Destiny was a big hit across consoles, offering something a bit different – sure it’s an FPS game but it has a connected world shared with other players with levelling and lots of grinding to get better gear and increase your stats. Aside from Borderlands this is fairly unique to consoles and now The Division joins the fray with a similar format.
Set in New York City, The Division manages an impressive seamless open world. Hit by a chemical attack on Black Friday, you are a second wave Division agent sent in to figure out what happened to the first wave and start getting the city back on track. Civilians roam along with different factions each coping with the fallout of Black Friday in their own way. Much like Destiny you will see these factions engaging in scuffles of their own but make no mistake – no one is on your side.
Instead of first person, The Division takes a third person cover based shooter approach. It plays very well with good gunplay and the cover system (including movement from cover to cover) works nicely. Given the amount of time you’re likely to spend in game this is an important aspect. Unlike Destiny however you won’t encounter randoms in the open world apart from safe zones that act as communal areas (loading people into your ‘world’ seamlessly as you run into them. These areas are a chance to pick up objectives, teammates, and hear some random (often hilarious) dialogue. One of the people working in one zone wanted to take a selfie with me because of my self of style.
These act as classic Ubisoft style towers to unlock the map essentially. To accompany the myriad of side missions galore there are a vast number of collectibles – ranging from text files to audio logs to ‘echos’ that are 3D simulations of events. These are cool to look at and give an understanding to the backstory which works nicely and is interesting with some fairly dark themes running through a few of them.
Of course like most games of this ilk it is designed to be played as a team really and teamwork opens up a much more dynamic way to play. The main story has 18 core missions that are better with friends – although the latter half will require some levelling up to play. The levelling system is at the core of The Division whereby kills and completion of missions gains XP. XP gains levels which increase health, damage etc. It takes a fairly long time to hit level 30 and start the endgame but it’s fun getting there.
The health and damage stat are only two of a very vast amount of stat porn. This is where Division takes more of a queue from Diablo; with each piece of equipment you collect (which will include armour, holsters, backpacks, kneepads, gloves etc.) having a rating supporting damage, health or support (which is the power of your abilities – more later). This means that the same piece of equipment can reward different benefits so much collection and replacement of gear is required to lean your agent towards the sort of character you want to be. You’re not locked into a class at the start and can change at any time – want to be a tank support? How about a nimble damage dealer? You can be. If you find the right goodies.
Equipment has levels of rarity and power (with gold being the most sought after) but buried beneath the major stats are a vast number of other characteristics all influencing your traits. The higher grade the equipment then the more likely you are to have perks to hand with that equipment – headshots regenerating health for example, providing you have enough core stat values to trigger it.
You also have abilities – unlocked by upgrading each of three areas of your base of operations (completed by doing appropriately coloured missions). These could be enhancing cover to boost defensive capability by reducing damage, or dropping health packs for your buddies. Finally a major special ability can trigger a big enhancement such as a super heal or extra speed.
This clash of realism and MMO RPG elements is a weird one. On one hand you have an incredible amount of freedom in the game world to do what you want and level as you want to. But you also get hit often by the nature of the game – as you level up so do enemies. As a result they typically take more damage so a vast number of headshots and critical hits are required to take them down. Popping a street thug in the head a number of times feels at odds with a Clancy title.
At any point you can venture in the Dark Zone. Here you can still farm baddies for loot but you can also see other players in this section of the game world. And they can shoot you. Or you them. Attacking another player makes you ‘go rogue’ and a bounty is on your head. You’re rewarded for surviving and others are rewarded for hunting you down. Any gear you find (or claim from others) has to be extracted. Players mostly were working together to take down NPC bosses but since it’s been tweaked recently there’s more reward offsetting the risk of going rogue. The Dark Zone is a neat take on PvP although traditional type games wouldn’t go amiss.
If this all seems a bit overwhelming – it is. When you start there are so many icons on your screen, so much to do it’s hard to get your head around it and get a grip on the game world. Once you hit the endgame daily challenges unlock (basically hard versions of missions) although you can replay any mission on hard anytime anyway (just without an extra bonus for the daily). Also a challenge mode unlocks, which each day is a new mission but every single enemy is a boss character level (heavy armour, high damage). Challenging yes, but a bit of a grind.
And that sums up the Division in terms of the endgame. I enjoyed the journey to level 30, and I’ve enjoyed running around the Dark Zone. But now the Division has become a game about getting better loot. This is fine, but there needs to be other things to do. At present when the dust settles (admittedly after many, many hours of play) the Division becomes a game where you do the things you’ve already done to get better loot to make the things you’ve already done a bit easier the next time you do them. This is not a positive gameplay loop. The promise of more content (although how much will be for season pass owners is unclear) and the Division version of a raid coming soon will help but with a very good foundation the challenge is for Ubisoft now to make people come back regular. I’m happy to – but I need more of a reason than to get a purple gun.
Reviewed on PS4