In a city debilitated by garbage, pestilence and a decimating virus run rampant, you are an integral member of a crack team of agents sent in to restore order to a once vibrant and bustling New York. No biggie, right? Welcome to The Division, agent.
Ubisoft have brought to the table one heck of an addictive third person shooter MMORPG with The Division. For the uninitiated, that’s a massive multiplayer online role playing game (yep, quite the mouthful), and boy have they delivered! It’s big, it’s fun and the gameplay is incredibly addictive. Obvious comparisons were drawn with Bungie’s Destiny from the very beginning, and after spending a solid week in the broken down city of New York, we’re quite happy to say that those comparisons are well founded. The shoot ‘n loot model that is a breakaway for the Tom Clancy brand has been extremely well executed by Ubisoft, and in some aspects even surpasses our beloved space shooter by a light year. But not in all aspects.
The first thing you’ll notice when starting out are the purdy graphics. The atmospherics such as lighting, shadows, snow, fog and mist, are just incredible. Steam rises softly out of the subway grates, light reflections perfectly grab a passing puddle, and your footsteps are seen clearly in the snow as you move around. Very slick. The structural portion of the graphics though – like the vehicles, buildings and characters – seem a little last-gen. At first, this is a little jarring, but then as you start to play, you realise why this is. Almost everything in the game is destructible (to a point). Concrete chips off the corner of a wall when you shoot it, bottles break as you walk over them and tyres pop on every single vehicle you come across. Remember, this is an always online game, so there will always be some compromises when it comes to graphics and the environment around you. Where Destiny wins with more current-gen looking graphics, it lacks in destructible environment physics.
And the amount of detail placed into the gritty city is beyond anal. Frayed and wrinkled posters flapping in the breeze, graffiti covered walls, and thousands upon thousands of missing person notices pasted all over the city. The level of detail is actually quite astonishing. If you happen to come across a clock in one of the rooms you are looting, watch it – it’s moving in time to the city around you. The developers have gone to an enormous amount of trouble to make the defeated New York City feel as immersive as possible, and this is a very good thing.
So who are we fighting against in the city? The factions are Rioters (anarchists bent on taking over the city), Cleaners (ex-sanitation workers who think the only way to clean the city up is to burn it all down), Rikers (escaped prison inmates from Rikers Island) and finally, the Last Man Battalion (a rogue private army employed by Wall St bankers to protect their assets). From the outset, you are faced with smart enemies of varying degrees of difficulty that will actively hunt you down and shoot your face through. They will grab cover, line you up and seek you out without the regular “dumbness” of most AI in games of this nature. Sure, you’ll see the occasional enemy get stuck in a single position where you can just pump away, but on the whole, the AI is well put together and very active.
And speaking of the cover system, it takes a little getting used to, but once you do, the cover to cover mechanic is fluid and very well executed. We have noticed, however, that sometimes when you’re under pressure that the cover can be a little sticky or non-compliant, and you need to have your reticle pointed at precisely the right position to get you out of a tight spot. Not a major problem, but when under fire and you want to get out of a situation quickly, it can be a little frustrating. And there’s always the trusty roll move to get you out of the line of fire fast, but as you’ll notice from the clip below, there are times when even this can end up with you jammed up in a pile of stinky garbage.
And now for the addictive part – WEAPONS, MODS AND GEAR! With any good rpg comes the ever satisfying feeling of levelling up while growing more and more powerful as you progress. We can say without a shadow of a doubt; this is one of the most addictive gear hunts we’ve ever played! Each of the many encounters, side missions and main missions ekes out ever so slightly higher grade gear than what you currently have equipped. You level up a bit, get a slightly better weapon, become a little more powerful, take on slightly stronger foes, and the almost junkie-like cycle continues. The Tom Clancy’s developers have pulled this aspect off extremely well for their first toe in the RPG pool, and it consistently makes us want to run just one more mission for the chance at that special piece of gear. This is one area where Destiny may have a slight edge though, being that it has a deeper palette of collectibles, but The Division makes up for it in the depth of available mods.
Got guns? There are more weapons in The Division than you can poke a small army at! With Police, Military, Black Market and Enhanced versions of most standard weapons, the ordnance list is long and deep. You can also modify your weapons as you progress, giving them perks and buffs to provide you even more of an edge in battle. Whether adding your own scope or buffing the accuracy with a talent, you can make your favourite weapon feel your own. Complementing the gunplay is a virtual treasure trove of future-tech toys to really mix up your game style. Equip some team healing tech alongside some smart seeking rolling mine balls, and you have yourself a customised play style all your own that can contribute uniquely to your team’s success in battle. This aspect is what earns The Division its status as a co-op king, right up there with Destiny.
That’s all the good stuff so far, but understandably, there are a few niggles too. We haven’t spent much time in the Dark Zone yet. Not because we’re scared, but because we’re all on different level tiers and there’s a soft gating system that prevents people of different levels playing together in the Dark Zone. We get why, it’s a balance issue, but it’s also restricting us all from entering together until we’ve all reached the same level tier. We’ll get there eventually.
There’s also a bit of an issue in the PvE zone (player vs environment). If you play with a couple of buddies and one or more of them is at a much lower level than you, the enemies end up being way too powerful for your lower level friends, and make it impossible for your buddies to even get a shot in without losing their heads. Get them to level up independently first and you’ll be sweet. As the grind slows down in the higher levels, they will catch up to you soon enough.
There’s a couple of other minor quibbles; like the lack of variety in enemy voice acting (I’ve killed about a thousand Alex’s!), and one of the crappiest melee mechanics known to modern gaming, but these pale into insignificance with everything else that’s awesome about this game. Make no mistake, these minor issues aren’t anywhere near game breakers; just good to know before going in.
So is it better than Destiny? In parts, yes. In parts, no. Fun gameplay and addictive loot hunting are common to both titles, but The Division might have a slight edge when it comes to buddying up and taking on scaled up enemies in a party. We pumped a lot of hours into Destiny (No, seriously, A LOT!) until the content ran dry and Bungie started drowning us in micro-transactions, so only time will tell if we are as keen to keep playing The Division as we were Destiny. With smooth, addictive gameplay, there’s a good chance it will hold our gaze for some time yet, but we’ll have to reserve our full judgement until we’ve seen the whole game.
Speaking of which, we’ll be getting back to you with a follow up review later down the track after the upcoming dlc brings us Incursions (read: Raids) and we’ve spent some decent time getting murdered by Rogues in the Dark Zone. In the meantime, though, you’ll find us aiming true at the Cleaner’s gas tanks (it never gets old!) and keeping the Christmas lights running downtown. Good hunting, agents!