If you pay attention to the news it seems like pandemics are everywhere these days. First Ebola, then Zika…what’s next? Well, according to Tom Clancy’s The Division, the newest massively-multiplayer shooter from Ubisoft, it’s time to worry about the Dollar Flu, a contagion spread via cash money grip. The unspoken message seems to be that you should divest yourself of this attack vector by spending it…but is The Division worth it?
When a horrific viral outbreak strikes New York City on Black Friday, it’s time for the National Guard and local police force to take action and save the day! Well, that doesn’t work out, so it’s time for The Division, a top-secret group of sleeper agents, to hit the streets and clean up the city. That doesn’t work out either. That means that you, a member of the second wave of Division forces, need to get to work taking out rioters, learning about the origins of the virus and finding out what happened to the first wave of Division agents. You might be the B-list, but that’s only a few letters away from “best,” right?
We can use a few terms for what The Division is. We’ll pretend it’s an indie game and use the softest term possible: The Division is, in many ways, a “love letter” to Borderlands. What we’ve got here is an open-world third-person shooter with RPG elements. You and up to three friends can explore a deserted New York, fighting off rioters, saving civilians and earning upgrades. When you get tired of being the good guys, you might want to check out the Dark Zone, a PvP area where you’re free to put a bullet in your fellow man and take his sweet, sweet loot.
The Division is firmly entrenched in RPG contrivances and tends to focus on these above the sort of tactical gunplay the Tom Clancy games are known for. That means that enemies probably aren’t going to drop with one bullet to the face, but they are probably going to drop guns that add a few points of damage or a tiny percentage of something It also means that your awesome secret agent skills all have cooldowns, because otherwise you’d have too much fun at once and we can’t have that. Your enjoyment, by and large, will rely to some extent on your tolerance for the modern percentage-and-cooldown-based gameplay paradigm.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it provides a certain degree of character customization. Your Agent can carry three guns – two primary weapons and a sidearm. You can also choose two special abilities from three trees, loosely grouped into medical, tech and security skills; these can be further modified to your liking, such as changing the medical first aid skill by adding a damage boost component. On top of that, there are perk slots to fill and traits, which are permanent passive boosts. You obtain all these by upgrading your Base of Operations with supplies obtained by completing missions in the open world. It’s a nice system and gives you a reason to get out there and get stuff done.
That’s not all the game is about though, as the gunplay is actually surprisingly good. The Division is a cover shooter, which is a subgenre we haven’t seen too many of lately after the Gears of War craze cooled down. As a result, the methodical, cover-based gameplay of The Division feels much more fresh than it would have a few years ago. Carefully plotting out your advance into enemy territory by dashing from cover to cover is usually pretty exciting. The game’s controls are helpful in this as well, allowing you to push up to new cover by targeting it and holding the cover button.
A good adjective here is that the game feels “firm;” your characters are much more agile than Gears’ hulking COGs, but taking cover provides a tangible, solid sense of safety and you’ll make most of your attacks while keeping enemy cover in mind. The guns tend to feel pretty powerful as well, though the RPG aspects of the game can hurt this a little as enemies become bullet-spongey if you aren’t the right level to battle them.
In a unique touch, The Division actually turns the modern concept of suppressing fire into a game mechanic, allowing you to keep enemies’ heads down with a hail of bullets so your teammates can push forward.
The real highlight of The Division takes place in the Dark Zone, a heavily quarantined area in the middle of New York. As mentioned, this is the game’s PvP area. NPC opponents in the Dark Zone tend to drop high-quality gear, as well as offering Dark Zone-specific currency and experience when killed. You’ll naturally want to load up, but there’s a couple caveats. First off, Dark Zone items are contaminated and must be airlifted out through a process that takes about three minutes. Second, you’ll have to watch out: at any point, another player-controlled Agent can attack you and try to get your goodies for themselves. Doing so initiates a “Rogue Agent” timer that marks the player on others’ HUDs and makes them a prime target for revenge.
Naturally this lends itself to a sort of Mad Max style of gameplay where small teams engage over airlift points in an attempt to claim as much loot as possible.
This is a marquee AAA title for 2016, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that The Division is a very nice-looking game. New York is rendered relatively faithfully (so far as I can tell based on my trips to the city) and plenty of interesting detail like graffiti and in-universe ads abound. I played The Division on PC, where my GTX 980ti ran everything smooth as butter on max settings, though I’d be concerned for gamers with lower-end hardware and suggest they try one of the console versions instead.
One irritating note is that there’s a one-month period of Xbox One exclusivity for the game’s DLC, meaning that if you picked the wrong box when they came out or happen to be playing on PC, Ubisoft is laughing in your face and telling you to wait while it pockets Microsoft’s Money. Ain’t modern gaming grand?
Despite this Tom Clancy’s The Division is a high-quality shooter that’s absolutely worth a look. If you’ve got a friend or two who’s willing to take the game on together, so much the better, as this one really shines when you’re indulging in the multiplayer. If this had come out a few years ago it would likely have gotten lost in the glut of cover shooters, but in 2016 The Division’s strong fundamentals and exciting PvP make it a title shooter fans should check out.