The apocalypse is most definitely not a picnic. Most of the people you know and loved have been wiped off the face of the earth after a biological weapon attack. The city is desolate. As you walk around, you hear echoes and noises and sounds of distant gunfire. When you step into an abandoned house, it may not be as abandoned as you thought it was. It’s a tough life, surviving on the streets. Welcome to The Division, where life’s not easy until you have good gear. And even then, things may not go well for you. As a shooter-RPG hybrid, The Division works surprisingly well and creates an immersive world for you to lose yourself in.
The plot is pretty generic, and you’ll notice most of the beats and tropes if you’ve played survival games before. There are some plot moments which receive major cutscenes, and your gameplay is constantly punctuated by radio chatter which gives you information about how you’re contributing to the resurrection of New York by taking out the unruly elements that have engulfed the city. As a result, your missions never feel meaningless. Every firefight, every enemy you kill and every objective you accomplish contributes to the resistance. It also grounds you and reminds you of your place in this world. You aren’t a messiah or a superhero.
The city of Manhattan is a major character in the game. It is vast, desolate and painstakingly detailed, drawing you into the setting seamlessly. The open-world of The Division is one of the most impressive sandbox environments to be featured in a game, rivaling even the greatness of Rockstar’s creations. Every alley, every street and every neighborhood feels lived-in and has a distinct personality of its own. Wherever you may roam, you’re likely to come across a scene of epic devastation or towering structures which will make you pause and marvel at how far video game technology has come. The intricacy of the environment encourages free-form exploration, and really gives players a taste of what it would be like to live in a city that has gone to hell after being ravaged by a cataclysmic event.
The other inhabitants of this world (the ones you have to shoot) are divided into four different factions. All of these groups have similar unit types – scouts, demolition experts, snipers and the like. After you’ve been playing for a while, you’ll know exactly how to deal with a certain kind of enemy, regardless of what faction they belong to. Combine this with the less than stellar AI, and you have several situations early in the game where fights are predictable and monotonous. In addition, the game restricts the things you can do with your character. For a shooting game, it’s unusual to not have the ability to jump or crouch. Some of the cover mechanics are a little clunky too. For example, your character might have to move between two cover points, and instead of tumbling and rolling, they will stand straight up giving your enemies an easy target. Luckily, the basic aiming and shooting mechanics work fine.
While some aspects of the game are clunky, others work really well. The health system is perfectly balanced to give you a fair challenge without veering into Dark Souls territory. You’re also able to use any abilities or boosts you have unlocked on-the-go, which makes leveling up a lot of fun. You can also go back and change your skill tree, so an errant point in one ability over the next doesn’t pose a permanent problem.
When you’re in an all-out firefight, several impressive details come to light. For example, you can shoot grenades out of enemies’ hands, puncture their fuel tanks with bullets and even shoot campers through windshields. Sending an enemy who was trying to lob a grenade at you to the afterlife in a cloud of fire and smoke is incredibly satisfying. As mentioned before, the enemy AI is a little predictable, but that doesn’t make them any less deadly. When you’re pinned behind minimal cover as different enemy types converge on your position, maneuvering your way out and making split-second combat decisions is exhilarating.
Unfortunately, the pace is brought down slightly by repetitive side missions that reappear throughout the campaign. There are about six mission types that all of the side missions fall into. Even though these missions play out in different locations as you go along, you can’t shake off the feeling that you’ve done the exact same thing several times before.
The main campaign is solid and offers some of the best moments you’ll have playing The Division. The sheer variety of different locations you’ll have to fight through, backed by the narrative which will make you believe you’re a soldier fighting to make a difference in a massive war, will keep you engaged through the 35 hours or so that it lasts. In between these thrilling moments, you have the RPG elements of the game – leveling up, equipping new gear and such. To put it simply, you’ll have several dozens of looting, grinding and shooting content to enjoy. Once you reach the end-game, you can take on daily missions against elite enemies, which will give you better and rarer equipment.
The Division offers a four-player co-op mode that takes the already impressive gameplay to another level. The more players you have, the tougher your enemies get, and the more strategic options you have during firefights. You can flank, revive teammates, patrol different directions and use different weapon types to turn yourselves into an elite fighting squad. When you’re playing with other humans, the scale and intricacy of The Division becomes really apparent. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of gamer who likes flying solo, you can visit The Dark Zone, which is a PvP arena where anything goes. You will come across other humans and AI characters, which is exactly as unpredictable as you can probably imagine. You never know whether a human player you run into will help you against the AI, or just shoot you and take your stuff.
The Division is a fine blend of loot-driven RPG and open-world survival shooting. The graphics are astounding and the sheer scale and detail of the environment is incredible. You’ll have plenty of gear to grind for, and you’ll need some good equipment once you reach the higher levels. As a single-player and co-op experience, The Division shines in new and unexpected ways. If you’re looking for something new to satisfy your gameplay itch, check out this game. Fair warning – you might get addicted.