I am very conflicted while writing this review. I am not really sure how I feel about The Division, because I have had such high highs, and such low lows during my time with it. The day The Division came out I planned on playing it for a while taking notes and such before I made my first impressions video which went up on the 9th of March. The Division has such a great introduction to the gameplay and the world that I played it for upwards of 8 hours straight without making a single note or recording a frame of B-roll. When I realized this I felt both upset that I had in some way wasted my time, as well as happy that I enjoyed the game SO much more than I had initially expected I would.
I had played the game for a while during the open beta weekend they had shortly before the game went live and, while I had fun, the fun I had was mostly due to playing with one of my friends for the majority of my experience. Seeing as they bought the game on PS4 and I have it on PC, I was expecting to not have as much fun since for the most part I would be playing alone. Luckily, the beta gameplay wasn’t exactly representative of the final product in that solo gameplay is MUCH more enjoyable in the full release. The Division even gets MORE fun the longer you play it (even solo) up to a point; whereas, most games of this nature tend to have really great first acts and then immediately take a dive in level of quality and content. Take Borderlands 2 as an example: I really love the intro to that game, and I still remember most of my initial experience fondly. But other than the first 5 or so hours of Borderlands 2, I remember virtually nothing outside of one or two boss fights. This level of drop off is what I had expected of The Division, but I actually remember most of what went on.
Where the story is concerned, I’m sure everybody reading this already knows the premise: an epidemic has occurred in New York City, and you are part of an elite task force secretly sent in to discover the cause and to “take back the city.” This gives it a very “Escape From New York” vibe, if not a much more modern version. Aside from the premise though I don’t really know much more about the story because when I play mindless grindy looter shooters (or really any game that involves pretty much only combat without much dialogue interaction) I tend to want a lot of back ground noise. My background noise for The Division was the GameGrumps playing Wind Waker. God, I love Wind Waker.
So, needless to say I have pretty much no fucking clue what this game is about outside of the intro, and I don’t really care because despite a lot of people insisting this is an RPG, there is 0 dialogue interaction with the player. NPC’s talk at you, not to you. You never have the option to reply, nor does your character ever say a single god damn thing. I wish it did! I wish your character spouted one liners (at least while killing the very large yellow health enemies) so I could feel like John McClane in one of the shittier Die Hard sequels. I know that would be somewhat immersion breaking but sometimes you have to make sacrifices on immersion in order to create a more enjoyable experience. This would also help the game stop taking itself so damned seriously. Yes, we get it, you are trying to be a Tom Clancy game.
Visually speaking, The Division is BEAUTIFUL. I have never played a game that looked as nice as this, even The Witcher 3. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Witcher 3, but The Division takes that level of detail, adds some polish, and then gives you physical interactivity with the environment. You can close doors, shoot individual bricks out of walls, even destroy most of a piece of cover (though I am not sure if this actually effects the quality of the cover, it still looks very nice). I played around with the settings until I found the highest I could go while still never dropping below 60 FPS, and I have virtually no complaints about the fidelity of this games visuals. That is, until the bugs start to come into play.
The bugs all kind of hit me at once sadly. I was originally going to type up my review yesterday (Tuesday in the U.S.) but I decided that I should probably get more into the end game before I attempted my first draft, and holy fuck am I glad I did that because most of yesterday was a shit show. I decided to farm up some money by running main story quests (basically just dungeons, so I’m going to call them dungeons from this point forward.) because there was a really nice looking LMG on a vendor that I wanted, but after a few very quick successful runs the game started feeling like it was disintegrating around me. I went into the dungeon again only to find that 90% of the map didn’t load, causing me to fall through the ground until the game told me I was out of bounds and respawned me at my base. This happened SEVERAL times during the day, and for some reason every time this scenario forced a respawn, I spawned on fire. But oh no this was not the only horrible game breaking bug I faced yesterday. Sometime during the night the game somehow decided that I no longer needed to have any quest markers on my map, which meant that I couldn’t gain any more resources to upgrade my base. This really infuriated me because it took me like two fucking hours to fix. I tried restarting the game, rebooting my computer, joining people’s groups. About the 3rd time I joined somebody’s group we tried doing one of THEIR side missions which luckily somehow fixed my problem. By far one of the most annoying glitches I have faced in a while.
One thing that really fucking ruined my perception of The Division is the way that Ubisoft decided to waste players’ time with the so-called “Virus Research”. It is going to sound like I am JOKING but I assure you I am not. The developers actually put MULTIPLE missions in the game that are just “run around a gigantic empty building with no enemies or map trying to find the 3 or 4 things you need to click on.” Who thought this was a good idea? Who, sitting behind their gigantic corporate desk decided that it was ENGAGING GAMEPLAY to run around on an empty map for upwards of 10 minutes doing absolutely nothing? These missions are all on timers of varying lengths, and some of them have timers which are almost twenty minutes long. TWENTY MINUTES? They actually coded a big empty several stories tall building, put nothing in it, and then play tested a mission inside of it and decided “this one takes a really long time to complete, let’s give them a really long timer” instead of saying “hey maybe having them run around a shitty building with nobody to shoot for a 3rd of an hour is a bad idea”. This just goes to show how little Ubisoft values their own customers time. Most of the actual combat oriented side missions in the game don’t even take twenty minutes to finish! Even if you die and have to start over!
Anyway, I leveled up to the maximum level (thirty) rather quickly once I actually had enough time to play it. If you just do all of the non-resource side missions and all of the dungeons one time, you will hit max level very rapidly. I have seen a lot of people complain or struggle with the combat, saying that the enemies are too tough or bullet spongy, but I never really had a problem with any of that. I know this is a game designed for co-op play, so I know the enemies HAVE to be somewhat bullet spongy. Once you hit around level 18 or so, purple items start showing up from enemies and in shops which severely decrease the level of difficulty. It seems the game is balanced around having full blues for the most part so once you move past blues everything solo starts to seem trivial.
Let’s move onto the “end game” content as well as the dark zone. Once I hit level thirty, the game spawned 2 vendors which I can buy items from using a new level thirty only currency called Phoenix Credits. These are used to buy the best quality weapons and blueprints to max out the damage and utility of your character. You can earn them by killing certain special named elite (yellow health enemies as mentioned earlier) or by completing daily dungeons and challenge mode dungeons. Challenging difficulty is really punishing when you first hit maximum level, enemies basically one hit K.O. you and your team mates, so I would advise either using some sort of VOIP to better communicate with your team mates or just waiting to do them until you have much better gear.
I managed to get enough gear to complete yesterday’s challenging difficulty daily, and was severely disappointed in the loot I received. On hard difficulty (the medium difficulty between normal and challenging), I get many purple item drops throughout the run, especially from bosses and mini bosses which always drop one or two of them. In challenging mode though, you for some reason only ever get blues from drops. I thought I was just unlucky, but I checked with my team mates and they also all only got blues from drops. You would think you would get BETTER gear from the highest difficulty in the game, not worse. Maybe we were all just really unlucky or maybe it was a bug, but there is no excuse for this level of loot quality considering if you are still using blues in a challenging mode you will get fucking destroyed, making every item that drops virtually worthless. At least completing a challenge mode dungeon gives you one piece of yellow (the highest quality available) loot.
But how are you supposed to get better gear if your Phoenix Credits income is so limited and you can’t do the best dungeons for more? That is where the dark zone comes into play. Dark zones are large areas of the map where you will find other players as well as much tougher enemies and encounters. Players can kill you to steal your loot, but only loot you have not yet extracted from the dark zone. When you gain an item in the dark zone it is marked as “contaminated” and is unusable until extracted via these small orange areas of the map. Every time you die, you drop every dark zone item you are currently carrying, as well as some dark zone only currency, dark zone experience, and if you have any on you, one dark zone chest key. Anybody can pick these up for the most part (some of your items are marked as public and some as private, so you can still pick up the private items if somebody looted your public ones.) so if you had anything worthwhile, you will generally want to get back to where you died as quick as possible. Luckily the game marks your death point on the map making this much easier to find.
There are two things that I particularly hate about the dark zone. One is that if four people decide to team up and go on a killing spree, it is very unlikely that anybody will be able to stop them. Four coordinated players can take out a much larger amount of uncoordinated players without much effort, which basically means that if you feel so inclined you can ruin an entire zones worth of player experience with the game until you get bored. When a group is on a rampage like this there is virtually no point in playing the dark zone because whenever you go to extract your gear, it sends out an alert to the entire zone saying an extraction is on the way which takes 90 seconds to arrive giving the rogue group of players the opportunity to show up and take all of your shit. The other thing I hate is how SLOW the progression in the dark zone is. You cannot spend a cent of your dark zone currency until you are dark zone rank 30 or higher, even if you are level 10. This makes gaining dark zone currency utterly meaningless until you are rank 30 which takes all of the fun out of finding it. The most expensive item I have found so far on a dark zone vendor cost around 10,000, but I have 60,000 and am only rank 23 so I can’t buy anything. Also, the really expensive stuff requires rank 50 anyway so that’s even farther away.
As I said before, The Division has me seriously conflicted. I don’t know if I like the game or hate it, but what matters is I want to keep playing it. I enjoy the gameplay, but if the negatives I mentioned keep you from wanting the game I understand wholeheartedly. I hope eventually the developers change or fix the stuff that is seriously wrong with this game because I am really looking forward to the DLC, which is rare for me. I usually skip DLC until the game of the year edition and let’s face it, The Division isn’t winning any game of the year awards. Is it worth your time and money? That’s not for me to decide. It has been worth mine, but barely.
I’m not going to do any sort of scoring system from now on because I feel that when you assign a game an arbitrary number it causes people to not pay attention to the reasoning behind that number and just make assumptions based on that small amount of information. Hopefully this review has helped you make an informed decision, and you are not disappointed with the choice you make on whether or not to buy Tom Clancy’s The Division.