction of survival. The gear you stole isn’t too shabby either.
The Dark Zone will be the core of this game for the lasting players until raids and more content hits. It’s one of the most refreshing experiences in PVP in a good long time. But if you’re more into cooperative experiences with friends and just want to take it easy, there’s enough to keep you busy for a while. The Division has a bit of something for everyone and it’s no wonder it’s a success already.