I often wonder what the benchmark of achievement as a game designer is before you’re allowed to start putting your name at the front of all your games, if there is one. Maybe Sid Meier and Tom Clancy just value their contributions to the games that much, because who else’s name are they gonna put there. The coffee guy’s? Brett the Studio Coffee Monkey’s The Division just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Tom Clancy’s The Division, besides being an abomination to grammar, is an open world MMO third person shooter with a strong focus on multiplayer. It’s such a strong focus, in fact, that they elected not to include an offline single player experience at all, immediately ticking one of the game developer war crimes off the list. Eventually everyone who owns a copy of the game will be left with a shiny paperweight once Ubisoft shuts down servers for the game, which given their track record will hopefully be in at least five years, or sooner if we’re unlucky, but I digress.
So rather than talk about what the game doesn’t have, let’s talk about what it does have. The Division is set in New York city following the outbreak of an extremely deadly virus known as Green Poison or the Dollar Flu, which kills off a lot of inhabitants and forces the city into quarantine lock down. This is only the plot for Infamous, The Last of Us, several Resident Evil games, Dishonored, Prototype, and Left 4 Dead among others.
Once locked down, the city quickly descends into chaos, and following the collapse of organised society, the city becomes a war zone fought over by looters, ex sanitation staff turned pyromaniacs, and the Joint Task Force or JTF, which is an amalgamation of what is left of the police force, firefighters, medical staff, army forces and government agencies. Joined by these factions are a top secret government agency known only as The Division, which are essentially government sleeper agents who are deployed only as a last resort. Players take the role of one of the second wave of Division Agents, after most of the first wave either died, went rogue, or went MIA.
While the city is quite a large, open world map, it only tends to serve as a bit of a commute between missions a lot of the time. Sure, you can fast travel to previously visited locations, but sometimes you still have half a kilometer to travel to get to your destination, at which point the game becomes a jogging simulator. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the map didn’t feel so empty, but once you get past the clutter of vehicles, collapsed structures, junk, and trash, there’s not a lot else to really explore. Besides a couple of encounters and side missions which consist of “go here shoot these guys then defend it by shooting more guys,” there’s not actually that much to do between missions and the majority of the buildings are purely for decoration and can’t actually be explored. Even those that can be entered are little more than a couple of rooms connected by a stairwell. There are a scattering of locations where players can regularly find crafting ingredients and loot, which are about as exciting as finding a stash of receipts to help complete your tax return most of the time.
The main story missions, apart from a very broad use of the word story, are nothing memorable either. The most interesting part of the missions is the locations they take place in, because apart from that every single mission feels more or less the same. You go to a location, shoot baddies from behind cover, then rinse and repeat step two until the mission is complete. The most variation you get here is that the enemies will use different weapons depending on their faction, and the boss at the end will have a different name and maybe an exploitable weakness. Apart from this, bosses are basically just bullet sponges that take more rounds than a herd of rhinos before they finally go down and drop some equipment that may or may not be crappier than what you already have equipped.
A lot of players say that the game is more fun as co-op with friends, but sitting in an empty room can be fun with friends, which doesn’t make it any less boring or depressing than when you do it by yourself with only booze and borderline alcoholism for company. Given that I don’t have any friends
who play the game at all, I tried my hand at co-op matchmaking, which as just as much of a gamble as solo queuing in any game. Sometimes I’d be paired with a total bro after which we would then proceed to bro-op the mission without too much difficulty, while other times I would be paired with the kind of intellectually impaired player whose idea of reviving me is staring at me while I bled out at their feet only for them to get set on fire and shot in the face themselves while they were gazing at my corpse with a slack jaw. Sometimes I would decide to lone wolf missions instead and had little trouble the completing missions alone, which raises the question, why couldn’t there be an offline single player mode again?
Then there’s the Dark Zone, which is in a lot of people’s opinions, the best part of the game. The Dark Zone, as the story goes, is the part of the city where the majority of infected individuals were gathered, and it’s where shit hit the fan so hard that the JTF was forced to pull out, leaving it as a lawless place inhabitated by the toughest enemies, rogue agents, and the odd Divison agents with enough balls to brave it. This area has it’s own XP levels and currency, and is both a PVP and PVE location. Players who enter the Dark Zone can either team up and take it on together, or betray one another at which point they become rogue agents. After turning on fellow agents, rogue agents become highlighted on the map to all nearby agents, and come with higher XP and Dark Zone fund bounties. These are valuable enough to warrant pursuing rogue agents for, as everything acquired in the dark zone is dropped upon death, ripe for the taking by other players, so the more you can get the better. However in my experience, like any PVP area, the Dark Zone ends up becoming a place where high level players hunt low level players, until said low level players scrape enough XP and funds together between getting stomped on to perpetuate the cycle of being an ass.
One of the game’s few redeemable feature is that the upgrade and perk system is quite in depth, and well executed. Depending on the mission type, players will either receive medical, tech, or security resources upon completion which can then be spent on various upgrades and perks back at HQ. As well as unlocking abilities than can be assigned to slots, these abilities also have unlockable mods, which allow you to further customize your equipped abilities. The higher the level you are, the more ability slots you unlock, which makes players work for their upgrades, which I liked. There’s definitely a sense of achievement and growth once you pass the next slot threshold, and there are a variety of ways to gain XP, from kills and missions to simply discovering areas and giving supplies to civilians in need, which prevents the game from being too grindy, though that’s not to say it isn’t grindy at times later on.
Tom Clancy’s The Division, while being a crossover of third person shooter and MMO games, manages to innovate on absolutely nothing from either genre. The game sits in it’s little safe house of cover based shooting, afraid to do anything too experimental or unconventional, instead wallowing in a puddle of oatmeal that’s as bland and tasteless as the game itself. That being said, I’ve seen a few people saying they enjoy The Division, and assuming that they’re not just saying that out of a misplaced sense of buyers remorse, that is an issue that them and I will have to stay divided on.