New York is a plague-ridden wasteland. You’re a deeply embedded secret agent who has to team up with a bunch of other deeply embedded secret agents to take back what’s left of the city. And really it shouldn’t be this much fun doing it.
The Division (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
At this point, graphics belly-aching is inevitable, but even the nitpickiest whiner can’t get around the fact that The Division is a beautiful game. Rendering one of the best-known cities in the world is a tricky business, and they got it right. It sounds great too, with a John Carpenter-esque synth-heavy soundtrack, and you’ll want to unlock safe houses just to see what kind of lunacy is your situational officer; you’ll come across everything from a New Agey guy to a pompous actor to a lovely and kind mother of two, which gives the game some needed personality. That said, some of the incidental voice acting leaves something to be desired, and they could have recorded more lines. If the looters are to be believed, there are a lot of guys named Alex who stuck around Manhattan to break stuff, and there’s this one guy who really, really wants booze that you’ll get familiar with fast.
Ubisoft isn’t really reinventing much, here. It’s a third-person shooter that straddles the line between arcade action with enemies absorbing whole clips of bullets and tactical planning, as taking, and breaking, cover is crucial to survival. Most of the game feels assembled from other games, but The Division tends to take the best parts of those other games, like borrowing the high-pressure action of The Order 1886 and mashing it up with the loot system from Destiny, or using the augmented reality interface from Watch Dogs and tossing in a dash of the Batman: Arkham series’ detective missions.
To be honest, you almost wish this game didn’t have main missions. It’s not that they’re not fun, but they tend to be fairly standard guided turkey shoots; get a cover position, line up a headshot, and then gun down everybody else, although exploring your environment to find the right cover can pay off. It’s in the side missions and encounters where the game really shines, because those tend to make the most out of its open world with shifting strategies and multiple ways to tackle an encounter. That gives the fighting some of its most tense and frantic moments, but there are also little platforming puzzles to solve, clocks to beat, and other varied and entertaining little missions to solve. A nice touch is that health regeneration is limited, so you can’t absorb bullets and then heal by ducking behind a barrier.
Similarly, it has a pleasing sense of momentum. Every marker on the map, no matter how trivial, contributes in some way to incrementally improving some aspect of your game, whether it’s a mod schematic, the supplies you need to unlock perks or a little bit of XP. None of it feels like filler or busywork, either: You might be taking an enemy position, defending supplies or personnel in an area disturbingly low on cover, or rescuing hostages. There’s plenty of variety, and nothing feels canned.
Also, considering it was gunning for Destiny‘s “social shooter” audience, somebody sat down and took some notes about what fans hated about that game. The map is contiguous, the loot drops are just common enough to be handy without burying you in crap to dump at the vendor, and if you want to go it alone, you can, but teaming up is rewarded. Finding a party was a relatively smooth experience, and matchmaking was fairly solid. That said, don’t be surprised if there are substantial refinements to both in the coming days, especially as community content is introduced, and we do wish that the game didn’t require a constant Internet connection, although the servers only went down for us a few times, and generally got back up quickly.
That said, unless you’re hardcore PVP, it’s better to avoid the Dark Zone as much as possible. That’s the one place the game seems to have the most kinks to work out, and there’s a lot of trolling.
There’s a lot to do here even if you can’t be bothered to find a party. If you want to fully upgrade your base, do every side mission, and walk out of the city at the end with the most ridiculous gun, don’t be surprised if it takes a good 20 hours or more.
There’s going to be free daily and weekly content, and some monthly free updates will add new missions and high-level endgame shenanigans. There is, of course, also paid DLC, but the game is definitely substantial enough that you won’t need them if you don’t want them.
The Division is ultimately a game that has fairly modest goals: It wants to be a really fun shooter with a lot to do, and it wants to be a game you’ll want to play a lot with your friends. Whether the community sticks over the long term is anyone’s guess, and if you want something you’ve never played before, look elsewhere. But even if you’d rather go it alone, you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.