An Immersive Open-World RPG
Written by TheBluesThe grim premise of Tom Clancy's The Division is that banknotes, a perfect carrier due to the speed at which cash changes hands and moves, have been infected with the smallpox virus. Patient zero's location is in the densely populated W1 postcode of central London, from which the virus has an excellent platform to spread and become a pandemic. The game does a good job of demonstrating how quickly this situation can get out of hand, with the world basically falling to pieces within days as it spreads across the world.
The game itself however is set in Manhattan where you work for a sleeper cell named 'The Division', a cloak and dagger organization aiming to bring some order back to the streets of New York. Criminals have escaped their prisons since the fall of society, and assholes basically rule the streets. Differing types of groups control neighborhoods, and they can ranged from organized criminals, military contractors, rioters, and my favourite -- 'cleansers', who look to destroy the virus by incinerating anything that moves with their flamethrowers. Each of these types of enemies should ideally be approached differently in terms of strategy, and the obvious example is that cleansers have a nice juicy fuel pack on their backs which are just begging to be part of a firework show.
The core gameplay of The Division can be condensed down to the phrase 'shooting and looting', as this is the basis on which you gain XP and level up throughout the game. Much of this is pretty standard RPG-fare, but the game isn't class based so you can mould your character as you see fit, and I appreciated the fact that you can change your character's skills and abilities whenever, even mid-mission, so so you don't get stuck with abilities or bad choices. As you level up, you have two standard skills and a signature skill. There is also a plethora of perks, talents, etc. that will seem somewhat familiar from the game Destiny. You equip yourself, upgrade your weapons and start your missions from your base, which is also akin to the setup you find in Destiny.
Taking cover is a necessity to the play the game, so those looking to run and gun could be disappointed in that respect, but Tom Clancy games have never been particularly conducive to that style of gameplay. The 'closing door simulator' aspect of the trailers is still in tact you may be pleased to hear, and in general, the game is pleasantly interactive. The world is nicely destructible, and sometimes reminiscent of the focus Red Faction had many years ago. You can cut out panes of glass with your bullets. This is hardly incredibly pertinent to the gameplay, but for some reason it feels nice and makes the game come across as nicely polished, and some of the most amusing moments are from the unexpected but realistic consequences of the change going on all around. However, it feels like it falls short of the originally promised amount of interactivity, and kind of feels like it under-delivers, even though compared to its peers, it is objectively better. Bin bags seem to be more like sandbags, and this, out of everything, seems to annoy me the most, but I know it is nit-picking.
The combat is somewhat team focused. Although I've not yet had the opportunity to play it in co-op, which is one of the main selling points of the game, the single player experience shouldn't really differ too much, but I imagine the unlockable team-based abilities will be much more fun with real-life friends at your side. The Dead Zone is where you'll find PVP action, if you're willing to go rogue, and some of the more rare and valuable loot is available here.
Visually, the game is stunning. Using Ubisoft's brand new Snowdrop engine, the world has great clarity and depth. The textures are sharp, and there are no aliasing issues or occasional lighting artifacts that are sometimes found in similar open world and city based games like in the GTA (although that's very harsh on GTA!). Combined with realistic weather effects a sense of spontaneity and realism is added to the game, which is an aspect in which The Division was not lacking in in the first place. While the setting may not be beautiful, being in the midst of a virus outbreak, it is still impactful and enjoyable to see, and the visuals really breathe Manhattan-in-a-pandemic. It really does feel realistic and very immersive. I played The Division on the PC, maxed out, but having seen screenshots on the Playstation 4 and XBox One, I believe it will look just as spectacular on the consoles too.
The sound doesn't quite get as much of a chance to shine, although it may the longer I play, but the production values are well up-to-par with what you'd expect of this level of Tom Clancy blockbuster.
Some criticisms: The world is not as expansive as I would have hoped, but this is a bit of a tradeoff for how detailed the world is. There's no sign of the clone tool in this game, and that's a great plus.
Somehow, a few hours in, the game feels a little bland at times. I think it may be because it's living relentlessly in the real world, and not a happy one either. However, this may be subjective. There are plenty of different types of bad guys, but they are quite similar, given that they are just humans, and there are multiple tools to dispatch them, but it can all still feel quite similar. It's also possible I'm just not being imaginative.
The enemy AI lets the game down at times. Quite often you'll find it easy to dispatch enemies as they don't seem to understand cover, or they'll come flying at you with a melee weapon while you're armed to the teeth.
Overall, Tom Clancy's The Division is an enjoyable game. I haven't had oodles of hours to play it yet, but I have played most of the day, having got a disc copy which activated early, and I feel confident that my opinion, at least with single-player, won't change dramatically. With the addition of multiplayer and co-op, it may very well, and probably for the better. Overall, I feel the game is a very worthwhile game to buy, has very high production values, and -- what's basically important -- is pretty fun.