Tom Clancy's The Division Review (XONE)

The Division is Fantastic on Xbox One

The Division screen
The Division. Ubisoft

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The Division is a mash-up of lots of familiar ideas that ultimately come together to form something new and unique.  Parts of it feel like Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six and others were clearly inspired by Destiny and Borderlands and even World of Warcraft.  But these disparate parts all come together with fantastic presentation, a surprisingly believable story, and a startlingly realistic rendering of New York City to create a remarkably coherent and well put together the final product.

  See all of the details here in our review of Tom Clancy’s The Division.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Ubisoft
  • Developer:  Ubisoft Massive
  • ESRB Rating:  “M” for Mature
  • Genre:  Third-person-shooter
  • Pros:  Looks amazing; addictive loot; fun cover shooting; interesting story; co-op is a blast; matchmaking for everything!
  • Cons:  Kinda boring solo; Dark Zone too unpredictable long-term; repetitive missions

Setting

The story in The Division is a frighteningly believable scenario where a virus spread via money on Black Friday that ravages New York City.  In the days and weeks following the outbreak, bodies line the streets, garbage has piled up, surviving civilians are suffering, and gangs of looters (and worse) have popped up to cash in on the chaos.  You play as an agent of The Division, a secretive organization of sleeper agents made up of seemingly normal people who are activated when the spit really hits the fan.

  The first wave of The Division was wiped out.  You are the second wave.  It is up to you to try to restore order to the city, find out everything you can about the virus, and save as many innocents as you can.  It is important to note that there are no monsters or mutants or aliens here, just mankind at its worst, which is pretty darn scary.

Campaign and The Dark Zone

The Division’s game world is split into two distinct halves – MMO and solo/co-op.  The solo/co-op half of the game is the main story where you roam around the map either by yourself or with a squad of friends.  Your objective here is to take on story missions and side missions and explore the city to find clues about the virus.  You fight against A.I. here and there is no friendly fire.  You can fully play this aspect of the game solo if you want, but the game is quite a bit more fun with friends.  You can either party up with friends directly or enter matchmaking to play with randoms on Xbox Live.  Any and all activities and missions are open to matchmaking (unlike a certain other game “cough” Destiny ” cough ”) so you can always play with other people if you want.  The game is quite difficult solo, but it is definitely doable, but playing co-op is the way to go.

The interesting thing about the campaign aspect of The Division is that you don’t see other players out on the map with you.  Unless you’re playing co-op, you’re out in NYC totally alone and you don’t interact with other players at all.  It is kind of weird.  One of my favorite things about Destiny was how players would organically come together and help each other while wandering around the open world areas, but that doesn’t happen in The Division.

  At least, not during the normal missions.

The MMO aspect of the game comes when you enter the Dark Zone area of the map where the virus wasn’t cleared out.  It is extremely dangerous thanks to much more powerful A.I. enemies, but also due to the fact that other human players will be out on the map with you.  The rewards for entering the Dark Zone are obvious – you can find really, really great weapons and armor there – but the risk is that other players can kill you and steal your hard-earned loot.  Of course, attacking other players marks you as “rogue”, which puts a bounty on your head.  Other players can then kill the “rogue” players for rewards.

  The idea is to keep the risk/reward of going rogue in balance to encourage players not to be jerks.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

My experience in the Dark Zone so far has been surprisingly positive, but I’m not sure how long that will last.  Right now things kind of play out like I mentioned above in Destiny where players all sort of come together to help each other fight the A.I. enemies.  Everyone survives.  Everyone gets good loot.  Everyone has fun.  An interesting aspect of the Dark Zone is that any items you find are contaminated and have to be “extracted” via helicopter, and waiting for the 90-seconds it takes for a chopper to show up leads to some of the most exciting moments of the game.  Everyone on the map knows when an extraction is happening, so players from all over rush to the area to either extract their loot or to kill other players and take their stuff.  It is pure chaos, but very exciting. 

The concept is very cool, but the possibilities for trolling and ruining the fun of other players are too great to ignore.  Right now the Dark Zone is kind of fun and interesting to explore, but what happens when groups of dedicated trolls and jerks team up to hinder everyone else’s fun?  There is nothing stopping groups of high-level players with the best weapons in the game from just taking over the Dark Zone and not letting anyone else do anything by killing every player they see.  The likelihood of this happening is extremely high – people are a-holes, especially online – and when that day comes a huge chunk of The Division is going to be poisoned.

  Granted, entering the Dark Zone isn’t actually required to “beat” the game, but once you finish the story and hit the level cap of 30, there isn’t anything left to do besides entering the Dark Zone for better loot.  It is going to be interesting to see how The Division evolves in the long term.  Hopefully, I’m wrong and the Dark Zone won’t be overrun by trolls and jerks, but I’m not optimistic.  I'm not really a fan of forced multiplayer in single-player settings (Watch_Dogs, Dead Rising 3, Dark Souls II) and try to turn it off / avoid it if possible.  I'd like some options on how the Dark Zone behaves, at least.

Gameplay

The core gameplay in The Division is surprisingly good.  It is a third-person cover-based shooter where damage is fairly realistic.  You can’t take a lot of shots during a firefight, so using cover and carefully moving around the battlefield is vital.  This makes individual firefights stretch out a bit longer than you’ve experienced in most games, which is fun.  Playing solo the game can be very, very difficult, but teaming up in co-op so you can flank enemies and use actual strategy makes enemy encounters quite different. 

The mission design is a little disappointing, however, as they almost always follow the same pattern of fighting off waves of enemies that spawn into the area until the game decides you’ve had enough.  The things you actually do in missions can be interesting – destroying napalm tanks, researching the virus, finding infected money, etc. – but you always end up just fighting wave after wave of the same enemy types over and over.

  At least in co-op, you can change up your strategies so these encounters play out differently.  When playing solo the game becomes much more repetitive (and difficult) and not quite as fun. 

The Division is also an RPG besides just being a TPS, and it throws a mountain of stats and upgrades at you.  You can level up to 30 in the campaign but there is also a separate level (with no cap) in the Dark Zone.  The levels give you access to increasingly more powerful weapons.  Your other abilities/perks / etc. are determined by which missions you’ve done and how much you have upgraded the Base of Operations at the core of the story.  By upgrading the tech, medical, and security wings of your central base, you unlock new abilities like healing stations and turrets and the like as well as perks that give you bonuses for a wide range of actions. 

On top of that, you have a huge amount of armor slots to fill with different pieces, and in a neat twist, the armor doesn’t just exclusively up your defense but can also change your total damage done to enemies or your max health and more.  You always have to weigh the actual quality of each new piece of armor and how it affects your character as a whole and not just plug in whatever new piece has the highest armor rating.  Weapons, which include the standard pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles you’d expect, all also have their own set of stats and can also be modded.  Mods have their own stats as well.  Basically, there are layers upon layers upon layers of stats that all contribute to how powerful and strong your character is.  It really is a wonderful thing.  You can also choose from a wide range of cosmetic clothing options (that don’t impact stats) so you can look however you want. 

The Division is an incredibly deep game with an addictive loot system that keeps you playing.  Because there are so many armor slots, weapon types, and mod types, you pretty much always can go out and explore in the hopes of finding something better via a random loot drop.  There are also vendors as well as a crafting system where you can build your own items that add another ocean of depth to the game.  If you get hooked on the loot, The Division can potentially keep you playing for a long, long time. 

Graphics & Sound

Visually, The Division is an incredibly good looking game.  Manhattan is highly detailed and looks fantastic from just about every angle.  Fire and smoke and explosions and fog and snow falling and other effects are really tie everything together and it all looks stunning. 

The sound is also very, very well done.  The sounds of gunfire in the mostly empty city streets really ring out in a realistic way that is unforgettable.  Enemies tend to repeat the same handful of one-liners a bit too often, but that just encourages you to take them out faster. 

Bottom Line

All in all, The Division is easily the best new game Ubisoft has made in a while.  It cleverly looks to other titles for inspiration but puts everything together into a fresh new package that stands on its own.  The gameplay is solid, the loot is spectacular, and playing co-op is a blast.  I am wary of how the Dark Zone area is going to ultimately turn out, but even without that The Division is still a game that you’ll spend 25-30+ hours with just hitting level 30 and exploring the “normal” areas of NYC, so I think you’ll still get your $60 worth out of it regardless of whether the Dark Zone becomes troll central or not.  If the Dark Zone ends up sucking, the rest of what The Division offers is still very good.  If the Dark Zone ends up being awesome, that’s good news for everyone.  The Division’s ultimate legacy will be determined in how the online aspect plays out in the weeks and months ahead, but for now, at launch, it is a very solid game all around that we can highly recommend. 

 Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

Buy The Division at Amazon.com