To loot, or not to loot?
I was pinned down, under-ranked, and fighting to stay alive; yet I knew I had to continue because I wanted better gear. Moving up, cover to cover trying to stay out of the line of fire, I slowly started picking away at my enemies until suddenly help arrived. My matchmaking buddies came for backup to help me finish the fight. This is just one example of how dynamic The Division can be. It provides strategic teamwork to firefights that few games in recent memory have been able to capture.
The story is set in a quarantined Manhattan in which a black friday smallpox outbreak threatens the well-being of the people of New York. You play as an agent tasked to handle the situation at hand, and to ‘clean the streets’ of any threats. The ‘threats’ are essentially different factions that control parts of manhattan. The story, for what its worth is promising, yet doesn’t have a very compelling, or politically driven arc that would keep the player invested. Then again, the game is a third-person loot-based shooter that relies more on the action and looting compared to the story developing along-side the player. I couldn’t help feel that if this game was more linear and focused on storytelling, I would feel more invested than I actually was.
During my first few hours with The Division I felt a sense of attachment that few games have had on me in recent years. I felt a constant need to progress further and build my character up. The Divisions rewards range from different types of weapons to various attachments, as well as cosmetic items for your agent. The player can equip up to three weapons at any given time, primary, secondary, and sidearm. It may seem scarce that there are only a certain amount of weapons consisting of light-machine guns, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, pistols and snipers, but the constant looting will keep the player switching out between better weapons.
You can also choose which special ability, as well as trait you want for your agent. Some of these abilities include mini turrets, health regeneration packs, and many more. The more you level up, the more options you can choose from. For example, if I level up enough, I can choose to switch out my traditional turret, with one that acts as a flamethrower instead. There are plenty of different abilities, but I won’t go into to many details about them, you will have to see for yourself.
The inventory seems quite convoluted at first, showing the different stats of guns as well as health and armor. But once you figure out how the systems work, the management becomes quite easy. It’s so easy, in fact, you can switch between weapons and abilities while in combat (just make sure you’re behind cover). This constant micro-management adds for an under-belly method of strategic planning. Having the player think on his/her feet gives a more dynamic approach to the game that isn’t at face value. Speaking of dynamic, the firefights can become pretty intense, and potentially very tough if one is not careful. The a.i. is surprisingly impressive, I felt certain enemies would find ways to flank me if I wasn’t paying attention, they also become quite dangerous (especially snipers) if you peek your head out for too long. Some players may find the gameplay a bit divisive if they haven’t played a ton of third-person shooters.
Some mechanics feel very tight, others not so much. One frustrating example I had was the cover system. Once you get to cover you can choose which obstacle, or overturned object in the environment you would like to move to with the camera. Once you locate the cover you have to hold a prompt (whether its the A button X, or PC control) down until you reach the object. I found myself trying to move toward an object and halfway through I stopped, only to be shot at. The other annoyance I found was the switching between weapons. I found it quite tedious, often frustrating when I would switch to a weapon I didn’t mean to.
The Division doesn’t just consist of a main story. There are side activities to take part in, as well as a variety of different collectables to discover that add to the story of how different circumstances unfolded during the outbreak. The side activities are a way to add a little more experience as well as different items for your agent. Side missions end up becoming repetitive though, mostly consisting of a few main tasks such as protecting supplies, rescuing hostages, stopping virus’, assaulting strongholds, taking out commanders, rinse and repeat. In this day and age when games are trying to push the boundaries you would think The Division would come up with a few more mission variants. Side missions provide upgradable points upon completion, these points can be used to upgrade different wings of your base. As the base gradually gets upgraded more shops and different accessories to help the player become available.
Then there is the dark zone, the dark-zone is essentially a quarantined zone that divides through the center of manhattan. In a way, it’s no mans land, filled with decay and hostiles everywhere. The dark-zone is divided into six levels, the bottom level being dark-zone one up to the the top being dark-zone six. From bottom to top the levels become increasingly difficult. To enter the dark-zone, the player must pass through checkpoints, each dark-zone level has multiple checkpoints in which to seamlessly gain access. The checkpoints provide ammo, as well as vendors to purchase different weapons and accessories. Each level has multiple landmarks scattered throughout. Landmarks are locations that house bosses similar to the one’s in the main story. Once these areas are cleared players can loot weapons and gain phoenix credits which can be used to purchase weapons in single player. There are also quarantined locations throughout that harbor weapons unlocked with the given dark-zone rank. The dark-zone rank is a separate ranking system compared to the main game. The more enemies are killed, as well as rogue agents the higher the dark-zone rank goes.
The key to success in the dark-zone is teamwork. With a group of players, the odds of having success is far greater than being alone. I realized this the hard way, as I tried to take on a bunch of enemies by myself. It’s also important to communicate; I’ll be honest I’m not the most vocal when it comes to multiplayer games. The Division changed that habit, I found myself putting in a mic into my controller and engaging like never before. Dark-zone extractions also become a lot easier with a group. With dark-zone extractions players signal a helicopter to come in and acquire the gear they acquired. Once initiated, a countdown commences, and players must fight enemies as until their items are extracted.
As I started to reach my level thirty cap, I began to realize that there wasn’t a whole lot to help me crawl my way to max level. The only choices I had were to replay missions all over again. One design choice that could have helped with phoenix credits, as well as high-end loot grinding would be to apply the same landmarks found in the dark-zone to the main play area. This choice would make it slightly less frustrating to acquire better weapons. Another small gripe is the load times between joining missions. The matchmaking is pretty simple, but the long load times rival titles such as Bloodborne in comparison. Every once in a while I would be booted back to the main menu, only to restart the whole process over again. Even though the load times can become frustrating, there is no denying the sheer fun at the center of the game, and amount of fun outweighs small gripes.
Over the eighty plus hours I have put into The Division at this point, I still find myself having fun. Even though there isn’t a ton of end-game content, there are still reasons to keep coming back. The gameplay is solid, the dark-zone is challenging, and I constantly found myself being rewarded for missions. The Division is a promising start for this new franchise, and with the upcoming downloadable content, it seems it may have legs to last a long time. Finally, if readers were wondering, yes, the car door shutting animation is still in the game.
*originally written on April 2, 2016