When I first stepped into the empty streets of Manhattan, gun in hand, I didn’t quite know what to expect but was cautiously optimistic at the adventure that awaited me. In a way, that echoed my real life sentiments for The Division when I received it the other day; unsure of the game I was getting, and just how much I would enjoy it. Thankfully, any fears I might have had were washed away, and I can now make my way through Manhattan with a new-found itch to continue exploring.
The story of The Division isn’t anything too great, but it’s enough to keep you intrigued. Someone (or a group of someones) has decided to make Black Friday even more unbearable by transmitting a virus through bank notes on the nation’s busiest shopping day. The “Dollar Flu” quickly spreads and it isn’t long before New York is completely shut down. The government has pretty much collapsed, there are no emergency services, and everyone is fighting for whatever they can. In the midst of the chaos, factions have broken out in the city, and they all have their own wishes for how this pandemic shakes out.
That’s where you come in. You’re an agent of a group known as “The Division,” a team of sleeper agents that have been tasked with saving New York City. You’re essentially the city’s last hope, so it’s on you to fix everything. No pressure.
After the short introduction to the drama, you’re dropped into the city, and that’s when the real fun begins. After giving your player a haircut and some glasses, you get your first taste of what the city has become. Thankfully, Ubisoft has managed to create a world that not only looks real but feels real as well.
There is an air of unpredictability as you move through the streets, and it only adds to the heightened tension that you feel as you move about. Around one corner, you might find a stray dog searching for food while turning another will toss you into the middle of a firefight between a group of survivors. Nearly everyone in the game is voiced fairly well, and it’s clear that the team stuck to an incredibly high level of detail in that regard.
Shortly after doing a small walking tour of Brooklyn, you’re treated to your first real taste at combat in The Division. As far as gameplay goes, it might seem generic when you first dive in but is anything but once you sink your teeth in.
The game manages to tweak the boring “tactical shooter” genre by mixing in RPG elements to the weapons you use. Each weapon has its own damage rating, and the damage you deal is calculated behind the scenes and then shown to you as each bullet hits an enemy. For those thinking they’ll be entering areas and mowing down enemies with no care, you’re in for a big surprise. However, the RPG elements work wonderfully, and once you start finding more weapons and investigating the many systems the guns have, you’ll be forgetting any concerns you might have had and instead be focusing on how to improve your guns for the next encounter.
Gunfights are also often weighted against you (something that is done purposely, no doubt), which makes you think very carefully about how you charge into certain situations and only adds to the realism found within.
Once you make it to Manhattan, the game begins to show its true colors. You’ll be introduced to your base of operations, and that’s where the MMO design of the game comes in. You’ll find that your character has a variety of skills, all split into three categories: Security, Medical, and Technical (essentially, strength, healing, and intelligence). To begin playing with different builds, you’ll have to unlock and improve various wings in your base.
As you progress from there, you’ll begin to find what many have come for: the loot. Thankfully, The Division doesn’t fail in this department, as the game is littered with different currencies, guns, armor, and clothing that you’ll be searching forever before you find the perfect gear for your character.
Where The Division sets itself above other console “MMO” games, though, is just how much like an MMO it feels. While you aren’t playing with other players all the time, there’s still a ton of MMO-esque qualities in there: crafting nodes, missions that are essentially dungeons, and the aforementioned home base that can be expanded and upgraded all come together for a more authentic MMO experience than any I’ve experienced on consoles.
As stated above, most of your encounters in The Division won’t come against real people. For many players, that won’t fly after they’ve already finished upgrading their players to their liking. However, there is one place that thrives on the firefights between real people, and it is the place that most players will eventually be spending most of their time.
For those who want the best loot, and the thrill of the hunt, they’ll have to enter the Dark Zone. In The Division‘s take on PVP combat, players can expect to find an even more unforgiving world than the one they were playing in previously. While there are NPCs that frequent the areas, this is the only place where you can find some of the games best loot and blueprints, and therefore it’s the only place where other Division agents can gun you down for them, should they choose.
While many might want to shoot you instantly, the game will tag anyone who shoots first as a “rogue” and will instantly notify everyone in the DZ of their whereabouts. It’s a neat inclusion that might give players pause before they get too trigger happy and makes you make an even tougher decision when you come upon an enemy.
As is the case with most MMO’s, it’s PVP areas will either make or break its future. Thankfully, the Dark Zone doesn’t disappoint in its gameplay nor its rewards. Some of the games best loot will be found here, and while it may be annoying getting out of the Dark Zone with it (you must call in a helicopter to lift it out, which just causes more chaos), the firefight that often ensues for loot only makes the reward of getting it that more enjoyable.
The Dark Zone is where The Division‘s cover-based shooting really comes into its own, and where the need for teammates is multiplied tenfold. There is a very thin line between success and failure in the Dark Zone, and having a handful of friends to watch your back can mean everything.
While The Division may not be perfect, it’s certainly the best open-world game Ubisoft has ever created. There is an almost perfect blend between RPG elements and tactical shooting that make the gameplay that much more fun, and despite the fact that the game is vastly more enjoyable with friends, it says a lot that you can still venture out on your own and have a very solid time exploring the desolate city.
A lot has been made between this game and Bungie’s Destiny, but the similarity that matters most is that, like Destiny, The Division has me itching to get back to it at almost all times. Unlike Destiny, however, I might just keep going back. Assuming the servers will have me, of course.
This review of Tom Clancy’s The Division is based on a digital copy for the PS4 which was provided by Ubisoft.