Ubisoft’s latest triple-A title, “Tom Clancy’s The Division,” released to generally favorable reviews from critics, but was met with mixed feelings from the actual gaming community. The hesitation to buy “The Division” is understandable since it doesn’t really fall into any one genre. At its core, the game is a shared open-world cover-based third-person shooting and looting role playing game. Phew, that’s a mouthful!
There are a lot people that are still on the fence about “The Division,” so let’s take a look at the different elements of this action RPG to determine if it’s something worth spending your time and money on.
The main motivation for all the shooting and looting in “The Division” is the spread of a deadly virus that has wiped out most of New York’s population. In order to prevent society from falling past a point of no return, a secret group of government agents has been activated to keep the peace by blasting three factions of bad guys into non-existence.
Conveniently, post-apocalyptic New York has a lot of wrecked cars and concrete barriers that make for a playful battleground.
The shooting and movement mechanics are familiar for anyone who’s played the “Gears of War” series or “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.” The camera is locked in a third-person perspective, unless you’re using the scope on a rifle, and your character can press up against or hide behind most flat surfaces.
From this covered position, you can tactically turn corners or sprint to new cover, automatically parkour-ing over and around obstacles.
To start delivering justice and freedom to all the baddies, you can blind-fire with a penalty of reduced accuracy, or pop out from cover temporarily to take better aim.
In general, movement is fluid and seamless — traveling between cover is achieved by looking at your desired location and pressing a single button, and you also have the ability to dodge-roll in any direction, away from grenades or particularly aggressive enemies. But don’t expect any “Call of Duty”–style movement speed, as the game is (mostly) rooted in reality.
All of the weapons available to your agent are based on real military equipment, with some imaginary future-tech thrown in to keep things interesting.
Each weapon has unique characteristics — accuracy, damage, rate of fire, etc. — that are assigned randomly within a predefined range when initially acquired. You can also augment weapons with different types of attachments like large capacity magazines, scopes and suppressors.
But while Division agents are an elite squad of death-dealers, their arsenal consists of only small to medium firearms. Exotic weapons like rocket launchers are strangely absent. Still, fans of military artillery and equipment will be pleased with the selection of gear and the accuracy of reproduction.
Role Playing Elements
Because “The Division” is set in a believable, not too distant future, the introduction of traditional role-playing elements turns away many long-time fans of the Tom Clancy franchise, which has historically been known for its high lethality and tactical gameplay.
As you accomplish missions and tasks, you’re awarded experience points that increase your character’s level and give you access to better weapons, gear and upgrades. But the way the game handles the performance gap between levels is a big concern for many people.
Fighting against elite or high-level enemies is often an exercise in frustration as you empty magazine after magazine with seemingly no effect. These characters soak up bullets without ever breaking their stride, while you’re downed with one or two hits from a small handgun. This type of power discrepancy is standard for fantasy-based RPGs, but it’s hard to justify when your enemy is clearly using inferior weapons and little to no armor.
As long as you can suspend your disbelief, the system works well enough to keep players motivated to continue leveling up their agents. Like most RPGs, you’ll want to stay in areas where the enemies aren’t too difficult, and then move on once you’ve gained enough experience. If you follow the path that the story has laid out with its main and side missions, the progression feels natural — there’s no need to hang back and just grind out a particular area until you’re strong enough to leave.
“The Division” employs a fluid character class system, meaning that at max level (30), everyone will have access to the same Skills and Talents. These abilities and attributes change how you support yourself and your squad during battle. Not being locked into a traditional skill tree offers the flexibility of adjusting your role on the fly. The three Skill categories are Medical (healing), Tech (gadgets) and Security (incoming damage reduction).
Low on health? Deploy a support station. Enemy hiding behind cover? Send out your Seeker Mine. Using a Skill can really sway the flow of battle, and the most successful teams adjust their abilities to benefit different agent levels and play styles.
Skills have a short cool-down period after each activation, but Talents are always-on attributes that are tailored to your tactics. Talents can augment healing, suppression, movement and more, and there’s enough variety to cater to a multitude of both solo and team strategies.
You can further augment your character’s traits with gear items like a vest, backpack or gloves. Each piece of gear can boost one, two or all of your agent’s main traits — Damage, Health and Skill Power. High-level gear may offer additional attributes that affect any number of stats, and can possibly increase your character’s perceived level past the maximum of 30.
With the large number of Skills, Talents, gear and weapons, everyone’s character will be unique. Appearance items are purely cosmetic, so you won’t see everyone wearing or carrying the same stuff because it’s considered the best.
Things To Do
There are two main areas of virus-infected New York for you to explore — the safe part of Manhattan just south of Central Park (PvE) and the Dark Zone (PvP), a walled-off free-for-all arena near the center of the game’s map.
The story unfolds as you go through the process of rebuilding your base of operations, and each rebuilt section permanently unlocks a set of Skills and Talents.
Missions are only available outside of the Dark Zone, and matchmaking can be activated from the map or at the start of story missions. There aren’t traditional quest givers, which is nice because you don’t have to run back to someone to claim your reward. All missions are activated based on geographic proximity, meaning you can simply roam around New York and do missions as you come across them.
While there isn’t a whole lot of variety beyond shooting bad guys and searching small bags for treasure, the voice acting from the storyline characters provides just enough motivation to not feel like everything’s a grind.
In the Dark Zone, things are much different. Stronger, more aggressive enemies constantly roam the open streets, and other players can help you or kill you, or both. When players attack each other, the original aggressors are marked as Rogue for a short period of time and have a bounty placed on them. Other players can then hunt down Rogue agents and kill them without consequence. If the Rogue agents are able to survive the manhunt (they stop killing others and the timer runs out), they’re rewarded with money and Dark Zone experience.
But outside of the occasional multiplayer tussle, the only thing that you can really do in the Dark Zone is look for loot by searching crates or defeating enemies. There’s a catch, though: the best loot crates spawn once per hour per server, and can’t be opened until you’ve reached level 30 in the Dark Zone — it’s a separate leveling system from the PvE area, and here it feels very grind-y because there are no missions.
Loot found in the DZ must be extracted by helicopter, and a call for extraction usually attracts enemies, as well as other potentially hostile players.
In theory, this creates a tense environment that can lead to exciting showdowns, but in reality, everyone is surprisingly courteous, mostly wanting to be left alone to loot in peace. It’s a strange phenomenon for a game based on gunplay. No, the video game scene is not suddenly void of trigger-happy adolescents — the game makers just didn’t make the rewards worth the risk of going Rogue. When you’re killed in the DZ, you lose experience and money, and any yet-to-be-extracted loot can be stolen unless you go back and pick it up.
All of the loot (except for appearance items) can be broken down into common elements used in crafting. Blueprints for weapons and gear can be earned or found throughout the game, and then used to create items with randomly generated attributes (within a specified range, of course).
It’s a roll of the dice in terms of what qualities are assigned to an item, so some people like to craft the same item multiple times to see if they can improve the stats.
Crafting is the only way to get some of the game’s best weapons and gear, and it’s most likely what will motivate you to continue playing long after the main story has been completed.
After you reach the max level of 30, you begin what’s commonly referred to as the end game. Better weapons, gear and rewards become available to you, and while you’ve always been able to go into the Dark Zone, you’re now able to be more effective on your looting trips.
Once you start the end game, you’re given the ability to earn and spend a new type of currency called Phoenix Credits. These credits are required to purchase high-end items and blueprints, and are more difficult to come by than any other currency in the game.
The quickest way to earn Phoenix Credits is to complete daily challenges, which require you to re-play select story missions on higher difficulty settings. A daily challenge can net you 15 or 20 Phoenix Credits, while defeating a roaming named boss will give you two to three. For perspective, a high-end weapon or blueprint can cost between 80 to 120 Phoenix Credits, and only three daily challenges are available every 24 hours.
Since the end game is mostly about chasing after high-end items, Phoenix Credits play a very large role, and once again, the motivation just isn’t there to go into the Dark Zone. So far, I’ve invested 52 hours into the game, and spent most of the time in the PvE areas.
There’s more content scheduled for “The Division,” and more activities may be added to the Dark Zone, but for now, it’s a really extensive co-op game.
When it comes to buying video games, my friends and I have a rule that we try to follow: each dollar spent should provide close to an hour of gameplay. “The Division“ definitely has at least 60 hours worth of gameplay between the story missions, side quests, looting and Dark Zone, and more content is on its way via free updates and paid downloadable content.
My favorite part of “The Division“ is that I can play how I want to play — there’s no waiting around for a full team before a mission will launch, and there’s little threat of constantly losing due to incompetent players. Honestly, there’s really no win/lose situation in the game, and it might be the reason why most players aren’t so aggressive or mean-spirited.
I’m in control of my own experience, and if I decide to never step foot into the Dark Zone, I’m not penalized for it. There are multiple ways to acquire loot and currency, and for someone who absolutely hates grinding for virtual items, this freedom is highly valued.
Overall, it’s a game that brings together some of the best elements from different genres, and is best enjoyed with friends both old and new.
“Tom Clancy’s The Division“ is available now on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. Since the game is still new, you won’t find too many great deals quite yet, but Amazon.com is currently offering the PS4 and Xbox One versions for a very slight discount. If you’re looking for a PC version, though, cdkeys.com has it (English only) for $39.54. Just note that cdkeys.com is considered gray market by some, so use your best judgment when purchasing from the site.
Featured image and screenshots courtesy Ubisoft, Andrew Chen and the Slickdeals Gaming PC.