Tom Clancy’s The Division is a breakout success, shattering sales records in its opening week to become the fastest-selling new franchise in gaming history. Ubisoft’s third-person shooter/RPG hybrid is no doubt an addictive affair that has delivered on its promise of giving players a big, beautiful recreation of New York City to explore and hang out with friends in. Although The Division gets some important things right, its immense popularity doesn’t tell the whole story, which is that it is a rewarding but ultimately hollow experience. The Division is by no means a bad game (and could very well get much better as it receives updates and fresh batches of DLC in the coming months) but right now, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Ubisoft’s latest is a disappointing affair that many players will move on from before too long, with the following list representing its most glaring issues
10. The Panicky Civilians
The Division makes a big deal out of the fact that you play as an elite agent tasked with restoring order to New York City and taking the city back from the looters and various factions that have turned it into a violent and chaotic environment in the wake of a devastating pandemic. So why is it that every civilian you come across reacts like you’re going to murder them in cold blood? It’s a strange design choice that does the game a disservice by pulling players out of the fiction that Ubisoft Massive has spent so much time and energy on creating. This is something that could easily be fixed in an update, so hopefully Ubisoft changes it so that every NPC isn’t cowering in fear at the very sight of Division agents going forward.
9. The Annoying Vendors
Having weapon and armor vendors sell different items is a good idea in theory, but it’s just too bad that The Division bungles the execution. Simply put, the actual process of visiting the game’s various vendors is incredibly tedious; players not only have to fast travel to each safehouse to find out what each vendor is selling, but there is currently no way to even tell whether a safehouse contains a weapon or gear vendor at this point in time. You essentially have to memorize what kind of vendor is at each safehouse, which just seems like a bizarre design choice given how crowded with information all other aspects of the game’s user interface is. For a game that prides itself on featuring a highly-detailed environment with almost zero load times, it’s odd that players are forced to endure so much needless waiting when it comes to figuring out what to spend their hard-fought-for currency.
8. The Lack of Interesting Enemies
The Division deserves some credit for making its enemies as interesting as possible within the restrictive nature of its design, but that still doesn’t make fighting the same few enemy variations over and over less repetitive. The problem is that The Division’s realistic tone means that human enemies are the only sensible option and the game has to go out of its way to try and make boring old humans as interesting to fight as possible. This means that you’ll be fighting nothing but bullet-sponges for the entire experience and even the interesting enemy types — namely the flamethrower-toting Cleaners who make a satisfying boom if you hit them in the right spot — wear out their welcome relatively quick. Again, this is more a case of The Division’s restrictive design aesthetic getting in the way of fun than any fault of the game or the creative people responsible for making it, but at the end of the day, it’s just not as entertaining shooting thousands of human enemies as it is engaging with the more diverse enemies of games like Destiny or Borderlands.
7. Boring Weapons
It’s hard to fault a shooter based in a realistic near-future for sticking as close to realism as possible with its weapon offerings, but it’s hard to deny that collecting variations on real world weapons is inherently less interesting than finding a gun that shoots fire bullets, for instance. The Division is pretty much the definition of the “make the numbers bigger” RPG model, as there is very little difference between a starter AK-47 and a rare one you pick-up later in the game other than having higher stats. It’s not like Ubisoft couldn’t have experimented a bit in this space either, as the game lets you equip explosive and incendiary bullets, so there easily could be some high level weapons that come with these sort of power-ups built-in. Yes, The Division is not a sci-fi/fantasy shooter and has to walk a fine line with its level of realism, but it’s also true that this makes the activity of collecting loot — one of the main gameplay loops of a game like this — inherently duller as a result.
6. Limited Customization
The Division takes a novel approach to its character customization system by having clothing that actually heavily impacts your character’s physical appearance — such as hats, jackets, and pants — have zero effect on stats. This means that you don’t have to give up looking cool in favor of a piece of ugly gear with good stats, which is something that other RPGs could learn from. Unfortunately, The Division doesn’t include enough ways to make your character stand out and it begins right at the character creation screen, which is about as bare bones and limited as an RPG can get. Most of the game’s outfits are variations on the same boring jacket, hats, pants, and boots, and there just isn’t enough loot that is visually-striking. Even the occasional snazzy scarf doesn’t change up one’s appearance very much and it’s a shame that a game that does a great job of separating armor and attire can’t be bothered to give players anything cool to wear.
5. Poor Level Balancing
The Division is a great game to play with friends, but only if you’re all close to being the same power level. If you and your friends are more than a few levels apart, get ready for neither party to have much fun as the game does a poor job of balancing things for players of unequal level. Missions end up being too difficult for lower level players and too easy for higher levels, as enemies hover somewhere between the lowest and highest player levels. This design decision feels questionable in a game that is so focused around co-operative play, as it effectively discourages you from playing without your friends for fear of getting too far ahead of them. Naturally this is an issue that is pretty much eliminated by the time players hit level 30 but it makes the actual process of getting there needlessly frustrating.
4. Barren Open-World
The Division features one of the most breathtaking recreations of a real world city we’ve ever seen in gaming. New York City is not only lovingly crafted in extensive detail, but done so in a way that convincingly illustrates what the city might actually look like in the immediate aftermath of a devastating pandemic. That being said, the game’s incredible looks can’t hide the fact that the game world is noticeably barren when it comes to including other players, especially outside of the Dark Zone. For whatever reason, Ubisoft only allows you to run into other players in the Dark Zone or in safe houses; once you’re out in the world proper, it’s an instanced affair where you are the only Division agent in existence. This issue is alleviated marginally by running with a fireteam but it still feels disorienting to play a massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game where you don’t interact with other players very often. Ubisoft should have included the ability to run into other players in the PvE section of the game to help make the world feel more populated because right now, The Division can be a surprisingly lonely experience.
3. No Dedicated PvP Mode
For a game that’s so focused on teamwork — The Division is an absolute blast when you get a good team of friends together — it’s downright perplexing that it doesn’t include any traditional competitive multiplayer modes. Yes, the Dark Zone is ostensibly a player vs. player environment, but the risk-reward system to engaging with players in combat holds this mode from being an all-out PvP experience. The Division is in sore need of some traditional multiplayer modes such as 4 on 4 deathmatch, capture the flag, and the like. For one thing, The Division is a really good cover-based shooter, so it seems like a waste to not let players compete against each other in arena combat. Hopefully PvP is something that is being considered down the road for The Division because right now its absence feels like a major oversight that will hurt the game’s appeal in the long run.
2. Poor Dark Zone Integration
The Dark Zone is easily The Division’s most interesting feature, so much so that it makes the more traditional PvE elements suffer by association. The main problem is that the Dark Zone is so distinctly different from everything else that The Division effectively feels like two distinctly different games rather than one cohesively-assembled one. Not only is playing the game in the Dark Zone a vastly different experience, it uses its own currency and leveling system, which only separates what your accomplishments there even more. Perhaps this is something that will be addressed in the future, but Ubisoft really should have found a way to better integrate its two halves because right now the game is awkwardly put together. Whether that fix has something to do with unifying the separate credits and experience systems, it’s hard to say, but right now the disconnect between the Dark Zone and everything else is one of The Division’s most glaring problems.
1. It Still Feels Like Every Other Ubisoft Release
Ubisoft’s practice of homogenizing its game design practices to the point where even seemingly every game shares the same formula is starting to hurt its brand appeal and The Division is no exception. While it tries to disguise itself in a unique user interface and some new twists on familiar experiences, playing The Division is not dissimilar to playing other Ubisoft titles such as Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. You’ll still find yourself chasing down waypoints on the map in order to unlock more of the map (radio towers are replaced by safe houses here); you’ll still repeat the same handful of missions punctuated by the occasional story mission to break things up; you’ll still have half a dozen different trinkets and doodads to collect with little incentive given for doing so. While it’s likely too much to have hoped that The Division would have distanced itself more from Ubisoft’s increasingly stale game design philosophies, the fact that it is so thoroughly an Ubisoft title underneath its few new ideas may be the most disappointing part.