Despite what the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys song says, the New York City of Ubisoft’s The Division is not quite as bright and isn’t so much “where dreams are made of” anymore. Set in post-virus outbreak New York City, the game is broad in scope, fun with friends, and overall a very solid new IP in the Tom Clancy lineup of games.
So, what is The Division? Well, think of Destiny, now replace all of the spacey-stuff with real life stuff normally seen in most Tom Clancy games (Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, etc.). It’s a large, open world game that combines the basics of a shooter with the strategy of an RPG, loot and perks included. The key difference with The Division is, unlike Destiny at launch, it has a solid story and can be played mostly alone if you choose to do so. The plot of the game follows your character as you get “activated” by a group called The Division, a group of the best of the best military elite, and a final option for when all hell breaks loose. You have been activated because a virus, initially attached to money and spread via consumers during Black Friday, has spread throughout the city of New York (and other spots around the globe) and military law is in effect. As a Division agent you are tasked with bringing down gangs and their leaders, securing items important in the research for a vaccine, and helping with whatever the leadership needs to maintain order in the rioting city. Oh, you are also locked in. The overall story of the game is more than enough to keep you entertained as you complete story missions, side missions and tasks, and was a pleasant surprise after Destiny got off to a rocky start in that department.
The core to The Division is the gameplay, and how you decide to go about playing the content. You initially create your own character, which is one of my disappointments with the game. The character creator is extremely shallow, offering just a handful of men and women faces and features to choose from. Eventually you always run into someone in the game that looks just like you. My character even has sunglasses that you cannot ever remove. After creation you go through an initial questline in Brooklyn before choppering off the Manhattan. Once in Manhattan you are introduced to a key character and shown around the building that will serve as your headquarters. The HQ building has three wings: tech, medical, and security. Each of these wings is upgraded based on specific points you accrue through mission play. As you upgrade the wings the base look changes and you unlock more perks, skills, and abilities. It’s a neat progression system that gives you incentive to keep going (perks) and visual changes to keep you pushing ahead as well. This is where the RPG side of things comes in. You have a few slots (RB or R1 and LB or L1) to equip active skills that you unlock like a turret, sticky bombs, health kits, and more. There are three trees to choose skills from so you can really spec your character the way you want, and compliment your friends in co-op. Maybe you add healer skills and your friend throws down turrets, etc. All of this makes it very fun to try different missions and quests on normal (or the very fun “hard” mode) to see how well you work as a team (or solo, if you are playing that way). As you level up and unlock more wings you get a ton of perks and skills to choose from and unlock better gear.
Gear is the other side of the RPG elements in The Division. Loot drops from enemies you kill, appears in crates around the world, and is rewarded for completing quests. The loot itself comes in the form of weapons (and parts to mod onto your weapons), armor (chest, gloves, mask, etc.), and aesthetic (clothing, hats). Eventually, sub-par character creator aside, you can get your character looking decently unique. Though the game could use some color editors. You can carry three weapons, one of which is a pistol slot (or sawed off shotgun). The other two slots can be whatever you like. Again, this is a cool element when in co-op because you spec out according to what your buddies do. I currently carry an assault rifle and sniper. There are LMGs, shotguns, and more. The goal of the game is to keep leveling, keep looting, and gearing up for the harder missions to come.
All of this funnels into the co-op or online functionality of The Division. As I said in the beginning you CAN play this game alone, and it works fine (albeit a bit hard) but the real fun comes when playing co-op. Nearly every facet of the game has matchmaking, so even in free roam you can jump in and join up with random people (or your friends) and run around the city. Doing missions with friends increases the difficulty, and if you complete a mission you can go back and do it on “hard” mode which makes it even more difficult for everyone. There’s also the Dark Zone, which is a PvP and PvE area in the middle of the map where you can run around and get loot, but other players can take you out, steal that loot, and become rogue for a certain period of time. In order to collect loot in the Dark Zone you must get it, then take it to an extraction point and call a chopper. You then wait 1:30 and attach it. Some of the most intense times I’ve had in the game are when I had good loot and was waiting to extract and there were 4 other players roaming nearby. You never know if one will turn on you and take your hard-earned gear. The game is solid enough alone, but I highly recommend co-op (whether with friends or in matchmaking). It makes the experience that much more fun. The only downside to co-op I found was if you out-level your friends everything scales to the highest level, so you really need to keep your group at similar levels to ensure the difficulty is correct for all.
Overall The Division was a very pleasant surprise. It’s far from perfect (which hopefully the ongoing support can assist with) but it’s a fun game to play alone and a blast to play in a group with friends. The RPG system works well, and even with a shallow character creator, still manages to let you make your avatar unique enough that having four people with different skills ends up actually helping in mission and Dark Zone play. My only hope is that Ubisoft and Massive continue to fix some minor issues and expand on some of the more basic areas of the game, including adding in more end-game content. Destiny introduced us to the concept of MMO FPS games, The Division has taken that idea and moved it one step forward overall. It will be very interesting to see how this newer genre evolves over the coming years, especially with games like Destiny 2 on the horizon.