February 28, 2019 at 4:31 PM #1419
Tom Clancy’s The Division
Rating: 2.5 – Playable
A Review: The Division
When Tom Clancy’s The Division showed it’s debut trailer at E3 2013, it quickly rose to the top of many people’s anticipation list. The streets of the somewhat familiar New York City felt somewhat familiar yet totally alien, and visions of adventure and exploration with friends across a massive open world came to mind. The prospect of a third person shared-world loot shooter was so enticing and new that, by the time the game finally released three years later, its own hype train had doomed it.
The scenario of The Division is actually quite interesting. On Black Friday, a weaponized virus called the Dollar Flu was spread on American currency in the heart of New York City. Within five days of infection, the virus proved to be fatal, and as the city was placed under quarantine, panic and hysteria set in. The city streets became barren and littered with corpses, nobody trusted each other, and a multitude of factions with different motives rose to control sectors of the city. This is where the player comes in: you play as a second wave Division Agent activated by Directive 51 and tasked with restoring order to the city streets by eliminating criminals and anarchists, identifying the source of the Dollar Flu, and finding out what happened to the missing First Wave Agents. Additionally, you must use resources you collect on the city streets to upgrade and fortify a Base of Operations, where you’ll be purchasing most of your upgrades and interacting with a central cast of supporting characters.
Where the scenario starts to falter is not in the writing, but in the execution of it in the open world. Main story missions have you dealing grievous blows to the enemy infrastructure, yet there’s no noticeable effect on the environment. No matter how much carnage you cause to enemy factions, the same patrols will walk the streets, the same checkpoints will be manned, and city sectors will remain just as dangerous for yourself and for civilians. The only place where your actions seem to have any effect at all on the world are within missions themselves, and it’s a little disappointing. Another thing that really annoyed me was the choice of antagonist design. The Division boasts some of the worst villains I’ve ever encountered. They assume the roles of leaders of the respective factions that control the city, but outside of their reputation and a few lines of monologue, there’s no alternative characterization to them. There’s no quotable dialogue, no moral dilemma, no philosophical inflection; just a matter of "go here and kill the bad guy," and it really threw the pacing of the game way off. Their personalities and motives are furthered through collectables, but lead antagonists in The Division are just bad. To further rub salt in the wound, the true antagonist of the game makes himself known only at the end in an epilogue-like mission, indicating that if you want to see a conclusion to his story, you’ll have to pay for additional content.
Where the game world does start to come to life is through its collectables. Taking the form of phone recordings, crashed surveillance drones, and ECHOs (compiled cloud data used to recreate past events in 3D), the game tells the stories of what went on in the weeks following the outbreak. By far, the best example of this narrative building comes in the form of the "Missing Person" sidequests, where you must locate a series of ECHOs in order to piece together passed events and find someone. Though these quests last no more than a few minutes and there’s not very many of them, they’re engaging and interesting, and they usually have satisfying conclusions. Other pieces of collectables are scattered through the city’s streets, sewers, and apartment buildings. From rioters assaulting civilians to First Wave Agents’ last stands to children playing basketball, its a shame that the world only feels alive retrospectively.
Looking solely at the narrative, the pacing seems all off. Through a series of main missions, threats are eliminated as fast as they’re introduced and there’s no buildup to any kind of antagonism. This would bother me more, though, if the main missions weren’t so well designed. Running through main missions (especially with friends) is the most fun I’ve had in my entire playthrough, and daily and challenge modes add plenty of layers of depth and strategy to subsequent runs. Side missions are regretfully not as exciting. All of them involve performing one of a few tasks at different locations, and the lack of diversity very quickly leads to monotony. I found myself setting limitations on myself, such as sidearms only runs, just to add some extra flair to otherwise agonizingly boring quests.
Where The Division starts to truly shine is in the game itself. It’s marketed as a "third-person shooter with RPG elements," but I feel like it would be more appropriate the other way around. Actively, the game utilizes basic cover-to-cover mechanics with a two button maneuver interface to allow players to position themselves in combat. Fights can break out almost anywhere in the streets of New York City, and as combat draws out, the haphazardly parked cars seem too deliberately placed to be random decoration. You have access to three weapons; a primary, a secondary, and a sidearm, with a variety of classic gun archetypes to choose from. Players can also choose two of nine skills mapped to both shoulder buttons which serve a multitude of purposes, including emergency healing, buffs and debuffs, aggro, and DOT/DPS. Players can also choose up to four (at max rank) talents, which can alter character builds completely. On top of these loadout capabilities, players can also utilize an arsenal of consumable items like grenades, drinks, and alternative ammunition to grant a brief upper hand in combat.
Underneath the active layer of gameplay lies a deceptively labyrinthine metagame. By equipping pieces of armor, players can manipulate three stats that translate into numerical performance on the battlefield; Firepower increases DPS at a fixed percentage, Skill Power increases skill effectiveness at a fixed percentage, and Stamina increases health points at a proportional rate. Each piece of armor comes with attributes (some of which can be changed) that minutely alter performance, such as percentage based damage increases or XP gain increases. Weapons work similarly, albeit their talents are chosen from an alternative pool. Weapon drops and their talents and armor drops and their attributes are all random, so one could theoretically grind drops for hours putting together the perfect build. Both weapon and armor mods can be found and equipped to further alter weapon and skill performance. A stat system that’s implemented in this way allows for full build customization from fragile glass cannons to meaty tanks.
The Division’s endgame content is questionable at best. As a loot shooter, players are tasked with overcoming the grind and embracing the "power climb" as they try to max out their stats and build, but the methods of attaining endgame level gear is iffy. Running challenge mode missions is both difficult and time consuming, and doesn’t necessarily guarantee a drop that you might want for your specific build. The Dark Zone can guarantee a better chance for loot, but a worse chance of successfully extracting and keeping your loot permanently. Vendors that sell endgame level gear require a special kind of currency that requires hours of farming and hard work, and even then it might not come with the attributes, stats, or talents you might want. This shouldn’t be read as a criticism, as this dilemma is present because it’s the genre of the game, but think of it rater as a disclaimer that build gratification will come only after hours upon hours of hard work and grinding.
The Dark Zone is, fundamentally, a multiplayer institution, and so I will not be covering it in depth. I normally don’t cover multiplayer gamemodes outside of arena/team shooters because they’re subject to change quite often. Just one day prior to my writing this, Ubisoft changed loot drop rates, currency values, and enemy spawns, and there’s always talk of further adjustments. If you want a reliable source of the current multiplayer scene, visit The Division Subreddit, r/thedivision, or one of the various YouTube channels dedicated to the game. This way, while my review grows in age, the community surrounding the game will remain updated.
Overall, I wouldn’t come short on saying I was ultimately disappointed in The Division. I guess the game delivered what it said it would, but I found it so underwhelming I’m struggling to justify the time and money I put into it. The story was unimpressive and left me wanting more (in a bad way) and the graphics were nothing special. The depth to the gameplay was a very pleasant surprise, but the grind combined with my lack of time is a severe deterrent keeping me from wanting to strengthen my character build. If you’re thinking about buying this game, make sure you have a close group of friends or a handy social life, because comrades breathe some much needed life into the post-game and are pretty much necessary for a lot of end game activities.
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