Delving into Ubisoft’s new IP
I won’t beat around the bush. The Division is Ubisoft’s attempt at a creating an MMO-lite game like Destiny, but the similarities end once you get past the RPG mechanics of bullet sponges, tiered gear, and number crunching. Where The Division sets itself apart is in the setting and core gameplay.
The Division takes place in Manhattan after an extremely virulent strain of smallpox is released during the frenzy of Black Friday. The majority of the population of New York City is either dead, missing, or has fled from the island; leaving the sprawling metropolis in the hands of those that couldn’t or wouldn’t flee. Civilians are at the mercy of criminals and psychopaths that have either taken it upon themselves to purge the disease from the city or simply are seeking to take advantage of the new power vacuum.
You are thrust into the role of a Division agent that has been activated to aid the restoration efforts in New York City and are tasked with working with the Joint Task Force (JTF). The JTF is a collection of government organizations like the fire and police departments that have been banded together in order to more effectively police the city. The Division itself is a shadow organization consisting of sleeper agents that are only activated in catastrophic emergencies. Agents are given free reign to do whatever is necessary to complete their objectives.
You are one of these agents.
On paper, The Division appears to be a pretty standard third-person shooter. You have cover mechanics, blind-fire, and an array of weapon type. Similarly, players will encounter many RPG standards in the game like enemy types, large health pools, and color-coded gear. Like I stated earlier though, that’s where the majority of the parallels end.
There have been, and will likely to be, many connections drawn by individuals and reviewers to Bungie’s MMO shooter Destiny. I’ll just go ahead and get this out of the way:
- Weapons are based in reality, meaning that you shouldn’t expect ridiculously overpowered guns (no Gjallarhorn, sorry).
- No space magic.
- The atmosphere is bleak, not Fantasy/Sci-Fi (more on this later).
- Competitive multiplayer has an actual justification instead of just spirited competition.
- It will take quite a while to beat the story.
- The Division actually has a story.
- The story is actually in the game.
- No convoluted stat like Light Level to track.
The Division demands a methodical approach to combat. You can take quite a bit of damage and dish out a ton in return, but you are extremely fragile. Standing out in the open during a firefight is borderline suicide. The Division combines the aspects of an MMORPG with tactical shooting mechanics in a refreshing way, for a Tom Clancy fan at least.
The city is separated into its respective districts, all of which offer different levels of challenge. As you move out from the southwest corner of the playable area, you’ll make your way into progressively more difficult areas. Right smack dab in the middle of the map is the Dark Zone, which is the home of The Division‘s competitive multiplayer element.
Enemies in the game are deadly, even on Normal difficulty missions or in your general exploration. Of the enemies, there are typical types like rushers, grenadiers, heavies, snipers, and technicians; all of which have unique abilities to differentiate the various factions. For instance, grenadiers in the Cleaners faction throw fire bombs while Rioters have stolen tear gas grenades. Heavies in the LMB faction have machine guns and Cleaner heavies have flamethrowers. Each of these different enemy types require a different approach to take down, and can come in the elite variety as well.
Players have an almost overwhelming amount of statistical metrics to track that affect their abilities. You have your Firepower (DPS), Stamina (Health), and Electronics (Tech Power) to track alongside many of the individual bonuses and resistances. When I say it is overwhelming, I mean it. You are instantly bombarded with all of this information and given very little guidance as to what it all means to you. Over time, you’ll learn that you’ll need to make sacrifices to boost some stats and choose upgrades to your gear wisely. Don’t make the mistake I did and focus solely on the Armor stat of your gear, it isn’t nearly as important as the Light stat in Destiny.
The Division also thrusts players into setting up a a base of operations, which functions as a centralized location where agents can purchase, craft, and upgrade their gear as well as interacting with important members of the staff to move the story forward. The base itself is upgradable with 30 additions to the three wings: Medical, Tech, and Security. Each area’s upgrades directly influences the player’s abilities or access to gear in some way, so it is important to return on occasion to see what you can add on.
Like many other games this generation, The Division hasn’t been immune to graphical downgrades. I will say however that despite this, The Division still looks gorgeous. Not mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but it does look damn good. I get the feeling that Ubisoft in particular was banking heavily on the Xbox One and PS4 being far more powerful than their current state though.
Where The Division steps out ahead of the rest is in the environmental effects. The Snowdrop engine makes the game look phenomenal when you stop to take in the sights. Your footprints are visible in the snow and even atop cars that you run over (shut up, I’m impressed by footprints still). Let me get away from footprints in the snow…
The Snowdrop engine really struts its stuff when the weather sets in. Whiteout conditions severely reduce visibility, making you the player and your enemies nearly unable to see anything. Firefights become much closer affairs and setting up ambushes and surprise attacks is far easier. Enemies react differently at night as well, focusing more on lit areas and having a harder time seeing in the dark areas.
The sound in The Division also plays an important role, like in many other Ubisoft games. The audio provides another layer of atmosphere. My lord, the guns sound perfect. Suppressors can be added on to almost any weapon, but they don’t provide the magical effect of completely silencing every firearm. A light machinegun with a suppressor attached is still loud compared to a pistol. This may seem minor, but it’s an attention-to-detail element that Tom Clancy games just seem to get right pretty often. Aside from the guns, the soundtrack is chillingly fitting for the game, giving an excellent score to supplement the action and lulls that accompany your adventures.
The Division is a new IP that follows in the footsteps of games like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. The story may not be wholly original (a biological weapon attack isn’t exactly new ground for games), but at least it isn’t zombies. Furthermore, New York hasn’t been this messed up since Crysis 2.
What really puts The Division in a league of its own is the setting combined with the gameplay. It follows in the tradition of Tom Clancy games’ tactical nature instead of the Halo or Call of Duty approach of going full Rambo on everything. The formula that Massive Entertainment has created is something that I’d love to see in more games, but perhaps with less bullet sponginess.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
Bear in mind that the New York of The Division is a solemn place, and Massive Entertainment went to great lengths to nail that into the player’s psyche. The streets are littered with mountains of garbage bags, bodies are strewn about the place, civilians stumble out into the cold and die at your feet, memorials to lost or deceased loved ones are found everywhere… New York is a graveyard, and Massive drives that home every chance they get.
When the game isn’t showing you this cold, hard truth; it’s telling you. Audio logs and “Echo Beacons” paint a picture for the player of the brutality of their surroundings and often offer contrast in the form of pre-collapse phone call conversations. One particular set of phone recordings details the progression of events for a college age adult, from him telling his brother to convince his mom to leave him alone to him informing his family of the death of a loved one. The Division is full of things like this.
Even your first few moments in the game help set up the dire situation. After first getting activated and run through the tutorial, you are introduced to your harsh reality with a bang.
Missions take place at your own pace, which allows you to explore on your own or move forward with the story at your leisure. The missions and side missions add new background to the setting that helps you piece together what happened and what needs to be done. Obviously, taking down the major factions is a big priority but you will soon discover more about what is going on beneath the surface. Collectibles in the game provide flavor to the experience by showing the player what others have gone through in New York.
The multiplayer is prevalent throughout the game. Primarily, you’ll experience multiplayer in the form of cooperative engagement and you can make it possible for anyone to join you on your treks at any time by switching your group privacy to Open. If you’d like a strictly solo experience, you can set your privacy to Private. And then there’s The Dark Zone…
WILDCARD: THE DARK ZONE
The Dark Zone is where good agents go to let their paranoia get the best of them. In the Dark Zone, any player you come across can choose to turn on you at any moment leaving you at their mercy and them as potential targets of yours. Any loot that you collect during your expeditions in the DZ can be looted from your corpse, and extracting your new gear isn’t as simple as just leaving the area.
You see, the DZ is a section of New York City that is heavily contaminated and anything that you find there needs to be decontaminated before you can leave. You won’t be allowed to just carry your stuff to the exit as you can spread the disease easily by doing that. Instead, you need to first call in an extraction helicopter to carry out your precious cargo that is stored in a specially sealed container. Calling in an extraction also alerts everyone, both player and AI alike, to your location which forces you to hold out for the short period of time for the helicopter to arrive. The gear you can collect in the DZ is worth that risk however, since it’s where you’ll find some of the best stuff outside of completing the challenges and the harder missions.
Going into the Dark Zone is some of the greatest fun that I’ve had in competitive multiplayer in a very long time. What makes the experience so good is that other players are often going to cooperate with you (though your mileage on that may vary), which makes shootouts with rogue agents that much more exciting.
The Division does quite a few things right, and it’s in those areas that I realized how much fun I’ve been having. It really shines is when you group up with others and tear through Manhattan on missions together or venture into the DZ, though you can do almost anything on your own if you choose to do so as well. I’d recommend sticking with other players around your level though, since playing with higher level players will inevitably turn into them carrying you through the entire mission.
The Division‘s combination of cooperative and competitive multiplayer is what makes the whole thing work. In addition to this, Massive Entertainment provided a grim storyline of betrayal and showcases some of the worst that humanity has to offer. In my own opinion, this game is a must buy for anyone looking for a great multiplayer experience.
As long as you aren’t afraid to die on occasion.
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