Ubisoft’s The Division arrived on store shelves this week without any reviews from major outlets. Sure, there were first impressions and experiences based on the game’s beta to read, but by in large, the final game, the game that thousands now have installed on their Xbox One, PS4 or Windows PC launched not judged by critics.
Often times, that’s a sign of something bad going on. Some people won’t touch a game if it hasn’t been reviewed by someone ahead of its release. They say it’s a sign that publishers aren’t confident about the game they’re selling. Ubisoft has been accused of this before; 2014’s launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity was nothing short of a train wreck. The Division, some said, was destined for the same level of disaster and ridicule.
10 hours into the game, I’m not ready to publish a The Division review yet. There’s too many moving parts in this game this early on to put out such a piece just yet. What I am prepared to do is chronicle where I think the game excels and fails based on my experience with the game so far.
The world of The Division is both realistic and fantastical. We don’t know how the world at large is doing, but New York City was devastated by an outbreak of Smallpox. The game’s characters often refer to it as “The Dollar Bug.”
You’ll recognize the city for what it is, the jewel of America. The recreation comes complete with skyscrapers, billboards, cabs and bridges. Massive Entertainment, the game’s developer does a terrific job of recreating the streets and landmarks of Manhattan and Brooklyn. At the same time, this New York City isn’t anything like our version. It’s mostly empty. Gunshots in the distance have replaced the honking of horns that fills the streets of our Big Apple.
Also, there are the bodies. They fill the streets and they’re only surpassed by the amount of garbage that sits along the road collecting snow. Everywhere you turn the game is telling the story of what happened without words. Roaming the streets I watched on as two people seemingly argued over a rat. I looked into abandoned apartment buildings where everything had been trashed. Survivors stuck in their homes look out to the street from their windows.. They retreat behind curtains when shots ring out, like hiding is the only card they have left to play. The survivors know that they could be dead at any moment.
The most powerful moment in the game for me wasn’t in the game at all. It happened as I browsed a Reddit. Two sets of shoes – a man’s and a woman’s laid abandoned near one of the city’s rivers. Floating in front of each pair was their body. They’d decided to end their suffering together.
It doesn’t take much for a role-playing game to become unwieldly. Marry it with third-person shooter mechanics and you’ve got the potential for a huge mess. Not with The Division.
The controls are tight. With cover so important, it’s given the priority action button on your controller. Leaping is on the secondary action button. The two act in tandem, making it easy to manipulate your character to get better positioning. With a flick of the joystick, players can go around a corner but remain in cover. Aiming and pressing A on the Xbox One controller seamlessly takes you to another position, possibly with better cover. You never feel like your character isn’t in your control.
Placing the Skills that you earn on bumpers is well-played too. If I have one complaint about the game’s controls, it’s that opening the grenade wheel can be a bit confusing.
A story this big is going to have some things that don’t work out. Unfortunately, in The Division it’s your partner back at headquarters.
The story related missions I’ve played so far all feature her back at Grand Central Station, guiding you through to your objective and adding context to what you’re seeing. Often, this context is helpful. She’ll point out something you maybe never thought about before. A few times, she’s used as a pretty clunky plot building conduit. During the mission in Madison Square Garden her story about her family coming to Madison Square Garden is terribly written. As if you didn’t already know you were meant to feel something she says, “This is what we’re fighting for agent.” Her dialogue isn’t as subtle a story-telling mechanic as it should be.
The weapons of The Division seem like they’d be perfectly at home in today’s world. There are the handguns and assault rifles that you’d expect. They all feel different, with recoil and damage infliction being the biggest differences. You can customize them with the parts that you find around Manhattan Island too, keeping down recoil and changing the battle mechanics in ways that make sense. There’s so much variety, with so many stats to keep track of. Finding and building out the best weapons is my second favorite activity in the game.
The Skills that you unlock during the game are straight out of the future. Healing, Pulses, self-guiding grenades and blast shields lend the combat more variety and excitement.
Triumph: Co-Operative Play & Multiplayer
This is the crucial part for me with The Division. I don’t mind playing online games. In fact, I like playing games with friends. What keeps me from doing it more often is the utter failure of most games to make playing online easy. There’s always some separate menu maze to venture through, or some ridiculous waiting time and map voting.
For four days in a row now I’ve found a friend in The Division to hang with and run the missions with. I’ve plotted out strategy, and listened to tips based on their experiences. Most games have multiplayer, but The Division integrates it so well. Four button presses maybe and you’re with your friends. Matchmaking options are laid out in mission locations, not some menu that you need to stare at and hope that someone takes pity on you and decides to join up. You see your friends roaming Manhattan in your map too.
If there’s no one to play with you go ahead and go about the mission on your own. There’s no time wasted. Better, everyone gets some cool items that are specific to them in co-op games. I can’t speak highly enough of co-op in The Division.
Fail: Character Customization
The guns, clothes and random items that you pick up in The Division definitely offer a lot of opportunities to make your character your own. None of them makes up for a very odd shortcoming where The Division is concerned. I’ve played a few role-playing games before. All offered a lot of customization where your player was concern. We’re talking hair, facial structure and scars.
The Division utterly fails at this, with only 16 different faces for everyone. Everyone feels like a clone or a variant of each other. It’s a huge miss for the game. Right now, you can’t go back and change the appearance of your character either.
Undecided: The Dark Zone
I haven’t formed an opinion on the Dark Zone yet. That’s not because it’s not available; it’s always there and ready for you to venture into effortlessly. The Dark Zone is scary though. As a no man’s land I haven’t felt compelled to venture in there yet and get murdered for the gear I worked hard to collect and extract. I did venture there in the beta, but not in the final game.
The Division, from what I’ve experienced of it so far is rather enjoyable. It’s easily worth the $60 it costs without a season pass. Even for action game lovers, I think this game is a real must-buy.