I often start these reviews by pointing out a common trend. Anyone who has read any other review for the Division is probably bracing themselves right now for me to compare this game to Destiny. Let me get that over now. This game is like Destiny. It’s a game run on numbers. It’s also like Assassin’s Creed, sporting the classic “Here’s an open world map full of shit you can check off, have fun.” approach that has been another common trend in gaming. But not the trend I’m going to talk about. I’m talking about the heart that has been lost in modern games. It seems more and more as games become larger and prettier they lose all meaning and depth. Sure when you start playing they come out of the gate strong. I had planned on giving this game a 9.0 when I started playing it. However, like many recent triple-A games, I quickly realized I was doing pretty much the same things over and over again all to make the numbers go up. If you’re looking for an overly meaningless way to waste your time with guns, there’s few choices better than the beautifully recreated New York City streets of The Division, just don’t expect anything you do in the game to matter in the end.
The crux of the gameplay is also the reason you’ll never have a serious impact on the game world. After a quick couple hours in a tutorial zone, you are thrown into a massive largely persistent city in which you can run around abandoned city streets shooting at bad guys. And that’s about all there is. You get a home base that is unique to you, that you can upgrade to grant yourself new abilities. Every new project you fund in your base is like leveling up in an RPG. Most the improvement you’ll make to your character, however, comes from the loot you’ll pick up killing looters and completing objectives. But no matter how many missions you complete, and how often you are reassured by the game you are making a difference bringing power and food to people who need it, you’ll never see people return to the streets, or things return to normal. The would defeat the point.
The city map is littered with a seemingly endless number of things to check off, but as you tackle them you’ll quickly come to realize they all boil down to doing the same things over and over again. One mission had me clearing out a police precinct. I entered the battlefield and effortlessly the game was able to join me with three other people. What followed was a complete massacre. A later mission said I’d have to scan civilians for disease, but that boiled down to little more than killing a bunch of people until the game told me I was done, and the civilians were thoroughly scanned, presumably by my bullets. Some missions had me killing a bunch of people and then hitting X on a thing. Some missions had me hit X on a thing then defend that thing for 5 minutes by killing a bunch of people. Everytime I gained slightly better gear, and slightly more xp, and slightly more supplies for my home base. Then just rinse and repeat. I spent a long time waiting for the other shoe to drop before I realized there was no other shoe.
For the most part, though, the killing is actually a quality experience. It’s a third person cover based shooter like Gears of War, and like that other game, cover is vital to success in your mission. It’s very snappy how you can be in one cover and point to the next cover you want to be at, then just hold A and watch your person charge there through enemy fire. For people used to Gears, it can feel a little different at first and take some getting used to. But it is a more efficient system. The weapon types felt varied, with Assault rifles feeling a little weak while shotguns packed a comfortable punch for when enemies got too close. Sniper rifles, it seemed, were particularly underpowered in this game largely because no matter how much damage you do, it’s gonna take a lot of shots to take down a majority of enemies in this game.
The enemies are bullet sponges, especially once you start coming across higher tiered (Purple and Yellow colored) enemies. You could empty ten clips into a normal looking human being and he’ll just take it with only nominal damage off his health. For a game that tries for realism in a lot of ways, this does a lot to break the player’s suspension of disbelief. It also makes the game quickly feel like a slog and a grind even after only ten hours of playing. The slog is alleviated only a little by the seamless coop options, but even with three mic’ed strangers I found missions often going bad and all of us getting pushed all the way back to our spawn zones where they would kill us again and again for us to respawn right back in the middle of the swarm. What would follow that would be an hour and a half of us hitting our heads against a brick wall until one of us got the upper hand.
In many ways, The Division is a beautiful game. Most of those ways revolve around how it’s able to so faithfully recreate New York City, down to individual buildings. The beauty doesn’t hold up too much under intense scrutiny, however, as once you start looking too closely it’s not hard to find low resolution textures. The world also has been painted a singular gray, with few notable landmarks or features to distinguish any one area of the map from anywhere else.
As for the weapons and equipment you find to attach to your character, everything makes a little change but almost all of it is virtually imperceptible. The guns are so small on your character, and seem to be of such low texture resolution, that any changes you make or mods you add can really only be for stats. No one will ever get close enough to tell that your shotgun has a goofy paint job, or that your scarf was notably trendy or bold (both adjectives used in-game to describe cosmetic items).
The sound is equally middling as everything else in this game. Sure the surround sound mix is functional and polished, and the ambient sound is actually pretty fantastic. That said, I found the guns all sounded a little weak when compared to the likes of in-house Rainbow Six Siege. Of course in this game they ARE quite a bit weaker, but I don’t believe that was a taken into account with the sound design.
The Voice-over is better than just good, ranking alongside the ambient sound, but it had to. After all, almost the entirety of the story is told through voice over, all while you’re trying to dodge rockets, jump from cover to cover, heal your allies, and not burn alive from flamethrowers. Throwing out names like Doctor Carol Bennet or Rebel Leader James Lieberman, and giving characters complex emotions and personalities are all things that are very impossible to pick up in stressful combat situations. I’m so tired of these current gen games yelling story at me while I’m in no position to pay attention, and then I get lost and have no clue what’s going on. Some would argue they don’t care about the story as long as they have things to shoot and the game tells them on the HUD where to go next, but then story is just another thing we can add to what’s meaningless about this game.
Once done with the city map check list, you really have only two options. You can wander the open world aimlessly, killing anyone you meet and teaming up with other players, but the open world doesn’t have any other real functions besides being an endless series of corridors with things to shoot at. The other option is to go into the dark zone, a squared of center of New York where you’re allowed to fight other players. You don’t have to, of course, but there’s little else in that zone to do. There are no objectives, merely an extraction zone where you must call in a helicopter to extract weapons you find off the high level AI enemies that wander around aimlessly. There are also chests you can open but that’s about it. As can be imagined, the zone is also a breeding ground for trolls, of which I found plenty and had to team with other players to fight against. Even that didn’t seem all that rewarding for any particular length of time.
There’s planned DLC coming in the future, promised to be something like the many person raids in Destiny, or World of Warcraft before that. Even once that’s been implemented, I can’t imagine it will boil down to being anything more than an excuse for even more players to get together and kill things. If you’re looking for something vapid to sink a whole bunch of hours into, there are worse things you could choose than this game. If you had to choose between Destiny or this game, because you really want to get into this pseudo-MMO shooter genre for some reason, I’d personally pick The Division. That likely comes more from my love of the real city more than anything else, but even that bias couldn’t sustain my enthusiasm for this game beyond maybe 12 hours. If you’re looking for a mindless game that lets you run around an abandoned New York City with a gun shooting at lower income civilian looters, A) you’re likely a Republican and B) this is the
perfect only game for you. Even the perpetual snow seems almost like a middle finger in the face of global warming. I think I’m on to something with this propaganda angle. Maybe I should rewrite this…