Reclaim New York and Surrender Your Free Time
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.
Playing alone is also hard as hell after the first few missions. The game is brilliantly paced, and as long as you’re staying in areas and engaging in missions appropriate to your level, you’ll find that even side missions and encounters can be really challenging, usually due to your being unfairly outnumbered. This, so far, is doubly true in the Dark Zone. It’s still the Wild West in there, and more than once I’ve been met with salutes and applause from seemingly peaceful players, who later turned out to be malevolent. It’s infuriating. You have to work hard to score loot there, because the enemies are much tougher. Actually extracting that gear can be a real pain, unless you’re running with a tight crew, and even then there’s no guarantee. Last night I fought alongside 2 other agents for about half an hour. We shot bad guys, revived each other repeatedly, and finally called in an extraction together. As soon as the copter arrived and dropped a rope for our loot, my two “friends” shot sticky bombs at my feet and killed me. It felt bad, man. Most agents will shoot you on sight, but I’m assuming that as the novelty wears off a balance will emerge.
As for the endgame, it’s a constantly recessing prospect. Ubisoft has already laid out a roadmap for DLC and 3 expansions that will continue to provide new goals, and possibly higher level caps. The Division does feel like a whole, complete experience as it stands, though. It’s a huge relief, and right out of the gate I can tell that there is more than enough content here to keep even the most hopelessly addicted and unemployed players busy for months.
Cooperative play is a joy, an abundance of gear means your agent is ever-evolving, and an air-tight narrative set within a game world that is unmistakably Tom-Clancian provides a sense of purpose and urgency that makes it nigh impossible to put the controller down. You’ll be like me soon enough: fighting off sleep as you recount recent battles with your friends and think about which branch of your base you’d like to upgrade next. It’s an addiction as contagious as the fictional virus sweeping through The Division ‘s New York. The wait was worth it, so get out there and gear up, agent. I’ll meet you in Brooklyn.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
New York is breathtaking, and characters are believably lifelike. Draw distance limitations can be apparent, but don’t detract from the experience. 4.3 Control
You always sacrifice a little precision when occupying a third-person perspective, but commanding your agent is a breeze. You’ll forget about controls altogether. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is cinematic in quality, the soundtrack is captivating, and weapons sound frighteningly realistic and powerful. 3.8 Play Value
Combat can be dull and the Dark Zone is frustrating, but there’s enough gear here to keep things fresh and interesting for a long time. Pacing is perfect. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best