To call UbiSoft’s The Division a polarizing game would be an understatement. For every review that lauds its quality, there’s another that points out all its flaws. It’s unlikely that when all is said and done, this will be high on anyone’s list for Best Game of 2016, but while it is a game with some very obvious issues, it’s also a game that does a lot of things right, and can be incredibly fun to play. So, it you’re on the fence about maybe picking up The Division, here’s a few things we’d like to point out that we really liked about the game. And if you disagree, that’s okay, we had someone else write about what the game did wrong, too!
10. New York, New York, It’s a Hell Of A Town
This is the part where we mention that the game looks spectacular, both on PC and consoles. The sheer amount of detail you’ll see in this game is incredible. But it’s not just about graphics, but how they’ve been used to create an environment where every section of the city, every carefully rendered street and alleyway, even every car and pile of garbage bags feels unique. Adding to the atmosphere of the game is the constant day/night cycle, combined with shockingly realistic weather effects. For every bright and clear afternoon, there’s a dark night with snow falling so thickly you can’t see five feet in front of you, and everything in between. The weather isn’t just cosmetic, either, it will actually have an effect on how you (and your enemies) play the game. It’s also worth nothing that the plague-filled island of Manhattan is actually an incredibly lively place in The Division, and not just because of the groups of people trying to kill you. Birds, rats, dogs, random survivors all roam the landscape, bringing a surprising life to a dying city.
9. It’s Easy To Play With Other People…
We’re going to make a few comparisons to Destiny on this list, but that’s only because the list of loot-based multiplayer shooter RPG’s is currently pretty short and headed by Bunqie’s magnus opus. One of the biggest complaints about Destiny at launch was its complete lack of matchmaking. If you don’t already have a group of friends to play with, you are out of luck. But strangely enough, some people don’t always have a squad of friends available to play with them, and sometimes, even when you do, they’re not always around. That’s where matchmaking should come in, and in The Division, it’s easy as pie to hop into another group. Every safe house, every entrance to the Dark Zone, and every single story mission has a floating block of text at the entrance that allows you to hit a single button and search for a group of like-minded individuals for that particular combat (or to just tool around the city with). Sure, random groups may not always work out, because that’s the risk you take when you pair up with complete strangers, but it’s nice to have the option.
8. …But You Don’t Have To
The other alternative to grouping up, of course, is to play the game by yourself, something that can be tricky in a game where a lot of the combat is balanced around teams. That said, the scaling of the difficulty adapts fairly well to single player, and while you may have a far more harrowing time braving the more difficult missions by yourself, they are completely doable solo. You can even run around the Dark Zone by yourself, if you think you’re good enough. It may be inadvisable and fairly difficult to do so, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find success. And yes, the gear in the Dark Zone has a chance to be slightly better (or at least more plentiful), but the stuff you’ll find roaming the streets and completing missions by yourself is nothing to sneeze at. Such is the random nature of a loot-based game. Being able to do everything solo will almost certainly change when Incursions (raid content) are added, but for now, there is nothing in the game that you can’t accomplish by yourself, if you work at it a little harder.
7. Shoot People In The Face…Strategically
The Division is not a “run-and-gun” game, it is definitely a cover shooter, where staying hidden behind objects is necessary to your survival . If you charge into combat, guns blazing, you will die, quickly and repeatedly. However, while the AI isn’t spectacular, especially on lower levels, all four of the game’s factions will use some sort of tactics against you, in increasingly difficult ways, the will force you both to stay in cover, and always be ready to move your position. Your weapon and skill choices will also be important to how easy or hard it is for you to complete objectives, especially in a team, forcing you to become adept with a variety of different ones, or at least find friends who can cover your weaknesses. The game really does shine when you have a good team and a strategy for encounters, because there’s nothing more satisfying than routing an attack through smart tactics and teamwork. Rather than just sending you out to be a walking arsenal, this game really does expect you to use your brain when it comes to combat.
6. Crafting For Dummies
Crafting systems are so hard to pull off well, and The Division does a fairly good job. Blueprints for gear are easy to find (and are often mission rewards), and crafting requires certain numbers of easily obtainable materials. There’s no endlessly farming content just to get that rare material to drop, because high level crafting materials can be made by combining lower level ones, and since you can get lots of materials simply by deconstructing all the weapons and gear you weren’t going to use (trust us, it’s a better idea than selling them for peanuts, especially low level stuff that isn’t worth anything), plus through a number of constantly re-spawning item boxes out in the world. Pllus, the gear you can get through crafting will be comparable to what you can find through random drops. Sure, a lot of the crafting recipes will never see use, like any crafting system, but when you’re missing that one decent item (or getting that “one of your items is too low level” message), it’s the easiest way to fill a slot with something that’s actually useful.
5. Detailed Story Mission Set Pieces
While the side missions and random encounters may grow to feel repetitive and boring, the game’s missions are incredibly well-crafted. The story missions take you off the streets and put you into some really unique environments, from construction yards and sewer mazes to iconic Manhattan landmarks like Madison Square Garden and Times Square. Playing through missions are some of the best part of this game, featuring far more depth than the encounters you come across in the open world. If we had a complaint, it would simply be that there aren’t enough of these. A lot of work clearly went into each one, and it shows, so maybe we’re being greedy for asking for even more, but they quite often are the highlight of our experiences with The Division, and frankly, we’d sacrifice a large portion of the open world in order to have a handful more specialized missions.
4. Dark Zone Diplomacy
Make no mistake, the Dark Zone is hard, and an incredibly tense experience, beyond any PvP zone we’ve experienced before. Not only do you have to deal with random AI opponents, but other players roam the area, looking to escape with loot of their own. Unlike normal PvP zones, however, you aren’t necessarily enemies, and can even choose to work together with other players. However, at any time, another player can decide to stop playing nice and “go rogue”, taking out other players in order to steal their carefully amassed treasures. But at the same time, the only way to get your loot out of the Dark Zone is to summon a helicopter at designated extraction points, which takes time, and is made even harder due to rogue players being marked for everyone else in the zone to see. In addition, the Dark Zone employs “proximity chat” for all players, adding an extra dimension to both the teamwork and the tense atmosphere. When everyone works together, it can be incredible fun, but when the inevitable betrayals start flying…it’s still incredibly fun, with a great sense of accomplishment when you manage to actually extract some gear, take down a rogue, or, yes, kill everyone else and take all their stuff for yourself.
3. We Have A Gun For That
If there’s one thing you can always expect with Tom Clancy-related material, it is an extensive array of highly detailed, realistic weaponry, and this game does not disappoint in that respect. Every gun you can imagine is in this game, all with unique look and feel, all of which can be extensively customized (well, okay, not the shotguns, but why would you need to put a laser sight on a shotgun anyway?) to your own tastes. And not only are there lots of guns, there are lots of classes of guns, and all can be used equally effectiveness depending on what you feel comfortable with. You can snipe with marksman and assault rifles, get up close and personal with shotguns and handguns, or stick to the middle distance with a variety of light and sub-machine guns. There really is no “right” way to go with your loadout, and a generous system that scatters boxes where you can re-fill your ammunition means you’ll never be short of bullets, so pick what works for best for you.
2. Look At My New Scarf!
Perhaps you’ve already heard about the mythical scarves of The Division, which nobody under a certain level has ever seen. But we’re here to tell you that they exist, and they’re pretty awesome. Why yes, we are going to gush about the fully cosmetic clothing system, which lets you outfit your character in a wide variety of shirts, hats, boots, and yes, scarves, allowing you to really stand out in the bleak landscape of the game. Yes, the actual character creation options are limited, but where the ability to replicate your face fails short, the clothing system completely makes up for it. Possibly even more fun than modelling the dozens of different coats you’ll inevitably find during your travels is one of the ways in which you can acquire them, by providing wandering citizens of New York with random items you can easily find scattered all over the city. Every time you hand a refugee a bottle of water, you’ll find yourself holding your breath and hoping for that telltale blue light that signifies another piece of clothing. Yes, we’re aware of how crazy we sound right now. Crazy awesome, that is.
1. It Learned From Destiny‘s Mistakes
We’re not going to sit here and say that Destiny is a bad game, and it has improved a great deal since its initial release, but it has had several noticeable issues that persist to this day. While The Division hasn’t improved on everything that Destiny created (and in fact, it does some things worse), it does shine in comparison in a few noticeable spots. The biggest one, of course, is that the story, and related missions, of The Division is far superior to what Destiny provided at launch. It’s not Shakespeare, but it is a story told through effective cutscenes, videos, and environmental dialogue that really makes the world come alive, something that Bungie’s game severely lacked. And while Destiny’s DLC and additional content plans remain elusive and vague to this day, UbiSoft has already released a video detailing every piece of content they plan to release for the rest of the year. Of course, they still have to deliver that content, but it’s nice to know what the plan is. Finally, and possibly most importantly, while Bungie set about promising that Destiny would change the gaming landscape and ended up disappointing people when they under-delivered on those promises, UbiSoft made far less grandiose statements (in part due to the oft-delayed nature of the game’s development) and ended up delivering something which exceeded expectations. It’s a small but significant difference in how the two games were ultimately received, and likely has played a part in why The Division is seen as one of the best surprises of 2016.