Tom Clancy’s The Division – PC, Xbone, PS4
A final, first impression of the game and review.
In a post-apocalyptic scenario, the world has been ravaged by a weaponised smallpox pandemic and with it, society has all but crumbled – leaving the fate of mankind hanging in the balance.
The job of restoring civilisation and breathing life back into the dying embers of humanity fall to the secretive sleeper agents, know only as The Division, now activated to take control.
That’s where you step in, taking control as a Division agent, in New York City, during a freezing winter – in what equates to as a third-person shooter that blends action with persistent RPG elements. The recent comparisons between Ubisoft Massive’s offering and Bungie’s Destiny have been largely inaccurate and are the result of Ad agencies gone wild, wishing to tie this Tom Clancy debut game to Bungie’s latest franchise to capitalise on the success of the latter. Spin-doctoring has seemingly gone into overdrive, the result of the haste from video-game publications who were desperate to categorise the game in a way which connects with gamers as well as the deliberate intentions to increase publicity.
The link drawn by the above parties is for the large part exaggerated and as such now means that we have to discuss the elephant in the room. While the success of Destiny is unquestionable, the merit of it’s success is not necessarily so. Destiny was released during a lull in the new generation console games line-up at the end of 2014. For those who have not played this or seen it played (where have you been?) it is a first person shooter, loot-focussed action adventure RPG where players can go on raids together, taking on increasingly difficult AI enemies as a team or settling scores amounts themselves in death-match (player vs player) matches.
However for all of its modes of play, the complex XP levelling-up system and endless quest for loot, the game is surprisingly simplistic. So why the link? Well, The Division is a third-person RPG shooter, that can have it’s story campaign approached either solo or co-op as a squad, and there is an area of the map called the Dark Zone, accessible whenever the urge takes you to team-up or go solo to acquire more advanced weapons and loot. This area is perhaps the games most defining and intriguing area which I’ll come back to.
So on paper these titles seem similar, however having played both I would have to say that the subtle differences are enough to warrant dissolving the theoretical link. The Division’s solo experience is certainly more rewarding than Bungie’s attempt to deliver a satisfying or meaningful campaign. The Division’s dilute sense of realism over Destiny’s complete fantasy setting, produces a very different feeling to play. The apocalyptic vibe lends itself to being more engaging on an emotional level. As you see the transgression of your base transform into a fully functional area, you gain a sense of purpose and progress the likes of which Destiny can only wish for.
The Division may have had an easier time trying to step out of Destiny’s light if Ubisoft had managed to secure a release closer to when it was announced three years ago. Certainly, it has seen significant changes made to it since it’s media coverage at E3 2013. Apart from a slight disappointing graphical downgrade in terms of visuals to what was shown back then, the companion app which saw an additional teammate playing via a tablet, taking control of air support in the form of a drone was also scrapped. A lot can happen in three years, but for the purpose of this final first impression I am going to stick with only what is present in the game and ignore previous expectations.
The Division’s campaign is enjoyable to play, either solo or co-op, strangely in equal measure and it gets better the more you play; unlocking more skills, improving your base of operations and of course collecting better weapons and loot. Where it manages to carve out a sense of identity and to define itself is in aforementioned Dark Zone – a PVP area, where you can team-up with allies, take down more powerful AI enemies and crucially other players. In the true spirit of an ‘end of the world’ scenario the Dark Zone taps at the nerve of the ‘survivalist’ mentality, will you stay loyal to your comrades in the face of self-preservation, will they stay loyal to you? This really does heighten the tension of going into the Dark Zone, even other players who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with you on previous skirmishes may cave when they eye that bit of loot that dangles from your backpack like a bottle of bubbly at an AA meeting.
The graphics are excellent despite a downgrade from the superior graphical fidelity demoed three years ago. The continued weather cycle combined with a rapid day to night transgression and all of the accompanied lighting of the Snowdrop engine which is used is immersive and makes the whole experience of a deserted NYC all the more haunting.
Weapons are satisfying to use especially once you work out your preference. You can equip two main weapons and a sidearm, but thankfully you can carry additional arms to swap into these three slots at any time. Likewise, the ability to swap and change your skills and perks and appearance on-the-fly is refreshing and a welcomed addition and one which future RPG’s may wish to consider, preventing you from enduring a mistake with the way you have assigned stats to shape the character you have created, allowing you to adapt and adjust for different encounters.
The future DLC announced for the course of the year is reassuring, both free and paid for and helps to demonstrate Ubisoft’s commitment to the title post launch which is a vital life-link for a game of this ilk as retaining players on the servers will increase the game’s lifespan.
So to recap, I have awarded The Division 8.5/10, while more emotionally engaging – just to be clear, this is no Last of Us as far a story is concerned. However the ‘quest for loot’ genre of MMORG is historically shallow and this outing provides more depth by invoking some strong bouts of adrenaline during gunfights and layers of complexity thanks to the double-crossing awash in the Dark Zone. It’s pretty much a certainty that there will be sequels to this entirely new debut for Mr Clancy’s gaming empire. when that happens, I hope we will bear witness to a sequel that goes far further. Personally, I would love to see a strong feature made of survival, think bartering for goods with other players (not just weapons as featured this time around), establishing outposts and barricading these for security along with ingenious scavenging and more interesting crafting of items. Until then, the forthcoming release of DLC should stoke the fires of Armageddon a while longer.