Reviewed on Xbox One
It’s almost impossible these days to not be affected by the hype machine that video game advertising has become. Far too often developers start the hype process for a game way too early and tragically there are changes made between then and launch. This has impacted both The Division and Destiny, two games which now will be compared by many even, and both games have had their own share criticism. Over the last week, I’ve played about 60 hours of The Division and feel like I am ready to give my own judgment. I haven’t done one of these in a while, and it’s already been a month since my last post, so forgive the rust. Time just seems to fly.
New York, once a symbol of American exceptionalism, has fallen. A crippling virus was released on Black Friday that was transmitted on paper money, thus gaining it the nickname of “Green Poison.” The virus doesn’t show its effects right away, but it becomes contagious before this takes place. The authorities believe it to only be the result of a bad flu season, but soon the entire city is under the phantom of an invisible killer. With an extremely high mortality rate, the surviving population either attempts to flee or is placed in camps around the city. Martial law in established, but before long the streets become a haven for those wishing to take advantage of the situation. The United States government establishes a Joint Task Force, consisting of police, firefighters, medical personnel, national guardsmen, and the remaining members of the local government. When it is found that the JTF is unable to maintain control, the Strategic Homeland Division activates sleeper agents who, guided by the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive (aka Directive 51), make their way to New York in order to help the JTF. The first wave of Division agents mysteriously goes missing, and this leaves the player, activated as part of the second wave, to bring order back to the streets and to decipher what happened to their comrades. This is the world that The Division takes place in. A third-person cover-based shooter existing in a quasi-MMO world (that’s a mouthful), The Division blends aspects from other games to become its own experience. The game touches on so many ideas that it truly feels fresh, yet it doesn’t seem to strive quite far enough to become excellent in any aspect, at least at launch. The loot system has enough variety to remain fresh, the controls are smooth enough to be enjoyed and the graphics are detailed enough to allow for quite an amount of immersion. Yet The Division has many of the same problems so many similar games have faced: loot is solely about numbers, the controls can cause annoyances at the most inopportune times and
This is the world that The Division takes place in. A third-person cover-based shooter existing in a quasi-MMO world (that’s a mouthful), The Division blends aspects from other games to become its own experience. The game touches on so many ideas that it truly feels fresh, yet it doesn’t seem to strive quite far enough to become excellent in any aspect, at least at launch. The loot system has enough variety to remain fresh, the controls are smooth enough to be enjoyed and the graphics are detailed enough to allow for quite an amount of immersion. Yet The Division has many of the same problems so many similar games have faced: loot is solely about numbers, the controls can cause annoyances at the most inopportune times and the graphics have seen a significant downgrade from pre-release media.
(Side note: I love how he gets a high-end weapon so quickly in the second video, reminds me a lot of the Destiny gameplay reveal.)
None of these negative aspects of The Division make it a bad game. In fact, it was great to play another game where it took a significant amount of time to finish the campaign content, which for me was about 30 hours. A lot of shooters are over in 5 -7 hours, but by adding in the RPG elements there was much more gameplay. Yet, a majority of this was side missions which became rather repetitive, and when I made an alternative character to play with a friend I found myself wanting to skip as much of the optional content as possible.
It remains a rather important caveat that The Division is not a finished experience. Like how Bungie has done with Destiny, Ubisoft has plans to keep adding content to The Division in order to continue telling the story which, to a person like me, was actually rather interesting. Yet I feel like for a game to be successful with this model there needs to be an endgame that is engaging enough to keep a player base playing. The Division, to me, doesn’t have this. There are daily missions to earn currency that’s used to buy end game gear, and I’ll continue to play these, but other than the Dark Zone this remains the only method of endgame progression. These “Phoenix Credits” are used to buy primarily diagrams used to craft gear, which will often have variable stats and skills. This creates a very grind-heavy experience, leaving the only other alternative as the previously mentioned Dark Zone.
Within the game world, the Dark Zone is where the Green Poison hit the hardest. Law enforcement tried to maintain peace and civility but ultimately failed, leaving valuable gear to be found and extracted out. However, since the Dark Zone is a lawless land the player must fight both the forces fo anarchy and potentially other Division agents in order to extract their new gear. At least, that’s how the advertising describes it. In reality, the Dark Zone is a collection of areas filled with difficult enemies which will drop a currency only usable through specific vendors for endgame gear, and only once a player’s Dark Zone level has reached a certain point. Dark Zone experience is gained from completing tasks within the areas, usually fighting the previously mentioned enemies. This all results in doing the same thing over and over for as long as you can stand, and then deciding to risk it all being lost when an overpowered player goes to your extraction zone and completely destroys you.
This is the core problem with the Dark Zone. Areas are instanced not on Dark Zone levels, but regular XP levels from outside. Once a player is at XP cap, level 30, they can run across anyone who is also the same level. This could be someone who just beat the game and is just now beginning their endgame grind, or it can also be a player who has finished the grind and has stats which would make your calculus professor’s eyes tear up. While it is best to play with a group, even the most coordinated of players may not stand a chance when jumped by someone with much bigger numbers. The annoyance of losing gear worked for would be one thing if it had been a fair fight, but when you literally stand no chance it becomes a problem. Now, there is a significantly high penalty if a player who goes rogue is taken down, but this makes it worse. A high geared player will go rogue without a second thought because they know that there are not many players who can stop them while an average geared player will be hesitant because they know the risk outshines the potential reward. Simply, the Dark Zone is not fun.
Link: The Division: The Dark Zone Has Problems (And Isn’t Exactly Fun) by Datto
So what does this all leave us with? The Division is a fun game, there’s no doubt about it. Yet I feel like a large majority of the hype for it currently could be said to be caused by the current content drought in Destiny. The Division attracts many of the same types of gamers, yet Destiny did what it did do much better. Bungie was able to craft controls smoother than butter and a world that to this day makes me tempted to write less than passable fan fiction. The Division will be releasing the four-player “Incursions,” which some have labeled as their version of raids, in April, yet in a move that borders on suspicious Bungie will be releasing an update for Destiny around the same time. A number of friends that I have talked to agree with me that while The Division is good, as soon as there is new Destiny content I’ll be back in the boots of my Guardian to fight the Darkness. Of course I have become a big Destiny fanboy, I mean look at the current background of this blog, so I am biased. In April Incursions will have to wait.
It’s not April however, and for right now I am highly enjoying the content that The Division has given me. The $60 price tag has so far provided me with 60 hours of game time, and these days having a $1 per hour return on investment is pretty good. As the final semester of college starts to wind towards its inevitable conclusion, I’m just happy to have such great games to play. It wasn’t that long ago when I had to make due playing Chip’s Challenge and a GBA emulator on a Windows 98 that didn’t have functional USB or CD drive.
This game still has one of my favorite cinematic trailers.