The Division is not a game you pass judgement on lightly – its vast size, complex levelling system and innovative multiplayer make it a proposition that feels utterly unique.
Yet the makers of this game aren’t harnessing some new special sauce, instead they’re picking and choosing the best features from multiple genres and stitching them together to create an experience which is as cheaply rewarding as it is satisfyingly complex.
As a game that is squarely rooted in the notion of playing with others, the comparisons with Destiny are not unwarranted. Whether you’re a fanboy or not the fact is that both games are better enjoyed with friends and both games are heavily structured around the premise of: ‘I want better gear and I want it to look better than yours.’
That’s a simplistic way of looking at it but if you strip everything back, the core reasons you’ll be playing The Division are those two listed above.
So if that sounds like your cup of tea, then we can dive a little deeper.
The game is, as we’re sure you’ve seen from the many Inception-esque trailers, set in a New York City that has been ravaged by a biological attack, in this case a particularly nasty strain of smallpox.
To combat the complete collapse of modern society the government activates a last-resort protocol in which sleeper agents are awoken and told to bring martial law to the streets of America once more.
These agents are part of a top-secret organisation known as The Division.
You are one of these agents, blessed with an arsenal of incredibly cool-looking and highly-advanced gadgets and a bafflingly Olympic physique that allows you to sprint the full width of Manhattan without so much as breaking a sweat.
Set in the Midtown area of Manhattan, your job is quite simply to rid the city of criminals, assist the Joint Task Force (army) in regaining control of the situation and somehow restore order and democracy to the good old USA.
It’s a familiar premise for an open-world game (see Batman: Arkham City or Crackdown) but it’s one that works exceptionally well in this case, giving you something tangible and visible to work towards.
Massive, the game’s developers, have created an astonishing world. Permanently winter – Midtown Manhattan has become a fairy lit wasteland of battered Christmas decorations and eerily deserted quarantine zones.
The first hour we spent playing Division we devoted a large amount of that time to just taking in the scenery, their city is both technically and artistically a crowning triumph.
Packed within this vast lawless expanse are your foes – criminals who have split into competing gangs. Each are different but as you’ll soon begin to realise that all share the same AI.
This isn’t a bad thing, it just becomes very noticeable after a while.
To compensate, The Division’s enemies are surprisingly tough and while the idea of someone wearing basically just a hoodie needing two full clips before being downed comes across as utterly absurd this suspension in authenticity is needed for the game to function.
We’ll steer fairly clear of the plot so as not to reveal too many spoilers but the basic premise is that you’re rebuilding the city while trying to work out who was behind the attack.
To accomplish both of these things you’ll be rebuilding a HQ which serves two purposes: the first is it helps your allies regain control of parts of the city and the second is that it unlocks powerful new skills for you to utilise.
This plot-driven character progression works well, and along with the mountains of loot you’ll be collecting, you’ll find it very easy to get lost in the cosmetic side of your character.
All of these endeavours are capable on your own (and indeed can be fun), but the game is best played with other human beings.
To make sure that you do this The Division has matchmaking tools at the start of almost every encounter in the game.
The last component we’re going to talk about is a place called the Dark Zone. It’s the multiplayer aspect of the game and it’s the component that really makes The Division worth playing.
Rather than having classic multiplayer games where you’re facing each other across a map, The Division has the Dark Zone: A huge central part of the map that is essentially ground zero for the attack.
It’s completely walled off and is inhabited by the hardest AI and, more crucially, other human beings. Within this area you will find the best gear but to take it out of the Dark Zone you’ll need to ‘extract’ it.
The Dark Zone is a democratisation of multiplayer, you can shoot or be shot by literally anyone AI and human.
The price for shooting a human however is high. Shoot first and you’ll go ‘rogue’ a state which alerts others on the map to your dastardly intent and will last for 60 seconds. Kill another human and that figure goes up to 120 seconds and so on and so forth.
Is it worth the risk? That’s the decision you must make, killing other players allows you to steal any contaminated gear they’re holding and then extract it yourself, but that’s only if you haven’t been hunted down and killed by half the map
It’s a glorious choice and one that will lead to some incredible stand offs where players will stumble into each other, notice they both have contaminated gear capsules on their back and then must wait to see if someone fires first.
Is The Division a 10/10 game? No, but only just. It lets itself down with a very grind-heavy approach to levelling up while the game world itself is simply too violent.
That sounds odd but hear us out. In Destiny the game world has no humans, that’s because they’re all hiding in one city. In The Division, humanity is there front and centre.
This is a ravaged city filled with people who need protecting and yet your interactions with them are either scaring them shitless because you’re walking around with a big gun or letting them out of hostage situations.
It’s not a deal breaker in any sense of the word but it is an oversight that can genuinely impact how the game feels at times.
This element aside, The Division is an absolutely triumph. It’s an exciting new IP for Ubisoft that feels polished and potentially has the longevity to spawn a new series of games that frankly, we can’t wait to play.