Can you picture the world, as we know it, taken over by a mysterious pandemic?
Developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Ubisoft in March 2016, The Division is an action role-playing video game. It takes the player to New York after a deadly mutation of the Smallpox called the Dollar Flu was deliberately distributed all across the country via dollar bills during Black Friday.
As the epidemic spread, the situation went from bad to worse. Local authorities lost all control, and cities like New York became violent clusters ruled by hostile groups terrorizing survivors.
This is where you come into play. You are part of The Division. Division Agents are elite soldiers trained to deal with extreme situations.
The game opens in Brooklyn during what seems to be a very rough winter in New York. Past the short introduction, you get to create your character.
Cosmetic personalization options
The Division offers limited personalization options. However, it’s worth mentioning that you can play a man or a woman.
You can then choose one of the eight faces each gender offers and only change parameters such as scars, tattoos, haircut, hair color, or eye color. You can also customize your Agent’s appearance with accessories and various clothing pieces that have no particular effect on your abilities and gear score.
Customization options are also applicable to weapons with colorful skins.
Another essential element to note, in my opinion, is the fact that you don’t have a name and will only be referred to as “Agent” throughout the game. It’s no biggie, but it makes it difficult to connect with the character. I would have preferred a Mass Effect-like approach and have the possibility to create my character from scratch and yet, have a set name (Shepard, in that specific case).
A Third-Person Role-Playing Game
I have to emphasize that The Division is not just another action game. It is an action RPG.
This means that you’ll see numbers popping to indicate how much damage you deal while hitting enemies. We are lightyears away from the realism of a Rainbow Six, in which a headshot will kill anyone.
In this game, taking the stronger enemies will need countless bullets to be defeated.
Note that the equipment and weapons you’ll acquire beyond level 30 will give you an important advantage over your opponents, allowing deadly headshots. But you’ll have to empty chargers after chargers on them before you get your hands on those powerful weapons.
Without revolutionizing anything, Tom Clancy’s The Division is an interesting balance between a classic TPS (Third-Person Shooter) and an RPG (Role-Playing Game).
The latter is what makes The Division special. You earn eXperience Points (XP) when completing tasks and missions, helping civilians, or uncovering artifacts that will help you understand what happened before everything went south in New York.
The more XP you earn, the higher your level (until you reach the level cap of 30). Each level gives you access to better equipment, weapons, and perks (you cannot equip an item that’s above your level).
Of course, the higher the weapon level, the more damage it will cause to your enemies.
Weapons’ damage is calculated in DPS – or damage per second. Past level 30, you’ll access insane items.
Loot what you can – craft and improve your equipment
The Division incorporates an important looting dimension. During story missions or while exploring the city, you’ll find parts and fabric to craft new weapons and armor pieces or improve your equipment.
Just like in any other RPG, the quality of your equipment will affect your survival chances. Make sure to always keep it up to date, or you’ll find it impossible to see the end of the game.
Discover a semi-open world located in New York City
After a quick tutorial in Brooklyn, you’re dropped in Manhattan, New York.
The city is divided into zones in which enemies have levels entirely independent of yours – thus preventing you from roaming freely in all zones from the start, as you have no chance of survival against stronger enemies. For instance, if you’re LVL 7 and encounter LVL 12 enemies, your attacks will barely hurt them, while they’ll only need a couple of bullets to put you down.
The playground is enormous. Better even, if you know the city, you’ll recognize a lot of iconic places.
Being clustered isn’t a problem deal because the city is enormous, and you’re on foot. If you’ll quickly be able to fast travel to the various safe houses scattered all around the city, going from one end to the other will take a lot of time.
Skyscrapers are the limit.
You cannot go everywhere. Most buildings (99%?) aren’t visitable, and the game’s verticality is also quite limited. In short, you’ll only be able to visit a selected amount of buildings and rooftops.
A pandemic story to make your blood run cold
The COVID-19 pandemic is frightening. It has killed millions of people and paralyzed the entire planet in a couple of months. Now, The Division is giving us a (fictional) interpretation of what a highly deadly pandemic could look like in our modern world.
Things are pretty chaotic indeed. The virus and violent riots beat an important chunk of the US population, and the survivors are far from being out of the woods. In reality, the disease itself is not what you should fear the most in The Division. No. You should fear the people.
As the apocalypse came upon humankind, murderous clans started to form, and fights began to break in all corners of the city. Some clans took it a tad too far, kidnapping people, running experiments on them, burning them alive to eradicate the disease, etc. Most of your missions will place you in front of these thugs all around the city.
To fully enter the world created by Massive Entertainment, I highly recommend that you take the time to collect artifacts and audio logs. They’ll help you picture the horror of the situation and the helplessness of the people of NY as the pandemic consumed the city.
Besides its primary campaign, during which you’ll try to understand how the situation went from bad to worse and who’s behind this mess, The Division contains a fair share of side missions, mostly consisting in helping the local populations to take control of their city back.
A good-looking game (but)
I played the game on PlayStation 4 (PHAT) and Xbox One X.
On both versions, one thing that struck me is how good the Snowdrop Engine makes Ubisoft’s game look. New York looks convincing. Now, The Division looks particularly impressive in 4K on the One X – especially when caught in the middle of a snowstorm.
Of course, everything is far from perfect.
I observed many texture bugs — especially during cutscenes, where textures load too slow —, items popping in front of me at the very last minute, and an evident lack of interaction with the environment.
Sure, you can break cars’ windows and explode their tires, but that’s pretty much all you’ll be able to do.
I tried shooting at cars’ headlights, and nothing happened. There was a bullet hole in the glass, but the light wasn’t affected. I tried shooting at buildings’ windows – same. Say you’d like to kill the lights on your way to stay in the dark. Well, you can’t do that either.
Given that abandoned cars lay everywhere in the streets, it’s a shame that there wasn’t more work on this specific part.
An A.I. to forget
This one is a bit painful. Let’s say that you won’t remember The Division for the quality of its A.I.
It works, as in, folks from enemy factions will try to kill you when they see you, and you have to kill them before they do. Their moves are also ultra predictable. They either run towards you—making it easy to dispose of them—or stay behind cover. All you have to do then is to wait for them to peak out and take them out.
This doesn’t make the game easier. And, if you’re not careful enough, you will die over and over again. However, I’m pointing this out to highlight that this makes the game very repetitive to the point that long sessions quickly become dull when playing on your own.
Fight or … fight
The Division won’t give you the possibility to play Sam Fisher style and dispose of your enemies in silence. Each kill will alert all surrounding enemies.
You walk, you see enemies on the map. You shoot, and they shoot back. There is no way to avoid conflict.
Play with friends — The more, the merrier!
The game is designed to be playable with up to three friends(that’s four players total in co-op) from A to Z, whether to complete the main missions or roam the Dark Zone (more on that right after). And it’s a lot more enjoyable that way.
Alone, The Division quickly becomes boring and repetitive. With friends, however, the experience is different as you get to be a lot more tactical.
Besides, to counterbalance the extra firepower, there will be more enemies – and more armored enemies on your way.
When playing with friends, ensure that you’re at the same level because the enemies will be as strong as your team’s highest level. If you’re level 5 and play with a friend who’s level 20, you won’t stand a chance.
The infamous Dark Zone
The Dark Zone is in the center of the map, and it represents the area where the epidemic hit first in New York. It is quarantined and walled-off to prevent anyone from getting in or out. It is also the PvP zone of the game, and it contains the best gear and weapons.
Note that – because the Dark Zone is the PvP area, you can only access it with an Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus subscription.
A jungle in the middle of NYC
The Dark Zone is no child play.
In the Dark Zone, you’ll meet up to 23 other players who can either help or fight you, as well as A.I.-controlled enemies equipped with great weapons and armor pieces – thus making it even harder to take them down.
The main interest of the Dark Zone is the quality of the loot you’ll find. However, you cannot simply come in, loot unique items and weapons, and happily walk out of the Dark Zone. You need to proceed to an “extraction” and risk losing your precious loot.
Extractions: Nothing ventured, nothing gained
There are eight extraction points scattered around the Dark Zone. When looting weapons and items from safes and fallen enemies, your Agent will wear a yellow hazmat bag, indicating that he or she carries material that needs extraction.
Once you reach an extraction point, you need to call for a helicopter. While waiting for the helicopter (about 1min30secs), you need to defend your extraction point from waves of enemies AND opportunistic players who will try to kill you and steal your loot before you can extract it out of the Dark Zone.
If another player tries to cross you and steals your loot or starts attacking you, they’ll become rogue agents.
Beware of rogue agents in the Dark Zone.
Ugh. Rogue agents are a real pain in the butt.
If you wonder whether there are still people playing The Division in 2022 – the answer is yes, and, sometimes, they won’t be friendly.
At times, those damn tricksters will even help you to secure the extraction point and attack you when you expect it the least.
Nowhere’s safe in the Dark Zone. When you’re down, however, other players can boost you up.
My advice? Either navigate the Dark Zone as part of a group, or do your business, gather goods, and exit it before you start losing your nerves because of rogue agents attacking you for no apparent reason.
Done with the game? Try global events!
The Division does not offer a new game+.
However, the game lets you replay the main missions in greater difficulties to challenge yourself and unlock high-level gear to be more competitive in the Dark Zone. On top of that, you’ll receive daily assignments to complete to gain XP and get loot boxes.
It’s not the most exciting part of the game, in my opinion, but it’s worth mentioning as it contributes to keeping the community alive.
Up for a bigger challenge? Edit your World tier.
Once you complete the game, you’ll be able to access higher difficulty levels called World Tiers. It will drastically increase the level of your opponents and will, therefore, make the overall experience a lot different, may you play alone, or with friends.
This is interesting because the greater the difficulty, the more interesting the loot.
Expand the fun with the Season Pass
If you want to explore the world of The Division a bit longer, you can purchase expansions to complete the base game.
The Season Pass includes three significant expansions as well as new content in the form of cosmetic items. On top of that, the Season Pass used to grant access to special monthly updates (exclusive content drops, special events), but only during the year following the launch.
The expansions, however, are still interesting to acquire:
Underground: this expansion pack gives you access to an underground network of tunnels and a bunch of new missions. This DLC’s overall quality is alright, as it brings its fair share of novelty, but you might get tired of visiting tunnels, tunnels, and tunnels…
Survival: Survival strips you out of the equipment you have in the main game. You’re dropped in the middle of a snowstorm and have to complete specific missions in horrible conditions. Thugs aren’t your only enemies in this DLC, as you also have to fight extreme cold, hunger, and thirst. Those survival parameters make this DLC a must-have if you’re looking for an additional challenge to overcome alone or with three other players.
Last Stand: Third and last expansion pack, the Last Stand, opens three new areas north of the Dark Zone and introduces an 8 vs. 8 PvP mode.
And that’s that – you now know pretty much everything there is to know about Tom Clancy’s The Division.
Verdict: good buy, or goodbye?
The Division is an addictive game with a fantastic atmosphere. What’s more, the unfortunate correlation with the current COVID-19 worldwide pandemic gives the game even more credit as it’s pretty difficult not to ask oneself “what if?” when walking the devastated and deserted streets of New York.
If you’re more of a solo player, try and collect the many artifacts around the city to fully appreciate the backstory of this terrifying world built by Massive Entertainment. Now, just like many other titles thought and made for multiplayer, The Division can become dull and seriously repetitive when playing solo, especially with a voiceless and uncharismatic character agent.
Play with friends, and The Division will keep you busy for a while.