Welcome to the Big Rotten Apple.
Well, it was a long time coming, but Ubisoft’s open-world, action-RPG shooter finally made its way onto store shelves. There were times in the long development cycle when it seemed that the game would never actually arrive. And there have been times when the game just seemed to ambitious to be anywhere near as good as the hype would suggest. But it is here now, and it is pretty much as good as was expected. Welcome to Tom Clancy’s The Division.
After some kind of viral attack which was spread using dollar bills, New York has become a devastated wasteland. The contagion spread rapidly, decimating the population. Now, with the city having been pretty much taken over by different factions of troublemakers, the player takes on the role of a Division agent, sleeper agents who are activated in times of extreme crisis, and is charged with restoring order to the city. The fact that you are part of the second wave of Division agents raises questions about what happened to the first wave.
In fact, there are quite a few questions raised through the narrative in The Division. To be honest, the story telling is not one of the strong points in the game. Through playing the main missions, players will pick bits and pieces up here and there, and there are all manner of different collectibles to find within the city, and holographic recreations that fill in certain gaps. But in all, the story is a bit sparse other than that the player is charged with restoring order. Mind you, this doesn’t make a bit of difference to enjoying the game, because there is so much more going on.
It may be lacking a strong narrative, but the environment itself manages to tell a quite compelling story. The playground that is New York City is stunning. The city has been faithfully recreated, and then disassembled into a wasteland. There is an eerie silence to the streets, which are filled with litter and deserted or destroyed vehicles, giving the player a glimpse of what the city must have been like during the virus outbreak. Day and night cycles change the feeling on the street, as do different weather conditions, including snow and thick fog.
However, the streets are not empty. Random citizens roam the streets, muttering or cowering as you get near them with your gun. Some of these citizens require your help, maybe offering them a simple can of food will earn their gratitude. Turn a corner to be confronted by more desolation, perhaps a stray dog or two, or some roaming gang members, forcing the player into a life and death gunfight. Secrets are hidden around every corner, leaving the player to explore dark corners or explorable buildings for loot and clues as to what went on in New York City.
There is a lot to do in the city that never sleeps. Amongst the myriad of side missions and encounters that can lead the player to find all manner of loot, the main missions revolve around the upgrading of the base of operations. A medical, tech and security wing need to be unlocked and upgraded, and the main missions will see the player working towards building up each of these. These three areas are tied in with the players own skill trees.
The map is split into areas that are suitable for different levels, and safe houses in each area offer the player a chance to fast travel to each location, along with offering a handy place to match make for some co-op gameplay, buy and sell with vendors, and restock bullets, medikits and the like. There is so much to show on the map that it can sometimes become quite a mess of icons, and can be a little confusing as it is not always obvious what an icon means. There is a route finding option to lead players to their objective, but even that is not always as obvious as would have been nice.
As already stated, the players progression is linked to the three wings in the base of operations. The player levels up through gaining experience, but extra abilities, perks and talents are unlocked by improving those three areas. The medical tree gives player access to all manner of healing options, while the security section deals with support. The tech section is perhaps the most exciting, offering game changing gadgets and the like. As the player improves the three wings, they will unlock different abilities which can be assigned to the character and swapped out on the fly, allowing the character to change their role at will. These abilities can also be modded to add further options to the character. Combined with the various perks and talents which further improve and customise the character, players are quite able to build their character to their play style.
Much of the game will revolve in finding and equipping new weapons or armour. Loot drops are plentiful and a simple colour scheme dictates the rarity of any item dropped. Players will gather a lot of weapons and armour, which can then be broken down into crafting components or sold for cash. The crafting is fairly straight forward, with different grades of materials being required, along with blueprints, to make the various items in the game. In a nice touch, the clothing and armour are kept separate so players can change their look without having to compromise their level of protection.
The combat relies heavily on the cover mechanic. It is easy to snap to cover and run from cover to cover while popping up to take pot shots are the usually overwhelming number of enemies in the area. The combat feels solid and rewarding, although the cover mechanic doesn’t always work exactly how it should, leading to the occasional unfair death. Enemies are not easily overcome however, with the enemy AI being perhaps a little more clever than your average shooter. Some enemies will simply mob your character as they take cover, while others will take cover themselves and prove quite difficult to pick off. The game increases the difficulty to match the players level quite well, offering a challenge at all times. This is especially so when it comes to the bosses, who are bullet sponges that can quite often take out your character with a few easy shots.
All of this can be played with friends or alone. The core game works very well as a solo undertaking, but it is just as easy to play with others through the fairly straight forward matchmaking. However, there is a whole area dedicated to the dark and scary player vs. player fans.
The Dark Zone is available once the player has worked through enough of the core game. This walled off section of the city was the worst hit by the contagion, and as such contains the best loot. However, it also contains much stronger enemies and other player who are more than welcome to try and take any loot you may have gathered. The loot found in the Dark Zone has to be airlifted out, which is very obvious to any other player on the map, making you an easy target. Stealing loot from other players doesn’t come without risk though, as the thief could find themselves with a bounty on their head which is visible to other players. This risk does keep many Dark Zone players in line, but the very obvious rewards for stealing loot from someone else does make it quite difficult to resist.
Tom Clancy’s The Division is a gorgeous looking game. Aside from the incredible recreation of New York City, the use of lighting really sets the mood, and the level of detail is amazing. The game is not without graphical glitches though. Quite often I have seen enemies stuck in the scenery, or allies sliding along the floor as if on a skateboard. Despite this, the game looks outstanding.
Tom Clancy’s The Division manages to do a lot of things right. It is a brilliant single player experience, works great in co-op with friends, and the competitive multiplayer is tense and exciting. The setting is realistic, the gameplay is solid and the drive to find new gear is compelling. There are a few issues along the way, but this is damn near the hype-fuelled game that players were expecting.