Co-op PVE shooters have become a massively popular genre over the last few years, and with the passion and sales surrounding games like Destiny and Borderlands it’s easy to see why Ubisoft jumped in. With the extra time on the sidelines watching the reactions to Destiny has Tom Clancy’s The Division avoided the missteps made by Bungie?
The Division takes place in a post-pandemic New York city after a highly infectious and deadly disease has been unleashed upon the city during the Black Friday sales. Quickly, the population of the city is decimated, rioters and other unsavoury types start running amok and the entire island of Manhattan is cut off from the rest of the USA. As the soldiers and police in the city begin truly losing control, Directive 51 is activated and you are called to action. You are a nameless agent of The Division, not bound by law and free to take whatever measures necessary to control the city and bring it out of the darkness. It’s a well-played out theme, and not one without its own commentary from many, with someone above the law swooping in and murdering with impunity throughout the city. It’s no surprise that the game quickly moves away from the street gang enemies of the early game, seemingly people pushed to the brink during what is no doubt a trying and testing time, and focuses on armies of made flamethrower wielding cleaners intent of burning everyone and an ex-prison gang looking to gain control of the city. I’m a fan of Judge Dredd, and the morally ambiguous and questionable nature of the judge, jury and executioner being one single person, however The Division doesn’t contain enough exposition and exploration of the concept to be anything but off putting.
On your crusade of justice and all that is right, you will carry out various missions for the heads of the three wings of your base of operations (Tech, Medical and Security) to investigate the disease, bring peace to the city and bring its utilities back online. Additionally, early in the game you also unlock the Dark Zone, the PVP focused mode where you’re pitted against extremely strong PVE enemies and need to perform extractions to find high-level gear. The constant fear of being killed by an enemy player, especially when you’re vulnerable during the extractions, brings a tense atmosphere to all time spent in the Dark Zone. While there were worries about griefers targeting and harassing players, I personally didn’t run into many. In fact, with most players quickly targeting and hunting rogue agents it seems that many players have been deterred from antagonizing others. At the beginning of each of these missions or while in any safe house or even when you’re about to enter the dark zone, you can jump straight into matchmaking and look for some people to play with. One of the major criticisms of Destiny was the lack of options for matchmaking and having to go to external websites, adding people as friends or into parties, to be able to play co-op when your normal gaming buddies weren’t online.
As you wander the city, questioning the morality of what you’re doing and trying to put it at the back of your mind, you realise how good a job Massive has done with the Snowdrop engine and the world of The Division. The city streets are incredibly dense, with debris, abandoned cars, animals and people everywhere. Couple this with some incredible graphics and you have a game that really is a visual treat. Weather effects come into play, with snow sweeping in and obscuring your vision at times during missions, and the explosions are a treat to see. The physics have been shown and done to death at this point, but being able to shoot holes in a window without it simply shattering is a small but incredibly satisfying touch.
The big difference between The Division and other similar shooters is the focus on cover based third person shooting, as opposed to the faster run and gun style of Destiny or Borderlands. The cover system is intuitive with your agent quickly snapping to cover at the click of a button, even when rolling in, and the ability to transition by aiming at where you want to go and holding a button is excellent. Shooting with many of the guns in the game has recoil that you wouldn’t normally find, and is honestly more realistic than what you see in most games. It leads to adapting your play style around the type of guns you want to use. Personally, I prefer to hang back with a marksman rifle, picking my shots as enemies come towards me, and swapping to a low recoil submachine gun, plowing through those foolish enough to come close. While these are my pick, some prefer the higher recoil, but harder hitting, assault rifles or the lightning fast last machine guns and heavy hitting shotguns. The guns here actually feel different from each other, with each range of gun behaving differently, and guns within that range itself having differences in how they act and feel to shoot. The variety lends itself well to fostering a diversity of builds and options, especially when coupled with different perks for guns and the health, gun power, and skill boosting stats from your armour.
Additional to your guns, you also have a range of skills, perks and talents that you unlock as you play through the game and upgrade the different wings within your base of operations. I personally went with a single-player focused self-sustaining build, talents increasing my healing capabilities and using a first aid ability, as well as having a deploy-able turret. However, if I ever decided I’d prefer to use a sticky bomb and a temporary shield, I can jump straight into the menu and swap them over. Not being forced to lock into only one character and being able to alter it as the situation calls for is freeing.
Massive truly have learned from their time on the sidelines, making sure to avoid many mistakes made by Bungie during the 1.5 years of Destiny and building what is a great experience. With the promise of much content to come, and the great experience that it already provides, Tom Clancy’s The Division is easy to recommend to people looking for their next co-op shooter.
The world of The Division looks incredible Matchmaking for all missions Ability to swap between abilities and character builds at any time
Story does not explore the morally ambiguous nature of the Agents enough Scaling of enemy numbers in parties can be frustrating