Nowadays you have to be very wary of what Ubisoft shows in their reveals and what they actually deliver. Usually they wow you with amazing graphics and awesome looking game play. Then the game is released and looks nothing like what was shown and the game play mechanics you were interested are sadly missing. The biggest culprit? Looking at you Watchdogs.
The Division was announced in 2013 with an awesome looking trailer. After several delays which had fans worried, The Division is finally upon us. Has it survived the Ubisoft hype train and delivered what was promised? Yes.
What is The Division?
That is a good question. At its heart it’s a third person shooter with RPG and MMO mechanics. When you shoot enemies you see numbers fly off them which indicates the damage and there is heavy emphasis on loot and gear. There are story missions, side missions, activities and the very tense Dark Zone area. There is end game content too such as daily and weekly missions with raid like missions coming in the future. All this can be played solo (probably not the raid) or in a squad of four. Ubisoft has also laid out the full year one content so players know what is coming and are not left in the dark (Bungie!). Yeah, it’s like Destiny. No wait. It’s what Destiny SHOULD have been.
Unlike Destiny, The Division actually has a story! On Black Friday, a smallpox pandemic, transmitted by a virus planted onto banknotes, sweeps through New York City. The disease, called “Green Poison” and “The Dollar Flu”, causes widespread chaos, and Manhattan is placed under quarantine. The U.S. Government activates sleeper agents in the population who operate for the Strategic Homeland Division, or simply “The Division”, to assist emergency responders, now called the Joint Task Force (JTF), in restoring order. This is where we start.
Character (not so much) Creation
With a game that is played online with thousands of other players it would be nice if the character creation suite was more robust. Creating your own unique identity in games like this is a must. The Division fails here. The creation suite is basic to say the least. Male or Female. A few heads to choose from. Basic hair and accessories options and some tattoos. That is it. No face molding, no editing of features. Not much of anything. It’s disappointing.
After a brief tutorial set in Brooklyn, you are shipped off to Manhattan. This is where the rest of the game takes place. The depiction of Manhattan in this game is stunning. A 1:1 recreation that is full of rich detail that really pushes onto you the fallout of a bioterror attack. It is easily Ubisoft’s best open world creation and to be honest rivals something Rockstar would produce. Yes. Really good.
The game is split into three key activities at first:
Story Missions – Players do story missions for tech, security and medical rewards. These are used to build your base of operations. As you upgrade your base, news skills and perks are unlocked.
Side Missions – These are smaller missions not related to the main story and are usually go find person x or kill person x.
Encounters – These are more of a mini event. Defend an area or collect certain items. These activities also dish out tech, security and medical rewards.
That may not seem like a lot of things to do, but it is. You can also set off and do some exploring that will allow you to discover various items that are hidden in the game. This includes finding cellphones, locating missing soldiers, viewing Echo’s and finding crashed drones.
Leveling, attributes and abilities
The leveling system in The Division is pretty fantastic. It looks pretty simple at first but it is actually pretty deep. Your character has three attributes that can be improved by finding better gear. These are, Firearms (determines our DPS output), Stamina (the amount of damage you can take) and Electronics (how long and effective your selected skill is). These three attributes can go up or down depending on the gear you equip. Weapons and gear also have perks that can be unlocked if you have the correct attribute number. As an example a gun might need a Firearms rating of 1880 to unlock a 30% critical hit perk. If you only have 1440 then you need to find better gear. It is very important to decide what kind of character build you are going for early on.
Your character also has three abilities options too. Skills, Talents and Perks.
Skills unlock as you progress through the story and upgrade the Medical, Tech and Security wings of your base. Medical skills help you and your teammates out during battle, Tech skills features items such as rolling bomb balls and mini-turrets. Finally, the Security skill unlocks ways to keep your squad and yourself safe during intense battles.
You can equip a maximum of two regular skills at anyone time but they can be changed on the fly at any point in the game. Skills can also be upgraded. Your mini turret can be upgraded to become a flame turret or your healing station can dish out ammo too.
A signature skill can be equipped too on top of the two regular skills. These skills gives a huge boost to your character such as instant heal and teammate revive or limit incoming damage and increase movement speed. These have a slow recharge so they must be used wisely.
Talents are changeable skills that can be specifically tailored to your character build and are dependant on the upgrades installed in your base of operations. Your character can equip a maximum of four talents and these can also be changed at any point in the game. Talents give you small boosts. A few examples. Battle Buddy — Revive a downed agent to reduce incoming damage by 50% for 10 seconds or Death by Proxy — Destroy a hostiles deployed skill to increase skill power by 20% for 30 seconds. I told you it was pretty deep!
Lastly, Perks give you extra items or unlocks hidden items on the game map. You don’t have to enable them or use them for the to take effect. For example, the first Medical perk is being able to carry a third health pack.
Weapon and Gear Customization
Every weapon you have can be customized, upgraded and improved for battle. The scope, muzzle, grip and magazine can be easily swapped out for something better or for something that fits your play style. On a basic level scopes increase accuracy, muzzles improve damage, grips offer stability and of course magazines offer a bigger ammo count. There is lot more going on underneath that though as again each piece you find has its own individual perks and can be modded using mods that can be bought or dropped by enemies. This method also applies to you backpacks, gloves, knee pads, masks, holsters and body armour. It sounds overwhelming but it is not.
You can also change the clothes your character wears. Clothes can be bought from vendors or can be found in the game world. Coats, shirts, hats, boots, pants and even scarves are all wearable and you can make some spiffy looking outfits.
Crafting and Re-calibration
All weapons and gear can be broken down in the game, this yields weapon parts, electronics, fabric and other items. These can then be used to craft new weapons or gear. Blueprints can be bought from vendors to do this. It is a simple mechanic but it adds to the game and you can spend many an hour crafting various items and then re-calibrating them to your desire.
Re-calibrating can only be done on gear items and not weapons. You select the perk that you want to change and then select a new perk that you want. You are then in the hands of the RNG gods as to what results you get.
The Dark Zone
The Dark Zone is a zoned off area in the central part of the map that allows PvE and PvP combat. There area is split up into six zones each with its own difficulty. As you fight the enemies and various bosses wandering around they will drop gear. This gear cannot simply be equipped, you need to extract it first via helicopter. There are extraction zones dotted about the map where you can call the chopper in. It takes 90 seconds for a successful extraction. While all this is happening there are other players doing the exact same thing. If another player decides to go rogue and kill you, he can steal all your items and try to extract for himself. Players who become rogue are immediately highlighted on the map for all other players to see. The Dark Zone has a separate rank too, all the way to 99. At level 50 you unlock a lot of high end gear from the vendors inside the Dark Zone.
Venturing into The Dark Zone can be a tense and exhilarating experience. If you happened to find gear you really want or some unique high end items it literally is a game of cat and mouse to get to the extraction zone. If you see other players, do you hide or take the risk and let them see you. You never know who is on the lookout for easy pray.
Endgame and Beyond
As with Destiny once you hit the level cap the endgame content kicks in. This can define a game like this as it what keeps players coming back. At the moment the endgame content revolves around reaching maximum level in the Dark Zone and finding new gear and playing the daily missions. The daily missions usually are two levels on hard mode and one on the new challenge mode difficulty. Complete these daily missions for a chance at a high end loot drop and stack of phoenix credits. Phoenix credits is the new currency for endgame items which only certain vendors sell. Weekly missions are not available yet but will be coming soon. Another type of mission called Operation will be out shortly too. Not a lot is known about this type of mission but we can expect a raid type experience.
As mentioned before, Ubisoft has laid out its entire first year plans for The Division with free and paid DLC coming. This will add new game modes, locations, gear, weapons and hopefully some new things we don’t know about.
The Division stands up to what was promised a few years ago. It doesn’t look as good as the graphics have been scaled back a bit but it still looks very nice. The weather effects are impressive and actually can affect game play. Stuck in a snowy blizzard in the Dark Zone with limited visibility is not fun but crazy nerve-racking.
The sound design is meaty on all the weapons and explosions and the various enemies shout and react with glee and fear at the same time.
The three factions that are trying to take control of Manhattan are all different and you can easily tell what faction they are from and what the coming battle may entail. Hopefully updates will add more types to each faction as it is a little limited at the moment.
Is The Division better than Destiny, its nearest competitor? Yes. Is it fun. Yes. Is it better with friends? Definitely. Is it worth your time? YES.