Tom Clancy’s The Division is surely one of the most anticipated games from the last few years and it’s eerily similar to another Ubisoft franchise, Watch Dogs, as a new IP with great ideas that ultimately fall short. Repetitive missions, thin RPG mechanics and a forgettable story left me significantly more annoyed than impressed with The Division.
Ubisoft does a great job constructing a realistic, believable New York. A post-viral ridden city in shambles is illustrated by the once bustling streets now littered with more empty cars than people. The snow gently hits the ground and an intense fog blankets the city, making traversal more tense and intimidating for Division Agents. It’s nearly impossible to see at night, which makes Manhattan all the more haunting, especially because it’s so uncharacteristically quiet. You feel for the innocent people because gangs and looters make their mark in the streets. Though the design and emptiness of Manhattan create an uneasy feeling when you’re trekking through its streets, The Division’s characters and intricate details are visually underwhelming. Lip syncing is awkward and the textures are bland. It’s a shame because, like the aforementioned Watch Dogs a few years before, the game was presented through a prettier lens and it fails to keep that quality.
The Dark Zone, The Division’s player versus player section that’s walled off, is the strongest part of the game. Venturing into the unknown is intense, unforgiving and incredibly risky, but the rewards are oh so sweet. This area is for those who want some of the best gear, and are willing to put friendships on the line for that new piece of armor or gun. Enemies travel in packs and are relentless when going for the kill. Be cautious when you’re taking down a large group of foes because another group, human or AI, can flank you, outgun you, or outnumber you.
The loot that’s dropped from enemies in the Dark Zone is considered contaminated and must be extracted at a designated zone, and this is where friends are made or lost. After calling in an extraction chopper, you must either hide or fend off any enemies for two minutes and it’s incredibly stressful. In one instance, my contaminated bag was full, nine items ready to be sent to my stash, and I was ambushed. I called in an extraction at a parking garage that’s notorious for ambushes and betrayals. With two seconds before the helicopter left I ran out to the drop point ready to place my gear on the rope, only to be gunned down by a group of players who stole my loot. I never saw them again and I was frustrated, but that’s the authenticity of PvP; a guy will wave to you and seconds later he’s hovered over your body taking that gun you so desperately wanted. That’s what makes the Dark Zone great: the unpredictability and the intensity of other players messing with your ability to trust them.
For the most part, the game feels good to play. Because it’s a Tom Clancy game, there’s that realistic feel that makes each type of gun distinct. A submachine gun pummels foes up close but is useless at long range. Shotguns slice through an enemy’s shield and assault rifles kick back if you fire too many bullets at once. The enemies can be stressful with men sprinting at you with baseball bats, forcing you to run away so you won’t be stunned. People using shotguns might make you blind fire and hope that enough bullets will hit and stop them in their tracks. Some enemies are more frustrating to fight than others, like elite enemies, who have a shield and more health than standard ones, and even stronger enemies with more health than the lower grade enemy. You use most of your ammo and it’s annoying because their shield just won’t go away and your life can quickly deplete from a few rounds. Sadly though, the cover and movement can be frustrating at times. I often braced myself against the wrong side of a car, exposing myself to the enemy fire, and sometimes I’d jump on top of that same car instead of moving to the next wall of cover. The movement isn’t terrible, but it’s pretty annoying.
The Division touts itself as an RPG, but I found it to be more thin than what I was hoping for. Completing missions, side missions and the many encounters nets you points to upgrade each of the Tech, Security and Medical wings. Every upgrade in these wings gives you more perks and passives, traits to assign to your character and usable skills to be assigned. Upgrading the larger or more point costly branches of a wing allows a skill to have modifications, like modifying your turret to become a flamethrower instead of shooting bullets, or allowing your healing skill to revive a downed ally. Completely upgrading a wing rewards you with a third slot that’s used as that wing’s “Ultimate skill,” so to speak.
I felt like I didn’t need the turret or cover skills because the turret doesn’t do much damage to the enemies in the later part of the game and utilizing the cover skills didn’t feel as important because I’m already using cars and walls as cover so it would have been a wasted slot. It certainly fills a need if a team wants someone to play the tank role, but I never utilized it, and neither did any of my teammates. In almost every situation I was using both the First Aid skill for an immediate heal and the Support Station skill to gradually recover lost HP. It was especially useful because I was able to revive myself without forcing a teammate to risk their own life just to revive me.
The Division is serviceable as an RPG, but I was hoping for something more complex, particularly with the usable skills. I wasn’t impressed with the choices readily available to chose from. It’s satisfying to see the numbers pop off an enemy when I unload a clip into them, especially when it increases with a new gun or piece or armor. You have to decide whether DPS, Health or Tech is the more important stat and I often found myself choosing to opt for a few thousand more hit points instead of a smaller few hundred points into DPS. I had better survivability, but at the cost of dealing less damage.
The loot is similar to that of Diablo and Borderlands and company, where you get better gear as you progress and grow slightly stronger with each new piece of equipment. Weapons, armor and mods, colored from white to yellow, ranging in rarity and quality, provides that addictive hook of saving up credits or venturing out in search for gear because it’ll improve your DPS or has a useful passive ability. I enjoyed rushing to a spot to see the blue item that dropped because it might be that coveted shotgun or marksman rifle I’ve wanted for hours. That’s why the Dark Zone is addictive. The gear there is better than what you’ll find in the regular game, but you have to work for it. Once I reached the higher levels, I started seeing purple items that were significantly more useful than what I had, and that opened another rabbit hole of killing enemies for gear.
The missions, both story based and side, are painfully repetitive. Every main story mission goes like this: kill enemies, progress and restock, kill more enemies, progress and restock, kill the big bad of the mission, and the mission ends. It’s not as bad when you’re in a party because you’re conversing and it becomes more of a challenge, but regardless, it’s the same process each time. I found this to be very bothersome and a large reason why I didn’t enjoy this game.
Side missions consist of killing a boss’s first and second lieutenants, then killing the boss itself. Other missions and encounters involve rescuing hostages, defending an area until the JTF arrives and so on and so forth. These missions aren’t bad the first few times, but then you quickly realize it’s the same thing, but in a different area and more difficult than the last encounter. It’s effective for level grinding, but I was never happily going off and doing these missions. I wish they were more varied, or context was provided. Iceman, a big bad for a side mission, killed a few people, but I never felt any hatred towards him. I feel like fleshing out these characters could have effectively fleshed out the world more and resulted in me wanting to take these guys out for a reason other than experience and loot.
The game’s other huge problem lies in its story. I was hoping for something or someone to care about in the 25 plus hour story, but that’s not the case here. The Smallpox Virus is released upon the people in New York on Black Friday and it decimates the people, creating havoc and leaving Manhattan vulnerable. It’s up to you, a Division agent, to put an end to the virus and the people behind it and take New York back. The story is forgettable, and I found myself to be a liaison among the characters who work together to take down the various factions and their leaders.
My character wasn’t part of the story, instead I vicariously stopped the gangs and their leaders for dull characters like Faye Lau and doctor Jessica Kandel. Lau claimed to care deeply about Manhattan and wanted to take it back, but it was never explained why. It wasn’t just the main characters that were boring: The so called “Bad guys” throughout the story were given little to no context. Like I mentioned before with the characters from the side missions, I didn’t know why I was taking down the leader of the Rikers, one of the more prominent gangs in The Division. Again, there wasn’t much development with these characters so they felt more like typical bullet sponge enemies instead of people I hated.
The many phone recordings, documents and surveillance videos spread throughout Manhattan do a much better job at painting the world than the story did and I wanted to find as many of these items as possible because I got a sense of how society broke down and how people and their relationships went south because of this post-viral world. These bits of personal stories are dark; you hear people in a panic as they’re talking to loved ones, hoping for the best even though it probably isn’t coming. There are videos of people being chased by the Cleaners, another gang, and they’re being swarmed and the video cuts out as you infer that they’re about to be beaten to death. It’s scary because it could one day happen, so it feels more realistic.
I wasn’t a fan of The Division. It has some great things going for it, like the Dark Zone, its environment and the feel of the weapons, but I was too frustrated by the story, repetitive missions and the thin RPG mechanics to enjoy the game as much as I’d hoped. It’s better when played with friends, but even then it wears out its welcome.
+The Dark Zone
+An impressive recreation of Manhattan
+The guns feel authentic
-It’s not a deep RPG
-The movement feels clunky
The Division has interesting ideas, but it fails to execute upon them. Perhaps Ubisoft can improve upon it with a sequel, but we’ll see.
Brett Woodmansee is an editor for The Game Bolt and he loves RPGs, Chipotle and his beard. For tweets about video games, sports and more, follow him on Twitter.