The Division and Destiny share many of the same faults. They’re both repetitive in mission structure. They both feature damage sponges for enemies and both have too few enemy types. I recognize those faults in Ubisoft’s loot driven third person shooter but there were a few key decisions that made The Division stick with me and not repel like Destiny did.
Despite its limited selection of skill types, weaponry and character attributes, there was a surprisingly wide variety of customization options in clothing appearance. Even though New York City may appear drab and uninteresting from a distance, there were numerous bite sized moments and vignettes littered throughout. And despite how shallow each individual component of the gameplay loop was, Ubisoft rearranged these basic components into something amusing in a group setting.
I took to the idea behind the Division initiative. I love the idea of sleeper agents being called upon to do wet work in moments of extreme crisis. It’s the kind of farfetched idea that I’ve come to expect in a Tom Clancy title. It’s also a conceit that allowed players to look and dress like every day citizens augmented with high tech gear and military grade weaponry.
I will happily acknowledge the fact that this is one of the more fashionable third person shooters that I’ve ever played. Articles of clothing were treated as item drops and rewards in The Division. To my surprise, there were more variations in clothing than weapons and armor. I concede much of it were simply color variations of the same piece of clothing but they were different in appearance which was more noticeable than another MP5 that did 500 more damage. I was genuinely more excited to see that teal ray of light emanating from the ground than any other weapon or armor including those shining with yellow.
The Division’s story missions showcased the most spectacle and action in the game but the story itself left a lot to be desired. I felt like we’re at the cusp of a revelation and then we ran out of game to wrap it all up. I realize there’s probably a whole lot more that Ubisoft wishes to expand upon but at least give us one final boss to wrap up this story.
I teetered back and forth on whether or not The Division looked good on PlayStation 4. I’ve seen screenshots of the PC version and it’s a beautiful game through and through on that platform but on the consoles, it varies wildly. There were moments when the game ranked amongst the best lookers on the platform while other times, it looked like Ubisoft dialed back the quality settings to the PlayStation 3 era. In the end, I felt they made the right choices in trying to maintain framerate above visual fidelity. I would have loved to have played the game seeing all the piles of garbage and abandoned taxis in vivid detail but not at the cost of performance. I doubt I would have stayed with the game as long as I have if it suffered frequent framerate drops like those found in high action 4 player party scenarios.
As a Ubisoft title, I wasn’t surprised to find the map littered with collectibles. Most of them were tucked away in easy to find places but a handful had my brother and I scratching our heads a bit. “How do we get up there?” We would split up and decipher building layouts to eventually find that door, ladder or window that unraveled the whole thing. I found amusement in some of the collectible cell phone snippets but I was glad we tackled each district’s share as we progressed through the game because it would have been far too tedious otherwise. Most of the collectibles were a step above the Assassin’s Creed feathers but not by much. I would have preferred more Echo locations where we could investigate a holographic reconstructed scene of life during the early days of the outbreak but I can see Ubisoft running that idea into the ground with overexposure.
In a way, I was glad to have explored so much of the New York City through the collecting trinkets because I caught numerous gems ranging from neat minute details to horrible and unintentionally funny situations in the environment. I hadn’t seen a Dalmatian until 24 or so hours into the game and was genuinely surprised when I saw one. I was taken aback when a group of private military soldiers gunned down an innocent man walking towards them and hearing them call out “Area secured”. These little moments gave The Division’s version of New York a semblance of life. Things have spiralled out of control and it was fascinating to see the number of ways Ubisoft reinforced that idea.
Taken from a distance, without any form of scrutiny, the modern day hell scape that The Division painted was convincing. Scratch the surface and questions began to flow. How did they manage to organize such a large number of these people together? Are there really that many sanitation workers in New York? Why did all the rioters dress like hoodlum caricatures from the 90’s? Each and every faction required a conceit of some kind and I just had to convince myself to roll with it. If I can look past the idea of dumping 160+ bullets from an M60 into the face of a man without him toppling over, I can look past the logistical lapses in the narrative.
Engagements in the Division were divided into three groups: against tough A.I, against other humans and against the fluff. The A.I in the Division is basic at best; the challenge to anyone who’s even remotely decent at third person shooters can be found at higher difficulties where enemies are an actual threat and thinning their numbers quickly requires coordination. My brother and I found a lot of enjoyment in tackling the Challenging missions by ourselves. We found ourselves having to think and figure out ways to lure enemies into choke points and sometimes even outfitting our characters to better suit each encounter. These aren’t new ideas for compensating for lacklustre A.I but it’s still effective in a game such as this.
I kept my pre-order because of the intriguing nature of the Dark Zone. The threat of other players turning Rogue and attacking my party in an attempt to steal our loot was exciting. Every extraction moment was tense because we had no idea if or when A.I or other players were going to pounce on us. Most players were friendly and would apologize through emotes there was no way to know if they were sincere.
As soon as I reached the level 30 cap and entered the Dark Zone, the uncertainty being ambushed or overpowered turned into a guarantee. Rogue agents were more prevalent and we no longer could hold our own against the higher level enemies. We needed better equipment. The unpredictability of the Dark Zone made it exciting and I hope to return to it sooner rather than later. I’m just not keen on having to scavenge for better equipment to get back in there.
I can see myself checking in with the Division on a regular basis. I don’t know if I’m convinced to spend money on a season pass but I actually enjoy playing this game. It has many of the same issues that Destiny had in its early days but there’s nuance in every one of those problematic areas that I find myself enjoying. The loot wasn’t particularly interesting in a weapon or armor perspective but I love the dumb idea of giving an energy bar to an NPC civilian and getting a beanie as a reward. The city of New York wasn’t interesting in its layout but I was driven to explore each nook in hopes of witnessing an example of humanity’s worst. The Division isn’t a remarkable game if I dug deep into certain areas but if I mined others, I discovered a wealth of good times within.
I like it