What a wait we have had for The Division. Announced back in 2013 at the E3 conference, we were quite literally spoiled with a lengthy gameplay demo in which, I imagine, everyone watching was drawn in and praying for a time machine to fast forward to release day. But now three years have passed and the game is upon us. How does it stack up?
First things first. As we gamers know well, early game trailers and demos are rarely a reliable source to judge a game on. Ubisoft (the developer of The Division) especially are notorious for glamming up their game demos with scripted chat between the players in the video, carefully rehearsed gameplay scenarios and pixel perfect camera placement, and even running the demo on hardware that doesn’t resemble that which the game is to be released for (hello, Watchdogs). BUT…
For the purpose of this review, I re-watched that first E3 demo that got me hooked on a new and unknown franchise 3 years ago, and it has to be said that for the most part that demo is pretty accurate of the game that I find myself finally playing. Sure, bullets don’t leave individual holes in windows, and it doesn’t look QUITE as next-next generation graphically, and I am yet to find anyone online that can play as a drone, all of which were in the demo. But these are small gripes.
Set in an abandoned wintery Manhattan following a smallpox pandemic that was transmitted via banknotes on Black Friday (the story was the first thing that grabbed me, incidentally. Nice to not have yet ANOTHER game with a boring military/war plot), you play as an ultra-elite Division agent whose job it is to keep the streets safe of rioters and other threats, and find out just how the virus was introduced. The game, while not demo levels of stunning, is still visually beautiful. As you walk down the various streets of Manhattan, you see and feel the effects of the virus in everything you do. The streets are littered with debris, abandoned cars, looted homes, signs and notices asking for information on loved ones and so much more. Audio recordings that act as collectibles play further on this, and show snippets of what happened just before and during the outbreak. Occasionally, you find citizens approach you for help, whereby you have the choice to give them an item of food or drink, or just walk away and you can’t help but give to every one of them, even if you only have one left for yourself. You feel responsible for these people and with all that said, the game does an amazing job of immersing you in this world.
The game itself is online only and is classed as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). There are hundreds of missions and side missions to complete, but you have the choice of doing it alone or with a group of friends. You will run into other players all the time during the game, in the safe house areas where you go to restock and discover new missions. They cannot harm you here, but in the Dark Zone…that’s a whole other set of rules. And yes, the Dark Zone is as terrifying and nerve-wracking as its name suggests (to the point that in my 20 or so hours on the game so far, I have only wondered into it for 5 minutes before running back out and vowing to not return until I am significantly leveled up). Leveling up is a big part of the game (naturally, with its RPG roots), and the higher your level, the better weapons, armor and equipment you can get…and of course, tougher enemies. You can craft items and there are a huge variety of mods you can make to equipment to cater for any scenario.
The game is still new of course and with that come teething issues. For me, only small ones so far that I hope are addressed in future updates. The standard ‘new game server issues’, where you can get disconnected randomly from the game (but luckily the auto save feature is frequent and accurate). Every NPC you run past in the street comments negatively toward you, as if they feel threatened, even if you do nothing and when you refuse to buy from the vendors in safe houses they almost always say something snidey to you. These are MY only complaints so far…I guess I just have an issue with bad manners in video games!
I highly recommend The Division to anyone that likes action/shooting/RPG elements in their games, and while I am having more than enough fun playing solo, it only gets better when a group of you get together in New York to take on some missions together. Now, I’m off to level up before I venture back into the Dark Zone. Wish me luck…I’ll need it.