Tom Clancy’s The Division has been in our possession since last week, and while no review copies were sent out to the masses, it’s hard to quickly put together a review for such a big RPG MMO-like game. I asked some friends to help me with piecing a review together, and while we’re still plugging away at the game, here are our initial thoughts.
We’ll be updating this as we go, and I have faith in Rob and Sean, two of my closest gaming buddies, to help make this review/impression a worthwhile and insightful read. There is a lot to get through, so we’ll dissect it bit by bit as we go through it.
The Division sees you play the role of a sleeper agent who has been activated in New York City to combat a virus outbreak, to restore order in a city that has turned into chaos. Either going alone, or co-operatively with friends or other players, venture through The Big Apple rescuing survivors and taking out factions of rioters and other terrorising groups who have taken over the streets.
The city that never sleeps
Jorn: Despite me missing out on a couple of days due to having my Xbox One crash and requiring a factory reboot, I finally got started, and boy is it a joy to explore in The Division. I actually refused to move faster than a walk for the first section, taking in all of the environment and scenery of New York City, looking up at the massive buildings, and seeing the underside of the Brooklyn bridge. Fascinating stuff, and the attention to detail is phenomenal. Seeing the poor civilians struggle to find help while seeking out food and peeking through windows in abandoned cars, looking for food and supplies, it just feels like how you’d expect it to be, following an epidemic like the virus in game.
Rob: The Division has so far been Ubisoft’s best selling game ever which for a new IP is very impressive. I’m nearing 30 hours play time and so far I’m loving my experience with The Division. This has to be the most accurate digital representation of New York we’ve seen, sure it’s not what we saw at E3 but it’s still a very pretty game. The game world has been beautifully crafted and packs in so much detail, it’s breathtaking. The streets are littered with trash; cars and trucks are abandoned. Loose Tarpaulins flap in the breeze and steam rises from the manhole covers. Dogs roam the streets as do civilians. Some cars have had their fuel siphoned from them, evident from their open filler cap and the fuel pool on the ground. Buildings have been carefully recreated and look fantastic , the lighting and atmosphere takes you off your couch/desk chair and plonks you right there in the city. Simply put, this is the most detailed game we’ve likely ever seen. (aside from maybe GTA V! – Jornny)
Sean: I would completely agree on your assessment that the game is the most accurate representation of New York we have seen. In fact I would say its the most accurate representation of any city we have ever seen. The sheer amount of detail in the city is staggering. During a mission yesterday I went into a coffee shop on a street corner and just admired the detail in this one shop. So many of the locations just feel like they each had their own unique story and they feel so real and true to life. This particular shop looked very much like a place I used to go when I was in college and it brought back some really great and also bittersweet memories for me. I have never had that experience in a game before. It was very moving. I just stopped playing for a moment, put down the controller and stared at the screen. A very surreal experience for me. It’s things like this that set The Division apart from any other game I have ever played. Given that the developers set out to make a true 1 to 1 recreation of the city, this is not surprising at all. I can only imagine how people that live in New York City actually feel about seeing their own city in such detail.
Rob: The weapons feel like they’ve received an equal amount of attention. The gunplay feels great and the weapons each have their own characteristics and feel. (This bodes very well for the upcoming Ghost Recon game). Some weapons require careful burst fire to manage what feels like a realistic amount of recoil whilst others allow you to squeeze the trigger and hose the enemy with prolonged automatic fire. The side arms feel particularly good to handle (it’s a shame they don’t see as much use).
Sean: I love the weapons….No, I adore them! Exactly as you stated, Rob. They all feel like they are different and have their own unique personality. Currently, I am using a hunting M44 with 15x scope and suppressor as a primary. My secondary it a Vector .45 ACP and it is downright nasty! I am using a classic M1911 .45 as my sidearm and it is does the job quite well in a pinch.
Jorn: It’s hard to say what my favourite weapon is, as by the time I publish this up, I have probably found a new favourite. For the moment, I’m going with whatever weapon offers the highest DPS (damage per second) and as long as it’s an automatic weapon with a high magazine count, I am happy. I tried using an LMG earlier in the game but with the lack of decent attachments, it was too unwieldy for me, with harsh recoil. I would certainly look to make use of another LMG down the line, but for the moment, a magazine count of 30 bullets is the best I can do.
So many faces, but not enough choices
Sean: I would really have liked to see a bit more initial character customization at the beginning. Having the choice between male and female characters is good and having some choices to customize them is necessary in this type of game but I felt like we could have seen some body customization for the characters. I don’t like feeling like every other players character is the same body type and height as me. Perhaps its a nitpick but I don’t think that would have been to much to add in. I will say that even though it isn’t there it doesn’t detract from the game in my opinion.
Jorn: Yeah I felt right away that the options were extremely limited. When you look at games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, the choices offered for character customisation and personalisation in The Division are very, very limited. Some hairstyles can only be applied to certain ethnic backgrounds too, which is a bit odd. And why can’t the females have long hair, or ponytails? I can’t even have a goatee that matches my own in real life. Or thick framed glasses.
Rob: We all receive the same classless base character at the beginning and as we progress it’s up to us as individuals to decide how to dress, equip and what attributes and skill trees we want to select. I really like this classless system as it allows me to customise my character based on mission requirements and my play type. There’s a surprising amount of depth there too which means you’ll spend a lot of time in the Ability and Inventory menus both of which are nicely laid out and easy to use once you figure them out . As you level up you find yourself crafting or purchasing new weapons to match your level and it soon turns into an obsession to find and equip the best gear you can get your hands on. By the time I was level 10 I’d found a primary and secondary weapon that I loved and as I continue to progress it’s my mission to find higher level versions of those weapons (classic M1A rifle and the Aug in case you were wondering).
Character movement and navigating the Big Apple
Rob: The character movement and cover system is actually quite nice. I find this is often a hit and miss area for Ubisoft but it’s feeling good for me so far in The Division . There has been requests from gamers for a crouch button to be added and I wonder if they omitted it to encourage more use of the cover to cover system. Yes it would be nice to have but I’ve never really felt I’ve been at a major disadvantage because it’s not included. Good use of cover and movement between cover is an essential skill to master. Going full Rambo will land you and your team mates 6ft under in no time.
Sean: I don’t have any problems with the character movement either. It seems pretty standard for a Tom Clancy game. Nothing new or game breaking on this point for me. It does remind me a lot of how Gears of War utilizes their cover system which I am extremely familiar with so it took zero getting used to for me. I’m also glad that there’s no ‘going prone’ in the game. It works in the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, but I feel it would have made PvP a total pain with players spamming its use in the Dark Zone and making life even more miserable for those on the receiving end of rogue agents.
Jorn: I am happy with the way the character moves on screen, and I sometimes forget that I can click the right stick when aiming, to let me zoom in using my weapon’s available scope! The cover system is great, and the mechanic to move from cover to cover is awesome. While in cover, point your cursor at another nearby wall, and hold A or X (Xbox or PS4) and your character will auto run while crouched. It’s a great, tactical way of getting around, and looks brilliant when you and a few friends are closing down on a target in this fashion, offering covering fire to suppress the enemy.
What we are fighting for, the over-arcing plot
Sean: In regards to the story I am a little glad to see that we have to work to develop the story. It rewards those of us that really want to dig in to the backdrop. I think it makes everyone’s playthrough just a little bit different than the last guy or gals playthrough. I have no issue with how they decided to do this.
With regards to missions I have a few thoughts. First, I like them a lot. They are a nice break from the typical encounters and side missions. I have noticed on my playthrough that until you get to the boss fights at the end of each mission that enemies tend not to drop great loot or any at all. Every single really good item I have acquired has been from either a boss fight or the side missions or encounters. I would say that I wish the loot drops in missions were a little better but again, it’s a nit pick. I am currently trying to get enough points in each of the respective wings to be able to upgrade their signature skill for use.
Rob: The story is both good and bad. Like with many factors with this game the developers don’t take hold of your hand and gently guide you through the menus, perks or abilities and the same can be said of the story. The story is emotional, well delivered and very thought provoking but it’s entirely up to you to discover it and take the time to digest it. Rushing from mission to mission will get you to level 30 in no time but you’d have missed most of the story that awaits to be discovered. I would like to see more about the civilians stories in future updates and I do wish there was more meaningful dialogue with NPCs both on the streets and in the base of operations. I’d like to have seen more variety in both NPC and the enemy’s appearance as seeing the same people over and over does break the illusion that the carefully crafted game word lures you into. It’d be nice instead of civilians in need requiring bottles of water to instead see people asking for help finding someone, to clear their home of enemies or even to escort them to the Base of Operations or nearest safe house. It’s something that could be easily fixed or added and I hope future updates deliver improvements on this.
Jorn: I loved how the opening cinematic for the game wasn’t revealed prior to launch, even though I knew what the story was all about. Completing quest missions and side missions to unlock new videos and CCTV footage to see how grim the current state of affairs is is great, but scary. Seeing rioters beat innocent civilians in subway tunnels, or watching the dreaded Cleaners burning people alive is harrowing, and you just want to waste them all! I’m not far enough through the main story yet, but I can’t imagine that I’ll be fixing up the mess by the end of the game.
The Base of Operations
Rob: The Base of Operations feels like a vendors market and pretty empty with little reason to go back there other than to purchase goods. It just feels like it’s missing something for me.
Sean: I have spent quite a bit of time in the Base of Operations. I have spent a great deal of time there crafting items and utilizing the Tech wings available feature to re-roll certain bonuses on my gear. I have been able to set myself up with phenomenal firearms bonuses on every single piece of my gear to this point. This has allowed me to do massive damage in one headshot to many enemies above my level.
Jorn: I like the inclusion of the Base of Operations in The Division. When you first discover it, it gives you a desire to go out and find the supplies required to build upon it and improve it. Certain upgrades unlock hourly drops in different departments, and it’s a good place to go when you want to buy and sell weapons, gear and mods. Every time I return to the BoO, you get the sense of accomplishment seeing more and more rescued civilians filling the halls and rooms, being seen to by doctors in the Med bay, and feeling like your work is paying off. It’s a nice little touch, and adds to the detail we spoke about above.
The Dark Zone
Rob: The Dark Zone is a tough place to go in a group, let alone on your lonesome but I just feel that enemies are a little too difficult to kill especially given their numbers and the added threat from other players. At the moment my friends’ levels are varied so it’s not yet realistic to venture into the Dark Zone together as we would face enemy AI that the lower level players would be ineffective against . This is dissapointing . It looks like we have to wait till we all reach lvl 30 or they catch up which with today’s busy lifestyle can be hard to do.
I’d like to see PvP expanded. what I mean is I’d like to see a building you go into which then loads you via matchmaking into a death match or horde mode etc.
Sean: At the time of writing, I have yet to venture in since the full game released. I tried in on the beta however. My plan has been not to tackle it until I hit max character level of 30. Then group up with friends and venture in as I am sure there are people in the Dark Zone that are already max level and will be spamming lower level players seeking to just set out in the Dark Zone. I just can’t say much on this area right now.
Jorn: I hesitated going in for the first few days, but I’ve become addicted to it. I just love the idea of it more than its execution maybe. I’ve read a few negative issues about it elsewhere, how it seems almost worthless to go rogue, with the payoff not being worth it. Basically, in the Dark Zone, you can kill other human agents, which then puts a bounty on your head. When you find some decent loot in the DZ, you can extract it from one of a few locations, but you have to wait 90 seconds for the chopper to airlift your goods. In that time, enemy AI and other players can shoot you and steal your loot. It’s interesting, but again, not worth the hassle for rogue agents. Hopefully Ubisoft address this and help add to the excitement somehow. Make going rogue more tempting.
Rob: My experience of rogues has so far been few but quite fun. On my first venture into the DZ we met a friendly French guy who followed us and helped out. When we called an extraction another group arrived and took up positions. Now we all said we thought they were taking up positions to ambush us but we couldn’t be sure. As the rope dropped from the chopper they opened fire. It was great fun and although we lost that battle it put me at ease with how things worked in the DZ, nothing is yours until it’s extracted! My concern though is the rush of AI , and because they come in numbers from all directions, it prevents those sort of epic situations from taking place. Whilst it’s a welcome challenge when it’s a solo group extracting, I wish when multiple groups or random players are involved the number of AI would drop and these tense situations able to play out naturally.
Our overall impressions, for now
Sean: I am really looking forward to being able to go through The Division’s challenge mode on missions that doesn’t unlock until you hit level 30. (Update: I have since hit level 30 last night)I get the feeling that things are really going to open up when you hit max level and that there will still be a huge amount of things to do once we get to that point.
So far, I am just loving my time in The Division. I have logged about 36 hours so far and there is a ton still left to do. I am excited to see what the game will throw at me next!
Rob: Overall I’m extremely impressed with The Division and I see the game having a long and healthy lifespan. There are a few bugs and complaints but nothing that can’t be addressed down the line. This is a great third person shooter/RPG and in my opinion a must buy.
Jorn: There’s too much stuff to find and do! It’s somewhat overwhelming, but I’m taking each area one mission at a time. Even if it’s a case of searching an apartment for a collectible, or watching the ECHO sequences, which are a bit unrealistic from a technological sense but interesting in-game. I’m only at level 16 myself, but I’m in no rush to reach 30 just yet. The reception to the game so far has been very positive by players, and I am one of them. Very few issues and bugs to deal with, and loads of content to discover and watch or listen to. I’m still fiddling around with the different abilities and skills that you can unlock, but it’s worth discussing with your squad of friends, so that each of you bring a different ability into battle to compliment one another.
I would also have no problem recommending The Division to anyone. My pet hate regarding the negatives of The Division is the people complaining about enemies requiring multiple shots to kill. Bear in mind that the game is an RPG, and like Destiny, Mass Effect or Borderlands, enemies come in all shapes and sizes in The Division, and have similar defenses. The difference is that this game is set in a real world environment with real life weaponry. Don’t let that detract from the RPG elements at play, and you will have a better time.