Tom Clancy’s The Division – The Definitive Review
By Mark Bohdanyk
The timing of this review is such that it is just over one month post launch, the first incursion (raid, according to the developers) has launched, more game breaking bugs were created in the April content update and now several of the worst offenders have been hotfixed.
First, I want to address shorthand in gaming today. In everyday conversation with my friends, I tend to use the nomenclature of gaming. Salt and Sanctuary is like a 2D Dark Souls; Divinity: Original sin is a modern day Baldurs Gate; The Division is like Destiny, but good – you get the idea. I believe there is a value in this form of shorthand, in that for the narrow slice of people familiar with a game, it’s a readily apparent transfer of compressed knowledge. Needless to say, for anyone not familiar with the referenced game, it ultimately makes it an extra barrier to entry. So for this review, I will have a special section just for Destiny players comparing the two games.
Second, I wanted to address the timing of this review. In this day and age of Day One patches, Week One patches and most games shipping in an unfinished state, I felt the only way to fairly review the game was to play it for a few weeks and then assess. Let’s face it, this IS an MMO. The game has been out for three weeks now, and a major patch shoring up exploits and farming was released just yesterday. So I wanted to give it time.
Third, I want to clearly note my pre-release state of mind for The Division. This game is the reason I purchased my PS4 at launch. To say I was excited at what it promised; to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves, is an understatement.
Lastly, this review will have one extra section that will not affect my score, but will, in fact, have its own score. If you’ve never heard of Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM), back in the early days of print reviews they would assign multiple editors to a game, a main reviewer and then extra reviewers to give second and third opinions. They called themselves the review crew. So John is going to be kicking it review crew style with a second opinion.
Gameplay / Design
The Division is a third person, cover-based shooter with role playing games mechanics driving the combat. You can play solo, or in a party of up to four people. Multiplayer cooperative gameplay is where the game shines, and the game has very easy matchmaking features if you don’t have three friends playing the game. I like to joke that The Division is pretty much a mass murder simulator on par with the likes of Uncharted; you kill a LOT of people. And that’s one of the differentiators. They aren’t space aliens or fantastical anime opponents; they’re just normal people — who can take a thousand bullets to the face due to the aforementioned RPG mechanics.
It’s interesting to note that they have covered the faces of everyone you murder. There are four enemy types in the game: random thugs (who all seem to be named Alex and who can seem to form together to attack military bases – trained military versus gangbangers? I will take that bet every time), flame throwing, almost religiously fanatical ‘Cleaners’ who are attempting to scourge the city, inmates from Rikers’ island and a Private Military Contractor group made up of ex-military soldiers. The game presents these groups as trying to take advantage of the power gap, and you’re justified to stop them (read: murder) because you’re with the government. It’s not something you will necessarily think about during the game, but when you read it, killing military soldiers seems like an odd choice.
The basic gameplay loop can be broken down into the following pattern:
1. Move into an area and find cover.
2. Flank enemies.
3. Murder them.
At level 30, the game gets significantly harder; the AI in the game is fairly competent, so the loop looks a bit different:
1. Move into an area and find cover.
2. Take out shotgunners.
3. Take out the AI trying to flank you.
4. Flank enemies.
5. Murder them from multiple angles.
While it sounds pretty simple, Ubisoft has put some really gratifying hooks into the combat systems to make it a heck of a lot of fun. Things like rolling seeker grenades that emit choking smoke, flamethrowing turrets (the 21st equivalent of a tech dragon) and sticky bombs that briefly electrocute enemies create opportunity to expose your computerized, very smart opponents allowing you to chip away at their murde– life bar. Coordinating this loop with friends via mic is most likely where Tom Clancy would have enjoyed having his name on this product.
There is no penalty for dying in three quarters of the game, but in the Dark Zone, the center quarter of the map, the game’s area where players can fight other players, there is a penalty for dying — and it can be significant. The Dark Zone is probably my biggest disappointment with this game. Not for the fact that it is PVP; that aspect adds a real and palpable risk/reward tension to the game.
In the Dark Zone, or DZ as most people refer to it, any items you find can only be removed from the Dark Zone by calling in a helicopter, attaching your items to a rope (during which time you are completely vulnerable) and surviving long enough for the helicopter to leave. I should also mention that 85 percent of the time, the computer sends waves of enemies at you while you are trying to do this. Add the threat of other players who may or may not try to kill you (or want to use your rope to get their stuff out) and you have some of the most engaging moment-to-moment gameplay that has come out in years. The rub here is that due to the way it is structured, there is really no need to ever go into the Dark Zone. Ever. The zone is segmented into level requirements. Level 1-xx gets its own instance in which higher leveled players cannot enter. Level 6-10 is the second segment. Now, at this point I should explain that there is a DZ rank that is independent of your level. This rank determines whether you can purchase items in the DZ and whether you can open certain loot chests. At level 10, you must be rank 10 in order to purchase items. As soon as you progress your level to 11, all items require rank 30 and level 30 to purchase. Those items also can only be purchased with Dark Zone credits, a special currency you only earn in the DZ. This means, if like my team, you didn’t pick up any items for sale at level 10, and then turned level 11, there is no real need to step back into the DZ again until level 29-30. There are no missions for the story to be completed here; so sadly it’s existence is largely relegated to the not necessary pile for most of the game.
There are just a TON of collectibles in the game, that really flesh out the characters and factions you set out to murder. It’s a shame that no one in story/writing seems to have communicated with anyone from level and mission design. When you eventually track down the head of the Cleaners, one of the four factions you fight in the game, it would have been much more meaningful to have had the audio recordings of him calling his niece to explain the justifications for his actions in a way she could understand be more relevant. It could have added some real depth to what is ultimately a one-sided character. More on this below, in story.
Ubisoft has made an odd choice in allowing you to see other players in safe houses, but your game in the world is instanced. While I understand the decision from a world perspective (not having to worry about people wiping out the group you need to go fight), it makes the city VERY empty.
I would be remiss if I did not speak to the bugs in the game, which are plentiful. Popping out of cover (almost always in an untimely manner), falling through the world, getting trapped in walkable spaces, clipping halfway into a wall to be told you are out of bounds and be sent somewhere else (which can actually get you locked out of completing a mission) – crafting a backpack and filling it and then no longer being able to log into your character – these are all serious bugs. And to clarify, while these have not all happened to me, I have personally seen all of them happen in my team.
These are game altering, and in some cases game breaking bugs that we hope Ubisoft can address with aggressive monitoring and patching.
User Interface is another area where it seemed like the development team was somewhat disjointed. Holding options to bring up the inventory directly is perfect; crafting is so very not. It seems like it was implemented to artificially stretch out the time needed to play the game when crafting. As its sole purpose. Have 50 items to break down for 5 higher end components each? Hold square to do a single unit for three seconds. Wait a second. Push circle to cancel. Repeat nine more times; insert gun in mouth. Some of the best UI functions are hidden (the tip I expressed earlier being one); tap L2 on the map to change to list view – my team didn’t find that one until two weeks after launch.
Lastly, if you didn’t top load (rush to 30 at launch), you’ll find yourself with a ton to do. My team top loaded and *I* still have the collectibles and one other trophy to nab the platinum trophy for the game. But I am concerned with endgame content; specifically the already-felt lack of it. There is simply not enough to do at level 30 other than grind. My team has already reduced playtime from 5-7 hours a day to 1-2 hours, just to grind out the dailies. We are retweaking gear and that’s about it, nowadays.
Worse yet, since the release of the incursion, it’s straight up a gear check. There are no new mechanics; no new strategies, no puzzle solving. Just more of the same. See below’s video:
The Division takes a tough color palette – winter in the city – and makes lemonade stand out of it. You will notice pop-in, but I have frequently caught myself staring at the sun shining between two buildings as the snow clears.
You pretty much never see the same assets reused in a significantly large land mass, and the play space is often times vertical, adding some much needed strategy.
The HUD is fairly minimalist and serviceable. The game features a color blind settings option that should be available in all games moving forward. The full motion videos, short as they are, add better depth to the world than any of the main mission dialogue.
The story – or more specifically, the willful lack of one, is appalling. The game’s marketing had the promise of helping people and had the opportunity of creating some intimate story lines where you engage with the city’s survivors. Instead, what we got were stereotypes of perceived types of New Yorkers (the city patriot, the city worker, the paranoid nationalist) who swear as part of breathing, rather than to emphasize their point.
As I mentioned in the Gameplay section, the collectibles flesh out the laughably weak storyline. The fact that they are, well, hidden; it means that if you aren’t going out of your way to find them, then you’ll miss most of it.
The characters you meet, collect like Pokemon and interact with through the story are unlikeable. Fay Lau could receive a book on how NOT to write a character. Within the first few level 4 missions, she tells you her parents are better off dead than to see MSG in its current state (NOONE who ever loved her parents would say this, ever.), she barks orders at you over a com and then tries to tell you that you make a great team and is pretty much the boss bureaucrat we all hate. YOU are the one who has all his/her appendages, are doing all the work and get to make pretty much zero decisions. Your only real decisions are in what order you will murder everyone.
I have nothing pleasant to say about any of the characters you meet through the rebuilding of your base and story missions. They are all bossy, bratty intellectual-types for the most part, who give you no real motivation to *want* to help them. There are plentiful “Wow, that’s lucky” moments for the Swiss cheese plot line (oh boy!). And again, you aren’t a part of any of that story, other than being Fay Lau’s slave. Who takes all the credit.
It’s supremely frustrating – the game’s tag line is Take Back New York. Nothing changes as you run the missions other than your base. And that’s nice, but ultimately means you can never accomplish the goal of the story. You don’t stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, you are a puppet for the person unleashing you to murder whomever she deems appropriate. And that is a far cry from what was promised.
Destiny vs Division
If you watched our 35 plus minute, explicative-filled tirade on Destiny’s review, I feel about the same for the Division. That being said, I feel that the Division hasn’t fallen prey to as many poor design choices as Destiny. As of this moment, the gear system is fairly straightforward; unlike the 18 currencies and light in division.
I would put the ‘fun’ factor in regards to gunplay at about an even rating. The AI is far better in the Division, and the mission structures at least TRY to obfuscate the door lock, waves of enemies scenario.
The UI is better in Destiny. Destiny has great raids. The Division has better moment to moment gameplay.
While there aren’t 18 currencies in the Division (yet), they have about as many useful ones as Destiny. Light level? Check (coming in first content update). Grind useful currencies only on limited number of quests? Check.
When I had fleshed out my first draft of this review, I gave the edge to the Division, albeit slightly. After seeing the Division’s Incursion versus Destiny’s Raids, I have to give it to Destiny.
The Division doesn’t live up to the promise of the Ubisoft hype machine. What surprises me is that Ubisoft isn’t really a shooter company; but have still managed to make a fun, albeit flawed new IP that, in my opinion, is better than Destiny.
The presentation is above average, the gameplay is fun, albeit buggy and the story is abysmal. This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game. Here is to hoping that when the Division 2 releases, they might actually fulfill the intimate storytelling that leads to actual world change.
Tom Clancy’s The Division by Ubisoft gets
6.0 out of 10 useless Incursions
(Not an average of each section’s scoring)
by John O’Callaghan
The Division. A fitting name because it’s quite amazing the division people have on the perception of quality this game has. Since Mark outlined nicely what type of game the division is and the goal for the game, let’s just jump right into it shall we?
What story is there to be had? On the surface, virtually none, plagued with terrible voice acting and horrible writing. You’re set loose on New York City with the goal of taking back under control and establishing some sort of government. You’re given vague and pointless story content that really doesn’t do much to further your connection with the city short of why you’re running here and what you’re doing moving through this building.
Ubisoft did a HORRIBLE disservice to themselves by how they broke the story up. For the casual gamers, you can run through the story missions in a remarkably quick manner and you’ll get the gist of what’s going on. If you’re that type of player, or if you’re rushing through to get to the end game you’re going to miss the real story.
Why a company would basically bury the ‘real’ story in the collectibles is beyond me. I’ve so far collected 100% of everything in the game and am just one PVP trophy short of the platinum. Take it from me, if you are looking for a story take each zone, one by one and collect EVERYTHING before moving to the next. The phones, reports and echo’s will give you a strong connection with not only the citizens of New York but the rival gangs. You get to understand and learn how these gangs came to be. Some of them have just a misguided attempt to make the city better….some are out for blood. You wouldn’t know this, the why…..the why is so crucial in a story without doing the collections. Going back and collecting everything was good, it made sense at that point, but it would have been much better if I’d done this while I was progressing through the game.
For me when I think presentation my first thought is always about the quality of graphics. Do I believe what I’m looking at, does it add to the games quality or does it takes something away for me. The Divisions graphics are good, not great, not spectacular but good. They are by no means a ‘game changer’ or ‘best I’ve ever seen’ but that doesn’t detract away from the game for me. What they lacked in overall graphics quality they attempted to make up for it in the small things. Things like the lighting, the small details in the buildings, reflections in the windows and puddles. The different things hanging off your backpack are unique and cool to notice as you upgrade your pack.
I only have two complaints, one more important than the other. First, more of a minor complaint would be that the graphics are nowhere near as good as they lead us to believe. There are videos you can easily find that show this amazingly clear and beautiful world in demos and earlier advertising. Absolutely crystal clear reflections in puddles and beautiful landscale….and these videos say “captured on the Xbox One”. Fast forward to the Beta, “um….these graphics kinda suck compared to those videos”. Even further forward to release, “yup still nowhere near as good”.
Why is this minor? Because the graphics are still good, even average to above average, but they weren’t what we were shown. Shame on you Ubisoft, didn’t you learn from your cousin Destiny? Delivery what you promise!
So if that’s minor, then what’s my major problem with the graphics? When you fast travel, which you tend to do A LOT once you’ve collected everything, the game takes upwards of 30 seconds to catch up to you and render the texture on the world. Billboards are blurry to the point where you can read them, people look like you’re playing GTA 4 again, everything is just….crummy. This bothers me more than anything because this pulls me from the world I’m in. This detracts me from New York. The load times are long enough as it is without then I have to sit there and wait for things to start to load in so I can actually enjoy the view. Shame!
Gameplay / Design
The gameplay in and of itself is fun, exciting, requires tactics as you progress through the game. You ‘can’ play solo, though they make the end game very difficult to progress if you’re running solo. Which is expected in an MMO so that’s not a negative, just how it is.
One point I want to strongly disagree with is the use of “mass murder” as Mark put it. The Division, as an agency, is not a police agency. They are considered a division of the military and New York is a warzone. Yes, you will kill hundreds, if not thousands of people. But it isn’t Murder, I don’t know why that point is so important to me to differ on from Mark but I think it’s important to note.
My only real problem with the overall design of the gameplay itself is the fact that there really are no tactics, not even in challenging mode. The game is strictly a gear check and once you gear up team cooperation goes out the window.
I hope and pray that my $100 investment into this game doesn’t crash and burn in the gear to curbstomp everything mentality. The mindless run through of slaughter your enemies without blinking because you’re max geared. People can bash Destiny all they want but NO ONE can deny that Destiny’s Vault of Glass raid was a masterpiece and many of their boss battles had some sort of mechanic to them that could keep them entertaining.
The lack of mechanics and ultimately difficulty has lead the game to be absolutely boring to me. It took only two weeks for me to be virtually max geared, sort of min/maxing, and three weeks to feel like it’s pointless to even log in.
They are adding content, both free and paid over the next few months but let’s be honest here. They won’t add enough contact to keep the masses enthralled for a month until the next drop when the game itself didn’t even keep our attention that long.
I’ve been accused of being a bit critical of this game and it’s true. One of our friends keeps saying “ you guys talk about these problems, agree on these issues, complain about this or that and you still give it a good rating” but sadly, I’m not that person.
Good or average graphics at best
EXTREMELY Buggy graphics and gameplay
Frustrating DZ play
Zero tactics or mechanics at end game
What end game?
Lack of surface story
Terribly voice acting during what story they did provide
Why are people giving this game top marks? Was the game fun for the first two weeks, yes, is it fun now, nope.
Tom Clancy’s The Division by Ubisoft gets a dismal