Saturday, 19 March 2016 00:00

The Division Review

Written by

You know how they say to not get attached, for when you get activated? Well, I f*cking did. And it hurts.

You never know when the day will come. It could be days, weeks, months… even years. But when you get the call… that’s it. Your friends. Your family. Everyone… gone.

Even if it’s for the bigger picture and for humanity’s survival… it still f*cking hurts.

But that’s what we signed up for. We’ve trained our whole lives in secret for this. We’re prepared. But nothing can prepare you for this.

We’re agents of The Division.

From gaming industry giant Ubisoft, we have the much awaited and latest entry of the late Tom Clancy’s genius mind—The Division. Create your agent and retake New York City, one block at a time. Build your character’s talents, skills, and gear along the way. Stop the spread of the Dollar Virus, and fight it back!

The first things that came to mind when I fired up Tom Clancy’s The Division and toured around dystopic New York City were very similar to when I first toured around Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV. I know, they’re totally opposite genres and styles, but hear me out here. In my mind, they both take systems, mechanics, and style from other successful titles in their genres, but do them better than their competitors—thus leading to wild spread success, in most cases.

It’s my firm believe that The Division draws from major first and third person shooters in the current or recently past market, then takes those functions and improves on them. While playing The Division, I feel a lot of influence from Destiny (PS4/Xbox One), FarCry (PC/PS4/Xbox One), and Gears of War (Xbox 360/Xbox One).

Don’t believe me? Check this out.

From Destiny, we have some fairly simple drop-in and drop-out style multiplayer instances, a distinct lack of gear trading options, unique loot per player, and a player-versus-player or raid based player-versus-environment to grind for higher tier gear.

From FarCry, we divert from the Destiny formula, with scattered safe houses acting as fast travel locations once unlocked and upgradeable base of operations. There are a plethora of encounters, collectibles, and missions across the free to explore overall map.

Finally, originating from Gears of War, we have the combat mechanics—primarily, the use of tactical cover, moving from cover to cover seamlessly, and aiming around cover. Now, with how ubiquitous that cover system is now (Mass Effect is a perfect example), perhaps it’s a bit dated. However, Gears was one of the first well known and widely played titles to use such a system, so I feel it’s worth attributing it to them, rather than any of the other titles.

But, I claim not that The Division blatantly copies these systems, but does so with improvements to make them unique.

Sure, there’s a gear system and talent tree—but there’s flexibility here, in a much deeper way than Destiny. There are no “classes” or “jobs” within The Division, unlike Destiny. Any player can learn any ability, talent, or perk (learned by upgrading the different departments within your base of operations by spending supplies gathered through encounters or missions—security, technology, and medical), but only a few can be active at a given time. This system type hearkens back to Guild Wars (PC), which gave each player plenty of skill options, but limited a player to take only eight into play at a time.

This allows players to play what they want to play, when they want to play it, since powers can be switched on the fly when not in combat. Need a healer? Great, switch a few talents and skills, and you’re set. Need a tank? Got it covered. There’s no need for throwing up a “looking for group” tag to try and find a specific class to fill a role. You just need people that you can trust to have your back, and are okay being flexible with their playstyle—or roll the dice with the matchmaking system (which works quite well, but more on that below).

I also never really felt like two weapons behaved the same, or similarly enough to call them a copy pasta of each other. Sure, same name and class weapons are going to feel exactly the same, but there is such a large variety of weapon types and subtypes, with many modeled after real world firearms, that I always felt like trying everything I got my hands on. Even with only three weapon spots (main, sub, and sidearm), I felt that I could arm myself for whatever encounter I had ahead of me. Close quarters combat? Let’s grab a submachine gun, a double barrel shotgun, and a magnum. Need longer range for cover to cover combat? Take the assault rifle, marksman’s rifle, and 9mm, just in case.

Higher tiered weaponry comes with special effects as well; much like many of Destiny’s named weaponry, which further adds to the customization aspect of each agent.

Although all agents are cut from the same cloth, no two agents are exactly the same. It’s actually quite brilliantly done. My fear was that without a way to differentiate, it would all feel the same in the end, but… it clearly doesn’t. Brilliant.

To me, most FarCry games felt like a collector’s heaven or a completionist’s hell. So much is spattered across the maps. There are so many bases to take and invade (or liberate), and so many little things to gather across the map. Same with the Assassin’s Creed titles.

As someone who finds themselves somewhere in between collector and completionist, I enjoyed the balance achieved between things to do/find on the world map that were aside the main story or progression path. I’d find myself going through an area, completing everything in that zone in accordance with my level, but never feeling overwhelmed. Like, I was gathering feathers, viewpoint synchronizations, and more in Assassin’s Creed. I'd liberate every single base in any FarCry title, just to say I did it. It’s balanced in amount, and meaningful for creating depth to New York City post Dollar Virus devastation, rather than what a developer adds to the map to increase playtime satisfaction for people who equate hours played (and hopefully enjoyed) to dollars spent.

Finally, onto Gears of War. The famed cover system game, where quite literally 85% of the main story was played in cover, with the other 10% being sawing through the Locusts, and the final 5% being thin plot or special weaponry. Not so much here.

Again, balance is the key that The Division got right.

Cover is absolutely critical for survival, and the cover to cover movement system feels much more fluid. Holding space bar (on PC) when viewing another cover spot, regardless of the distance, will have your agent move from your current cover to that spot. Letting go of space will stop your agent wherever they are along that path—allowing you to make split second decisions as to a better location, or a tactical decision to retreat.

You also have a key (CTRL on PC) as a context sensitive button, allowing you to jump over cover, up small ledges, through windows, and more. Mobility has been highly increased in The Division over Gears or Mass Effect titles, adding immersion and realism. The “invisible wall” frustration that has both confounded and frustrated players for years has been reduced.

Of course, due to the medium's restrictions, there are still places you can’t drop down or traverse (which are sensibly to protect you from fall damage death or zoning out of the map), but it doesn’t feel so limited. It feels realistic, as if you can do things humanly possible, while still limiting you from things that are immersion-breakingly inhuman (surviving a fall off of a multi-story building). Sure, there’s still a lot of unrealistic, unexplained features and functions (health meters, surviving multiple bullet wounds), but from an immersion perspective, the movement feels fluid, and limits you reasonably.

In terms of the storyline and immersion, I was hooked from the moment I launched the game from UPlay.

The opening cutscene introduces us to the Dollar Virus, and gives us a quick background on what in the world happened to devastate an economic powerhouse such as New York City. It explains who we, as Division agents, are in the grand scope of things. The dystopian tone is set, while still providing a glimmer of hope that we have arrived to set things right. The feeling that “the cavalry” have finally arrived once the player’s agent has been created and activated sinks right in, in true Tom Clancy fashion.

As one progresses, characters that the agent interacts with certainly have character and depth to them, although many may feel cliché to typically action adventure shooter veterans. The gruff and eccentric tech genius, the caring but tough as nails doctor, and the humorous security advisor everyone looks up to—all sounds pretty familiar right? Yes, it does.

But it’s not these pseudo-main NPCs that I find the depth in, but the rank and file members. The ones everyone seems to overlook in most titles. Each shop vendor, each situation agent in charge of a zone, each mission giver—they all have personalities and react differently, speak differently, and care about different things in this brave new world they’ve all been thrust into. One area’s keeper, for example, is Julia Child in modern day form, while the next might be your biggest fan boy, and the next could be Samuel L. Jackson-esque. You never know! But, it’s extremely refreshing to hear that same familiar voice on the horn during, before, and after an encounter, and the things they care about. It’s those people that really make this world pop, and give me a reason to keep fighting the good fight against the looters, the cleaners, and the others who would take advantage of the turmoil the city has fallen into.

From a mechanics point of view, combat is smooth and fluid, and to be honest, mostly realistic, but not to the point where the fun aspect suffers.

For a Tom Clancy game, I expected a higher level of difficulty than your average Call of Duty 3000 clone. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as high as say, Ghost Recon or it’s sequels. Ammo is not all that sparse, as it can be collected from enemy drops, or fully replenished at a resupply box (of which there are plenty scattered around the map, including on missions). The guns, as mentioned, feel different, and can be modded in a plethora of ways to further individualize the weaponry. Options, options, options!

What I really liked was the approach to matchmaking. Outside of every instanced mission, there’s a pop-up on screen that allows a player to set the difficulty level, and proceed straight to either quick matchmaking (instant connection to go), or matchmaking (slower formation of a full party, or joining an already started instance).

VoIP is automatically enabled, so those with a microphone or headset are able to communicate and strategize from the get go. Obviously, muting options are available, but the ability to jump in with a few minutes wait, play, and go on your merry way really was appealing. Most importantly, it worked smoothly (unlike Duty Finder from Final Fantasy XIV, but we won’t get deeper into that issue right now). You can even continue your adventures with your newfound party if you’d like, as you aren’t ejected back to the world when the mission is over—one has to actually leave the zone and leave the party from the menu. I spent a good several hours with a few new friends I made, and got a ton done, just from the matchmaking system! Cheers to Ubisoft for listening and getting it right.

Graphically, what’s there to really say that hasn’t been said?

As another AAA title from the giants at Ubisoft, the visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Character models are on point and realistic—hyper-realism is the term I would use. Things look as close to what they should as possible. We aren’t looking at crazy monsters or fantastical/sci-fi elements (although the setting is about as close to sci-fi as possible to still be carrying the Tom Clancy badge of honor), so there are carefully rendered enemies, player models, gear, buildings, animals, and environments—everything is accurate. Even down to the hospital beds and CDC issued sanitation chambers. A nurse friend of mine, while I was streaming some gameplay, actually said, “Wow, that equipment looks extremely accurate. Like, REALLY accurate!”

The ambiance and music really connects with the feels. There’s no other way to put it. When romping around New York City, ambiance is played to create emptiness. When in combat, or a scripted encounter, you can expect heart pounding, anxiety inducing music to play, putting you on the edge of your seat. The voice actors are stellar, to go with the amazing face models used. It all fits, it all works—it’s gorgeous. Well done again Ubisoft.

Now that all of that is out of the way, can I finally start ripping on SOMETHING? Yes! I absolutely can!

The server issues are absolutely atrocious. Despite having this title to review a few mere hours after its PC launch, I was wholly unable to login and play for nearly the whole first week. Between cryptic “Mike” errors provided while trying to login, to waiting in lobbies to play (being an online, third person, massively multiplayer, and lobby based shooter), lagging out mid instance, or being disconnected (despite my Twitch stream suffering zero connectivity issues), I had a hell of a time TRYING to get to the glory that The Division holds.

Here’s a wake-up call. It’s 2016 guys. This is absolutely unacceptable. Sure, I can understand how difficult it is to stress test launch loads on servers, with millions of people patching, creating agents, logging in, and slogging through the starter areas. But get with the program—Ubisoft, as one of the leading companies in the industry right now, you simply cannot keep going like this. Launch after launch cannot be saturated with issues like these. It’s week two and I’m still fighting some of these issues to get on, play, and stream (aka, advertise for you at no cost).

It’s simple. You have the bloody capital--overestimate your server loads for launch! You can decommission or reassign them after. Even our fearless and glorious leader spent a whole two hours out of his busy evening to try and play, only to end up turning it off and going to bed not only frustrated, but disappointed. I’m sure he’s going to read this, and if he hasn’t played it by now, he'd be doubly frustrated.

It’s really a fantastic game that I can see tons of people spending plenty of time on.

<pBut, I just feel terrible for those who can’t do so, or can’t devote the time to “wait in line” after a day at work just to play. Please… help me feel better about enjoying your game, and about sharing it with others on my channel. Set a standard for the future, where gamers aren’t hesitant to pre-order games they may not be able to play at launch. Or waste the entire “sick day” that they faked for a the day off to enjoy your game. As developers and publishers, I’m sure you’re just as frustrated when games you enjoy do the same to you, so please—lead us in the future, and do the right thing. Get your launch as right as the rest of your amazing title.

My other complaint was that I (in my humble opinion) do feel like despite The Division being resource heavy, I was running into some major CPU issues trying to play and stream at the same time. I’m not 100% certain why, as my rig is pretty well spec’d for playing even on ultra, but if there’s more to be optimized for resource usage, please do so. I don’t feel like I should be at 80%-90% CPU use without streaming, and capping off while streaming, on an i7-4790K and GTX 980 SC at 1920x1080. It just doesn’t add up to me.

Is Tom Clancy’s The Division worth playing? Absolutely. But is it worth waiting hours for each time I want to get on, and even then, to have to spend 5 minutes waiting around while a lag spike passes, praying that I won’t disconnect on the boss fight of an instance, just to play for another 30 seconds before another lag spike hits? Honestly, I don’t know. I get so frustrated. It’s like Ubisoft is dangling a juicy, medium rare, well-seasoned steak right in front of me while I’m ravenous, but I’m on a treadmill that goes and stops on its own accord. Sometimes I can take a bite. Other times I can take two. Yet, there’s always the part where it goes full bore. I fall flat on my face and get flung off into the wall, only to try again.


The Verdict

All in all, once these server and resource hog issues get sorted out, I’m sure I won’t have any complaints about it, but as it stands right now? I’d give The Division a few more weeks to sort out what they should have done in the countless beta test and stress test opportunities that they had during the long development of the game.

Read 8431 times
Dan Wheeler

Gaming was Dan's first passion in life. He learned to read at the age of 3, just to better understand his favorite NES titles (Crystalis, anyone?) back in 1993. No matter how busy his life gets, he always manages to find time to indulge in his passion. He's spent a great deal of time in just about every genre, major title, PC, console, and handheld, in one form or another, over a lifetime. While his first love will always be RPGs and MMORPGs, he's just as comfortable in any other genre. When not working or writing, Dan can be found streaming on Twitch at "OmegabladeX."


Image Gallery

View the embedded image gallery online at: