Welcome to New York, a city filled with opportunity, dreams and a deadly strain of smallpox. Most of the population is either dead or evacuated, and the few who were left behind are stuck inside the dying metropolitan, fighting for their lives against hunger, disease and gangs. In an attempt to restore order, the government calls in a special military group of sleeper agents called The Division. You are one of those agents, and it is up to you and your friends to save New York.
This is the settings for Ubisoft’s new online third-person shooter RPG. I could use the term MMORPG here, but The Division isn’t really that. First of all, it’s rather light on the “massively” part. While you can see other players in central hub areas, the moment you step out into Manhattan proper you are alone. The only people around you are your teammates, a few wandering NPCs and a bunch of bad guys. As an apocalyptic game, this sudden sense of isolation and emptiness suits The Division, and helps convey a clear message – no one’s coming. You are the city’s last hope.
Fortunately, this emptiness does not transfer into the gameplay. While the New York streets feel haunting and empty, The Division’s world is ironically full of life. Well, not life per se, since everybody is either dead or will soon be dead by your hands, but there’s plenty to do. From story missions, side missions and encounters, action is literally just around the corner.
Story missions take you through… well… the story. You are a second wave agent, sent into New York after the first wave of agents has disappeared. You’ll go on missions to find out more about the mutated smallpox virus and ultimately discover a cure. Your secondary objective is to uncover the fate of your fellow agents, and if any of them can be saved. The story is actually pretty interesting if you make sure to listen to all the dialogue and radio-chatter throughout the missions. It is easy to tune it out unintentionally, but if you make sure to follow the story as it progresses, you’ll get much more out of each mission.
When you’re not following leads on the virus, you can choose to help the Joint Task Force (JTF) to secure areas of the city, or tackle Encounters to strengthen your Base of Operation. These activities usually involve you clearing an area of bad guys, hunting down a criminal or rescuing hostages. They are a good way to level up fast and unlock your characters skills. Otherwise you can search each zone for collectibles, Echos which give you a glimpse at the city during the outbreak itself, and missing agents. However, all these distractions get fairly repetitive and boring, especially if you’re playing by yourself. The Division is a game you want to play with other people, which can be a bit tricky since you’re not surrounded by other players.
If you want to find other players easily, you need to head into the Dark Zone – the game’s PVP area. It is the only place where you’ll see other player roaming the streets. It is also the only place where they can kill you and steal all your stuff. The Dark Zone is basically the most dangerous and most rewarding area in the game. The AI in the Dark Zone in the toughest in the game, but the real threat are all the other players. While you don’t have to engage in PVP while in the Dark Zone, the simple idea that at any time a player can decide to open fire is enough to keep you constantly on edge. Plus, it’s actually kind of fun to team up with other players, secure a pile of loot together, and then betray everyone and keep everything to yourself. The only downside to it is once you kill a player, you’re marked as a “rogue agent” and anyone can take you down without consequence. The Division is truly at its best in the Dark Zone, and the whole thing just serves to show how the rest of the experience could have been so much better with other players around.
Speaking of shooting players in the back, as a third-person shooter The Division works pretty well. It plays like a cover-based shooter, with blind-fire, grenades and squad-based tactics. However, I like to think of this game as more of an RPG with guns and not just a shooter. Enemies bleed numbers, you grind to level up and loot is literally everything. Seriously, the entire game revolves around finding awesome gear, using it to kill a boss and then picking up even better gear. The game-loop is rather short lived, and won’t hold your attention if you’re looking for a deep experience. However, the collectors among you will enjoy the feeling of escaping from The Dark Zone with a brand new powerful rifle or armor.
Your skills are divided into three different skill trees: Medical, tech and security. These essentially assigns your character as a damage-dealer, a tank or a healer. There’s no class to choose from when you first start your game, and you get to construct your own combination of skills as you play. It is a clever system that offers much more diversity than what we normally see in RPGs, and caters to a wider selection of play styles. The skills themselves fall into the usual categories of offensive, defensive and support. Deployable turrets, shields and medkits are just some of the basic skills you can unlock, and even they can be adjusted and modified to suit not only your play style, but whether you’re fighting alone or with a group. For example, turrets can be turned in flamethrowers, sticky grenades to concussion grenades and the medkits can also refill ammo.
The skills you can unlock are not just defined by your character’s level, but also by your Base of Operations. You upgrade your base along the same three paths: medical, tech and security, so the higher your base’s medical rank is, the more medical skills you can unlock. There are missions and encounters assigned to each of these paths, and completing them grants you points toward unlocking the next level. You’ll have to decide early on if you’re going for a balanced base or one that specializes in a particular path, as upgrading takes time and hard work.
Your Base of Operation is also a place where you can craft gear. While the best gear can be found in the Dark Zone, you can still craft some really awesome items, especially in the mid to high levels. When you find gear you don’t need, simply dismantle it into crafting materials and head over to your base and either craft a brand new item or re-calibrate an existing one. Apart from the useful gear that affects your damage or armor, you have cosmetic gear like hats, jackets, pants and boots. You can find these in abandoned builds or from helping NPCs, but to tell the truth, these items suffer from an annoying lack in variety and color. Every agent ends up looking the same as every other agent, and you simply can’t create a unique-looking character, which is a shame.
Tom Clancy’s The Division acts, plays, and feels like an MMO, without actually being one, and this lack of commitment to the genre is the game’s Achilles heel. The interesting settings and the solid gameplay are all well and good (and they are good), but you’ll still get bored of the repetitive game-loop if you’re playing on your own. Doing story missions with friends, or participating in the intense and paranoia-inducing PVP is the most fun you can have with The Division, proving that this game needs to be all about the multiplayer. The old proverb must be true – united we stand, divided we’re bored.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.