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Tom Clancy's The Division

The Division review - the gun-packed RPG is now cheaper

Rob Leane Seth Barton
18 Jun 2018
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
The Division
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
42
inc VAT (PS4)

Brilliant, co-operative shooting, and now at a lower price

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Specifications

Available formats: PS4, Xbox One, PC

DEAL UPDATE: Tom Clancy's The Division has been reduced to a very low price over at GAME. While you wait for the sequel to drop, you can pick up the original for a bargain cost: the PS4 version is down to £15.44, and the Xbox One version is down to £13.99. Both prices are a far cry from the £50 you would've had to fork out at the time of release.

Seth's original review continues below

The Division has long been the poster child of next-gen gaming. I first talked to the developers about their much-anticipated title some three years ago now. Since then, some cutting edge features, such as having a player join in on a tablet as a support drone, have been pared off. However, the core of the game is surprisingly unaltered from that early showing.

The Division blends genres like a videogame smoothie. It’s a third-person shooter with a prevalence for cover mechanics, but it also mixes in a strong RPG element with damage numbers popping up over your enemies heads. Finally, it adds a co-operative multiplayer element to all its ‘story’ missions, as well as a player vs player (PVP) area where you’re free to play it straight or go rogue against other Division agents. Part Gears of War, part Borderlands, part Destiny, it's both radical yet eerily familiar at the same time. 

It’s a game that has both thrilled and puzzled me in equal measure. Some parts of the design are brilliant, some are baffling, and some make me uneasy.

Where art thou Quest?

For as long as I can remember, RPGs had quest givers. You’d be wandering through a wondrous fantasy world and up would pop a needy type: a peasant whose crops kept on failing mysteriously; a sorceress who needed a special herb from a the heart of a dangerous swamp; a mercenary offering coin to kill roving goblins. You’d go forth, assess right from wrong, inevitably kill something and return for your reward.

That was the way it was done, and still is if you played last year’s excellent Witcher 3. Sometimes those quest givers lie, sometimes they’re actually the bad guys, and often you have to make a tough moral choice. They can fight alongside you, or try to kill you when you come back with the loot. They are the main characters in the world and play varied roles in the story.

The Division a rare character

The Division is an RPG on many recognisable levels. It has levels, for instance, skills, perks and more gear than even your ample brain could possibly conceive of. You fight enemies, inflict damage on them, you earn experience points and pick up loot.

What is doesn’t have, though, are recognisable quest givers populating the world. Yes, there are characters stuck in your headquarters who give you mission orders over your radio, but they don’t come out into New York themselves. Instead, any missions appear on your incredibly well-conceived and hugely fancy heads-up display.

The Division map

Spotted across post-apocalyptic New York are safe houses, each of which contains a person who stands behind a desk and, if interacted with (not talked to, there’s no two-way conversations here), will place a bunch of icons on your map for small-scale missions nearby, which often involve navigating the rooftop and subways of New York.

Each of these safe house desk jockeys does have their own personality quirks, which make for some genuinely amusing radio chatter, but these aren’t their own personal missions, and they don’t involve recognisable characters who have identifiable problems. In fact, all the missions in The Division suffer from a lack of personality, a lack of heart, and a lack of character or, indeed, characters. Most simply boil down to go somewhere and kill something.

Downertown

Maybe New York, undoubtedly one of the most eulogised and mythologied cities on Earth, can make up for the lack of visible characters in this game? Well, no, not really, as you'll be surprised just how much of its charm Ubisoft has torn out. The street and the architecture persist, of course, and the accents are prevalent, but that’s about it. What’s left is just one grim, wintery scene after another, filled with desperate people that you barely interact with.

The Division Joint Task Force

As an agent of the titular Division, you’re here to save New York, but frankly it looks long past saving. The population has been reduced to a handful, with as many gun-toting lunatics than actual survivors on the streets, and there's a strict line drawn between them. Civilians can’t be robbed or shot for any effect, and they never come to your aid or attack you if threatened. The only grey area is stray dogs, as you can shoot them for experience points or let them wander on their way.

Even the big missions and the big bad guys don’t have cutscenes to introduce them, and they don’t die with any particular visual flourish. They chatter at you, they eat lead, they die, and you move on to the next firefight. There are some grander locations, like a the brilliant visual spectacle of a department store on fire, but they can't make up for a lack of character.

The Division Xmas tree on fire

Gaming first

Yes, The Division may revel in its grim, saving mankind one neighbourhood at a time narrative, but the core gameplay is simply excellent. Playing alone at lower levels it’s pretty straightforward stuff - stay in cover, use your abilities to heal yourself or hurl out a sentry gun to distract your enemies and occasionally make a quick dash to flank your opponents or dodge an incoming grenade.

It’s not the most varied experience, even with the wide range of skills and weapons on offer, but it’s tightly designed and gunning down enemy after enemy is strangely compelling. One plus point is that you’re free to switch out your skills and weapons on the fly, so you can go from sniping and healing, to getting stuck in with a shotgun and riot shield in an instant.

The Division gun stats

Ubisoft's clearly thought long and hard about differentiating the different bullet spitters, too, and to good effect. Each of the main types of weapons has a clear purpose and has to be handled differently. For example, light machine guns gain accuracy as you fire for longer, encouraging longer bursts, while assault rifles are accurate but lose accuracy in longer bursts. Marksman rifles, on the other hand, have damage multipliers for head shots, encouraging accuracy.

Your enemies may not be terribly varied, but you do feel that each main group has its own AI. Your basic street thugs often dart out of cover and then potter about a bit uselessly, but they will try and flank you if you stay in one place for too long. Beyond that, enemies get far more capable, moving up on your position rapidly, throwing grenades to flush you out, and hurriedly relocating themselves should you try to close in on a lone sniper.

The Division cover mechanics

As you rise in levels though it gets tougher, and you'll need to think and act quickly in order to survive the tougher opponents. Eventually, it becomes a slog to try and play alone, and you'll really need an ally or two in order to control the crowds of enemies more effectively.

Friend or foe

Hopefully, you'll have friends to play with, but the game can also match you with other suitable players at safe houses or at the start point of each major mission - if you wish. What you won’t find is other agents wandering the streets of New York, as you do in Destiny, for instance. You’re basically on your own out there unless you choose otherwise, which makes the world seem even emptier for those who like play solo.

All that changes in the Dark Zone, which runs down the centre of The Division’s Manhattan. Here, every player is fair game. You can shoot allies in the back and then scoot with their loot, but you must still exit the zone via a chopper extraction in order to make use of the gear you’ve stockpiled.

The Division safe house

It’s not all dog eat dog, though. That loot has to come from somewhere, and the Dark Zone is populated by much tougher enemies who have to be taken down before you can claim your coveted prizes. The game then forces players into temporary and uneasy alliances, making them working together to take down a greater foe, but then tasks them with trying to get out without getting killed by rogue agents.

Divided opinion

A lack of character might be The Division’s main downfall, but it does put the onus squarely on the people you play with. The only characters here are real people, like Gflex-111, a young man from Spain who I accompanied through my first visit to the Dark Zone after coming across him randomly in the street. A couple of hours later, I knew little more about him - he was always willing to pick up my useless, bullet-ridden body off the pavement when required, and he loved his upgraded, automated sentry gun.

If playing with others doesn’t really appeal to you, then The Division really isn’t for you. You also have to love loot and puzzling over which bit of kit is best for you. You also need to like shooting people over and over again until they have so much lead jammed into their tank-like bodies that it’s a miracle they can move a single step.

Amazingly, though, despite its need to play nicely with others as well as its inherent numeric nerdiness and blatant lack of realism, this is a mainstream game that wants to be loved by millions - and, despite its oddities, it deserves to be. It’s a great title, a fantastic piece of software engineering and the kind of game that you get out what you put in. Just don’t think for a second that you’re going to doing anything that recognisably resembles saving New York.

Availability
Available formatsPS4, Xbox One, PC
PC requirements
OS SupportWindow 7, 8.1 and 10 (64-bit only)
Minimum CPUIntel Core i5 or AMD FX-6100
Minimum GPUNVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 or AMD Radeon HD 7770 with 2GB
Minimum RAM6GB
Hard disk space40GB
System requirements
Price including VAT£42 (PS4)
Supplierwww.amazon.co.uk
Detailshttp://tomclancy-thedivision.ubi.com/game/en-gb/home/
Product codeB00BT9DURQ