The Division

The Division: 20 Hours In

I’ve not done much in the last couple days other than play The Division. In that time, I’ve made it as far as level 19, and gotten to rank 14 in the Dark Zone. Sure some have played it more efficiently, and have already hit the level 30 cap, but I go at my own pace, and I’m excited to keep going, keep exploring, keep leveling, and keep upgrading loot. That said; it’s a shame that the some areas of the game fail to impress.

At its core, The Division is an open world RPG. There are oodles of online components, and though you can definitely play through the entire thing solo if you so choose, you’d be missing out. The Division doesn’t force multiplayer on you, but maybe it should. It’s where the game’s at its best. Aside from the Dark Zone and in hubs, you won’t be running into other players unless you’re actively matchmaking. Playing with people on your friends list is a cinch, though. Just click and go, or leave your game open to friends and let them join you at will. Or leave it open to the public and have fun with strangers. It’s highly recommended. Do it if only to see just how well the online components work in concert. Slip in and out of teams. Jump into missions, both story and side, regardless of how far along they are. All of it works seamless with little to no hiccups. It’s quite impressive.

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One of The Division’s greatest strengths is just how beautiful it is. It’s pretty obvious from wandering around that a lot of love and attention went into building this world. The game looks gorgeous, both technically and artistically, and then there’s the attention to detail. Very little of the game’s world goes to waste. Almost every inch of it had someone spend time making it appear lived-in. Or formerly lived in. Now that the virus has taken Manhattan, much of it is in disrepair. Then there’s the level of destruction. You can shoot bricks from walls in the sewers, or peel away the outer layer of other ones above ground. Glass fractures as bullets pass through them. I’ve gotten into the odd habit of shooting everything just to see how it reacts to bullets.

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Now if only Massive Entertainment had spent as much time and love on the rest of the game. Make no mistake, The Division is a Ubisoft game. Sure, there aren’t towers to climb, at least not yet – who knows what the DLC might hold – but it bears many of the marks of a Ubisoft open world game. There are dozens of side quests, and encounters, and hundreds of collectibles. There are also story missions, about one per zone. All of which is labeled plainly on the map as to leave out much room for surprise in terms of content.

Not that the game would’ve needed to hide what was in it. You’ve seen much of what’s in store by the time you get through the first zone. The side missions and encounters are almost entirely cut and paste. They’re repeated – a lot – across all the zones. You might be seeing new areas, but you’ll be doing a lot of the same quests. Rescue hostages here, defend supply drops there. If it weren’t for the RPG elements and progression, the game would get old really fast, and if loot and leveling aren’t your forte, chances are neither will be The Division.

The story missions step it up slightly, but they are too few, and even they end up feeling a bit similar to one another. Go to point a, then to point b, completing objectives along the way, and then then end on a boss fight. A little more variety would’ve been greatly appreciated. They could’ve thrown in one in which you have to defend your Base of Operations from an enemy incursion.

It might’ve been easier to overlook the shortcomings of the missions, both story and side, if the game actually had a story. There’s a load of world-building, but not much in the way of an actual plot. Most of the story missions serve only illustrate the struggles of those within post-virus Manhattan. This makes it difficult to care much about any of the characters, or why you’re doing missions. You just are – for loot, or to get that nice chunk of experience, or blue weapon reward.

It’s a great thing, then, that The Division’s RPG mechanics are so well realized. The full game has given me more of an understanding of the game’s mechanics than I had during the beta. That’s for sure. There’s definitely some depth to how you build your character. There are three primary stats: Firearms, Stamina, and Electronics. The first one is obvious enough; it improves damage done by weapons. Then Stamina increases your health pool, and finally Electronics increases the effectiveness of skills. On top of that, gear can have all sorts of other bonuses, like increased critical change, or making a skill more powerful.

Of course the first inclination of many players including myself will be to stack your damage as high as possible. That’s fun for a bit, until you start dying in two shots from enemies on hard mode, or from players in the Dark Zone. Then you’ll wise up and start diverting points into Stamina. So far I’ve mostly neglected electronics. That stat seems more suited to a support build for end game. For leveling, it definitely seems better to kill faster – with deadlier guns – and to live longer – with more health.

Weapons themselves are a treasure trove of customization. Not only can they have separate stat bonuses of their own, they can also have talents that that have interesting effects like increased damage to enemies with low health, or healing on kills. These have attribute requirements to unlock, though. You may find yourself adding points to Electronics anyway because the awesome talent on your assault rifle requires it. On top of that, there are mods, which can add an entirely new layer of customization. You have your typical array of scopes, and magazines, and muzzle attachments. These can all have random stats, like other pieces of gear. Your guns are almost like a mini character on their own.

The Division

Then there are your abilities, talents, and perks. As you expand your Base of Operations, you’ll unlock more and more of them. Two abilities can be selected at once, and a third signature skill unlocks a bit later. These are useful tools like a heal, or mobile cover, or a seeker mine. These can be further augmented with additional mods that slightly tweak their function and allow for greater customization.

Talents are similar to the ones found on weapons. One gives you an accuracy buff when you go into cover. Another will give you a movement speed buff when you suppress an enemy. There are a lot of them, and they’re varied, but you can’t have them all active at once. You equip talents into slots that unlock as you level. At level 30, you can only equip four of the two dozen. So there’s reason to swap them in and out depending on what you’re doing in game.

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Perks are everything else. They can increase the amount of medkits you carry, or add a crate that lets you collect a cosmetic item every twelve hours. One of them even adds a shooting range for you to test weapons. They’re unlocked by upgrading the three different Base of Operations wings. These upgrades cost various amounts of resources, and the better perks are usually tied to the more expensive upgrades. So there is a lot of choice in which perks you unlocks in which order.

I’m a little disappointed that The Division doesn’t have some kind of skill tree, a la Borderlands, but I’m just partial to putting a point somewhere every time I level; it makes me giddy. There’s not much reward for leveling, other than using higher leveled geared you might’ve collected and have been waiting anxiously to use. That’s a mere nitpick, though, and has more to do with personal preference. The Division definitely doesn’t lack in character customization, and between talents and abilities, there are plenty to choices to make.

With loot being as important as it is, being unlucky sucks. Once a weapon starts to fall behind you in levels, you start to really feel it in the time it takes to kill enemies. But getting a brand spanking new weapon, maybe even a superior one (purple), makes a world of difference. The crafting system helps bridge those gaps, and many of the side quests in the game reward you with blueprints. Completing all side quests in a given zone rewards you with an especially sexy blueprint. That gives you a good incentive to knock out all the side quests, especially in zones of your level. The crafting system isn’t without RNG, though. All items you craft can have random stats, and let me tell you, it’s pretty easy to dump your entire cache of crafting resources trying to get the very best roll.

Because trust me – once you start delving into the Dark Zone, you probably want to have the best gear possible for your given level. Enemies there are tough, and there’s the ever-present threat of rogue agents. Fortunately players are much nicer than I expected after the beta – at least for now. As it stands, most everyone seems happy to work together rather than to ruin your day. That probably has to do with the fact that there’s no such thing as “tapping” in The Division. Anyone who participates in killing an enemy receives Dark Zone rank experience as well as a chance at loot. Chances are you’ll find yourself being helped by random passersby who are after the same things you are. That sweet, sweet loot.  But that probably won’t lull you into a false sense of security. You’ll be killed often enough to stay on edge. That sense of danger – from both rogue agents as well as the tougher enemies – is what makes the Dark Zone especially fun, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

You will die, either from the hand of rogue agents or enemy NPCs, and when you do, you lose Dark Zone credit, consumables like Dark Zone keys, and any contaminated items you’re carrying. That’s loot found while scavenging in the Dark Zone. When you die, you drop it all. Some of it other people can pick up, but most of it is private to you, and can be retrieved once you make it back to where you died without the chance of losing it. To actually use the items, though, you need to extract them at one of the predetermined extraction points. There is where players normally congregate, and where there’s a good chance to be gunned down by rogue agents.

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In twenty hours, I’ve seen a lot of The Division, but I haven’t seen it all. I still have to make my way through the remaining story missions. I still have yet to reach level thirty, and I have to see for myself what end game entails. Despite its shortcomings, I like the game, quite a bit, but there’s no telling if I’ll still be playing it in a month, or two, or if I’ll care when future updates come out. They might tempt me back to the game, or maybe they won’t. It’s hard to get a real sense of the game’s longevity, which normally wouldn’t be too much of a concern. Not all games are meant to last forever, but The Division is definitely built like something meant to retain players. I’m not convinced it can pull that off. That all comes down to how much end game content is currently in the game, and how much quickly future updates come.

For the moment, though, I’m going to keep on playing, and keep on getting loot, and keep on leveling, and keep on having a jolly good time doing so.


About Josh Price

Josh Price is a writer who probably spends too many hours of the day playing video games. At some point he decided to put the two together to (hopefully) great effect. He also wrote some fiction. You should check that out if you're into such things, which you should be. Reading is FUNdamental.

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