Review: Tom Clancy’s The Division

Tom Clancy’s The Division is an open world-mmorpg-third-person-shooter set in post-pandemic New York City. You play as a member of an elite government based militia group deployed only when, as one of the supporting characters in the game puts it, “shit truly hits the fan”. The goal is to take down the opposing forces, be it thugs or a makeshift civilian militia, and retake New York for its people and establish stability, as well as figure out where the virus that broke out in the city came from.

We’ll take a two-part look at this game again, first from a general overview of gameplay, story, and mechanics, and then second from my own personal views on what the game does well and what it does not so well.

Overall Review

To give an example of what it feels like to play The Division, take the feel of Ubisoft’s other project Watch_Dogs and combine it with the general overlay of Destiny. The setting of New York City in this virus filled environment is truly astonishing. The city is big, but not anything overwhelming. Being divided into two parts (the outer city, which is PvE, and “The Dark Zone” of Manhattan, the PvP section of the game), The Division does a solid job of enveloping you in its world. The outer area has its challenging areas, and each section increases in difficulty up to max level. The game also doesn’t just do hand outs, meaning that you really have to pay attention to your gear and weapons to ensure you don’t get recked by high level enemies. The Dark Zone is much more challenging, and really makes you feels the risk and rewards of all your actions. This is where the game really separates itself from others like it.

The story, similar to Destiny, leaves something to be desired. The concept is interesting, as its “post-pandemic” setting doesn’t make you feel like the whole world is collapsing, but rather adds a feeling that things could actually get better if the player does what is asked. The problem is that the actual story isn’t incredibly revolutionary, and the supporting characters aren’t very relatable. Being an Ubisoft game, a lot of the story is developed through collectables, but there are so many of them (293 to be exact), that this revelation of details isn’t exactly helpful. The only really interesting characters are the heads of each of the safe houses, who each have a unique or quirky personality that really is enjoyable.

Finally, the mechanics of the game are pretty great. The game movement works pretty fluidly and there aren’t too many bugs that cause more than a temporary headache. As long as the player is in run-mode, everything the character does continues this fast-paced movement. The gun-modding is well done and easy to use, but the quality seems to drop in options when using marksman rifles. In addition, there are mods you can apply to your equipment, but they really don’t become available until you reach endgame, which was a little disappointing. The strength of the game comes in the upgrade system that gives the player not only a huge number of upgrades to choose from, each of them being extremely unique and valuable, but also lets you mod your upgrades for the best possible fit for your play style.

Personal Reflections

Let’s start with the positives of the game, since there are quite a few important ones. The weapon crafting and modding system is easy enough for anyone to really understand it, which is good. I like games that have only a select type of weapons to choose from, and The Division gives you six. Most people get upset by limits, but I would disagree, and The Division is a great example of why. This limitation of weapon type choices makes you pick your best possible combination from what’s available and get good with it.

The city itself is awesome in the fullest sense of the word. Not only is the map manageable and beautiful, but the navigation is superb. There are a plethora of open apartments, broken windows, and rooftops to make traveling from one place to another an adventure in itself. The Dark Zone, in a word, is nerve-racking. Very rarely do I get slightly terrified to make decisions in a game, but this section of the game really does make you second guess both your own decisions to join into combat and the motives of other players. I strongly recommend partying up being that there’s strength in numbers and you’re a whole lot less likely to get backstabbed by other players when you’re extracting if you have support.

The last major important thing that the game does right is it’s challenging. As an avid and experienced gamer, it takes a lot for a game, especially a shooter, to give me grief. But The Division really does. The game does a great job of leveling you, but also makes the higher level enemies equally as tough as you by classifying them under “purple” and “yellow” categories. Think of purple people as lieutenants and the yellow as captains. And captains hurt a lot. Near the end section of the game and inside of the Dark Zone, the game basically forces you to think more strategically so that you don’t immediately die. This actually makes the game something that brings you back, rather than just watching you completely dominate as you get better weapons and gear.

So, on to things the game doesn’t do well. First and foremost, the game’s servers aren’t exactly top notch. From the first day, the servers were falling apart and they didn’t exactly get exponentially better. This normally would be expected, but when a company runs two betas and an alpha for their game, it should be expected to run on day one. It’s equally frustrating when the game breaks in the PvE areas of the game. While there are a lot of perks to having your game all-online, a lesson should have been learned from Destiny that it doesn’t always work the way you want it to.

Secondly, the game doesn’t exactly explain itself in certain areas. For example, the weapon mods come across as self explanatory, but the equipment mods are basically irrelevant until the endgame comes, and even then they don’t seem that relevant to the game. Also, the crafting system could have been better explained, and would emphasize the importance of picking up all of those crafting materials along the way. It feels like the game assumes you’ll just experiment along the way.

And finally, the game’s story is just lack luster. For everything the gameplay does right, the story sort of sets it back. It’s understandable to a point that the story wouldn’t be a major focus if the main point of the game was the multiplayer experience. But again, take a lesson from Destiny that story is important to players, even more so than just the quality of the multiplayer. More and more companies continue to focus on the impact their multiplayer experience makes rather than the importance of what their story says. The Division had a perfect opportunity to make a point about diseases, or at least take a shallow approach at making an enemy that just wants to fulfill their own agenda, but instead it chose to make a story with unrelatable characters and not a lot of feeling.

Final Assessment

Is the gameplay effective and enjoyable? Yes. Is the environment innovative and stunning? Of course. But do these make up for the missed opportunity the story presents? Almost, but not quite. Let me make something clear: I like The Division. A lot actually. But I don’t love it. And normally, I wouldn’t really care. But this game could have been top echelon, and instead chose to it into the mold of other games coming out because it was safer.

Final Time (so far): 27 hrs

Final Grade: 9.0/10.0

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