Many years have passed since we first learnt of Tom Clancy’s The Division, in fact it was delayed quite a few times, but now that it is here, is it worthy of the Tom Clancy name and have the delays been worth it?
The story of The Division is one of its strongest parts, as it’s something you could see happening, which is a pedigree of any Tom Clancy story, in fact all of the Clancy games share that DNA. In the United States of America, they have their big shopping day after thanksgiving and call it Black Friday, think our Boxing day sales, someone took this frenzied space as the perfect time to release a bio-weapon into the populous called Green Poison, a modified version of the Small Pox virus and it transmitted by having it applied to stacks of dollar bills, which were being handed around like candy on that day, which resulted in the virus spreading fast. You are a member of the Division, a group of everyday citizens trained to work alone, or within groups to tackle the most dangerous situations, in order to keep the system of government working and you are activated as part of the second wave, hoping to help contain and restore New York City to its former glory.
The first wave went into the city and after a while contact was lost, which is why you are here, when you first land in New York, you are tasked with helping establish a base in a Post Office, which then allows you to work out of there. Your next task is gathering some people who can lead up each of the wings, granting you access to upgrades and extra information to what happened before your arrival. As you start to explore the different sections of the city, you will encounter people who need your help and those who refuse it and of course they are the baddies, the Rioters, Cleaners and more. Each group controls different sections of the city, but they do still wander into other territories as well, which can lead to them fighting amongst themselves. As you complete side missions and base upgrade missions, you will earn better gear and level up, which will allow you to enter the higher level zones, which then allows you to earn better gear and level up some more, it’s a cycle.
You as the player are pretty much a one-person army, there are times when you can dominate all the foes foolish enough to cross your path, but there are also times when you will be overwhelmed, which is a good thing as the game supports groups. You can group up by a few methods, either in the safe houses, direct with a player or at the start of major missions, the game does not scale up the mission difficulty when you go in with more than one person, but you can choose to increase it, if you want to aim for better rewards. The problem with the missions, we will call them single player missions from now on, is that they repeat way too often, almost all of the missions for the medical wing require you to boot up scanners in infected parts of the city, then send the data on, or rescue hostages. The security and tech wing missions are almost the same in each part as well, the missions that populate once you find the mission giver in the safe house are the same things also as well, reclaim a checkpoint, stop an arms deal, locate a missing person and so on, the only thing that changes is the locations they take place in.
No matter if you are playing solo, or with people, the games world is empty, sure there are cars everywhere, dogs yapping around the place and such, but there is nothing to do between any of the missions, there is nothing else to do in the game world, apart from the missions. Some might say that just like other games of its class, it does not need other things to do, but even within the base, there is nothing to do and we are not going to count that “shooting range”. A few small mini games, or events could have gone a long way to making the city feel alive, even in its state of post viral hell. Of course, the main missions, the ones you will need to upgrade the base at least do offer up some fun, with the mission to destroy the cleaner stronghold a standout one for me. When you are in mission though, the game does just click and things work a treat, shooting might not be as accurate as a FPS, but it does not need to be, headshots won’t get you an instant kill, because people are protecting themselves. Some enemies will rush you while equipped with a riot shield, meaning you need to be smart on how you attack them, others will throw grenades and others will just rush you, the variety of ways the enemies can attack is greatly appreciated.
Thankfully, you as an Agent also have a pretty well-built arsenal of tools at your disposal, sure grenades are a given, but as you upgrade your base, you will unlock new abilities that can really help you shape your experience. One upgrade will unlock the pulse ability for you, which allows you to see what enemies are nearby, handy if you are worried about being ambushed, while another will let you bring portable cover with you, allowing you to recover a little no matter where you are. These abilities have cooldowns, so you need to use them in the right times, which is important, as using the auto turret in the wrong spot can leave you in a bad way when you really need it. As you upgrade the base you will also unlock skills and perks, the perks are constant unlocks, meaning you will get a permanent boost on something, it might be carrying more medpaks or grenades or something else. Abilities are things you can choose from, one might grant you a chance not to use a bullet if you get a headshot, or to take 30% less damage when moving between cover. Combining the perks and abilities is crucial to helping you find the right playstyle for yourself, having the wrong ones applied, can leave you at the mercy of the games harder enemies.
Of course, all this is important when playing throughout the boroughs of NYC, but once you step into the Dark Zone, they become even more important. The Dark Zone is the PVP/End Game space for the game and while you can enter it around level 5, you really need to be higher and a part of a group, as not only are the enemies much tougher in the Dark Zone, but they are in larger groups and you will need to contend with other players. The Dark Zone does contain some missions, but its more about exploring and finding loot, while avoiding the eyes of other players, as once you have your loot, you will need to get it to an extraction point, because you won’t be able to walk out of the Dark Zone with loot that is covered in the virus. Extractions are funny little events, you can call on them as long as an Extraction point is free, but doing so will start a timer, meaning that you need to wait there and while you wait, other players and enemies will move on your position. While you are waiting you will need to defend your spot, because if you fall in the Dark Zone, other players can pick up your loot, making all your hard work worthless. The Dark Zone is fun, but you really do need to play in there with other people, it does however make for a great shortcut between the sides of the map.
Speaking of the map, the game promises to let you save what remains of New York City, the problem is you are only allow to access the middle third of the island, with the remaining sections walled off. This only highlights how little there is to do in the game, if the entire of NYC was on offer, without restriction, then you could be forgiven for the lack of things to do on the island, but as we are offered with only a small amount, it really does hurt. While the map maybe small and offer little to do apart from shooting things, the game world that is presented here is stunning, the level of detail, with cars showing signs of impacts from crashes, piles of garbage bags filling the streets and even, sad to say it, the mass graves show off even how vile things can get, each aspect of the city has been crafted with a lot of attention. Sadly, there are quite a few repeating interiors, down to the exact layout of items in stores, however most of the game is a big wow moment, but the visual wow of everything is lost with the pop in. The game only really shows things within a hundred meters in game in any form of detail, past that point it shows lower quality assets and then as you get closer, things get better. The problem with this approach is while sure, it makes a building look nicer, trees, signs, lights, banners and more all pop in, which draws the eye to those points. The game looks its best when the snow is falling, or fog rolls in from the water, filling the streets and making things harder to see, add to that the lights that shine through, it’s quite a site, it’s a shame that we are back to fog filling in a game world to hide things again.
It is sadly not the only performance issue the game has, there were a number of times the game would lag, with sounds still playing out and then the visual would play catch up, there were also times that enemies would be teleported around, as if they had been running to that place all that time, I was just not allowed to see it. These issues only serve to highlight the pointless need to be connected to a server at all times, as they would have all been caused by server lag. If I were in a group when these occurred, they would be frustrating, but as I was solo when I encountered these it only fuelled my desire to be offline. The other major issue the game has is with the in game audio, the score of the game is fine, but it only really kicks in when you are in combat, the music tracks you here in the safe houses are ok, but I never really paid attention to them. No the audio problems come from the dialogue spoken by everyone, the main characters say the same thing to you when you upgrade part of the base, the people seeking shelter within the base repeat themselves every time I went in there and even out on the street, the number of conversations that repeated themselves bordered on the insane. Perhaps the biggest complaints is the pirate radio DJ, who repeats his “stories” every few minutes, the safe house missions givers that all fall within set personalities, including creepy stalker guy and that half of the bad guys roaming the streets of New York City appear to be called Alex.
Tom Clancy’s The Division is a game of great potential, while you can play solo, playing with a group is more fun. Sadly, the game has perfected its combat core and skills and little else when it comes to gameplay and while the Dark Zone does offer up some more challenges for players, it still is just essentially more of the same.