There’s no denying it, the Division is daunting, overwhelming, and frighteningly intricate, but it’s also Ubisoft’s most ambitious title to date – blending the lines between an MMO and a tactical shooter – and the result is one of the most unique and rewarding experiences you’ll likely play all year.
From the get-go, The Division bombards you with information, but its so Tom Clancy-ish that you can’t put the controller down. Before you’re even dropped into the persistently-online world of New York City, you’re given a live-action intro that explains how the outbreak hit the Big Apple via a virus attached to dollar bills before the manic Black Friday sales. The social commentary around the obsession with consumerism and capitalist gain is as blatant as it is awesome, giving purpose and setting to everything that’s to follow in The Division. The story is as tight as you’d expect from something with Clancy’s name strewn across it, and it’s refreshing to have some narrative corridors for something as massive as The Division.
The city of New York is a wreck, but the remnants of what was are still there, making it quite a harrowing experience. Christmas trees still sit in doorways; tiny Santa figures are dotted around shopping malls and snow falls steadily from the sky, giving it that extra Christmas magic, albeit a grim one. Government has collapsed, emergency services have crumbled, food is scarce and people are fighting for their lives, and you, as a Division agent, are dropped into NYC to get things back on track and find out who’s to blame for all the chaos.
Incredibly, The Divison manages to achieve the atmosphere it promised in the early trailers. The visuals are spectacular, the meticulous attention to environments and character detail is astonishing, and the feeling of exploration is ever-present – and thankfully The Division also has the gameplay to back it all up.
The character creator is rather bare-bones, but its serviceable enough to create something unique enough to resemble your online persona. After that, you’re thrust into the dangerous streets of NYC, but you do have some sanctuary from the looters, gangs, and death squads that roam the island. You have to build a Base of Operations (BOO), which is comprised of three wings – Security, Tech and Medical. As you establish each wing, this will open up a ton of content – campaign missions, side quests, encounters and other activities. The more you complete, the more you’ll evolve each section, the better perks and talents you’ll unlock and the better prepared you’ll be to take back New York.
The missions themselves range from hostage situations, taking out enemy faction leaders, retrieving documents or data, finding medical supplies, and an abundance of other purposeful objectives. They also take you to some exotic and unique locations across the map and no quest ever feels like a rehash of another. Side missions provide a nice tangent when you’re not prepared for the big tasks, and random encounters also add to the unpredictability of the game. All of this contributes to your XP, which is vital to survive the doomsday scenario you’ve been dealt.
You’ll need a fair bit of XP to level up to take on the tougher missions and enemies, with some bad guys stretching the term “bullet sponge” to its breaking point. You’ll also need to make the most of loot found in abandoned areas, on enemy bodies, and in safe-houses you discover. Snatching the right loot could gift you a scope for your gun, protective armour for your character, or something that could help you Base of Operations out.
Although The Division is very much pegged as a multiplayer game, offering you the chance to co-op with friends or strangers, there’s plenty to do by yourself, and that should make most gamers happy. Multiplayer is suggested rather than enforced, and playing through the story missions and roaming NYC by yourself has a lonely sense of wonderment about it. That said, cooperative play is a joy and fighting through some tough enemies or missions with a dedicated friend helps deliver The Divison’s best attributes. The below video was taken from a co-op gameplay session we played:
And then there’s the Dark Zone – a big red bit in the middle of the map. This is The Division‘s take on PVP – where teams of Agents can go head to head if they so wish. But for us, the main aim of the Dark Zone is to nab yourself some of the rarer loot that can’t be found in the main game. But to get it, you’ll first have to collect it, then extract it by calling in a chopper, waiting for it to arrive and then to leave again, all the while fighting off AI troops and potentially other players too. Working out what other players are thinking makes the Dark Zone a very tense place indeed, where you’ll have to watch your back and put your trust-levels on zero to make it out alive.
Gamers will find a lot to love in The Division – it’s action-packed, deep with RPG elements, full of content, and extremely pretty to look at, but where it shines most is its sense of immersion, keeping you connected to an ever-changing world that throws more curve-balls than you can think up. Whether you’re a single-player gamer or a multiplayer addict, The Divison has something for everyone to fight for.