I approached the parking garage where I saw two hostile’s patrolling about. I pressed A and clicked to cover behind a small red car. The left tire had been shot out so that car was at a bit of an angle making it a bit easier to look over at them. My two targets turned into three and by the time I was done scouting my surroundings I was up to four regular hostile’s and one elite, who I knew was going to take a bit more to be put down.
I held left on the D-Pad and selected my fire grenade with the right analog stick. Another left press on the D-pad and I selected that grenade for use. It flew through the air and exploded right between the three of them. With a held press of the RB button I prepped my flame turret and long tossed it behind them, as I saw two more running my way. I selected my marksman rifle, a custom M44 that has a talent that increases my stability by 40%, and fired off two consecutive shots at the two men, who currently had been set on fire thanks to my trusty little scorching friend, and each shot was an instant kill headshot. Their bodies dropped as I swapped to my Caduceus, a high-end assault rifle I had drop for me on an endgame mission and fired off a few quick bursts at the others who were still reeling from the flame grenade. Two more of them dropped as I peppered them with exploding rounds, which I grabbed from my ammo cache back at my Base of Operations. All that was left now was the elite, the towering man with an assault rifle, his intimidating yellow health bar floating above him that was stacked with six armour bars, I would have to be smart about taking him down.
I ran from cover, selecting the next car over by holding the A button, ducking my head as he fired off shots. A few of those shots hit hard as I slid into cover, a third of my health gone. I pressed LB and popped my first aid skill and was back at full health, in fact I had overhealed myself. Tapping LB and RB I activated my skill power: Tactical Link, which increases damage and critical hit chance for a few brief seconds. I got in a few good head shots and he was down two armour bars as he came around the side of my cover, I had to move. Darting from cover to cover as I pressed B to mantle over the car in front of me, I made my stand behind a striped concrete block. My turret cool-down had expired and I tossed it next to him on top of a nearby car. It sent a blast of fire his way, taking down another armour bar as I fired off a few shots.
It was at this point I was glad I upgraded my Base of Operations to max, as it gave me access to a lot of powerful skills and bonuses. At full health, my assault rifle, the Caduceus, has a wonderful talent that increases my critical hit chance by 12.5%, and since I just used my turret skill, it has a second talent that increases weapon damage by 12.5% for 10 seconds. I pressed right on the D-pad and then another right with my right analog stick and selected my explosive rounds once again, with each shot popping off tiny explosions, knocking him back. After a few more shots, he fell and a purple light lit up from the ground by his body. I walked up and inspected the item, it was better chest armour than what I was currently wearing, giving me 10% more protection from elites, and 9% health back on each kill. Sweet. I decide to fast travel back to my Base of Operations to restock, break down items for crafting components and see what the shops have in stock, as the daily reset had occurred since my last visit, and since I upgraded my Security wing I have access to that little shop that sells clothing items, of which I am a complete sucker for collecting.
You’re set down in Manhattan as an operative of Directive 51, a task force called: The Division. This order, signed off by the President, consists of a large number of sleeper agents that are activated when a viral attack on the Big Apple’s population occurs on Black Friday. The opening cutscene paints a picture of horror as a viral attack, spread through currency on the busiest shopping day of the year, sees a city wide epidemic. As a member of The Division, you will go back into Manhattan and attempt to take the city back from the various factions and gangs that have ascended to power and help the few people there that still look to call the city home.
But first things first, making your character. The Division offers painfully few options here as you get a few plain looking faces and then a few mediocre hair styles within. There is no open customization on any facial features what-so-ever. You can apply scars, tattoos and piercings; however, but that’s about it. It’s frustrating that a game with deep gear customization offers so little in the way of making your character’s uniqueness stand out. I’ve run into more than a dozen players that have the exact same face and hair as my character, even one of them had the same tattoo, which we both celebrated by doing jumping jacks via the emotes menu. There is a tremendous amount of clothing items that fit over your stat based gear. These range from jackets, pants, hats and a decorative scarf.
Taking that plain looking character out into the world is met with a fury of repetition, as you will tackle the same style of mission and side activity numerous times. Each district within the map has a few side missions, collectibles and encounters to complete and the next district you go to after will feature an almost carbon copy of those events. Some of these areas will contain a story mission that at first has you recruit department heads to your Base of Operations, but then funnels into telling a mostly ok story until you finally take out the bad guy and work your way into endgame territory. It’s a shame that there isn’t much variety to the game outside of the story missions and encounters as depending on how often you play, you have the chance of burning out on the repetition. I am used to this type of mechanic with Destiny, having to do the same content over and over again, so it’s not such a burden to me as it may be with most players new to this type of game.
The combat on display here is your typical 3rd person cover based system, most well known from Gears of War. You’ll press a button to click to cover, and the same button to un-click, sometimes a flick of the left analog stick will unseat you as well. You can mantle over most cover, but I found areas in the game where I could not jump down from a one foot drop, making me have to find another way down. I’ve also found that the cover system can be a bit too unresponsive and have a stickiness to it, causing your character not leaving it when you want to. I am sure you can imagine how great each of these issues are during an intense fire-fight. When the cover system is working well, the game is incredibly fun, darting from cover to cover is a breeze and the game goes out of its way of designing areas that have a vast amount of cover options to choose from. I’ve had some thrilling encounters that kept me on the edge of my seat. Enemies mostly go down the same, but some have bags or tanks that if punctured, can cause some hilarious explosions that see them go out in a blaze of glory.
I’ve already briefly talked about the Base of Operations and what it can offer you, but it’s a player space that you will spend a great deal of time in. It’s exclusive to you as other players, not even your friends, can enter. You can visit with other players in Safe Houses around the map as each district has one, which also can be used to buy and sell gear, get new missions and can be used as a fast travel spot. You’ll build up your Base of Operations by completing specific tasks that have you earn points for one of three main components to your base: Medical, Tech and Security. Each of these compartment wings offer different bonuses and skills as you upgrade them.
Medical handles your healing and threat pulse detector, Tech is your gadgets like turrets and sticky bombs, and Security is all about options for cover. You have three alternative versions of each of these skills like switching from a bullet based turret to one that shoots flames, as I have already mentioned. There is vast amounts of variety here and you’re easily able to find something that suits your play style.
You have access to 24 talents that, once you are fully upgraded, you can equip four of them for use at once. These talents range from getting your bullet back on a headshot, extending active skills or overhealing your character. These are passive abilities that once equipped, work on their own. Over 30+ perks round out the remainder of your characters bonuses and these effectively allow you to hold more or do more. All of these are activated once you unlock them and allow you to carry more medkits, store more in your stash, extract more items in the Dark Zone, or open up new vendors in your Base. You can also unlock caches around your Base that give you items to use like explosive rounds or more medkits.
Weapons and gear share similar traits as both are based upon a colour system. White>Green>Blue>Purple and finally Yellow being the overall best. Weapons range from pistols, shotguns, machine guns and rifles, where your gear is typical things like armour, gloves and backpacks. You can equip two primary guns and one side arm. Each item can be modded to boost the stats of a variety of different traits. You can increase your characters power in three main areas: firearms, health and electronics, which affect your gun damage, how much damage you can take, and how effective your skills are. If you don’t like some of the stats that some of your gear items have, you can re-roll one of those stats at a cost. Weapons allow you to add modular items to them like grips, scopes and muzzles. You can also add skins to most of them to give them a unique look.
If you don’t find a weapon or gear item drop that you are happy with, you can craft items using parts that other weapons and gear items break down into. You can break these items down at any point and harvest their components. Much like weapons and gear items, these crafting components come in colours: Green>Blue>Yellow. High-End weapons and gear will require yellow and so on. You will need the schematic of the item you want to craft, and keep in mind that Dark Zone items have their own type of crafting material, and I’ll talk about the Dark Zone shortly.
Visually the game has a dark history that has poisoned the finished product for some people. Seeing this game in action during the 2013 E3 reveal and what we have here now is almost night and day. What was shown back then was a game with ahead of its time visuals that had an air of subtly that just isn’t here. In the original debut, a character walked up to a container, opened it up and grabbed his new rifle, commenting about it as he held it up and examined it. What we get instead is a flash of colour on the ground and you press X to pick it up and it goes into your inventory as simple as picking up a medkit.
The game still looks impressive despite it being a far cry from what was originally shown. You can still shoot out tires and lower the cars for a cleaner shot at their head, windows and side mirrors can be shot out, and you can actually shoot out shapes in the windows. If you hop up on a car’s hood that is covered in snow, you’ll leave foot prints. Environments look great, as do the people you come into contact with. Streets and buildings are filled with a staggering amount of detail, and have an almost hand crafted approach to them. I’ve been impressed with what the game offers as you’ll rarely come into contact with a load screen unless you fast travel or take an elevator.
I’ve liked the voice acting of a few characters and found that the environmental NPC’s that walk around to be fairly ok. There is the odd time the game has music, of which I kind of wish you had a radio in the game or something to break the silence that fills the New York air as you’re walking down the street. Weapons have great sounds, and the result of an accurate headshot ends in a satisfying crunch. You’ll hear hostile’s yell to their teammates for help when you are flanking them, and they will recognize your characters gender as well. The sound design here is good, does its job, but isn’t outstanding by any means.
The main story is ok, it’s nothing great nor is it memorable, but it does what it needs to do to put context to why you are there and what has gone on. Being a game that has no intention of ending when you complete it, don’t look for much resolution yet as Ubisoft has a solid year of new content on the horizon with much more further down the road. I did enjoy a few of the characters, but found that Doctor Kendall, who you save near the start of the game, was the only real interesting one, and the only one I bothered to remember their name. I also found that the voiced recordings and echo’s you would find around the map to outpace the main story in terms of emotional connection as some of the stories you listen to here are just downright sad. Hearing about people who came to visit loved ones in the city only to be infected, children being attacked in their homes while screaming for help, or a touching story about how a man watched as his girlfriend succumb to the virus. These small moments were emotional packed and wonderfully acted.
There are over a dozen main story missions that have you infiltrate a Police Station, a Mall, the United Nations, The Russian Consulate and especially the Napalm Production site, a personal favourite of mine. These missions are action packed, but I do have to note that the ones that take place simply in the street or on rooftops to be typical and boring as they tread on too similar ground as your regular non-mission encounters. The missions that take place in elaborate indoor locations are easily the best content in the game and since you’ll need to do these missions again and again, they tend to have the better replay-ability. Most missions can take anywhere from 30 minutes to well over an hour to complete depending on the difficulty.
The Division is a loot based game that requires an incredible amount of grinding and replaying levels, and the endgame is based solely around that. You can tackle three daily missions that grant you phoenix credits, currency that is used to buy high-end gear. These missions are the same ones that you have already done, just at harder difficulties. Hard mode gives almost everyone purple health bars, and challenging mode upgrades them to the more intimidating yellow ones. I am sure that further down the road when more content is released that endgame activities will have more variety, because right now there isn’t a whole lot to do when you clear the map like I have.
The Dark Zone is a six sectioned area in the middle of Manhattan that is walled off due to it being uncontrollable by the government. You can enter this area and share it with other players, but be warned that they can kill you and take items and resources you find during your time in there. It’s best to go in as a group, so you are not outnumbered. You’ll find items and gear that must be extracted at key areas on the map. When you signal for extraction, enemies and other players will take note of this and while the enemies will try to stop you, the other players can either join in the fight or take you and the enemies on. If a player kills another player, they go into rogue status which has a timer and comes with some harsh penalties for doing so. It’s not really worth it to go rogue as of yet, as I found in my case that of the dozen or so trips I’ve made into this area that I came into contact with maybe three or four rogue agents. The Dark Zone is a fun area to explore with friends as you can gain phoenix credits from killing named bosses and get some incredible loot to extract and bring with you.
If The Division has one glaring flaw, it is that there isn’t a drastic sense of progression to your character as battles are similar in the early stages of the game as they are later on. Since this is a more realistic game and not some sci-fi adventure like Destiny, the progression of your character is more of a numbers game as the higher level you are allows you to do more damage and take more hits. Sure, you’ll get access to new skills and what have you, but there isn’t a moment in the game where you feel that much more powerful than a few levels ago. Gear and weapons will for sure allow you feel like more of a badass, but your natural level progression is more of a numbers game like Diablo 3, inching up a percent or two each level. Because of this you can feel even more of the grind the further in you get in, so be warned.
This game can be incredibly fun solo but it is at its best when you play in a full group of friends regardless of it being in the missions or the Dark Zone. Battles are tense, your skills are fun to use, and getting a headshot ends in that satisfying crunch. The game is currently littered with bugs that get you stuck in the environment, dropped lines of dialogue during missions, chain link fence sounds when you take cover on anything, and the occasional dropped game. Despite those glitches, I’ve had a great time with The Division. Each day I load it up, I do my dailies and hope for a high-end drop, and if not, then I take my chances with a few friends and enter the Dark Zone, unaware of what, and who, we will find. Now, if you’ll excuse me, that named boss just dropped a high-end yellow and I need to get to an extraction zone. Take care agents.