Back in Black:
The Division is a rallying cry for anyone who considers themselves a Ubisoft fan. The company has felt a bit off in the last few years, with a couple of big releases floundering, but I’m thrilled to say that the Division is a massive success. It promises to make good on Ubisoft’s otherwise fantastic reputation for delivering new and interesting games full of new and interesting ideas, and you should definitely check it out.
The Division is an always-online third-person shooter which tasks you with retaking New York City from the various gangs of survivors, thugs and downright villains that it has become infested with since its collapse. The Dollar Flu, spread by bank notes on Black Friday, ravages the city, forcing the government to wall everything off and quarantine the entire city. It quickly turns into a mass grave.
It’s not your typical post-apocalypse, and as you poke through the remains of this once great city you’ll find storylines show up in the least likely of places. Collectibles in the forms of recordings, ghostly echoes and other intel helps you piece together what happened before the fall. The wide shot is really exciting: there’s some really interesting ideas at play here and the setting itself is fantastically realized, but it’s the close ups that let the side down.
Cutscenes are boring, the people that populate them are irritating and unlikeable, and missions did nothing to engage me with the narrative. A lot of the time I felt like an errand boy rather than a vital part of a team. In a huge multiplayer game such as this it’s expected to feel less important than your traditional protagonist, but even so it’s a let-down not to be able to interact with the fascinating world in a more meaningful way than go here, shoot that.
I’m pleased to report that The Division plays very similarly to those impressive E3 trailers we’ve been ogling for years. It was easy to look at Ubisoft’s own Watchdogs and see some disappointing differences between their hype-filled trailers and the final build, but Division has launched (albeit after some telling delays) with the same smart systems, fantastic multiplayer and snazzy presentation that we were promised.
At its core, The Division is a confident, cover-based shooter that provides plenty of challenging fun. Weaved throughout this solid foundation is some of the MMORPG-lite systems that Destiny popularized last year. Think skill trees, level-ups, guns with numbers and other guns with numbers that are higher than the numbers of the first gun. This constant sense of progression is a heady formula that guarantees you’ll be playing for longer than you initially intended to, both session-to-session and in the long run. Whilst your initial blitz through the campaign (and your climb to the lofty heights of the level 30 cap) will be great, it’s the content after your first rodeo that will really keep you hooked, and The Division has endgame in spades.
The Division is more than just a third-person Destiny. Besides from the obvious differences of a grounded world of human bad guys rather than aliens from outer space, the Division is intent on making its playerbase feel respected right from the get-go. There’s the usual Ubisoft wealth of content here, and the moment you first toggle your map and zoom out you’ll realize that Manhattan feels as intimidating as its real life counterpart. In their single-player open world games Ubisoft’s myriad of mission markers and points of interest felt bloated and unnecessary, but here, as part of a world you’re expected to get lost in for months of your life, they’re a heartening sight.
It also helps that the Division’s distractions all feel important and fun. From the five-minute encounters and side missions to the full scale levels everything is interesting and engaging. Getting lost in any part of the huge map with a couple of friends is a blast, and running into random bands of thugs or hostage situations (with the ever-enticing promise of sweet loot) make any trek from A to Z that much more unique. Indeed, the more directed and curated feel of the large-scale missions serve as a great break from this emergent gameplay rather than the other way round. The explosive and downright difficult missions are great, mind you, and should entertain most parties throughout the game’s lengthy campaign. They can all be tackled repeatedly of course, at higher difficulties and with better loot.
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