A long time ago in a generation far away a sniff of a game from Ubisoft made my E3 and pushed me over the edge into adopting the PS4. That game and it’s amazing visuals was The Division, a Tom Clancy game of all things and with that title came some stunning photo realistic visuals and innovative gameplay elements. The PS4 arrived as promised, The Divsion did not, it ventured into The Dark Zone and got itself delayed. Well thank goodness for that, because the levelled up package that emerged has become a title that really is lifting the bar for quality.
The tale is woven around a version of New York after being swept by a terrible virus, the titular Division are Homeland Sleeper agents waiting to be engaged and sent out. The territory is a bleak, hostile and quiet place where silence is only broken by gunfire and wild dogs roam free to crap in the street. The nature of the game is MMO without being obviously MMO, players play as agents with enough customisation and clothing options to feel unique and hub zones or safe houses never feel over populated (…any more, day one was a different story when the player load left people forming queues to speak to NPC characters).
Being a trooper in the second wave the game sets you up to go adventuring, from a single player perspective there is a mission structure that makes sense and basically sets you up with all the skills, perks and character buffs you will need to keep on fighting. Unlike another game that was similar in vein, but first person sci-fi the narrative in The DIvision kind of makes more sense. The writing may be a touch off, but there is a real sense of achievement seeing your environment improving as you fulfill objectives. Playing the game alone is one way to do it, but it really is designed to help you reap the rewards of grouping up and operating strategically with friends or strangers.
While it may not be the games objective playing alone does offer some truly beautiful moments, wandering the deserted streets in the snow, clambering over the empty chaos stripping any searchable object of its belongings. Yes, another game that makes me live like a kleptomaniac. The game drips with detail and atmosphere, for any world that is built to be shared with many players it’s astounding just how much care and attention has gone into every corner. Snow builds up on your shoulders, you leave footprints on the roofs of cars and yes, that famous open car door can still be shut when you are hunkered up against it.
As a cover shooter the game plays very well, random encounters soon skill you up, whereas the narrative driven missions and side missions teach you a lot about fighting different enemy types. Usually culminating in a hefty boss fight, on normal these encounters can often be overcome, but revisit an area on hard difficulty and discover a challenge is on hand. Bad Guys lead to violence, violence leads to headshots and headshots lead to loot. Lots of loot, a key component of this type of game is the vast array of loot on offer and The Division does not disappoint. Weapons, weapon attachments, armour and crafting components it all has a use and adds up to keep you unique.
So that’s all good, in fact it’s pretty damn great. Then you stumble upon an area of the city that is blocked off with scaffold and black wrap. The Dark Zone.
Games have grown up in recent years, think about how Dark Souls reinvented the Roguelike and make people feel afraid to go into the dark. The Dark Zone nods to all that then turns up the Risk vs Reward knob to maximum. Instead of throwing you straight into a pop mode or death match lobby The Division leaves the rules at the door. The Dark Zone is a highly contagious area of the city, where the AI survivors are tougher and meaner and carrying more exotic loot. Not a place where you will survive long on your own so it makes sense to group up with fellow agents who are also venturing into the unknown in search of better loot. All well and good apart from those agents that decide to go Rogue and feel its more rewarding to take down non-Rogue Agents, stealing their loot in the process.
It makes for an atmospheric and dangerous environment, its a co-op deathmatch combo of the highest order, there is satisfaction grouping up with random Agents and sticking together on the snowy streets to fill your loot bags. The kicker being the loot extraction, you can’t walk out of the Dark Zone with your treasures, they need to be extracted by chopper, cleaned up and deposited in your stash.
Calling in the chopper attracts waves of bad guys to fight off while you rush to attach your loot bags. Then you can rinse and repeat or take a long walk back to one of the exits. Its easy to lose hours to the Dark Zone, where risk vs reward has never been better represented.
Overall The Division has delivered in spades. Its a show pony to look at, offers a decent chunk of narrative gameplay, great social play and the outlook is good for wave upon wave of DLC. For a nosey kleptomaniac like myself I have months ahead of me poking around the insane amount of detail and emptying every container I come across.