The Division is a third person shooter set in a virus ravaged New York City. You play as a Division agent – an elite, undercover operative that is ‘activated’ in times of dire need. You’re sent into the New York Quarantine Zone as part of a ‘second wave’ of Division agents when those preceding you mysteriously fell silent. Your mission is simple – liaise with the local JTF (Joint Task Force) of peacekeepers, re-establish law and order, investigate the virus outbreak and discover what happened to the first wave.
And that’s exactly what you’ll do, over the 20-30 hours it will take to clear the ‘core’ missions and the majority of the side content. Sort of. Because one of my main issues with The Division is how there’s very little resolution to anything. You do re-establish some semblance of order, but this is only reflected in how your primary base of operations changes over the course of the game. On the streets of the city, however, nothing ever changes.
You do investigate the outbreak, and you do learn more about exactly what it is, how it was created and who is responsible. But the game ‘ends’ before anything practical comes of it. I say ‘ends’ because The Division doesn’t really end. The world is locked into a perpetual state of chaos despite your efforts.
And the first wave of Division agents? You do find out what happened to some of them, but that particular story thread doesn’t really go anywhere either, and the final mission is a terrible ‘boss’ fight against some random asshole in a helicopter. Which is also how Rise of the Tomb Raider ended. STOP IT.
I wish I could say more about the story of The Division, because the set up is fantastic, but it’s just not present in the game in any meaningful way. You get a few odd cut-scenes here and there, in which your character stands mute like a f**king weirdo, but most of the ‘story’ takes place in short radio messages. It’s kind of funny going from a game like The New Order which kept shoving its story down my throat, to The Division which barely has any and desperately needed more.
As I said, the set up is great but the game does sod all with it and nothing you do leads to any solid answers or tangible changes to the game world. It’s such a shame, because the world of The Division is fantastic, and all the little collectibles such as the phone logs and the virtual recreation ‘echoes’ build a wonderful and believable City That’s Gone To Shit.
The environmental details are great if you take your time to explore. Yes, there’s a fair bit of Copy & Paste, but there’s also a lot of unique, hand crafted environments. It’s the game world of The Division that is the real star and easily the best part of the experience.
The City is split into multiple zones, each with its own safe house (fast travel point) and its own side missions. The size of the world is fairly impressive, but once you’ve cleared the first few zones you’ll quickly realise that you’ve essentially seen all The Division has to offer in terms of content beyond the ‘core’ missions.
Every zone has the same set of missions revolving around rescuing hostages, repairing communication relays, recovering virus research, securing aid supplies, assisting JTF forces and a few others that I’m probably forgetting because all of them (aside from a handful of odd exceptions) are pretty much just about shooting people. A lot of people.
There’s something a little odd about how you can just murder people in The Division and no one ever seems to comment on how you’re essentially acting as judge, jury and executioner, even to people who may just be scavenging for food and aren’t really any threat to you at all. But the game doesn’t seem very interested in its own story or setting beyond giving the player objectives to shoot at everything, so I won’t waste any more time worrying about it.
And that’s really all The Division is – a very shallow to the point of non-existent narrative that’s used as an excuse to send you to various locations to shoot at people. I wish there were stats to know exactly how many people I’d shot, because I’m sure I’d probably wiped out more people than the virus did by the end of the game. There’s nothing complex about the objectives or how the various missions are structured – Go to X. Kill people. Fight Boss – that’s how every main mission plays out.
But I won’t lie – it is sort of fun, in a mindlessly repetitive kind of way. It’s almost relaxing how basic, repetitive and simple everything is. Go shoot people. Go shoot more people. The Division doesn’t try to be anything more than that. I find that rather disappointing considering the intriguing set up to the story and the wonderfully built world. Where’s the ambition? The Division doesn’t have any. It plays everything so safe that it ends up incredibly bland.
Not bad, you must understand. Because as far as its gameplay goes, it’s perfectly competent. But that’s all it is – a competent, uninspired, repetitive shooter that doesn’t even attempt to do anything outstanding. I’m not sure what’s worse – a shit game that at least tries something daring, or a game like The Division that doesn’t do anything remotely interesting.
And it could have, which is the frustrating thing. Whilst gameplay is always key – this is an interactive medium, so how we interact with the experience should always be considered the most important aspect – some games need story more than others, and The Division certainly needed far more than what we got.
The core missions are all fairly decent, with various locations across the City. They’re fun to play through once, but only once. I really don’t know why anyone would want to play them multiple times. Maybe they’re more fun in co-op, which the game does support, but I still don’t know why you’d bother.
I played The Division solo and didn’t have any real trouble with the missions, though there are a few tricky moments that are clearly designed for more than one player. As you complete these missions you are rewarded with experience and new items that allow you to level up and customise your character in terms of abilities, equipment, weapons and even cosmetics. But this is another area where The Division disappoints.
The initial character creator is terrible with an extremely limited selection. The cosmetic stuff equally so. And though you’ll find plenty of weapons in the game, there’s only really a small number of variations of shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and pistols. Everything is rated by a colour code of ‘standard’, ‘rare’ and ‘legendary’ type items and stats, with corresponding level requirements.
And that’s all you really do in The Division – level up to get new, slightly more powerful gear. In fact, that’s all the competitive multiplayer side of the game – The Dark Zone – is really all about, and something I touched upon when I wrote about the Beta for The Division back in February. It’s a hamster wheel with no real goal aside from acquiring more gear in order to acquire more gear.
I know I’ve spent nearly this entire review moaning about The Division, so I really should reiterate that it’s not a bad game at all. It’s fine. FINE. But that’s all it is. Fine. Okay. Unremarkable. A shrug of the shoulders. It does nothing memorable or interesting. It reminded me of another Ubisoft title I played this year – Far Cry 4 – another game that felt built to a formula, with anything potentially interesting or unique stripped away.
That said, I didn’t find The Division anywhere near as dull or irritating. Hell, I actually quite enjoyed it, believe it or not. It was a fairly entertaining, if mindless way to waste 30 hours of my life. But if I’m being honest, I’ll probably forget I even played it by this time next week.