Archives by Day

May 2024

Tom Clancy's The Division

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: March 8, 2016


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

Xbox One Review - 'Tom Clancy's The Division'

by Redmond Carolipio on March 29, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

The Division is an online, open-world RPG where you explore the once-familiar streets and landmarks of the Big Apple, now decimated by looting and overrun by clans that will do anything to survive.

Buy Tom Clancy's The Division

Fears of Islamic radicalism have been coloring both the real and fictional narratives of terrorism for years, but Tom Clancy's The Division reminds us that Americans don't really have to tread far to find enemies. Sometimes, home is where the terror is.

With a story that sips from a cocktail of fears borne from American terror concerns and consumer tendencies, this ambitious body of work from Massive Entertainment finds a way to be engrossing, innovative and addictive but sometimes pointlessly thick and draining. These are actually the same criticisms I've had about some of the late Tom Clancy's books, so it feels fitting to make them about what would be the equivalent of a fantasy role-playing game in his world.

Like many RPGs, the overarching story sets the table for the rest of the game. New York City has been wiped out over the holidays because of a homegrown and fatal super-virus that was intertwined into the nation's cash and then spread exponentially on Black Friday. The ensuing chaos and degeneration of society calls for the activation of The Division, a group of trained and embedded agents tasked with restoring order and solving problems on a mass scale. You're part of the second wave of Division agents, answering the call in Brooklyn and seeing your future avatar stare into the window of a police car on a desolate street. Thus begins character creation, another vital part of contemporary RPG immersion.

If you're expecting Fallout-level options with the hopes of crafting the perfect Hulk Hogan replica to save New York, you won't find them. Character creation is more limited than I expected but still solid enough with choices for face, gender, hair, skin tone, tattoos/scars/warpaint and accessories like eyebrow piercings and sunglasses. Throughout the game, you'll also find an extensive list of outfit options to give your character his or her personal swag. You can't name your character, however, so be prepared to just be acknowledged as "you." It didn't bug me as much as my character never uttering a word while other characters did all of the talking. Apparently your Division agent is the strong and forever-silent type, which didn't do much for my yearnings of true escapism into the game's world.

It's a stunning world to view, considering all of the moving parts involved with open-world gaming. Once character creation is done and you start learning the game, you'll eventually find yourself sucked into how fully realized Massive's representation of a snowy, post-crisis New York truly is. Most of the story takes place in Manhattan and its areas, including zones like Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen and Times Square. Each area carries its own vibrant, visual personality and level difficulty. You'll find yourself crossing famed NYC landmarks, like Madison Square Garden. Your agent's home base is actually the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's diving into this world where many of the comparisons to Destiny ended for me, because Destiny, for all its intergalactic glory, always felt a little stale in its worlds. No such problem with The Division. Many of the 80-plus hours I invested into the game were spent wandering around and exploring Manhattan.

That sense of exploration actually helps the pacing of the storytelling, which is a slow burn and spread over more than 20 missions that you can tackle solo or with others. The characters you encounter are entertaining in short bursts of personality conveyed through solid voice work and snippets of information you find in side missions and a variety of collectibles throughout the game world. I thought this made the story more compelling, as the crux of the tension around the plot focused on the fact that you generally don't know how this disease and the machinations behind it came to pass.

While all of this sounds like a solid premise for something to read on paperback or tablet, it can all be unexplored if the gameplay doesn't at least match it. Thankfully, there's more than enough here to keep players engaged. It far from perfect, but it works.

I feel the need to make this point clear about the gameplay: This is an RPG dressed in the clothes of a tactical shooter. It is not Rainbow Six or Call of Duty. Understanding and accepting this will lessen the shock of you shooting a crazed sanitation worker in the head and not having them die instantly. Fantasy and sci-fi RPG characters have been shaking off projectile shots and death strikes to the eyes, head, heart and other soft parts for years, including everyone's games of the year, Fallout 4 and Witcher 3. The Division does the same. Embrace it, and you'll be much happier.

With that said, shooter fans will adapt to the combat on an old-school level. You press the A button to snap into cover in classic post-up, back-to-the-action fashion, while the left trigger aims and the right trigger fires. Special abilities and weapons, like rolling mines and damage boosts, can be activated with the left and right shoulder buttons. The nuance arrives when it comes to cornering around cover with half/quarter-circle motions of the left thumbstick, sprinting to different points of cover by maneuvering the camera with the left thumbstick, seeing if the A button prompt pops up and then pushing A to do a hunched-over run that'll remind you of Gears of War.

The point-and-move mechanic reminded me a bit of other tactical shooters. Overall, it's an intricate and sometimes fluid scheme if you're fully mindful of all you can do during a firefight. It is not, however, the most intuitive. I sometimes wrestled with cover more than I wanted, even popping out of it involuntarily. I'd sometimes try to roll away from grenades and stick to cover when I didn't want to, leaving me open for some looter to pepper me with rounds.

I found enemies to be a little smarter than I expected, sticking to cover and flanking when necessary. I enjoyed not being able to simply mow through a pack of gun-toting thugs — rather, I needed to be mentally engaged with every fight. I also noticed there was something of a "Warriors" feel to the enemies, who were split into three major factions: The Cleaners, a crazed group of former sanitation workers who want to burn the disease (and everyone they deem diseased) out of the city; the Rikers, a bunch of escaped convicts; and the Last Man Battalion, a private military force that's taken it upon itself to impose its brand of "order." Each of those factions has the equivalent of a hard-to-kill boss character as a leader, which added another touch of retro RPG nostalgia for me, since I had to whittle down someone's armor before I could take them out and get the stuff they dropped.

Ah, grinding and looting, the most "RPG" thing ever. Strip away all of the other awesome bells and whistles The Division throws at you, and you'll still find yourself pounding away at the litany of side missions, trying to ascend to level 30 and on the lookout for ways to buy or obtain the best equipment to make your time in NYC a little easier. I am admittedly not an extreme RPG player, but I can't remember the last occasion I spent this much brainpower on comparing the damage-per-second metrics between assault rifles and submachine guns before finding one that was "just right." Instead of a wine snob, I became a fictional weapon snob, and the Superior AUG A3 Para XS was my McPrice Myers "Bison" Syrah. That kind of fanaticism extended to pieces of armor, gloves, and anything else that could aid in my quests. I ended up fast-traveling to unlocked safe houses across Manhattan solely for the purpose of browsing the wares of the gear and weapons vendors. I had the option of building my own weapons with parts and elements I've found scattered around the city. There's even a section in your upgradeable home base where you can eventually "roll" for new attributes for some of your equipment.

Nothing quite encapsulates that fusion of the desire for better items and base human nature, however, quite like the walled-off Dark Zone. A game unto itself, the Dark Zone is canonically the place where the outbreak of the disease hit NYC the hardest. On the digital map, it's a red scar down the middle of Manhattan, and it's where players can find the most powerful items. The catch is that it's also where the most powerful enemies reside and where other players can go rogue and kill each other for gear. Items you find in the Dark Zone have to be "extracted" via helicopter, and you have to summon the chopper with a flare. This can attract the native denizens of the Dark Zone as well as other players. Some might want to get in on the extraction action, while others smell a chance to steal some loot from your dead hands. The Dark Zone is perhaps the most fascinating part of the game, mainly because you're never sure what'll happen when you run into other people. I've killed off looters, organically joined up with others, been on both ends of crews of people who band together to take out others. It's the perfect place to kill time and get the juice of player-versus-player action.

The juice is necessary at times because outside of the Dark Zone and the story missions, the available side missions can start feeling intensely repetitive once you start opening up the map. Every neighborhood seems to have the same issues, whether it's trying to re-establish an uplink or hostages that need to be rescued. You'll find yourself tackling some of these out of necessity, since some of the major story missions require players to be at a certain level so they are not overwhelmed. I had fun with a lot of the side missions, but they eventually started feeling like a necessary chore.

At least you can have people online to help with those chores, and the game is in its truest form when played with friends who are within striking distance of your current level. There many more enemies to deal with when there are three or four people in a squad, and you get to experience the organic nature of either gathering a squad of friends together or utilizing a variety of features to join other agents around the map. One issue, which I'm not sure how Massive can address, is the inability to play with friends with much lower level. I once "broke" a mission for a couple of friends who were levels 8 and 13, respectively, when my level 30 character joined the group and inadvertently caused the levels of the enemies to crank all the way up to 25, making it practically impossible for my friends to stay alive. It's disappointing there are some players on my friends list who can't enjoy the game with me.

My final point comes back to the story. While the pacing and spread-out nature of the narrative serve the game well, it does itself a slight disservice with a soft ending that hints at more to come. It doesn't ruin the game, but when a game demands the kind of legwork The Division does, you expect a little more of a payoff. I was pleasantly surprised at how much everything worked coming out of the box. I ran into very, very few instances where the game truly "broke" unless you're counting any times my Internet connection skipped and stopped me from playing the game.

I'm also probably going to head back into Tom Clancy's The Division in the weeks or months to come as more content emerges and bugs get fixed. Ubisoft has something with serious potential, and it'll be intriguing to see what shape this world takes. I also want to see what stuff awaits in unexplored corners of the Dark Zone. That's really it.

Score: 8.1/10

More articles about Tom Clancy's The Division
blog comments powered by Disqus