Tom Clancy’s The Division, a game about American sleeper agents taking back New York after a brutal viral outbreak, released at the beginning of March after one of the most prolonged hype cycles in recent memory. I’ve played a decent amount of the Division, completed the story and found every single collectible (all 290 something of them). I’ve fought tons of bullet sponge enemies and spent minutes scratch my head over whether some gear is better than others thanks to the somewhat impenetrable item stats.
The Division is getting a significant patch next week that is adding an end-game activity called Incursions and bringing in sweeping changes to loot, crafting and a whole bunch of other stuff. This impression covers everything pre-patch and some of my feedback might be addressed come release, but this is what I thought of The Division during the first month of its life.
One of the biggest points of concern pre-release was the fact that The Division’s enemies looked like big old bullet-sponges, able to absorb several magazines of high-caliber ammunition before they went down. While higher end weapons and skills can help with this, a lot of the foes you’ll be facing take a ton of concentrated firepower to put down. Conversely you’re also pretty fragile compared to your adversaries and the cover system isn’t perfect – I got hit a lot even though I was fully behind a cement barrier or what have you – so you can spend a lot of firefights with your health in the red. Make no mistake, The Division is an RPG first and a cover-shooter second.
There are skills that you can use to gain the upper hand such as smart cover (which stacks pre-patch and is amazing for higher level mobs due to its damage/healing benefits) but for most of the time you’ll be flitting from cover to cover hoping to glimpse an enemy’s weak point to score a nice hit and give you a few moments to breath while they flail around, bullets exploding out of their backpack. Shoot-outs in The Division are tough, and only get rougher as the game goes on. The late-game foes, the Last Man Battalion, are professional mercenaries, so they’re a lot better about flanking and forcing you out of your nice little hidey-hole to get shredded by shotgun wielders. It can be aggravating, especially after you’ve spent minutes pouring lead into a yellow-health bar enemy who had a ton of armor just to get blasted by a low-level mob you never saw.
Thankfully the world that the game takes place in, post-virus New York, is beautiful in a stark and desolate way. In what might be the fastest collapse of society, a man-made variant of small pox was released on Black Friday leading to the deaths of millions and the quarantining of the Big Apple. Two weeks after that, you’re part of the second wave of Division Agents sent in to stabilize the situation after the first wave died, disappeared, or took their own path.
Lower Manhattan is re-created in nearly 1:1 detail, with some concessions made to make for better gameplay. Each block is meticulously constructed and each building you can enter has a story to tell. In this way, it’s a lot like the Last of Us and playing as the intrepid urban explorer is my favorite way to play The Division (probably why I ended up getting all the collectibles, just so I could spend more time exploring Manhattan). There are scattered groups of enemies, but oddly no other players despite this being an always online game, although you will see fellow Agents in the safe-houses.
Your Base of Operations is just for you though and you upgrade it by completing story missions and side-missions to gain equipment needed for each of the three wings: Medical, Tech and Security. Each upgrade has a tangible benefit as well, such as being able to re-calibrate high-end gear to have different rolls and a vanity gear vendor if you want to change your appearance. Your cosmetic appearance, by the way, is another one of my favorite parts of the game and I was always excited to see the light blue loot indicator show up to see what type of puffy jacket I got next. Basically what I’m saying is I want a post-apocalyptic exploration dress-up game.
The story of The Division meanders a little bit and doesn’t quite wrap up in a satisfying way. While you do dismantle the three factions fighting the Joint Task Force (JTF) for control of the city, the how and why of the “dollar flu” are left very open when everything is done. Either it’s left for the DLC or the developers just ran out of time but that particular story thread, you know, the main one, is left dangling.
The Division also has a smattering of side missions and while it may look like a lot on your map they are the same types of missions repeated over and over for each borough. You will hear the words “small arms fire” so many times it will be burned into your brain, along with the phrase “they got Alex!”. For a game that has been in development for so long, there’s an embarrassingly small amount of dialogue which is repeated ad nauseam.
Once you’ve finished liberating New York you’re prompted to take on the end-game, which will be very familiar to MMO/Destiny veterans. You replay missions on higher difficulty levels hoping for better loot drops at the end. You can also run through the Dark Zone, the PvP area, killing named mobs to collect the end-game Pheonix Credits or Dark Zone credits, both of which allow you to buy different gear from different vendors.
The shoot and loot part of The Division was the least appealing aspect for me, so I haven’t done much Dark Zone stuff at all, and nothing of the end game. I like The Division way more for its milieu than its actual mechanics which are sometimes unsatisfying and the loot grind is something I’ve done many times before so it has to be extra special to get me invested.
Even with the large patch incoming on Tuesday, it’s mostly focused on more ways to get gear. Give me some more areas of New York to explore and some more collectibles to find and I’ll happily jump back in, but if you want me to grind for loot for hours, I’m going to pass.
Has anyone else played The Division? What were your thoughts on it?