The Division delivers on its promise to provide an open-world shooter that scales well enough to play like a single-player campaign or a challenging four player co-op MMO.
After a series of delays and awe-inspiring E3 presentations, Tom Clancy's The Division has finally arrived. Ubisoft's shooter MMO may be compared to a number of titles, but it is clearly it's own thing. The game puts the focus on story and delivers a gameplay experience that scales incredibly well from solo sessions to co-op teams of four.
Just about every MMO has an amazing setting and story on paper, but those big ideas don't always translate well to a genre that loves its level and gear grinding. The Division bucks the trend by offering a compelling medical thriller that functions incredibly well as a single-player experience, if players choose to roll solo.
For readers who have missed the last three years of marketing, The Division is an open-world third person shooter MMO that takes place in New York, during the aftermath of a chemical attack. The city is on lockdown and criminal factions have taken control. Players take on the role of a top secret Division agent who is called in to help manage the turmoil and bring some order to the streets.
The real success of The Division's story is in its delivery. Crucial moments arrive in the form of cutscenes, radio broadcasts flesh out context and characters, and the game's unique echo points offer stationary reconstructions of past events that shed light on the world before everything went to hell. The mix between traditional single player storytelling tropes and the less intrusive recordings and echo points is perfect. Even gamers who have no interest in gear grinding, PvP, or co-op will likely enjoy The Division's main storyline and challenging missions.
One of the few downsides to The Division's world-building is its similar themes. Unlike in game's like World of Warcraft, where each zone has a very different look and feel, all of The Division kind of just looks like a post apocalyptic city (which makes sense). Although the style fits the game's flavor very well and makes for a faithful-looking NYC, the lack of variety does make it a little difficult to keep track of where the player is without pulling up the map.
When it come to pulling up the map, though, the game's user interface is easy to read, fast to navigate, and aesthetically pleasing. In true RPG fashion, players are going to spend a lot of time in the menu screen comparing the stats of clothing or weapons and studying the benefits of each skill and perk. Luckily the game makes that chore very easy with a clear menu system and stats that are deep enough to lead to tough decisions, but simple enough to understand without always heading to a forum and seeing what the number crunchers have to say.
As for the gameplay, The Division takes some risks by committing to the run and cover approach. Luckily, the run and cover mechanic works very well and is easy to pick up. The system does take away the usual options to crouch, jump, or go prone at will - a jarring change for fans of other popular shooters - but each area is loaded with plenty of places to duck and cover. The setting also adds another layer of strategy and complexity to shootouts by almost always including verticality. Finding a way to clear out the high ground and take it for yourself is a key to success in many of The Division's firefights, which force players to be on the move. Staying behind one slab of concrete for a whole encounter is almost never a safe option and the AI is smart enough to push players out of hiding and force them to adapt.
The game's enemies come in four factions and each faction features similar roles, from tanks to grenadiers. On normal difficulty, the enemies offer a decent challenge and groups who run into encounters without any strategy are very likely to experience a few wipes. The AI gets even smarter and tougher when players switch to Hard mode and the challenge will likely be welcomed by players who want to be pushed to the limit and earn some extra credits as a reward.
Players who dig the challenge of Hard mode will likely also enjoy the unique experience of The Dark Zone. The PvP-enabled zones provide a truly intense and terrifying gameplay experience that is unlike anything seen in AAA shooters before. The stakes are high, the AI is tough, and other players can turn on you and steal your hard-earned loot at any moment. The gimmick may wear off at some point, but for now the Dark Zones and their separate experience and gear are a highly entertaining way to spend time in The Division.
Time will tell whether The Division's end-game is full of enough content to keep players entertained and busy, but it certainly has enough to offer for freshly maxed out characters. Daily missions and repeatable quests kick off the loot grind that is the inevitable conclusion to any MMO, and The Division's grind offers a bit of variety at launch. Once players master the existing content, the grind may become less enjoyable, but hopefully the game receives frequent patches and expansions to keep things fresh and maintain balance. A nice tough to the loot grind is the level of customization that is available.
Even after a player buys, builds, or finds the weapon that they have been hunting for, a series of mods and skills will provide lots of additional complexity and variety. The game allows players to swap in different abilities at will without punishment, so players are able to take the same character in very different directions from encounter to encounter based on what skills, weapons, and mods are equipped.
The real strength of The Division is that is offers something for so many different types of gamers. The game plays incredibly well as a single player experience, the PvP zones are unique and game changing, and the end game offers a challenging grind that is complex enough to keep the hardcore fans engaged. All of that, in combination with the game's many little touches like a brilliant sound system (play this game with headphones or surround sound and you won't ever go back), great sense of humor, and a mysterious story, make The Division a must play for just about any type of gamer.
The Division is now available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for the review.