This post was written by Trey Sanders for Big Shiny Robot. You can reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Clancy’s: The Division — Ubisoft/Massive Entertainment — PS4/Xbox One/PC — 03.08.16 — $60
On Black Friday in New York City, a mutated strain of the smallpox virus (dubbed the “Green Flu”) has spread throughout the city and quickly reached pandemic levels. The majority of it’s people have either died or are dying at an accelerated rate. The government activates sleeper agents from the Strategic Homeland Division, or The Division, to help the Joint Task Force (JTF) restore order and safety to the city. After meeting up with Faye Lau and getting shot down in a helicopter, you liberate the James A. Farley Post Office Building and make it your Base of Operations. From there you begin work on upgrading the Medical, Tech and Security wings of the building by completing their respective missions as you liberate what’s left of New York City.
The team at Massive Entertainment (Ubisoft Massive) have crafted an insanely tight and fun gameplay experience for their Action/MMO/RPG hybrid. They’ve taken the cover mechanics from Splinter Cell: Conviction, fused it with the tactical gunplay of EA’s “Mass Effect 3” and the overbearing amount of content from “Watch Dogs”. For a third-person shooter, it feels like a visceral first person affair. The controls are tight and responsive, the weapon’s fire and recoil realistically; aiming from the hip or down the sights is impeccable and satisfying (especially with a Marksmen Rifle), the cover mechanic is simple, direct and invigorating; the character's movements are heavy, yet agile (save for a crouch and jump ability) and the map — the most aesthetically pleasing in gaming history — is easy to access as well as navigate. However, with all of these great mechanics working in unison, the content of the game doesn’t seem to match that level of cohesion.
Comme Ci, Comme Ça
The Division borrows many mechanics and mission structures from other Ubisoft titles like “Watch Dogs”, the “Far Cry” series, and “Assassin’s Creed: Unity”, along with any MMORPG before it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — they all incorporate a great variety of missions to keep you busy and an overall sense of reward, but there’s just as many that become monotonous and annoying. Aside from the major storyline missions, there are various (and far too easy) side missions. These, as well as encounters, unlock tech, security, and medical supplies that help improve their respective wings of your Base of Operations. These unlock new abilities, talents and perks, but after you’ve reached level 30, there’s almost nothing else to keep you coming back for an extended amount of time. Completionists on the other hand will have no qualms travelling from safe house to safe house, scouring every inch of Lower Manhattan for an overwhelming amount of evidence like: lost cell phone conversations, missing person beacons, downed drones, JTF audio files, survival pages, and the “Batman: Arkham” Esque “ECHO’s” that provide a deeper look into the events of the outbreak; even with hundreds of them floating around, it’s hard to justify collecting them when there’s little to no reward for the tedious hunt, but this is narrowly saved by the best part of the game.
The Dark Zone
The Dark Zone is the most contaminated area of lower Manhattan and has been sectioned off from the rest of the city. This is where the best loot in the game is hidden and your job is to find it and extract it for decontamination back at your Base of Operations. Populating the Dark Zone are heavily armored and highly dangerous NPC’s, as well as other player controlled Division agents. Once inside the massive and unpredictable PVP/PVE concrete jungle, you and your team (always bring a friend!) begin the anxiety inducing loot and gear hunt. There is no such thing as safety in here, because not only will the NPC’s shoot on site, the other Division agents can’t be trusted and could go “rogue” at any moment, steal your gear and extract it as their own. Going rouge is all too tempting and immensely fun, but after doing so, everyone will be gunning for you to take back what was stolen from them. The Dark Zone is a unique gaming experience, but outside of finding new gear in level locked chests that can be opened with Dark Zone keys, or killing named enemies for the gear they hold, it becomes just as monotonous as the PVE sections of the game. At the moment, it still lacks the content to keep you wanting more, but with the promise of Incursions and constant supply drops, the Dark Zone is still a promising and enticing endeavor.
The Snowdrop Engine
The Snowdrop Engine is an absolute marvel and bona fide powerhouse. Despite the fact that the game doesn’t look anywhere near the quality of its reveal did three years ago, the visuals are still incredibly beautiful and crisp. The colors pop and saturate where necessary, the lighting and shadows are frighteningly accurate, the psychics are jaw dropping and freakishly realistic, and the reflections from every surface are absolutely surreal and beautiful. New York City has never looked so empty, but because of this powerful engine, it makes you feel the weight of a once great city that has crumbled to its knees. Empty, decrepit cars litter the streets, outbreak and containment signs are everywhere to remind you the severity of the Pandemic, the few civilians still alive loot shops and ask you for help, trash is piled high on the sidewalks and mountainous in it’s alleyways. Every iconic skyscraper is beautifully detailed and stretches for miles and miles with little to no load times. Besides the initial loading screen the game only loads for respawns and fast traveling to safe houses or missions. It’s impressive how few there are for a game so large in scale, visual fidelity, incredibly destructive environments, impromptu firefights and an overbearing amount of content.
Over the years, Ubisoft’s “Tom Clancy” titles have been driven by story, and have been somewhat linear games; “The Division” is no exception to this, but as a more spread out and self discovered pace. “Tom Clancy” titles have never been associated with RPG’s by any stretch, and although this game has plenty of room to improve, they’ve succeeded in making a truly strategic, fun, and addicting RPG experience that can carry the banner with pride; let’s just hope that with the promise of plenty of end game content down the line, that it keeps those who stick around, more reasons to keep coming back.