I would like to find the brilliant mind who thought to themselves, what if we took the shooting of borderlands and Destiny, and smashed it in to the RPG world Diablo 3, then set it in an open world modern New York and made if feel real and plausible? After I met them I’d probably kiss them, because their idea was no doubt the grain of inspiration for the Tom Clancys: The Division. Just to give you an idea of how obsessed I am with this game, I finished the main story in about 10 hours, since then I have logged over 40 more hours of gameplay. In two weeks I have played this game enough to make it a full time job for a week, and I still have only scratched the surface of what is possible just in the base game.
Where do I even start a review of this massive game? With such an expansive open world, and very little direction or need to do anything beyond move around and shoot things, The Divison honestly feels like a true open world shooter. The game starts off with a small section of you being prompted to go through Brooklyn, which serves as an early start/tutorial area. If you played the beta you have seen this area. This is the one place that the game feels like its pushing you somewhere. Beyond this tutorial, and a first cut scene the game is 100% open world.
Its easy to get lost in the world. Sometimes I found myself just wandering, the game is beautiful. I haven’t been to NewYork in over 10 years but this game made me want to return. Graphically people will say all sorts of things about the PC version of the game. Opinions range from ‘it was nerfed for consoles and pc suffers’ to ‘this is the prettiest game I have ever played’ for me, with my older series GTX680 the game runs well on hi settings, which gives the world a lot of beauty. I get some texture pop in, and occasionally I will see something that just shouldn’t be there, like a dead body floating at chest height, but by and large this is one of the prettiest non-dx12 games I have ever played. It won’t stack up against say Paragon, or Ashes of the Singularity, but it doestn have to. Lighting effects are nothing short of spectacular, the game features a full day night cycle, and varied weather. There is nothing quite so annoying as being caught in one of the games blinding blizzards while plumbing the higher level dark zone. Sometimes you really cant see but a few feet in front of your face. The weather and the light lend a grim realism to the Big Apple that I feel is missing from some games.
I think my favorite example of the weather is whenever a blizzard descends, I have been playing this game mostly with friends, and I tend to play just the same as all other shooters, I rush in often and often die. When a blizzard descends even my play style is forced to be modified. Heavy fog descends and its difficult to see much more than in a few meters in front of your character. This makes engagements difficult and the darkzone basically impossible, and really adds depth to the game.
Drilling in to game most RPG veterans will find familiar systems here. Your character has has several pieces of gear armor, a mask, kneepads, a backpack, gloves and a holster. Its an interesting take on the RPG gearing, with more of an emphasis on what each gear contributes to your three skills. Those skills are Firearms, Stamina, and Electronics. While these skills don’t really effect early game play, later on you’ll find yourself spending most of your time rationalizing weather trading 20 armor is worth gaining 40 electronics skill. This will be familiar to any player of Diablo, pure upgrades are very rare in late game, instead its more of a what do you want to build scenario. Some players may like to build more tanky, other may choose to try for more DPS, and still others will prefer healing and buffing. Basically this is an RPG, but you shoot things.
So about that shooting, If you don’t like bullet sponges, this game isint for you. Most enemies are going to take you at least one magazine to kill unless your at the top tier of gear. I personally don’t mind this, as the game pairs its bullet sponge enemies with a robust cover system. The best analogy I can make for the cover system is that its basically gears of war with a little rainbow 6. A single button cover to cover move is one of the most awesome things in the game. Taking cover and popping up to shoot enemies feels good, and I often found myself running from cover to cover just for amusement sake rather than because I needed to.
Guns feel good; they have enough punch to feel real, with out falling in to the trap of other looter shooter games of just being pea shooters. Headshots do a slight bit more damage than body shots and all of the enemies I have met so far have a weak point. It’s not a Zelda level flashing weak point, but it makes sense, an enemy with a tank on their back can have that tank blown up, a grenadier has a bag of grenades on their hip which can be shot to cause explosions etc. This makes enemies seem vulnerable, but woe to you who just tries to stand in the road and take pot shots at the more powerful bosses, because you will get cut down. The enemies AI are nothing revolutionary. But at least it won’t see your enemies standing in the radius of your grenades explosion. The AI is ok at flanking you, and will throw grenades often trying to flush you out of your cover. Grenades work a bit strangely, and while RPG players will easily recognize the used template (it’s a round explosion template) some FPS players might feel frustration at the fact that grenades have a line to tell you where they will go, and a circle template to tell you where they will damage. This feels almost like some MMO’s with real time combat as when a grenade is thrown you get a large red sphere to denote in 3D space where it will land. That’s another thing the Division does above and beyond other games of its type, grenades. There are 6 types of grenades in the game. Never in a shooter have I seen such variety. All the standards are here: flash bang, frag, and incendiary, for most games that would be enough, but not for The Division, which also has shock, emp, and tear gas. Each of the greandes causes a different status effect to those it hits, and using these in a wise manner is key to being able to defeat large groups of enemies.
I’ll give you an example, the standard frag grenade does hi damage, but not to enemies with armor on, however it has a chance to cause a bleed, which is a small damage over time (dot) status effect. The incendiary grenade doesn’t do much damage, but will light on fire and paralyze any enemy it hits. This leads to a variety of different ways for engage enemies, and I often found myself using a shock or incendiary grenade to start engagements. Grenades combine very well with the games other modifier consumables
Consumables are something that I dont think has ever been done in a shooting game before. Its very common in MMO’s to have a large amount of different items that give small slight buffs for short periods of time. The Division takes this common trope and frames it in the narrative of a shooter, giving players six different items to get a slight boost in combat. Each has a different effect, and none overlap two are directly buffing the gun, whole the rest give small passive stat buffs like more damage against elite enemies. Also coming over from the RPG side are medkits, which when used give a large healing buff immediately. These are really more save your ass kits as using one usually means that your in pretty serious trouble. Both the Consumables and the grenades have an acceptable cool down timer so they cant be spammed, or stacked. Both grenades and consumables are limited in their quantity, so they must be used Wiseley, and only returning to the main hub of your world will fill them up. Having these in combat really spices up and makes each engagement feel different and unique. It’s an wonderfull mix of ways to kill things, and that’s before you even get to the weapons themselves.
There isn’t much to say about the guns in The Division, they feel a bit light, lacking weight and punch, but I think a large part of that is that enemies are bullet sponges. The game features 6 weapon classes (there are six of most things in this game) Pistols, Shotguns, SMG’s, assault rifles, designated marksmen rifles (DMR’s) and light machine guns. Pistols don’t really count as they have infinite ammo and can only be used as side arms, but the rest have a good variety of abilities and styles. Every agent can carry two weapons, and its advisable to carry two different types, as especially later on ammo can be scarce. All but the DMR’s feel the same when shooting, since most DMR’s are single shot, they feel quite different. Mostly I ran with an smg for close in work, and an assault rifle for blowing away anything farther than a few feet away. Im going to spend the next couple of paragraphs getting pretty deep in to RPG stat stuff, so if you’re not here for that skip the next chunk of this review.
This game is stats paradise. Just like other ARPG’s like diablo, the game lives and dies by its stats. Every gun has modifications, hi end gear has modifications, and gear has special abilities which need certain values to trigger, and almost every single gun has something it does if conditions are met. Just like most standard RPG’s the games gear (both armor and guns) comes in several rarities, which in order of how rare, are white, green, blue, purple, and yellow. All items above blue have a special ability or talent associated with them, and most purple and yellow items have additional mod slots. Mods for guns come in 5 flavors, but not all guns have all of them available. Handle, Underbarrel, Magazine, Muzzle, and Optic are the modifications. Each also has some subcategories, so a suppressor(muzzle) attachment that goes on an LMG might not fit a DMR. This makes each gun feel unique and the sheer number of items in the game is absolutely bonkers. I have often spent almost an hour just tweaking a gun to get the maximum amount of DPS out of it, only to find I prefer the precision of a DMR with its single shot hi-damage rolls.
Each and every gun can be modified changed, and prodded to try and maximize its role or damage. You might want to put a 12x scope on your AK so you can use it to support from the rear, or perhaps that will lower your damage and you would prefer to have the red dot scope which gives you less stability but more initial bullet damage. The possibilities are endless, and because each mod modifies different slots, DPS is not always the only thing that matters. Since headshots do more damage, there are times that you can kill an enemy with a single shot from a DMR, and there is always the games skill and talent system to take in to consideration while you decide on which weapons best suit you.
Weapons synergize with talents, abilities, and skills to make what any RPG fan would call a build. Skills are the active abilities, and you eventually get 3, two are unlocked early and the final “signature skill” is only unlocked when you finished upgrading your base. Yah there’s a base that you upgrade as well in this shooter RPG game. But back to those talents, some of them are good for upping stats, some of them are good for getting more loot, all of them synergize to form different options for tanking, DPS, and healer roles with in the game. Never before have a played a shooter where the talent I took synergized with the gun I had, which also synergized with my abilities to make me the ultimate healing machine. Already the internet is flooded with best in slot build video’s, and tutorials on how to build a better stronger agent.
The games story leaves a bit to be desired, its primarily told through a series of narrative missions and I found myself less than hooked on it. Not necessarily because it wasn’t a good story (there are some cut scenes and lots of voiced dialog) but because the game doesn’t really Shepard you from mission to mission, it’s truly open world, only gated by the fact that you have areas and missions that are higher level than you are. Personally I just ignored most of the story, and spent my time invested in the side missions and various other zones. The story missions however are a necessary piece of the game, since you cannot unlock the parts of your base you need to “build” in without getting the resource rewards from the story missions.
Base building is actually quite a large part of the game; early on you unlock a central hub base, and youll spend your time upgrading areas inside this base along three tracks, Medical, Technology, and Security. Collecting a dedicated resource for each by completing missions allows you to level up that area in the base and unlock in game abilities from each area. It’s a very simple leveling system, and I enjoyed the rewarding feeling of getting a new ability after working to save points for a specific upgrade.
The game presently has a level cap of 30, and after that there are nearly innumerable side missions and encounters to do spaced throughout the games massive map. If you play straight through the campaign your likely to get about 70% of the way to the level cap, the last 30% you will need to make up with side missions and encounters. That being said the game didn’t feel too grindy to me even after over 50 hours. Future expansions will raise the level cap, and if Destiny is any indication we should get about 10 levels per expansion. With three scheduled expansions the level cap could be 60 by the end of this year. Even now players at level cap have access to both daily and challenge missions which keep them interested while they wait for new content.
The Division is one of those games where I find myself staying up till 2am to finish just one more mission, run just one more thing, or try to find that one last piece of gear. Its scratching that same itch that other loot based grind fests do, like Diablo 3. It has that magic formula of just enough upgrading a tweaking to keep me looking for just one more piece for that build, and that mentality has kept me playing for over 50 hours. All of this is just in the main game itself, look for a comprehensive review of the games PvP area, the dark zone later next week after I have managed to pass its second level barrier .