The twilight begins to slowly set in. You can faintly see the glow of lights emitting from the brick city skyline as the snow begins to fall. The streets are quiet as you make your first steps away from your home base, while inside they frantically try to conjure a cure for the widespread pandemic that’s engulfed the city. There’s a sense of pride as you embark on another night attempting to rebuild the city back to a prosperous existence, showing everyone what it means to be a part of The Division. This whole game maintained this epic, yet somber undertone through its entirety for me. It’s an unusual and engaging experience all in one.
Being a New York native, there’s a gloomy since of nostalgia in seeing a plague torn city that you have been to many times before. The Division’s unique take on a modern wasteland in a non-fiction setting hits like a grand slam. Fighting your way through such renowned landmarks like Madison Square Garden, the Lincoln Tunnel, Times Square, ect., it’s exhilarating and grabs the player more because now we’re playing on their turf. This isn’t a mystical land, or outer space, we’re in a realistically detailed and designed New York City, which for certain players isn’t even a stones throw away.
Developed by Ubisoft’s studio Massive, The Division at its core is an open world action RPG. Accompanied with its online components, it also carries many MMO qualities bringing it to the genre bending RPG/MMO. It tell the story of a violently strong virus that breaks out on Black Friday in New York City. Terror and crime have now invaded the streets. In the wake of this tragedy, multiple factions have been formed with their own agendas to gain control and power. You play as an agent serving the most just and true of the factions, The Division.
The game begins with one of the most refreshing, non-overwhelming character creation setups I’ve seen in a long time. This is in no way saying it wasn’t expansive. There was still waves of options to be toyed with, it’s just The Division finds a way to get your personalized character on its feet and ready for action a lot better than most games. Your path is set by a newly found comrade, Faye Lau, after your agent becomes activated. Obviously the main goal is to develop a cure for the virus, but in doing so there is a massive laundry list to be checked off.
You are introduced to your base of operations. It’s pretty much your run of the mill MMO hub world. Inside there are weapon, gear, and mod vendors to make sure your agent is always equipped properly for the job. The Division also boasts a crafting station that is quite accessible and easy to grasp. Additionally, your base is the portal to collect side missions and encounters (events). There are also several wings to the base that need to be established and upgraded. Each time you do, your base can further itself and The Division in its plan to bring the city back healthy and strong. There is medical wing for researching a cure and helping the sick. A security wing for keeping an eye on enemy factions and crime throughout the city. Finally. a tech wing, which its purpose is to help with whatever electronics can be salvaged and repurposed for The Division.
Every time you upgrade a wing, your agent gains new skills and perks. The way to unlock these wings are by earning credits for completing specific missions. This adds an excellent layer to the gameplay and gives side missions and enemy encounters more substance and relevance. Personally I gained extremely valuable skills that helped me through the campaign that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t upgrading my base of operations.
The story carries a varied, well-rounded, seamless flow. Partly helped with the lack of any loading screens, this was a nice surprise. The Division diversified the usual run and gun, move to checkpoints, style mission structure. It incorporates specific elements like timed objectives, VIP marked enemies, holding points, delivering supplies, ect., into the mix. I actually cared about the story missions more than I usually do in open world action games, probably because it retained its story in a coherent manner throughout. The Division’s story is so compelling I never found myself seeking out friends to help me along, I wanted level up and enjoy the story at my own pace and not miss a second. I quickly became aware my interest in this game was much more than a simple hunt for loot. Loot grinding doesn’t latch its hooks in like I thought, but it isn’t as necessary because the world and story deliver immensely. Acquiring new loot puts an extra cherry on top of the main narrative and experience, and doesn’t feel like its required to drive the fun factor.
A make or break component of any RPG/MMO is how inventory management is executed. The Division displays a cohesive, user-friendly inventory system that never feels like a chore to work with. Even when applying mods, skills, talents, perks, ect., it’s all of ease. Managing new weapon and gear drops is probably where you spend most of your time, and even then, it’s a quick adjustment to what your current scenario is requiring, and then back in the action. It shows a clear precise layout of each items strengths, weakness’, and in what categories.
The Division comes packed with its own unique PvP mode called The Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is an area where the virus has hit the hardest and contains some of the best untouched loot in the game. Squads go in and attempt to get their hand on this loot, but in order to leave, you must depart in an extraction helicopter. This is where the chaos ensues. In your hunt for new weapons and gear, you encounter other squads with the same goal. You let your conscience take over and decide do you co exist peacefully, or go for glory and take them down and nab their goods as well. There is nothing more tense than two squads waiting for the helicopter to arrive, and your finger is poised on the trigger, waiting to see which teams greed will take over and attempt an ultimate loot robbery. The DZ carries its own leveling system which comes as an upset to me. I enjoy my progression I made with my agent in the main story, and wish it was a unified experience.
The Division is a visual feast. From the dynamic lighting to the realistic environments, taking it all in can be breathtaking at times. Even for the game at times with its slightly laggy texture load-ins, but I won’t hold that against it, it’s not a constant occurrence. The Division probably has the best looking weather graphics I’ve ever seen in a video game. The dirty, wet snow radiates off of the polluted NYC streets in an almost photo realistic way. Even the way the sun sets and casts an orangey hue to the city really is a sight to behold. Just the amount of detail put into the city, big and small, is a testament to the quality and devotion Ubisoft gave The Division. While character models do not carry the same eye grabbing quality the environments do, they are still excellent and on par with everything else. At nighttime watching the snow fall and seeing the Christmas lights burn bright, wrapped around trees and lampposts as I patrol the infected city, well it’s probably my new favorite video game setting ever.
Playing and controlling your agent throughout The Division, can admirably be compared to top-tier shooters. It’s third person, over the shoulder camera allows you to take in more and utilize strategic movements. One of my few issues with The Division, is how actually being strategic can feel. Too often I was trying to get a grasp of its clunky cover-based mechanics. Not that it’s always bad, it’s just not always as intuitive as I would expect. Moving your agent feels great, but once the action kicks in dodging and taking cover carries a cumbersome quality with it.
With a setting as intriguing and enrapturing as The Division provides, strong sound design is key to completing the experience. The Division delivers. You can hear every clink and clank as your gear smacks against your body armor. The distinct sound of your feet crunching into the ice and snow filled streets, it all makes the world come alive. Even the voice over work brings emotion and a believable tone. It all wrapped up with the incredible job Ubisoft did with the gunfire. The firefights fiercely ring out and the bullets pierce the air, even without headphones this audio can impress.
The Division had a lot to prove. Inevitable comparisons to similar titles in the genre, long-lasting appeal, visual performance capabilities, all followed close behind leading to its launch. Ubisoft has undoubtedly created 2016’s best game so far. The mic drop if you will. The Division can now proudly stand on its own with an excellent, engaging, and satisfying gameplay and world. It not only exceeded my expectations, it has sunk its fangs in my gaming nights for some time to come.
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