The Division has not been an easy sell. No matter who I spoke to, chances were that one or all of the following questions would come up: Are the graphics as good as they were being hailed to be? Is the Dark Zone the next step in PvP progression? Is the game similar to, or better than Destiny? Questions that I struggled to answer because I myself am not sure yet. What I do know is that The Division is the only reason why I may still have some faith in Ubisoft. After a free-fall of average titles and IP disservice, I was ready to throw in the proverbial towel and call it a day for the once-illustrious developer. But while far from perfect, it is an IP that I hope would encourage Ubisoft to invest time and effort to perfect.
Let’s get the weakest link out of the equation stat: the storyline. A terrorist group used a lab-developed virus to attack New York City during Black Friday by infecting dollar bills for maximum results. Before I move on, I would like to take a tangential moment, so bear with me.
<Rant> Why base the story of the game on an event that means nothing to most, if not the rest of the world? Worse yet, The Division does a worse attempt at a story than Destiny did. That’s right, Destiny has been dethroned by The Division when it comes to lazy story-telling. I never thought the day would come so soon. Where Destiny offers you a universe and lore for you to go through at your leisure, The Division barely presents the events, and the lore is borderline laughable. </Rant>
With a game like this, loot was always meant to be front and center. In an interesting twist, rather than force you to cross your fingers in fervent prayer, hoping that a great high-end weapon or item drops with a desirable set of stats, The Division awards you with base models that you may modify at will. I’ve always favored this approach as it allows an innumerable amount of customization to each item in your inventory, and it allows you to modify your favorite weapons and gears on the fly to suit every situation. You do not need to be in the presence of a work bench, you simply open up your inventory, select your desired item and change as many details as you can by applying any of a myriad of applicable mods. It’s that easy.
There is a caveat, however. When a game drops an awesome weapon with a god-roll that you can not modify, say Destiny’s rare Gjallarhorn, your bragging rights are obviously going to be practiced much more than when a game simply drops a base model that anyone can modify at leisure. Maybe this is a feature that could have been improved upon. Black OPS3, and virtually all COD games, follow this system of weapons that you can modify at will, but for some reason, those weapons leave a bigger impact than those that drop in The Division. Case in point: I can, at a drop of a hat, name all the weapons that dropped for me in Destiny or that I earned in BO3; I can not say the same about items in The Division.
But let’s not squabble over names. After all, loot that doesn’t look the part is not loot fun to own, right? Not according to Ubisoft Massive, apparently. My high-end items, the items I spent a good chunk of my time trying to gain or buy, and modifying & re-calibrating, look like entry-level gear. Fun. If you weren’t going to let me show off my gear, why include tiers? It just feels like a wasted opportunity.
It’s shocking how fast the game will regress into a go-there-shoot-everything-and-come-back situation. Adding insult to injury is the bland scenery that you will loathe running through. Kudos for creating an open-world game, negative points for choosing the most dull, uninspiring setting: a perpetual, snowy, winter. No colors, no inspiring locations, and no season changes. Ever. In fact, we at Region 2 were hoping that update 1.1 would bring with it a different season. Nope. It’s winter all day every day.
While we’re on the lack of diversity, only a handful of character models were designed, and it will become apparent real soon. The only identifying factor, and the only way you can tell if your enemy is an elite or not, is by keeping an eye on the color of their health bar and their level. This, of course, is a problem that has plagued many recent games, but I’m saddened that the trend is still around. Rather than be creative with elite soldiers and/or are bosses
Just as frustrating is the fact that some of the tougher opponents you will face posses an acronym, LMB (Last Man Battalion), that after 35 hours+, I still hadn’t known what it stood for. In all honesty, I think I stopped caring around hour 10.
Your base of operations where most your campaign missions will be assigned to you is comprised of three wings that you will upgrade: a medical, a security, and a tech one. Each of them will unlock skills from a different skill tree that you may alternate and modify on the fly. If you were playing a support character, you are wise to invest in the medical wing early on, and if you were playing a tank character, you would be working on the security wing.
The way upgrades are achieved is interesting and is arguably The Division’s sole feature that I see pushing the genre forward. Rather than have you randomly gaining XP and unlocking your desired skills as a result, you will have a multitude of missions on your map that you may tackle, each of which being a side mission, a story mission, or a mission that will earn you XP points to your desired wing. Earned XP acts as a currency that you will use to unlock features, and XP gained from completing a medical mission, for example, will not be available for you to upgrade the tech wing. You can easily identify the kind of mission you will be undertaking, and where the XP you will be gaining would go to by noting its insignia: green asterisk for medical missions, blue shield for security, and yellow flash for tech.
Each skill that you unlock may be modified to add some bonuses depending on your game style, and being able to switch everything at a whim, without any repercussions or required resources, is awesome. Your allies need more firepower? Switch to the tech tree. I just wish the process was more streamlined. Rather than simply selecting a different class, you have to manually select your desired skills every time. While I’m here, allow me to segue into how skills are bound.
At any one point, you can have any skill, from any tree, bound to either of your shoulder buttons on your controller. You can have a medical skill bound to your left shoulder button, and a technical one to your right. This right there is a fascinating feature that truly allows The Division to stand out among the competition, if you have the patience to manually switch your loadouts and perks.
What Ubisoft Massive should have included is a set of default loadouts that you can switch around with ease. Where the down, right, and left d-pads are bound to emotes, healing, and grenades respectively, the up button could have easily been bound to choosing a loadout/class. In the same manner that you hold any of the other directions to get a selection wheel, would it really have been complex to allow players to switch loadouts or classes?
Once you’ve unlocked all the sections of a wing, you will gain access to its signature skill which may be activated by pressing both shoulder buttons at the same time. These skills, though being the last to unlock, could be a hint underwhelming in conception. From a support standpoint, one of a medic’s skills produces a support station that when deployed, could, if the player modded it accordingly, raise fallen allies within its vicinity. Another skill has you overheal when you use a medkit. The signature skill, when applied, raises fallen allies in your proximity and heals you with the possibility of over-healing. It’s not really an interesting skill if all it does is combine two of your pre-existing tactics. Functional, yes, but not interesting.
PvE aside, let’s take a look at another wasted opportunity: The Dark Zone (DZ). I like challenging areas as much as the next player, but when you lock certain high-end gear and weapons in the Dark Zone, and then force players to play PvP regardless of their interest in the mode, you’ve missed the mark. Granted, being attacked is not certain and you don’t necessarily have to fend for yourself against human players, but in all the time I’ve spent there, I’ve encountered pacifist players only a micro-percentage of the time. Here is a quick run of most of my Dark Zone experiences:
I enter, I fight some high-level enemies, I get killed by a party of players, the gear and weapons I gained from my last fight is looted. I enter again, I fight another pack of high-level enemies, I get killed by a player before the battle is complete. I enter yet again, I fight enemies and pick up some loot, I head towards one of the extraction points where I can call in a helicopter to transfer my items out of the Dark Zone–it’s the only way to keep what you’ve gained in the Dark Zone–I see players waiting as well, they seem neutral, the helicopter arrives, they kill me and steal my loot.
When a human player kills another human player, they are considered “Rogue.” Rogue agents will be pinged on the maps of all players in the Dark Zone. Killing rogues will grant you additional XP, but that’s about the only reason, asides from seizing their killing spree, that you would want to hunt them down for. Did I mention that every time you die you lose valuable DZ XP, with the potential to drop in levels? Get used to it, or, if you are like me, stick to PvE dailies and forget about the DZ. It really is not worth the headache.
To quote a disgruntled gamer who summed up the frustration perfectly:
Last night I got swarmed by multiple groups of DZ99 Gear220 guys. They were all rogue level 5. I don’t know if it was multiple groups fighting or working together, but this is ridiculous. After I was instantly killed they just all stayed outside the safe house and I could not leave. I finally thought I could make a break for it. I was killed instantly. Another DZ99 Gear 220 player. I didn’t even know you could get 220. Why even play the DZ if you are lvl 99? I really want to break this game in half sometimes. The Dark Zone may have looked good on paper, but in reality it is one of the most broken and ill-conceived ideas I have ever experienced in 25+ years of gaming.
I wouldn’t have minded if the Dark Zone was meant to be PvP-only, and a side attraction at that, but when the bulk of the game is based around you reaching level 30, the current cap, so you may properly endure and enjoy the Dark Zone to attain better loot, getting killed over and over by players whose sole purpose is to prey on others is far from fun. It won’t take you long before you abandon the cause all together.
A.I enemies in and outside of the DZ don’t actively scour the map, and are easily avoided. Human players who enjoy PvP will hunt you down and will camp on building rooftops, looking for their next prey. Is the Dark Zone a great idea? Yes, but it’s another one of the many good ideas that The Division did not quite capitalize on. If your intentions are altruistic, prepare yourself for a rude awakening.
Update 1.1 was recently launched, and with it came the Incursion add-on which is effectively an extra mission. I really wanted it to be something special. Something that would make my friends jump back online to play. Unfortunately, it is just an overwrought arena that has you survive waves of enemies while fulfilling missions in the process. Think the Prison of Elders from Destiny, and you’re on the right track.
Did The Division fail? It depends really on how you look at it. It is a fun experience, and the gameplay is well engineered, but everything else just feels recycled, rehashed, and tired. I really wanted to like this game, unfortunately, after completing it, I found little reason to grind the daily missions, let alone venture into the Dark Zone. So many good ideas, so much wasted potential.
Tom Clancy’s The Division is available on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC. A review code was made available to us via Ubisoft.