Bombastic Marketing. Check. Super Mega Hype. Check. Good Gameplay? Well, that’s why you read reviews, right? My experience with the Division has been one that expected less and less as time passed since its first trailer last 2013. Nobody was at fault in expecting too much with what Ubisoft showed that time as it was really mind-blowing with its co-op approach and the ability to close car doors. But the release date came and we’re given with a graphically-watered down version, but again, back to the more important question: is it fun?
Sick, Sick, Sick New York
The Division’s main plot has been hammered down onto our heads through countless ads and teasers weeks before its release. But hey, we still need a refresher sometimes.
New York, one of the world’s major cities, gets infected by a mysterious disease during the eve of Black Friday. If you search through Google using the term ‘Black Friday’, you’ll likely get images of people squeezing through shutter gates just to get the first $200 42” TV. It’s a date where-in massive sales happen and people lineup to get a slice of the discount pie. Anyhow, the large number of people helped propagate the virus that causes death in just a few days.
With almost everyone dying, mass hysteria occurs. People went up and left, but the government intervened and quarantined the whole city to stop the disease from further infecting neighboring cities. With millions of people locked with decaying corpses and the cold winter, riots occur, causing a breakdown in society and the government being outnumbered by hooligans and looters. Everyone was left to fend for themselves.
Even with armed forces, the government continues to lose its grip on New York. Luckily for them, a plan was devised specifically for such an event. This plan calls on sleepers, undercover agents, to rise from their covers and form an armed resistance against those that inflict harm. These agents are part of THE DIVISION and the player is one of them. *DUN *DUN *DUN
Your Agent, Your Style
We’ve been pampered by high-level customization when it comes to operating on our digital persona’s face and body statistics. If you’re expecting the same level of customization with The Division, sad to say, you’re wrong.
My initial agent was chosen from a set number of faces varied only by their complexion and their preference of wearing shades or earrings. Everyone can expect to meet a player having the same facial features. There’re no slider bars for jawlines or forehead levels, just basic blueprints for everyone to enjoy.
However, the game pulls back with its extensive line of fashion designs that welcomes the winter and staves off the disease. The player can wear five types of clothing from head to toe. Initially, the player is granted a starting set of clothes but as enemies are downed and levels are raised, more and more choices can be looted. And no, you can’t go birthday suit in this game.
Cover to Cover
Here’s a sentence that can describe The Division in its fullest: The Division is a cover-based Action/RPG that features an open-world New York (limited to a dozen blocks) with an economy that’s based on random loot. Let’s tackle the action segment first.
Going through the streets of New York is like going through a gauntlet of bullets. Again, the avenues are riddled with goons that are armed to the teeth, or at times, with a humble baseball bat. Guns are the law in these lawless streets. Unsurprisingly, the player is better armed with top-notch equipment from the gods of randomization and causality. And also because he/she is the hero. Hooray!
At first, it feels like that the guns have lives of their own. They’re rickety and they tend to fly away from the target even while firing in bursts. But as you progress, you’ll find better weapons and attachments to help reduce their “kick” or increase their range. As a stark contrast against the character customization, the weapons are more varied and the attachments likewise. Guns can be painted, their magazines changed into larger ones, or laser sights installed for more focused hip-firing.
The player is also assisted with several tools that are split into three roles: Support, Tech, and Security. Support is self-explanatory. The tools are for spotting enemy troops and providing healing aid for the team. Tech is more like the game’s engineer. Players with Tech skills are expected to deploy remote turrets or grenades that seek their targets. Lastly, Security dwells on defense and specializes on laying down improvised covers for his mates. The good thing about it all is that the player can make use of all of them and are not locked by Skill points or leveling up. They’re available once certain conditions are met.
So what are these conditions then? Now we go to the RPG part. The Division encourages the player to acquire points to build-up the field HQ. The headquarters can be upgraded and aside from drastically changing the appearance, also benefits the player by unlocking skills, opening new HQ features, and perks. Talents are another feature and are significantly different with perks as they should be equipped by the player. Talents add advantages to certain actions done such as going from cover to cover or healing squadmates. The player can only equip two skills at a time, up to four talents, and all unlocked perks.
The Dark Zone is a special place in New York. These city blocks are where the virus hit the hardest, prompting the government to wall it like a fortress. The concentration is so bad that players and anyone wishing to wander inside are required to have protective gear just to breathe. This is also the place where players can go loco and kill each other.
With the promise of better loot, the Dark Zone is a place that is hard to ignore. High-quality armor and guns hide inside chests but are closely guarded by incredibly strong NPCs. The zone also has its own leveling system, and currency which can only be used for shops located inside the Dark Zone, save for one store inside the HQ. Should the player die inside the Dark Zone, any object carried looted from the inside is dropped for anyone to pick
The Dark Zone can be considered as the No Man’s Land inside No Man’s Land. It’s a large PVP zone wherein anyone can attack anyone. Repercussions are doled out but the rewards are tempting, given that players can kill others for the loot that they’re carrying. This rule adds a level of uncertainty and tension inside the zone as players that appear friendly can turn into a hostile within seconds.
Another danger is that anything taken inside the Dark Zone must be “extracted” via helicopter. Calling in a chopper prompts all the players around the area, signaling that a pick-up will happen. This in turn invites both enemy NPCs and rogue players to converse to the extraction point, with the last man standing taking all the loot and booty.
There’s a thriving economy inside and given that the prospects of being a bounty hunter is rewarding, I decided to continue the practice from my Beta participation. As a bounty hunter, I take on players that kill other players and am rewarded with Dark Zone experience and currency. Players that attacke other players are considered as “rogue”. They appear as red skulls in other players’ maps and once downed, reward their hunter with a large number of bounty points and Dark Zone experience.Sadly, being a bounty hunter means that targets are not always there and lawbreakers may not exist as I will explain in my conclusion.
The Division is marketed as a co-op game with players being able to call up to three of their friends to form a party. Missions get a large bump in difficulty as more players are involved. It also goes that going into the Dark Zone is safer with three people having your back. While the game employs a system in which a player can look for other players to join into, there’s the lingering danger once everyone gets inside the Dark Zone.
Rewards and loots are different for every player. One corpse might prompt an item drop for you but none for your teammates. Same rule applies inside the Dark Zone.
The game currently offers no trading between players but it is speculated that the feature will appear in future updates.
Just to make it clear, you can play the game alone. It still requires internet connection but you can play The Division if you prefer tackling the storyline or exploring the vast boulevards of New York as a lone agent. I personally prefer playing some missions as again, the game gets way harder the more players are involved.
The major issue thrown at The Division even before its imminent release was its watered-down graphics. View the E3 2013 teaser to see the difference.
While I find it horrible, it’s within the realm of logic that Ubisoft downgraded the graphics as consoles might not be able to run it. *teehee
Kidding aside, The Division is still a good-looking game. Snowdrop Engine is a sturdy platform for the game’s numerous elements and doodads that scatter across the player’s screen all at the same time. They get affected by the weather and by the time of the day, and Snowdrop also makes blizzards look amazing and terrifying.
This is one of those games that I always consult the weather if I can do a sortie. During heavy snowfall, visibility drops to a few meters and sniping enemies from afar becomes a problem. But man, look at all the objects that get buried under the snow. Even the player’s jacket gets treated with the powdery white ice.
Without a doubt, The Division is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. Note that I did not use the word “best” as I deemed it unworthy of it. Fallout 4 is addictive but not that good, the same can be said with The Division. I was taken into primarily by its surroundings. Going through the streets of New York with a gun and battling evil-doers is one power fantasy that I cannot pass. The details are spot on and then there’s the feeling of post-apocalyptic air. The system employed also gets high marks.
I have no problems with the enemy being bullet sponges or the absurd amount of bullets necessary in order to mow one down. This is a game and doing a one shot, one kill kind of approach would kill the enjoyment of the grind.
I can’t help but find myself sacrificing sleep just for the sake of “another run” for a sure random reward. The presentation too is top-notch. It may be less than what we were shown a few years back, but The Division is still a game to behold. All in all, It is fun. But there are some holes that Ubisoft needs to address.
First off, the Dark Zone is a mixed bag. As I’ve predicted in my Beta gameplay, having no law breaker or players going rogue breaks the uncertainty. My first Dark Zone experience in the released build was tense as I expected someone to nab my loot. But sadly, everyone remained civil and we just hanged our loot at the end of the rope. After that, it’s mindless jumping jacks. The same scenario goes for the rest of my Dark Zone sorties.
Next, we have the end-game content. Players that reach the maximum level have nothing else to do besides looting better guns. But the grind can only go so far and without significant benefits, players are left like mindless drones farming guns in a pavement filled with snowflakes and tears. But there’s a silver lining here as the game is an online RPG. Ubisoft can make end-game content by releasing newer updates or DLCs and hearing fan feedback. With that, I reckon that this can be easily remedied.
The last item is a personal concern. The game is highlighted and made for casual gamers and it would’ve been great if Ubisoft added a “Hardcore Survival” mode that requires players to drink and eat food rather than use the said resources sparingly during combat (You can eat chocolate bars to stop yourself from bleeding out or getting burned into a crisp). This is post-apocalyptic New York so might as well get into the atmosphere by scrambling for basic resources while dodging bullets.
I can recommend The Division to players looking for an online game to play with their friends or players that are into shooting guns all the time. It may not be deep or game changing but the investment, in both time and money, is worth it.
The Division is available for the PC, Xbox One, and the Sony Playstation 4. If you’re at the edge in choosing which to get, then get the PS4 version if you’re in a hurry to jump into the game without worrying if your computer can handle it. On the otherhand, the PC has the best graphics amongst the rest, but you’ll also have to contend with the unwieldy UPlay.