|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Ubisoft Massive, Red Storm Entertainment|
|Release: March 8, 2016|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online Multiplayer)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i||Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Matthew Hayes
When I close my eyes I see a fading imprint of tall buildings and neon lights. My ears are ringing with the cracking pop of marksman rifles and the distorted, ripping roar of flame-throwers. Yeah, I guess I've got it bad. I can't stop thinking about The Division, and that's a good sign. Having played through the closed and open betas, I had my doubts about Ubisoft's latest and greatest. I've been very vocal about my reservations, and I'm relieved to say that after ample quality time with the final product, a few of my greatest fears have been alleviated. The Division still has some screws that need tightening, but I think we're on to something really good here.
For starters, the game looks better than you'll remember. Lighting effects have been tweaked and tuned, and the result is something much closer to the early gameplay footage that blew us all away in 2013. There's magic in the way that light from signs or cars will push and filter through steam, and New York is beautiful at night time. Characters also look believably lifelike. Each of the main NPCs that you'll deal with as heads of the medical, tech, and security wings give wonderful performances. I feel like they are all people I would recognize in real life; their facial expressions and vocal performances have been nothing short of theatrical (in the best way).
Your agent will look really good as well, but don't expect him or her to look just like you. The character creation suite is pretty anemic here. You have 8 face presets to choose from, and once you pick you can't tweak individual features. Hair styles are also kept to a minimum, and I'm sorry to say that the finishing touches that will set your agent apart from others will be the sunglasses, scars, and neck tattoos that you give them. But we all know that beauty is skin deep, right?
If you want to know the true worth of your agent you look – no, not within, silly – you look at their swag. Loot, man, loot! If I'm going to get caught up in and addicted to an online RPG, it's going to be because the gear is plentiful and game-changing. That's the most important cog in this machine for me personally. Coming out of the betas I was worried that upgrading my gear would become a constant, monotonous obligation that didn't have any significant effect on the way I played the game. I'm happy to say that once you dedicate yourself to your agent in the full game, the gear you choose to wear, or otherwise choose to sell, scrap for materials, or craft, is just as much a part of your pre-combat strategy as picking skills and modding weapons.
In addition to raw DPS or raw defense, higher-level weapons and armor also have unique talents and stats. Each piece of armor, for example, will contribute points to one of three categories: firearms, stamina, or electronics, which enhance your weapon damage, life, and skill cooldowns respectively. As you find and equip new gear, you have to be aware of which of these attributes that gear augments. If you want to use long-range weapons and also use lots of skills, you won't be doing yourself any favors by having a full set of gear that boosts your stamina.
Many weapons have special talents, too, that only activate once certain attributes reach a threshold. Right now I have a specialized machine gun as my secondary weapon, and it comes with a talent that greatly enhances the weapon's damage output with each bar of life that I lose. I can use that weapon no matter my stats, but in order for that talent to activate my agent must have a minimum of 130 stamina points. It's for that reason that I'm currently using two pieces of gear below my level. I'm sacrificing a little bit of armor, but those two pieces give me the boost to stamina that I need for that weapon's talent to remain active, and it's really helped me and my group in a pinch. As your agent evolves and you find new favorite weapons, you'll find that you naturally start experimenting with alternate builds, and this keeps the game feeling really fresh, and combat feeling continually novel.
I do have to say, though, that without the thrill and challenge that new gear provides, combat would be a rather dull affair. You've heard everyone say this, and it's true: the enemies are all plain-looking bullet-sponges. The occasional boss will don fancier gear or a tricked out hazmat suit, but the engagement is much the same. You'll dodge and dive from one barrier to the next, unloading magazines into apparently-steel-plated skulls, waiting for the final wave of enemies to come and go so you can get on with your life and grab all of the new loot. Firefights with enemies aren't what you'll remember; what you'll remember is the synchronized dance between you and your team as you take new positions in unison, helping each other with cover fire, and each one complementing the others with his or her own unique skills and weapon talents. Yes, you can play The Division alone, but it's a drag.