The irony of capitalism being the transmitter of armageddon is, hopefully, not lost on anyone without a politics, English or philosophy degree. What has become known worldwide as the biggest day of retail commerce, Black Friday, is the ultimate downfall of New York and because of this it is partially evacuated, quarantined and then overrun by hoodlums.
As a member of the CIA sleeper unit, The Division, you are activated and along with the rest of the players are tasked with brining order back to the Big Apple. It’s hard to know where to start with such a big, open world game. Especially one that operates on many different levels and with some achieves great things and with others really doesn’t hit the heights that it could have. But what really holds it together is its setting.
The design of the world is mostly excellent. The reference material for creating New York, or to be more specific a section of Manhattan Island, would make you think this is quite an easy job, but it isn’t as simple as it looks. Whilst it’s not without its problems, New York is a stunning abandoned metropolis. It does so much to raise itself out of the grey concrete maze with excellent lighting, weather effects and the hangovers of abandoned scenery in the run up to the holiday season.
One of my problems with the game from the beta was that there wasn’t enough outside of New York’s grid layout to give the city some much needed scenic changes and some interesting character. There wasn’t enough hollowed out building foyers that you could cut through, or anything much that allowed you to escape the grid and find those little nooks and crannies to explore, often elongating your journey to the next waypoint.
The full release of the game has addressed that to some degree but not nearly enough. Tourist landmarks aside, there are cut through’s, car parks and back alleys but all of them feel so similar and cut and paste that its easy to get lost or feel a sense of déjà vu. Which maybe you do feel in the real New York, I don’t know, but in a game where you can play about with things a bit because of an apocalyptic event it does seem that not enough changes between places. Which is a shame because when the game does things with an area so it can tell a story, it does it so very, very well. A personal highlight is the Alexis Kwan storyline that sees you go from a local meet up of musicians to some abandoned flats and finally a lonely poignant view across the water to the cut off areas of Queens and Brooklyn beyond.
Sadly the game doesn’t actually do narrative that well outside of its small nuggets of ancillary storylines like the echoes and collectibles like phones. The main plot is incredibly linear and simple and really, the way you progress through the game is not really dictated by narrative, but rather by building. The more I played the game, the more I found I wasn’t trying to progress in order to complete the games storyline of stopping multiple factions of militarised gangs from terrorising the good people of New York with their own warped solutions to the current crisis. Instead, I was building my BOO, my base of operations and, in order to find entertaining story, searching for collectibles. Complete with traditional Ubisoft tower missions and area clearing, I completed all of the side missions in order to fully kit out the areas in my BOO and my character’s skill set.
Essentially, I was playing a building game at this point and that’s because I:
- Did not give a monkeys about creating several bullet holes in endless masses of hooded youths, firemen or paramilitary
- Really didn’t understand what the point of the Division was in the game or why they are liked/hated/any better than the aforementioned factions
- Really liked unlocking things in my base that meant I could get free clothes.
The game ends up quite a lot like Destiny in your character inventory with skill swapping, endless deconstruction of guns for parts so you can craft better stuff, or find big loot and rather pointless quests for some green khaki trousers. There is a big RPG element and this game effectively is that with some 3rd person shooting, much like Destiny except that The Division does get the level and weapon levelling right and its shooting, well it works well enough but it isn’t going to set the world alight.
The Dark Zone is the game’s multiplayer component outside of co-op missions and it is quite possibly the most interesting experiment in online PvP for a while. The idea is that a lot of central Manhattan is closed off, labelled as this Dark Zone where the worst of the infection and the reprobates are that run havoc. Think of it like the way Manhattan was changed in Escape from New York except without the prison element. As such, it’s all versus all. Limited extraction zones, better loot, better levelling but, most importantly, epic betrayal around every corner to steal your hard earned pick ups– quite literally.
Which is why this is interesting because sometimes, you will team up with someone in your quest for better loot, stop the onslaught of random AI enemies that funnel out of abandoned buildings and attempt to lay waste to you. Other times it will be real life bastards that will sink a well-placed sniper shot in to you and steal your stuff. You never respawn too far away and there aren’t any game modes like a king of the hill or capture the flag, which on reflection might have been nice, its just a big open window into humanity – the struggle to survive with better things than other people, defended by an almost inexhaustible supply of bullets and ultimately destroyed by jealously and greed.
There’s a great weight that should be here, and that’s my main problem. Outside of its mechanical excellence and well-designed world, the concept sadly becomes a rather drab experience with no really feeling of winning or losing and very little endgame. Once you’ve finished there isn’t much to bring you back, mostly because the characters and story aren’t as well defined as Destiny’s are. Once you’ve completed everything outside of the side missions there isn’t the complex phases of boss battles or exciting phases in level design to make you want to replay things. The Dark Zone is great but ultimately a reflection on the rest of the game and this version New York, empty and lacking in a hook that keeps you using the best part of the game to enhance the rest.
Tom Clancy's The Division
- New York is excellent
- The gun levelling system is much better and rewarding than Destiny's
- The Dark Zone is an excellent idea and well executed
- The main story is not captivating
- There's practically no end game outside of the Dark Zone
- Shooting isn't especially fulfilling