If you’re an American, you know that Black Friday is a big friggin’ deal. It’s our opportunity to praise our corporate overlords by shelling over massive amounts of cash for incredible deals. After all, when else are you going to get a 55″ TV for $200? The Division uses this instance of extreme consumerism as the backdrop to a much darker world. When a mysterious organization contaminates millions of dollars worth of currency with a highly contagious and deadly disease, the cash that is so freely exchanged on Black Friday and the days that follow successfully infects millions of Americans, and quickly spreads throughout the country. Now, with first responders dead or missing and the very fabric of society tearing under the weight of this pandemic, an elite group of soldiers known as “The Division” is activated and charged with restoring order. This is where you come in!
The Division has generated a lot of hype over the last few months, with many comparisons made to Destiny and other shooters that are starting to incorporate MMORPG elements. This title is a bit unique because so much of it is dependent on the servers going live, so obtaining a “review copy” wouldn’t really do much good in preparing this review, as it required the full launch to appreciate everything The Division has to offer. That being said, I am writing this review with a very large asterisk; the caveat being that like with any MMO/evolving online game, the major gripes may be patched within the next few weeks. Similarly, more problems might emerge from said patches, so the game is really going to be a fluid experience in the foreseeable future. That being said, I will share my experience with the game so far.
After the mysterious virus known as “Green Poison” (named after its transmission via cash notes) spreads like wildfire throughout the country, your character is “activated”. You quickly realize you are actually the 2nd wave of Division soldiers being deployed, meaning that things are even worse than initially believed. Your first order of business is customizing your character, always a great time sink. It took me about 5 minutes to hammer out my usual archetype – badass professor (grey hair, weathered skin, 1000-yard stare, with a certain “dignified” look). As I ran around my first thought was “Wow, these controls are pretty intuitive.” Then I encountered a number of key actions that weren’t easily executed. The D-pad control indicators on the PS4 look VERY similar to the “X” button, so I found myself dodge-rolling trying to apply Medkits (spoiler: you actually press right on the d-pad). Similarly, using grenades was a mystery as well. I guess it should have been a flag that X was being used for so many things…still, it was a damper on an otherwise smooth introduction to moving around within the world of The Division.
Speaking of moving around, you learn early on that cover is your best friend in The Division. Pressing and holding X puts you in various positions of cover, and you can quickly rush from cover point to cover point to either close, or put, distance between yourself and your enemies. You can also climb onto certain objects in order to get the advantage of higher ground, though more often than not that just makes you a huge target for anyone nearby. Once I got the hang of cover, running around, and using my various weapons, I moved along with the story. After introducing myself to the impromptu captain I was told to activate my agent at a nearby computer terminal. Ok, sure. Only one problem: everyone else on your server has the same task, and there’s only one laptop to use. It took me nearly 20 minutes of lining up, attempting to activate, logging out and back in, and finally closing the game and restarting it before I was able to overcome this odious bug. Google “The Division Activation”, you’ll see more of this frustration bubbling up in less than flattering ways in other corners of the internet. That one instance is by no means fair judgment on the rest of the game as a whole, but I have to say it left a sour taste in my mouth, and took me a bit to get over that frustration.
Once you’ve gone through and activated your agent you can begin to venture into New York properly. The introduction stage takes you through a fairly short sortie to help stabilize Brooklyn and further familiarize you with the structure and gameplay of The Division. Early on you’ll notice something that has got a lot of reviewers and players frustrated – the enemies take a good hail of bullets before going down for the count. Disdainfully referred to as “bullet sponges”, these enemies can sometimes be unfairly difficult to take down; at the same time a few well placed shots from a thug on the street can put leave your screen flashing red, the fevered heartbeat sound in the background getting louder and louder as you inch closer to death. The difficulty scale can take some getting used to, but more often than not players find themselves going through some of the introductory stages to grind XP and gain a few levels to help cushion the blow.
The inventory system echoes Destiny and other MMO titles – you have two primary weapon slots and a sidearm, and you also get the opportunity to equip multiple skills that can be set to enhance your defenses, health or offensive capabilities. There are various armor slots, and your weapons also have modification options including extended magazines and optimized muzzles/barrels. Useless equipment can be broken down into “junk” and used for further upgrades or you can sell the parts for newer equipment. Nothing too groundbreaking here, but it does feel distinct – and the menus have a sharp, futuristic design, which I like.
A big part of the gameplay is your ability to coordinate with other players. Matchmaking is fairly straightforward, though fellow contributor Archmage experienced some difficulty with matchmaking while playing on the PC. Console play seems a bit more intuitive in terms of creating co-op groups, and I would argue that it could help address the difficulty issue. Two heads (or four guns) are better than one!
What really stands out to me with The Division is the quality of the graphics. The New York that Ubisoft has created is meticulously crafted and gorgeous to look at. Quality explosions and fire effects add to the mayhem of firefights. As I continue to explore new zones I’m excited to see what else Ubisoft has to offer – and it makes me excited for possible patches and expansions in the future.
Overall, I’m pleased with The Division so far. My console experience has been largely positive, though some gameplay struggles continue to pop up from time to time, preventing an otherwise good game from being a great one. I’m looking forward to the coming weeks, and will be sure to post an update once I’ve had a chance to dig in my claws and get a better feel for the game overall.