The Division is Ubisoft’s attempt to crack into the newly popularized console “light MMO” scene. With Ubisoft themselves attempting to entice Destiny players during a lull in content, does The Division offer a suitable replacement? Or is this simply another annual franchise masquerading as something more? Loot on to find out!
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: March 8th, 2016
“Look at it for what it is”. Those words have been ringing in my head since the first time I loaded up The Division. Words a friend who plays countless games and purchases even more lives by. “Look at it for what it is”. When sitting down to write this review, those words are still stuck in my head. But after over seventy hours of gameplay; after completing all story missions; after completing all collectibles, side missions, and encounters; after reaching player level 30 and rank 35 in the Dark Zone; I still don’t know what The Division is.
This phenomena isn’t unusual in this current state of gaming. More and more games have broken traditional genre molds in favor of mixing and matching to find the best recipe. But for me to “look at it for what it is” I need to know what it is.
Is it a loot game? Sure there is tons of loot around to pick up, rarity levels, etc. But The Division is the Best Bad Loot Game Ever. Not only does it lack in exiting, unique, or visually appealing loot but the gear is essentially invisible. Miscellaneous cosmetic clothing items take precedence over High-End gear items when viewing any character. And by viewing, I mean directly looking at them in-game since there isn’t a way to inspect players. Any game where the best looking gear can be found in the digital marketplace for $5 isn’t a loot game at all.
So maybe loot isn’t at the core of The Division. Maybe it’s more of a “light MMO”? This idea seems to be founded by peoples nature to compare everything. I don’t fault that nature, I’m the same, but The Division is not Destiny. In The Division you can see other players in three locations: in your squad of four, in safehouses, and in the Dark Zone. Safehouses usually have anywhere between 3-6 people wandering around and you will usually spot anywhere from 5-10 people in the Dark Zone. I’ve seen more players in a single Call of Duty match. At what point did multiplayer games become “light MMOs”?
Alright well we can’t fault the game for that comparison. Ubisoft clearly stated the game was an “online open-world action-RPG” when it first announced. A mouthful I can hardly forget. So I’ll break it down by the developers definition of what it is.
The Division is a very fun cooperative game at its core. The abilities in place are perfect for a group of four to synchronize and coordinate to achieve their goal. While most co-op shooters rarely rely on such teamwork, The Division embraces it very well. The more difficult activities really highlight this fact. When playing a Challenging Mission for example, players will have a much better time if they divide tasks evenly. One player focusing on healing abilities and being the teams tank, one focusing on damage and using offensive-based abilities and weapons, one focusing on support by buffing the team with status effects, and one doing a little bit of everything. These roles can be completely altered and adjusted of course to suit the requirements of the mission and styles of each player, but the general idea remains.
The other online component to The Division is the Dark Zone. An enclosed area of the map where players can kill and steal each others loot. In theory this sounds like a really intriguing game mode. However like most multiplayer games, players, not developers, dictate the flow of the game. Previous to the March 22nd patch, players rarely entered the Rogue state (the title given to those who kill other players). The high risk far outweighed the low reward. Not only would you lose entire ranks for dying as a Rogue, but everyone on the map would hunt you due to a flashing red skull prominently displayed on their radar. Once this became firmly established as the law of the land, it wasn’t rare to see six or seven people running side by side down a street trying to chase down a single Rogue because it was probably the first they’ve seen all day. It got to the point where people would try to bait one another to go Rogue by standing in front of their guns or firing false shots. This is all worsened by the fact that the Dark Zone doesn’t offer any extra gameplay mechanics than the singleplayer area. The only option is to run from one boss location to the next and then back to the first in the hopes that he respawned so you could begin the cycle all over again.
The open-world aspects in The Division make me question if this was made by the same publisher that has been creating open-world games for the last decade. After completing all of the main story missions, the open-world offers little variety. Encounters and side-missions have the same mechanics as the main missions. I guess you could search for the 293 collectibles, but who enjoys that? The open-world itself seems very barren. My time running around Manhattan primarily consisted of empty streets and abandoned apartments.
Which brings me to my next issue: running. One of my pet peeves with open-world games is fast traveling. The idea of fast traveling in an open-world game makes the entire game feel pointless. Why am I playing in this giant, open area if all I’m doing is skipping from one section to another? If I’m playing an open-world game I want to experience the OPEN WORLD. What I don’t want to do is walk its entire length. In Skyrim, Witcher, and even Assassin’s Creed games you’re given a horse. In GTA, Watch Dogs, and Metal Gear you can drive cars. It’s a long, slow, and boring process to run from one end of the map to the other. Which is why these games provide you with something faster than your own two feet. Did someone already loot all the bikes? What about skateboards, roller-blades, hell I wouldn’t mind riding around on a hoverboard. Anything to give the old dogs a rest.
Ubisoft saved the best for last because here is where the game really shines. My fondness for the abilities extends to the perks, talents, and other intricacies that make up the RPG elements of the game. But the action is at the core of it all. Gunplay in The Division is nothing to brag about, however, the combination of it and the cover system is. Aside from Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, another Ubisoft product, The Division may have the best cover system I’ve ever seen. In the abandoned wasteland filled with baddies trying to kill you, everything becomes potential cover. A couple of knocked down boxes, a broken down car, a busted paper dispenser, the cab of a semi-truck, a torn apart couch, a rooftop chimney, nearly the entire city is yours to take cover behind. And not only to take cover, but to mantle and transition to the next cover. Firefights in The Division seem more realistic than most modern military shooters thanks to these mechanics. Would you really be dancing in and out behind a wall, or would you be shambling to take cover behind any and everything?
The Division is a culmination of the best and worst of Ubisoft’s next generation approach. Their plan to blend mechanics from all of their franchises and force open-world ideas into all of their games created a Frankenstein in The Division. A solid co-op shooter is overshadowed by a paltry loot system, barren open-world, and practically non-existent multiplayer. A perfect example of the classic jack of all trades master of none. An enjoyable game no doubt, but a little more focus in one or maybe two areas could have made it great. Instead there are five or six decent to bad areas. In a generation filled with genre-breaking titles, The Division would have benefited from conforming to traditional ways.
+ Great cover system
+ Teamwork-oriented gameplay
– Boring loot system
– Inventive yet lacking PvP
– Dead open-world