Played on Windows.
Also Available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4
Time for another multiplayer shooter. It’s Tom Clancy’s The Division. Once again terrorists have attacked and it’s up to one of Clancy’s various military organization to straighten things out. It’s also one of this month’s Humble Monthly Bundles, so let’s gear up and find out how it is.
If you are considering this for Humble Monthly Bundle, be aware that the key is for the Uplay version, and not for Steam. This isn’t a major problem but it did limit me in a few ways to work on The Division. Getting it on either platform is similar though, as the Steam version will launch and use Uplay behind the scenes.
At the same time, I should mention that Tom Clancy passed away half a decade ago, but Ubisoft has made his name a brand, and it works. Tom Clancy has become synonymous with cover-based military shooter. This time we’re joining a JTF or joint task force, but we’re still pseudo unnamed military fighting against enemies, we’ll talk about that more in the story.
Graphically this game looks fine. The Division is set in Manhattan where the player has to roam the streets fighting against street gangs, flamethrower-wielding “Cleaners” and other military members, and it looks really good. I only have been in New York a couple of times, and almost two decades ago, so I don’t know how accurate the world is to the real world, though a few named locations you visit are accurate, though there are locations that appear to be slightly out of place, but that’s to be expected.
The entire world is also in the immediate aftermath of a major virus attack so there are a number of pieces of The Division’s world that are depressing, between the snow that is piled up and the massive number of cars that have been abandoned. There are hundreds of cars, but you never see a single vehicle open or drive in this game, I guess the virus made us forget how to hotwire cars.
Camp Hudson is how you arrive in Manhattan, and it puts you in the proper mood, bleak.
The UI though is well done allowing a lot of holographic displays, informing you of what you picked up or where loot is. After a major battle, it’s easy to look around the battlefield and find out what’s left over for you to grab. It appears each player also gets their own loot drops which allows you to loot to your heart’s content without worrying about stealing from the other players.
At the same time, The Division has some questionable tech in the engine. There’s amazing work done on how the glass or concrete walls shatter or retain bullet holes, but I mostly noticed it when testing out the game, and rarely looked for it later. I wonder how much better the graphics and engine could work on systems or if the high processor load could have been reduced without that new technology. The Division doesn’t offer a way to shut it off and it is really cool looking, but rarely needed as a feature. It is more something to be shown off in the E3 press conferences or sizzle reel.
With that said, the story of The Division is solid. You’re a member of a secret covert group known only as “the Division”, or “Strategic Homeland Division”. The Division really doesn’t spend any time on this organization, but you learn you’re part of the second wave. What happened to the first wave? That’s not really a big part of the game. The story will talk about a couple of members, but for such a large and diverse organization, not much is said.
The story setup for the Division is that a new virus was released which is known as “Green Poison” or “The Dollar Flu”. It is a form of Smallpox, and honestly, most of this is said in The Division, but I did have to look it up, basically “Bad stuff has happened” and you’re here to clean it up.” is the focus of The Division.
The Division does have a story, it’s just a lot of the historical information is a touch on the weak side. Most of The Division focuses on the player and the missions he’s actually taking a part in. Each mission has a storyline and there are three main “groupings” of missions, security, tech, and medical, mostly based on who is giving you the job and what their end goal might be.
Each mission has its own storyline as well, there’s an early mission where you go to where the outbreak likely started, a department store called Abel’s. The entire mission has you fighting against “Cleaners” who are flamethrower-wielding sanitation workers trying to clean up the virus. They’re in the middle of burning down the department store as you work your way around to find unburned bills.
There are a ton (200+) of collectibles, which also give you snippets of society during the attack.
The Division has another mission in Madison Square Garden as well as other impressive locations. In addition, while exploring I found a couple of locations that are hidden and unused, the world looks really good in The Division.
The Division just does not have an amazing story to go with its world building but it gives a simple narrative and reason for the player to run around and fight a number of enemies. Due to it being a multiplayer only game, and the fact that narrative usually has to be carefully delivered, it’s not surprising but The Division focuses more on gameplay than that story and while the story suffers, it’s the right move for the game as a whole. In addition, each of the three groupings of missions has a progression, focused on a storyline, but the fact the player can beat any mission in any order, even outside of the level progression means that story isn’t given as much importance.
To make the multiplayer work, the entire story is given on the move. Only a few scenes are cutscenes, and they are all triggered outside of missions, so the ability to focus on the story is limited. The Division doesn’t use a bad way to deliver a story in this game but the end result is a weaker story, but a better video game. In cases like this, it’s better that The Division focused more on the playability than trying to lead players around to different uninteractive cutscenes.
The whole game really focuses on the dystopia of New York. You see the entire collapse of civilization. While the missions tend to focus on the big issues, The Division also contains a large number of side missions and “encounters” that are optional. Each has a set up where you go after a bounty, with a small amount of story of “Why is this guy so bad that he’s worth a bounty?” It’s simple but it works at developing the world along with everything else and there’s a weight as I explored more of the world.
Though, I will say The Division lays the praise on a bit thick. Every character you talk to or interact with tells you how cool the JTF is, or how attractive you are, or just how awesome you are. Every mission you finish feels like they’re just heaping on praise for murdering random people. Most games do it, but I feel like I could have gotten diabetes from how sickeningly sweet the dialogue can be.
As mentioned, this is a Tom Clancy game, and while he passed long before it was released, and thus it’s not his story, the gameplay is what I expected. Similar to Rainbow 6 Vegas, and the Ghost Recon series, we have another round of cover based shooting with some stealth aspects and semi-futuristic tech. Players are able to tag enemies and even see enemies through cover at times.
Trying to play The Division more aggressively, or avoid cover is often a death sentence. Standing in the open will get you killed relatively fast. The expectation is to take cover, pop out to aim and take a few shots, and then duck and move to another location if necessary. It’s ultimately a modern shooting gallery, and enemies will respond similarly.
Though, the rules aren’t as firm for your opponents. While you can only take a few bullets before you’ll be downed, the enemies tend to be bullet sponges, and can just soak up damage and keep coming. You’ll see numbers pop up in the air while playing, and that’s because The Division is more of loot or gear base game than a true shooter.
Those numbers are your damage. Number heavy gameplay.
It is the exact perfect game to talk about “loot ‘em ups”. It’s very similar to another game I reviewed at the beginning of the year, called Destiny 2, which I was harsh on. Though there are enough important differences in the two games that I have different opinions on them. But in both games, your loot is far more important than your skill at The Division, and it’s similar to Shadow of War again. Have the wrong weapon or being a few levels below your enemy, you’ll have to fill them with bullets to knock them down. Fighting an enemy that is a couple of levels below you and a couple of shots in the knee can eliminate them.
The good news here is that The Division doesn’t modify your damage based on the level difference and since you can see your damage, you at least know what’s going on. But the damage growth between levels can be significant and that’s where the loot grinding comes into play for The Division.
The Division constantly reminds you if you haven’t switched out a piece of gear in a number of levels. Sadly it does this even if you have some armor that’s low level but is powerful. If you have a piece of gear from five levels previous, the UI will remind you about how weak that one piece is. But, The Division isn’t clear on why this is a problem. The number of the gear and the stats seemed to be the deciding factor on the value of the gear. Yes, the game will keep reminding you of how you should swap out that piece, the loot that falls isn’t giving you upgrades, or if you had an exceptionally good piece, it’s not worth changing it out always.
But even with great gear, enemies seem to take a massive amount of punishment. Headshots and weak points give the critical hit or additional effects, but many enemies can take far more bullets than you expect. It’s an odd disconnect from the cover-based gameplay of the player to the number of bullets that the enemies seem to absorb.
The player isn’t without skills and abilities. While the enemy AI is solid and uses flanking tactics and suppressive fire to pin the player when possible, the enemy’s AI is focused. If the player hides behind cover and is taking a massive amount of enemy fire, he can slip away to another hiding point and the enemies won’t notice the movement, and players can move around their targets.
The cover system has some issues. I noticed that I would very rarely be attached to the wrong side of cover when approaching a corner, leaving myself exposed and often quickly killed. The game allows the player to slip around the side of cover he’s taken, but there at times this felt too easy to do, exposing me to gunfire, and at other times it takes a couple of seconds too long when you’re in the middle of gunfire, both situations feel awful as only a few seconds of sustained gunfire will kill the player.
The controls had other oddities. One ability, the healing ability in The Division works by using the ability to shoot it at a friendly unit or double-clicking the activation button to self-heal. Often hitting the Q key twice (which it was bound to), ended up making me pop out of cover incorrectly and try to heal a friendly, but exposing myself got me killed extremely quickly. It’s an ability that was essential to my build but didn’t work well with the controls. I constantly asked, “Why isn’t this a Hold instead of a double tap” and The Division didn’t have an answer for that.
The Division’s combat model uses a threat-based model, where a two-player team can divert the attention of enemies back and forth. It is similar to MMORPG styles, allowing some form of tank and medic classes, though the roles aren’t as firmly defined in this game due to the malleability of the player and his skills.
The main base in The Division is an outpost in Manhattan, based on the James A. Farley Post Office. It’s a mostly empty building when you first arrive with some vendors. Over the course of The Division, the player will gather credits to upgrade their bases. At first, I wasn’t impressed by changing the base, but the base itself acts like a representation of the player’s skill tree or development and in that way The Division excelled.
Each of these unlockables gives you some benefit or skill, so you’ll want to gather as many as you can.
Similar to the three groupings of story missions, the main base has three departments in the base, and each one has five different upgrades that award skills. The upgrades will also offer perks, and talents, that the player can switch at will, even in the middle of battle if they dare to make the exchange.
The fact that the player has the ability to redefine their loadout at any time, mid-mission or mid-battle, is an excellent addition to The Division as the player is able to try out different builds and skills at will. Though, the base itself can become problematic. Every new skill costs a decent amount of upgrade material and the only way to farm that material is completing new missions, side missions, or encounters, with the largest portion of the material coming from the missions.
The Division expects the players to make good choices because The Division gets harder with each level. At level 10, I was having an easy time soloing enemies where I could as they appeared in small groups of between two to four enemies at a time and appeared to be random rioters. By level 20, The Division had evolved. Instead of random rioters or even the “Cleaners”, there was more of a focus on Military units, bringing groups of six to ten enemies who focused on flanking the player and work well to overwhelm a single player.
Much of this is due to the areas that the player enters for each mission but even in the post-game, the military units always were the hardest. The size of their groups, their armor and the fact they use explosives instead of flashbangs made them more challenging, but it felt like the difficulty curve got too high there.
Oddly, level 29 was very challenging, but hitting level 30, which is the max level, suddenly made The Division easier due to a new tiered loot system based on Gear Score, rather than level, and the ability to fight level 30 enemies anywhere, instead of the military zones.
Around level 20, playing The Division solo becomes very hard. A few players have created builds or guides to do so but The Division clearly is focused on providing an experience with multiple players, and when a second person joins your game, The Divisions moves from an acceptable game to something beautiful.
This guy has no chance, two on one, he’s dead.
Teamwork is everything, allowing the players to flank enemies and draw out targets. As long as players don’t hide behind the same covers, the enemies will be forced to expose themselves, and the enemy AI breaks down in these cases, though it allows the players to pick them apart, likely intentionally.
More players aren’t always better in The Division. The Division changes the difficulty to match the number of players, from what I’ve seen this is mostly added damage and health for their enemies, thus players have to be better than some imaginary bar to make it worth adding a new player.
Though, the difference between single player and two players is night and day. One player will struggle often, but the minute I found a second player, I went from being able to tackle side content that was at my level or level underneath it to tackling content 2 levels over both of our levels with ease. Much of the later content appears to be balanced in the expectation of at least two players.
Though when you find the right partner, the game flies by and is quite enjoyable. I struggled for a couple of levels but found a friend and I could gain 3-4 levels in a couple of hours due to solid teamwork versus not even gaining a level in the same length of time earlier. Your team will be very important to the difficulty level, but solid teamwork will make the game that much easier.
Sadly, the biggest issue with playing in a group is finding the group. Matchmaking is underwhelming currently. I am unable to tell if this is due to lack of players in Matchmaking, or problems with the matchmaking service itself, or how the game changes when the player hits max level (going to a different type of queue for Matchmaking), but the experience of The Division is lacking when one can’t find a party. If you have a dedicated team or friends, the experience will be greatly enhanced, and while solo players will eventually find people to work with, the wait can be frustrating.
Leveling up in The Division is primarily about beating missions and side missions. Players can grind enemies but even easy missions often will offer similar rewards to killing a hundred enemies. Harder missions are worth more, and the materials to build out your base, extra gear and money make exploring new missions, side missions and more worth more than grinding.
This is another way the multiplayer is lacking a bit. When joining another player’s game, all the missions that appear on the map are uncompleted missions on their progression. However, if you complete a mission or side content that you already completed, you only earn cash and the experience from just killing the enemies in those missions.
The Division doesn’t inform the players which side missions the other clients are missing, outside of the host. Similarly, missions will remain but are only worth playing through once to get the maximum rewards. Replaying the mission on a harder difficulty offers new items, but has limited appeal, at least until the post-game, when this cap is removed.
The Division has a different matchmaking queue for each area in the game, each mission, and the Dark Zone, but I found almost all choices to take a very long time, or are dead. In addition, when you do match, you aren’t told who you are matching up with, so if there’s someone in the queues that you don’t wish to match up with, The Division still seems to put you together.
Even when you match up, a number of players don’t communicate much. It’s not always clear how to chat. A couple of players I saw use Mics, and The Division supports it, but it seems to have the incoming voice communication at a such a low volume that it is impossible to hear them. Whether this is a response to expected poor communication (shouting kids, insults, and general disruptive communication) or unintended, I’m not sure, but it means that if your friends don’t have a headset they might not even notice you’re talking to them.
Most missions are big set pieces and work well, but there are a variety of goals for each mission. In fact, this is the biggest change from other multiplayer shooters like Destiny 2, there’s an excellent sense of pacing. Most missions revolve around shooter gameplay, and often just finding the right object to interact with, but the experience does work well to feel fresh even if it is still overly simplified for online play. Quite a few missions have a number of moments where one player will be limited to just pistol controls while carrying an object, those objects can be dropped if necessary, but it’s a simple change in gameplay that players will love.
Almost every level ends with a grand arena, for a final battle, like this one.
The locations of the missions are well designed as well, as mentioned, I played through a large department store, and Madison Square Garden. Whether it’s looking for crane controls or trying to turn Times Square’s power back on, each mission feels unique and interesting, and that’s where The Division really shines.
While I do think the mission gameplay is better than Destiny 2, there’s one part of The Division that is quite a bit worse than Destiny 2, the open world aspects. The Division limits players to only seeing their party in the open world. Spending 20 hours and not seeing a single other player is disheartening. You get an instanced world and your own enemies. You might see roving enemies, but for the most part, your world is unchanging.
This is in stark contrast with Destiny 2, which had instanced story missions that could be played alone, but a very populated overworld in which the player constantly sees other players. Public Events as well in Destiny 2 are big events, and people still farm them. The Division doesn’t contain anything similar to that from what I’ve seen and it makes the world feel a little less populated.
If you do want to see other players, you can challenge the much-touted Dead Zone, but this is where The Division takes the biggest leap. The Dead Zone is the true multiplayer experience for The Division. Players are able to free roam, and even greet other players. At least that’s what was promised. I spent a couple of hours there and never saw another player outside of my party. It’s possible they are at far higher difficulties than me, as gear drops fast and frequently in the Dead Zone, and extraction is relatively easy, but my experience with it was mostly silent from other players.
There is also a clever mechanism for the Dead Zone though. Gear can drop and players will usually see what gear they have grabbed, but until they “Extract” it, the gear is contaminated. Leaving the area loses the gear, and players have to go through a process to properly extract it. It’s a clever mechanic that gives other players a chance to steal the gear, but as mentioned I didn’t have any opportunity to fight other players for the gear.
Helicopters have never looked as good as they do in the Dead Zone. Safety.
The process of extraction requires the player to call in a helicopter and airlift the weapons away, however, the bigger experience is players can betray others, called “going rogue”. “Rogue Agents” roam the Dark Zone and are allowed to attack any player they want, and can steal items from their previous allies, creating a way to introduce Player Versus Player gameplay while still making the focus Player Versus Enemies.
While I didn’t spend much time in the Dark Zone as I was playing mostly solo, it is one of the more interesting innovations that The Division brings up, but it’s also a trust-based experience. If you’re playing with solid friends, this is an impressive end game of The Division, farming loot in the Dark Zone to continue farming more loot in the Dark Zone. I am not sure if I trusted a random group for the Dark Zone, however, I did enter it with someone who ran through three missions with me, so trust can be built, but it takes time.
The Dark Zone also has its own level system, and focused more based on “time spent playing in the zone.” and the levels created there allow players to chase different caches of weapons, different vendors with better weapons and more.
The Dark Zone though is only one piece of the endgame content. There are also harder versions of missions, a Raid style mission with larger amounts of hard enemies, new missions, daily content, weekly content and more to do after the end of the story. Where the first 30 levels are about just experience, the post game starts to focus on the equipment, and The Division begins to focus exclusively on grinding equipment, so you can tackle more content that’s higher level, so you can get better gear, to focus on higher level content and so on. The base game itself has a beefy story as well and contains 19 missions.
I only just reached the end game content though. After about twenty-four hours of game time, which is quite a lot, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with The Division. It wasn’t The Division’s fault in particular but an inability to tackle some content by myself, the lower player counts in my level range, and lack of side content to do made me give it up.
You hit 30 and now there’s tons to do, but it’s all a bit similar, and no new story.
I pushed on and reached level 30, finishing the entire story mode and started the endgame or post-game content but quickly leveled up. Where I struggled for the last four levels of The Division, it seemed the end game content welcomed me as I rushed through much of the early end game. There are a plethora of ways to get new items, gear, and experience. But the end game content is a bit mixed in my opinion. The goal becomes one of the biggest treadmills in gaming. Get gear so you can go get slightly better gear.
But this was after almost thirty hours of gameplay and in that way, The Division satisfied my desire for gameplay and content. Loot grinding will always be a part of multiplayer shooters, but much of the fundamentals of The Division are very solid and that’s what made me enjoy The Division. Cover based combat is fun and works, and while The Division isn’t easy to play by yourself, it’s still enjoyable as an experience.
There were a few other issues with The Division, however. I find that booting The Division takes an exceedingly long time. While I could play for two-three hours with no problems, getting into the game initially often takes five minutes, as you can see in the First look. The game also claimed my hardware didn’t meet minimum specs one time but since that point, I’ve never seen the same message. About half the times I log into The Division I get a Mike or Delta code that are unclear and retrying the connection a second time makes it work better. I understand why those codes exist, but it would still be a better experience to try to troubleshoot locally if possible.
In addition, The Division seems to take an extreme amount of CPU power and thrashed my hardware. While I clearly don’t have the newest hardware it usually ran poorly, but from what I’ve seen my hardware still should have been able to run it reasonably well, my hardware is above a console, yet The Division treats the PC like it’s just free resource that it can cannibalize for its own technology.
A lot of Gun porn as well, customize all your weapons.
I also got some one-off problems with The Division. Seeing the textures slowly pop in during one three hour session is strange, considering it never happened again with the game. Struggling with the connection at the beginning of the game is equally bizarre as many players claim no issue with booting up the game, and the game runs fine from that point on.
Overall, I do like Tom Clancy’s The Division, the combat is fun and interesting. The Multiplayer still has a few interesting ideas in addition to the great gameplay. The story works for what it’s trying to do, and while the graphics had to be reduced so my computer would play The Division reasonably well, the graphics look amazing.
But there are enough minor issues with The Division that I struggle to give this game a great score. Poor matchmaking tied to content that really can’t be soloed is a problem. While the End game is heavily gear focused, it comes after a long and great experience, but it still takes some time getting used to.
Any problem with player count will only become a bigger issue with the sequel coming out next month, but it is still enjoyable when you can find a party.
I give Tom Clancy’s The Division a
Get a group of friends, tackle the content and enjoy the experience for what it is.
Final Thoughts: A great cover-based multiplayer shooter. Enjoyable especially with a solid party, but overall is what you expect from the genre. Definitely not for single player fans, but perfect for everyone else.
Stats 32 hours played 26/66 achievements.