How much you will enjoy the Division comes largely from your expectations going into it. If you’re expecting a sprawling open-world story-driven third person shooter, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re expecting a co-op action RPG in a realistic setting, you’re going to be just as absorbed by this gem as we are.
Set in a scarily accurate (if a little small, with the odd street missing like 44th) midtown Manhattan, you’d be forgiven for expecting more of the same form The Division. We’ve walked these streets over and over again in a multitude of different genres and generations, but The Division is one of the first titles to make it real. Perhaps it helps that when we visited New York it was freezing cold, covered in snow, and President’s Day, so everywhere was shut. Wandering through the streets between towering buildings feels almost eerily real and this is thanks in equal parts to the awesome art team and whoever found a way to make lighting with snow look so good.
You’ll spend the first thirty hours or so of the game hopefully teaming up with two other people to take on a variety of challenges and missions that take you from Hell’s Kitchen and underground morgues all the way around to the UN building and Grand Central (although you frustratingly never get to see the insides of that lovely station). The missions are varied enough with objectives like rescuing hostages or collecting supplies, but essentially they all come down to ‘go here and push this button’ or ‘go here and kill all these people’. Thankfully the combat is entertaining enough to keep these relatively mundane tasks really interesting.
In each wave of combat you’re likely to be beset on all sides by a plethora of ordinary soldiers, ones who throw grenades, ones who rush you with shotguns, lethal snipers, and heavily armoured LMG toting neanderthals. Each type of enemy requires a different strategy and once you take on the harder difficulties it quickly becomes a game of priorities, trying to work out a strategy where your team focuses down the most imminent threats as quickly as possible. To help you do this there’s a huge range of skills and talents, and these are all unlocked as you complete missions. Once you’ve unlocked them (there’s no choice involved in this beyond the order) you have them forever, which means you can fill up your two ability (plus one signature) hotbar however you see fit, and change it as often as you’d like at no extra cost. This brings some much-welcomed versatility to every player role. While your gear might push you down a DPS/Tank/Gadget-based role, your actual abilities will be experimented with regularly and swapped out between individual fights if necessary. It means you never feel like you’re making decisions you can’t go back on and you’re never going to be kicked from a party because you made bad ones, you can always move things around to complement the rest of your team.
This team-based play is crucial because it really is where a great deal of the fun in The Division can be found. It can be played solo, and the story missions are enjoyable, but running around the city for hours collecting mobile phones and laptops wears thin and even the combat becomes simpler and less challenging if you’re only fighting an enemy designed for one player (it scales at all but the highest difficulty based on the number of players).
Once you feel you have mastered the PvE sections, you might just be ready to enter the Dark Zone. This is a PvP environment that is designed for level 10+ characters, but since you level quite quickly, most players will probably spend the majority of their time there in the top bracket a level 30. Thankfully it’s gated off so players will only be up against people of a similar level, but the rewards you get from it are much more useful at the max level.
In the Dark Zone everyone is potentially an enemy. There’s hundreds of elite AI enemies that can be killed to grab loot, credits, keys, and XP (for a separate levelling system that doesn’t affect much other than the level of items you can buy at a vendor) but the key difference is that any loot you find here must be put in a special bag and is only tentatively yours until you can extract it. To do this you must go to one of the set zones around the map (that everyone else is trying to use) and fire up a flare (that everyone gets alerted to) while you wait for two minutes for a helicopter to turn up. At any time, but especially during these sequences, someone else can kill you and steal your stuff. If they do they will be labelled as rogue for a while and risk losing plenty of money and XP if they die, but sometimes the risks are worth it to steal someone else’s loot.
The best times in the Division are when your group faces another at an extraction. You’ve got something good, they’ve got something (as shown by the yellow bags on their backs) but you don’t know what it is. You could work together to protect the zone and extract your loot safely, but then again they might stab you in the back and kill you at the last minute. You could make a pre-emptive strike, but then that’s exactly what you’re hoping they won’t do to you. Of course this being the internet, you expect it to be a murderfest constantly, like it was in the beta. Oddly, this isn’t the case. More often that not players leave each other well alone, the risks of going rogue are simply far too high, but that being said we’ve executed at least one player in cold blood at the extraction zone because they were dying anyway. We could have healed them, but, y’know… loot.
Overall The Division is clearly worth your time and money, we’ve already spent over thirty hours in it, have finished the main game, and are showing no signs of slowing down. The missions might be a little repetitive, the loot might all be too similar, and the map might be a little samey (based as it is on a real location) but you don’t tend to think about all of that when you’re running around in a group, struggling to survive and to get that next fix of loot. If you’ve played and enjoyed Diablo, Borderlands, Destiny, Torchlight, or even WoW, we strongly suggest you give this a try.