The journey of The Division (or, Tom Clancy’s The Division, to give it it’s overly-long full title) hasn’t been easy. The game was announced at E3 back in 2013 to a lot of hype and excitement, but has been shown an increasing amount of skepticism ever since - so what’s it like now?
The premise of a city overtaken by an unknown disease might not be the most original story this year, but it does serve as an impressive, and relatable setting for the third-person shooter.
It isn’t described as a shooter though, but as a classless RPG, so is it? Well there are three skill trees which you can progress through, with only a handful available in the pre-release gameplay we’ve experienced so far, which you can reset to adjust your character for different experiences - playing with friends as opposed to playing alone, for example.
Despite being an online-only title, the game, in theory, is completely playable by yourself. In reality though, the content at the disposal of solo players will feel extremely limited compared to those going around in a group, making their own fun.
When you try to answer the question of what The Division is, the easiest comparison is Destiny, but with the difference in pace it feels like an unfair one.
The story missions themselves, which challenge you to complete objectives to build up your central base with security, medical and technological upgrades (which offer additional skills, and perks, the latter of which we’ve yet to be allowed to mess around with), in theory making the overall game easier.
One of the biggest selling points, outlined in the most recent trailers for the game, is the seamless experience when shifting between areas and game types. Thankfully the experience so far does hold up, with only the odd drop in framerate when moving into an action-packed ‘no respawn’ zone, for example. Being forced to slow down when entering your base does bring back memories of the slow walk from Gears of War, but really it’s only a few seconds you feel restricted.
the gameplay definitely holds up to what could still be considered the industry-standard for the genre. Movement feels fluid, and plenty of button prompts and lines on screen make traversing the map easy (but you can turn them off if you find them distracting). Weapons feel quite basic at the moment, with only a few available making it difficult to feel a real difference, or the impact of mods, which give bonuses to things like reload time, stability and optics.
The ever-present HUD (which can also be hidden) gives the game a very familiar feel to Splinter Cell Conviction, which created a lasting impression by projecting objectives and other information directly onto the map itself. Here it’s more subtle, with the aforementioned button prompts highlighting areas of cover and different options while an orange arrowed line leads you to your next objective like a strange, futuristic ski lift.
When you try to answer the question of what The Division is, the easiest comparison is Destiny, but with the difference in pace it feels like an unfair one. Missions are scattered around the map, ranging from to encounters with AI enemies to more interesting side missions, which hint at elements of detective work through the digital reconstruction of past events, alluding to some of the more memorable moments of the Arkham series - though it remains to be seen if that potential is taken and run with once more content becomes available.
At the moment the biggest frustration is not having enough icons to investigate on the map, even the nearest side missions can send you to places half a kilometre away, and though that isn’t much in reality, it feels like too far when you’re trotting over there on foot and have to go half way around a block to get to an alleyway on the other side.
The Dark Zone, the game’s designated Player vs Player area, feels like little more than an area for destructive elements to group together at present, with even less to explore and uncover, though perhaps this is due to content being held back for the game itself, but it seems strange to offer such an underwhelming amount of content in what is held up as one of the game’s core features.
When deciding whether to shell out on the game, it will largely depend on how much you enjoy the style of something like stablemate franchise Assassin’s Creed. The map will be something covered in dots to explore and you’ll find yourself being constantly distracted by something on the way to something else. The overall objective is clear - to restore New York City to glory - but whether there will be enough constructed narrative woven in to hold your attention will depend on what style of storytelling you prefer. There’s an awful lot of detail put into the world, though perhaps not as much as in the original reveal, but so far it doesn’t seem narratively driven, more that items have been put in to populate an area and make it look ‘lived in’.
The Division has had three chances to exceed our expectations and so far has only succeeded in meeting them, whether this will change on or post release (the game has already confirmed three major expansions) remains to be seen, but for now, stay frosty.