It was an honest mistake. I’d only just survived a bandit ambush. Adrenaline still pumping, I caught a flutter of movement in the corner of my eye. I spin around and open fire. Realising my mistake straight away, I drag my aim sideways before releasing the trigger. Thankfully I only grazed what turned out to be a fellow scavenger, rather than another indiscriminate and murderous bandit.
I immediately raise my hands, trying to communicate it was an honest mistake and I meant him no harm – hoping he would be happy for us to part company amicably. Despite my immediate ceasefire though, The Division has marked me as a rogue agent. An untrustworthy type who attacked an innocent in The Dark Zone – an area controlled by violent maniacs watching over valuable weapons and armour.
After what seemed like an eternity of the two of us facing each other down over twenty feet, he did the math. He was a level 15 and I was only a level four, still seriously injured after my last fight. Sure enough he spat out a bust through his assault rifle, dealing infinitely more damage than I would have been able to match with my current weapon, leaving me bleeding out on the sidewalk. He picks my pockets for any loot and leaves, probably for the nearest extraction point. So much violence for a pair of lightly armoured gloves.
This is the nerve-shredding world of The Division’s Dark Zone, where players head into New York’s most dangerous areas to find new loot, often forging a fragile alliance with other online gamers and working together against the strong AI gangs. You can hope to snag rare loot and make it to an extraction point to send it off for decontamination to use later.
At any point though, any player can screw over fellow gamers by taking them out and stealing the loot for themselves. Never is this more tempting when waiting at an extraction point for the chopper to show up. When AI goons are swarming the area and some players are close to death, it would be so easy to pick them off and steal everything at the last moment.
The Division’s take on PvP needs a few more shades of grey though. As soon as you put a single bullet into a friendly, you’re marked on the map as a rogue agent and a hefty XP bonus is promised to any nearby player who takes you out. The game would certainly benefit from giving you the benefit of the doubt for accidentally shooting a fellow online player (say you must inflict a 10% HP reduction before being marked as rogue) so as to avoid friendly fire mishaps like the one mentioned earlier.
The experience is ripe for trolls and assholes. Expect plenty of snipers a few blocks over from an extraction point just picking people off for shits and giggles – they don’t even come down to collect any loot. But oh my, it’s satisfying taking a long route around and coming up on them from behind.
The Division is very much an RPG though. Unlike a shooter like Call of Duty, getting the drop on an opponent by no means stacks the odds in your favour. It’s all about you player level. Skill will only get you so far when there’s a vast level difference between two opponents, which feels grim when you haven’t levelled up much yet. It’s also a considerable factor to consider when looking at the longevity of the game if you’re not going to play often or if you’ve not been in from the start. If you pick up the game in a few months time (or now really), you’re going to be surrounded by high level players who will have no problem taking you out.
There is of course a single-player campaign which you’d be wise to use to cut your teeth for a few days. Set in a New York recently hit with a devastating virus, the streets are empty save for a few stragglers or groups of bandits who attack on sight. Worse yet are the burners, a group of bio suit wearing ‘cleaners’ armed with flamethrowers and machine guns.
New York has been video game fodder for years, and it’s been getting a bit old hat for a while. Spider-Man aside, devs should move on. The Division has shrunk down its map since the original reveal and now takes place on a large chunk of Manhattan just south of Central Park. So landmarks like Times Square, Empire State and Madison Square Garden (the latter not looking like the real one at all it has to be said) are present. Other than that though, many of the streets appear to be identical and it soon starts to feel very repetitive. Sure, the real New York has similar blocks everywhere, for a videogame though, it feels a bit tired and uninspired.
So many buildings are covered in black plastic sheeting, like New York has closed for the winter and is under severe maintenance. It’s just lacking any sort of personality. There are some nice touches though, the snowy weather gives the whole city a haunted appeal and some areas are lit with more signs of life than others. But for every beautiful Christmas decorated and half-burnt out shopping mall there are a dozen scenes set in construction sites or sewers.
The story is super thin and you’ll generally get a better understanding of the outbreak via audio diaries or by replaying visual ‘echoes’ of past events that exist for some completely unexplained reason. With the post-apocalyptic genre being a little busy to say the least, there’s nothing you’ve not seen before.
The campaign missions can be played solo via co-op with matchmaking options available at the entrance to each mission. Co-op means you have a chance of being revived when getting downed, but the enemy numbers seriously ramp up with extra players, significantly more so than seems proportionate it has to be said. There were teething problems at launch (surprise!) but things are much smoother now and I rarely have connection issues.
Levels largely play out in the same way, a lengthy A-B trek with waves of enemies, supported by mini-bosses before a lengthy encounter with an end-level boss rocking an obscene health bar. Each mission has a recommended player level and you’d be wise to not attempt them ahead of time. Growing stronger and finding new gear in order to beat the odds in some difficult fire fights as a team does have an awarding appeal as your latest group of players hang on in there, working together to make it through.
The cover system is excellent and allows you to traverse between walls by pointing the camera at a new cover point and holding X to auto run over. The shooting lacks the precision of an FPS as the guns tend to buck and wobble with sustained bursts of fire. With your character, gear, weapons and enemies all sporting a level number, fire fights are rarely as simple as popping a few headshots into a group of enemies.
Headshots do more damage, but generally, enemies take a hell of a lot of bullets before clocking out. They seem to have worked out a little in-game glitch too of being able to fire their weapons through their own cover as they stand up, meaning you’ll often take a few cheap shots to the teeth. Look out for the huge hit box around you when avoiding swings of enemy baseball bats too. Just because you clearly rolled out of the way, doesn’t mean you’ll avoid a huge chunk of your health bar vanishing.
Levelling up grants you new skills and cooldown abilities, although you can only equip a very small number of them at a time for an RPG shooter. Remote grenades, health boosts, healing AoE (area of effect) drops, stat buffs, mobile shields, sentry turrets and so on. Each of these can be levelled up too for different effects and statuses. Weapons feature many attachments to choose from. You’ll rarely need to buy any as there are regular enemy loot drops. Even the rarer gear drops at a decent rate. Much more than Destiny at least.
Like Destiny, The Division has the potential to be a huge timesink. Before shelling out for future DLC, The Division offers many more missions to get stuck into. However, Destiny has the advantage of cleaner shooting and much more varied level design and some intriguing landscapes.
The fragile alliances tendered during The Division’s Dark Zone encounters elevate the game above your typical online shooter though. They’re not for everyone as the trolling potential can make life incredibly difficult at times when you barely get out of the gate without getting ambushed.
The Short Version: A rather dreary take on New York is easily forgiven if you’re willing to play The Division online. Co-op missions against the AI can be a lot of fun when played with a sensible team. The intriguing temporary alliances found in the Dark Zone and the threat of treachery may to be too intense for those just looking for a fun shooter. Give The Division the time though and you may be hooked.
- Solid co-op missions
- Lots of loot drops and stat heavy choices
- Sweet cover system
- Uninspired setting
- There are some real bastards online
- Not much mission variety
Reviewed on PS4