The Division review
Not worth the grind in its current form
- Visually impressive
- Solid combat
- Dark Zone is refreshingly tense
- Promised future updates could give it some legs
- Missions are uninspired and repetitive
- Enemy and weapon variety lacking
- Beautiful but barren city
What we received at launch lacks consistently enjoyable gameplay. That said, if you can get a regular squad going then The Division is worth a look into.
I really wanted to like The Division. But after sinking more than 30 hours into the game and slogging through one repetitive enemy encounter after the next, I was left disappointed. I put off reviewing the game for too long in the hopes that I might still venture back and level up some more. However, as alluring as the impressively detailed New York City is on the eyes, the grindy nature of a largely unrewarding gameplay loop kept me from coming back.
The game’s opening tells the story of how a man-made viral outbreak ravaged New York City before you’re given control of your character who is a sleeper operative for The Division - a secret government agency whose members are seeded among the civilian population to be called upon for such a catastrophic event. It’s the thinnest of setups and outside of the occasional cut scene and ramblings between NPCs, any further attempts to fill in the story are relegated to audio logs and CCTV footage you might or might not find along your travels.
Like other open-world loot-based shooters, you
can generate your character at the beginning of the game but the character
creation is severely limited with only a smattering of different face types and
a handful of hair options for your male or female avatar. Despite the generic
character models, you’ll pickup various cosmetic attire as you progress through
the game to give your avatar a more distinct look.
You start out in Brooklyn and it’s here where you’re taught the basics of shooting and looting. The cover based third-person mechanics are solid. Stealthily moving from one cover to the next is satisfyingly easy, but you can’t crouch, jump or go prone which means that if you accidentally pull away from cover, your character will stand straight up and momentarily become a bullet piñata in the middle of combat which happened far more than we’d care to remember. The camera also struggles to keep up when it comes to close encounters which can become bothersome when axe wielding enemies decide to rush you.
After an hour or so you’ll arrive in Manhattan
and subsequently be introduced to your Base of Operations that
you can upgrade with resources earned from completing main story missions.
Upgrading your base earns you new skills for your character which range from
extending shields to drone turrets. The nice thing is that unlike other MMO
shooters you can swap skills and talents whenever you like so you won’t
suddenly realise you’ve gone down a path you don’t want to and regret it.
You’re also required to visit safe houses which are located in each district of the city since it reveals all of the side missions and encounters on the map which ultimately earn the player points to upgrade their Base of Operations. Each set of objectives in each area is nearly identical, forcing you to experience the same missions over and over until you reach your level cap. The missions all ascribe to the same uninspired design which essentially boils down to following a GPS line to an object and kill everyone or defend an object while killing everyone. There’s no attempt to mix up the action with dynamic fights or set pieces.
What’s worse is that the enemies are fairly
generic and lack variety both in attack methods and appearance. Every battle
involves either rioters, prison escapees, flamethrower-wielding ‘cleaners’ and
PMC grunts while the only point of differentiation for the boss character is an
alternatively coloured health bar.
The lack of variety extends to the weapons which are limited to five different types: Pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles. Weapons can be equipped with modifications to improve things like handling, magazine size and optics. The modification system is well implemented and the weapons also have bonus damage that increases with each weapon class. However, the lack of variety means you’re still essentially shooting the same enemies with the same gun, but the numbers popping out of their bodies are larger.
The Division can be played entirely solo though the game does require you to be connected online at all times even if there’s nobody else in the game world. You’re encouraged to play in a group with friends or matchmake with strangers for a cooperative experience and The Division is definitely much more enjoyable that way. Playing in a squad does require some coordination - a teammate hitting a few levels higher than your own is enough to throw off the balanced combat experience. It’s worth the extra effort though as you can utilise flanking routes while flushing an enemy out of cover with a coordinated move can be gratifying. Unfortunately, instead of the enemy intelligence scaling up to accommodate the extra players in your squad, the game takes a lazy approach and just cranks up the raw amount of damage they can take before going down. Couple that with the tedium of a mindless mission structure and you have a multiplayer game that quickly wears out its welcome.
The Division’s standout feature is a walled-off
PvPvE area located at the centre of the map called the Dark Zone where you can
fight alongside or against other players without any matchmaking. A player can
kill another player and take their loot but doing so will mark the player as
‘Rogue’ which enables everyone else on the server to take them out and scoop up
their winnings. It’s this risk reward system that keeps things interesting
while discovering that the strangers you’ve met are trustworthy is gratifying
in its own way. The Dark Zone has its problems: it’s heavily weighted towards
cooperation, with the punishment for going rogue outweighing the potential
Despite its issues, The Division is a very pretty loot-based shooter that with a few updates has the potential to become a good co-op experience. Some highlights of the recently released 1.1 patch added a new mode called “Incursions” which is similar to the popular raid mode in Destiny where four players on a team work together to take on a host of difficult enemies in the hopes of acquiring more powerful gear and weapons. The update also introduced a restricted form of loot trading that allows players to pick items up, then drop them for their friends to grab instead. This feature has been well received by players as it essentially gives lower ranked players an opportunity to acquire higher level gear and weapons outside of the Dark Zone drops.
Meanwhile the 1.2 update is expected to introduce some much needed balance tweaks to the dark zone and more generous loot drops. It will be interesting to see how The Division evolves over time but there’s no denying that what we received at launch lacks a consistently enjoyable gameplay loop to keep players engaged. That said, if you can get a regular squad going then The Division is worth a look into.
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