“United We Fall”
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Format: PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed)
Released: March 8, 2016
In the midst of a devastating bioterrorism attack on New York City, a small group of ragtag resistance fighters gather around a makeshift memorial to honor the lost. It’s a sight that hauntingly reflects the city’s past, invoking a sense of empathy which proliferates throughout each of the manic ridden districts across the city. Just outside the small base encompassing the memorial, unnerving chaos echoes in the streets and dead bodies line the sidewalks by the hundreds. It’s here where the much anticipated, Tom Clancy’s The Division, impresses first – painting a harsh and desperate picture of a city at its weakest. These cleverly crafted cues of environmental storytelling and strong world design act as the backdrop to The Division’s goals. At its core, The Division is an RPG, driven by the makings of a third person shooter, reinforced by common traits of a MMO. It’s a bold combination with a lot of potential, though in an attempt to present itself as a jack of all trades, The Division often feels like a jumbled mess of ideas. There’s so much at play in any given moment and while many facets of the title are robust in nature, the overall structure of the experience feels like one grand balancing act. Assuming the role of a sleeper agent activated in the wake of New York’s fall, you gather arms with the intent to take back the city, standing behind the Strategic Homeland Division. The battle begins as soon as you create an avatar, with a set of introductory missions in Brooklyn that get you acquainted with the basics. It’s a strong start that does a great job at portraying the magnitude of the outbreak and the violence that has consumed the city. From there, you make your way to Manhattan where the bulk of the game resides and the outbreak has hit hardest. While on ground zero you’ll complete missions to secure important locations throughout the city along with checking off an array of side quests and various encounters. The core gameplay loop is rather simple, yet it comes laced with highly addictive grips. Explore, shoot, loot, repeat; it’s nothing earth-shattering. Nonetheless, The Division manages to keep the machine well oiled, interjecting just enough personality and gameplay variety to keep tasks interesting.
Whilst holding the line, agents of The Division, alongside other peace keepers are tested, as rival forces challenge their jurisdiction, killing and looting with reckless abandon. Ubisoft Massive’s take on New York in such a dire and broken state stands as one of the titles strongest aspects. The Division’s main narrative is passable, if not a little on the weak side. It’s unfortunate considering the strong storytelling of the setting itself, grittily telling the tales of the streets. When walking away, it was the small stories revealed in the form of collectibles and environmental hints that stuck with me the most. Whether it be a phone recording of a girl coming out to her mom, camera footage of the harrowing last minutes of someone’s life, or the open window of an apartment with a body strung up by a noose, The Division is full of heavy, emotionally evocative material. The logistics of the outbreak embrace the Clancy name with pride, encompassing the grounded and believable nature of his work. As great as the world of The Division is, it’s populated by undertakings that constantly verge on monotony and side tasks so repetitive it all but drains the enthusiasm to push forward.Freshening things up a bit, The Division’s PvP section, referred to as the Dark Zone, is an area separated from the rest of the city where you can participate in PvE and PvP simultaneously. The Dark Zone comes with its own currency, XP, and most importantly high-end loot exclusive to the zone. To enter the quarantined zone, you’ll pass through checkpoints that separate it from the rest of the city. Once inside, things have a tendency to get hectic as players can either team up to take on AI, or fire on each other with the intent to rob their loot. Tension is high in the Dark Zone, but so is the possibility of boredom. Everything of interest within the sectioned off chunk to the city is fairly far apart, creating for long periods of time jogging back and forth from one end of the zone to the other. Like much of the content within the scripted missions, this endeavor becomes repetitive after the initial wonder and white-knuckle tension wears off. The Dark Zone’s rules, unforgiving AI, and unpredictable nature of pitting players together, comes with a lot of promise. However, when looking at the final product I can’t help but feel underwhelmed when it came to my experiences looting and pillaging in the zone. The pacing was simply just too rough and unstructured to keep my attention long enough to see the hooks of its formula.Carrying over from the Dark Zone, The Division’s loot-based systems are the biggest focal point of the title. You’ll blast down foes with the usual arsenal of assault rifles, LMGs, SMGs, pistols, shotguns, and marksman rifles, each class coming with their own perks to tackling various situations. As you explore the streets in hopes of finding superior gear, whether that be weapons, armor, or specialized attachments, there’s no shortage of encounters to engage with. However, The Division’s boastful presentation of these side activities isn’t necessarily a wise one, for once having completed a few, it becomes obvious they’re short on lasting variety. The upteenth time running through a hostage rescue or defending exercise was completely devoid of excitement. Main missions on the other hand, do a good job at instilling a sense of agency and weight to the experience. Here, level design is typically superb and the AI is brutally aggressive, forcing players to think tactically if looking to find swift success.
Completing these missions grants you special points for three separate skill trees tied to your main base of operations. Upgrading these three wings–medical security, and technology–will lend you exclusive talents, perks, and abilities in the field. With these helpful additions to your arsenal, combat feels like an elaborate, if not sometimes tedious, game of strategy. Taking into consideration the environment and enemy type could mean the difference between pushing through an area alive and biting it alongside your entire squad. Cooperative play is another area in which The Division shines, allowing for multiple play styles to breathe within the confines of a single mission. The flip side of this is higher level missions are close to impossible on your own, pretty much requiring you to team up with other agents. Aside from a few annoyances here and there, the mechanics themselves are rather robust. Shooting, taking cover, traversing, flanking and more, all feel pretty solid. Pulling off the gameplay is The Division’s most important achievement, for without the highs of it, the rest of the game would have very little to stand on. A paramount concern of mine heading into The Division was how the title planned on handling the grind so many MMOs of its type run into. Fortunately, the grind here is less invasive than you might think. It took time getting there and when it finally does, chances are you’ve already submitted to the gameplay loop. It’s painful for a short time, but if going about leveling smart, it’s more of a hiccup in the road rather than a catastrophic flaw.Conclusion: There’s no disputing that The Division is an ambitious game, even if its displays of bold intentions are sometimes messily managed. The stark moments of bleakness tucked away within the world ground the outbreak scenario in realism, giving the game a sense of gravity that motivated me to continue. Despite often conflicting with the tone of the gameplay, the world building and environmental hints painted a believable tragedy worth investing in. Beyond these nuances and a few moments of originality, such as waiting for an extraction in the Dark Zone with tension so high you can feel it hang in the air, The Division isn’t packing anything to write home about. The severe lack of dynamic events sprinkled throughout the world and array of frustrating bugs such as falling though the world and problematic spawning, begin to take a toll on the title’s strongest aspects. You’ll spend a lot of time in cover, taking pop shots and flanking, along with participating in events tried and true to the apocalyptic formula. Things have a tendency to grow dull over time, but its undeniable The Division’s core loop begins on an engrossing note. Taking back the dilapidated ruins of New York certainly isn’t without its flaws and peaks in frustration, yet it was a battle I was happy to continue fighting all the way through.
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