The Division does have some redeeming features, but it’s hard to ignore the issues that make this post-apocalyptic shooter more tedious than it should be.
Although The Division manages to nail the feeling of surviving a post-apocalyptic America blanketed by snow and ice, the game feels lacklustre, lacking satisfying gunplay that detracts from the overall experience. There’s certainly a lot of content here, but vast chunks of the game see you fighting the same repetitive bullet-sponge enemies and completing the same objectives, again and again, to grind for better gear and level up in order to experience the best parts of the game saved for the high-level ranks. Some of the fights are suitably tense though, especially on the harder difficulty as the AI improves, but there are numerous issues that hold it back from being the great title it so easily could have been.
The story itself certainly has potential but it’s largely under-developed for large stretches of the campaign. As a survivor of a plague that’s decimated most of the population, you’re dropped into New York as a soldier to help find a cure for the virus and bring stability and peace back to the city. Of course, this is easier said than done, and the light plot sees various different factions controlling New York who aren’t ready to relinquish their iron grip on areas of the city. What ensues is a series of missions that you see you engaging with enemies in a third-person viewpoint through fierce firefights to wrestle back control for the government. The climactic fight at the end of the campaign is pretty impressive, but most of the game follows a similar pattern, designed to prep you for the end-game content after the story. The main bulk of the game sees you levelling up a base of operations through completing side quests, which in turn level you up and allow you to take on gang bosses. This repetitive cycle of grinding side quests, collecting more loot, levelling the base up and completing more side quests does get tiresome quickly, turning The Division from an intriguing post-apocalyptic shooter to an unnecessarily long slog to unlock the best content the game has to offer.
Visually, The Division is stunning. Minute details in the environment and an impressive physics-based engine combine to produce one of the most responsive open worlds seen in quite some time. Shooting a car tyre sees it angrily hiss back, and the car will sink to one side; windows crack and eventually smash from the pressure of bullet holes; and debris blows lazily through the streets as you crunch across the snow-covered pavements. These tiny details are great touches and make New York feel like a frozen, barren wasteland as you trek through the world. The layout of the map sees the bulk of action happen on the fringes of what’s ominously referred to as the “Dark Zone”. This ruthless, online-only portion of the game sees players take on challenges, enemies and each other in a free for all that’s incredibly fun and tense to play. However, in order to unlock the best the Dark Zone has to offer, the single player campaign must be completed, and as a loot-driven third-person shooter, there’s no denying that there’s a lot of grinding to do to get the best out of the game and it’s here that the game slips up.
There is single player content here but it’s worth noting that The Division is online-only, meaning if you don’t have Playstation Plus, you won’t be able to play. The jump between multiplayer and single player is seamless though, separated by a cleverly disguised bio-hazard quarantine area, but the decision to make The Division online-only is one that cripples the longevity of the game, especially given the potentially limited time the servers will remain switched on. A lot of the online content is locked behind steep Level 30 locks too, and although you can still jump in to the online modes as there’s a separate levelling system, it’s advisable to wait until you’ve levelled your single player character up with perks and bonuses to avoid getting ruthlessly overpowered. Still, the campaign is fun for the first 5-6 hours but quickly devolves into a grind-fest as you see yourself taking on repetitive waves of enemies in repetitive side quests that don’t deviate much from simple fetch or kill quests.
It’s ultimately the gameplay that really lets The Division down though. The harder difficulties do make fights considerably tenser but predictable enemy AI and a strange decision to make everything a walking bullet sponge raises serious questions around how fun the title is. Unloading 30 bullets into a standard enemy’s head before they eventually die does dissipate some of the immersiveness of the game, but higher levelled loot you collect does make this a little more tolerable. Unlike in some of the other Ubisoft games, the collectables are genuinely worth picking up. Ironically, they hold some of the game’s best content, too, with written accounts from survivors, audio logs, and even visual recreations of events that transpired during the chaotic viral outbreak, helping to flesh out the ravaged world you find yourself in.
For those who can persevere through some of the longer stretches of repetitive side quests, there’s a whole slew of content to unlock when the campaign draws to a close. The journey to get there is long, full of tedious objectives that see you tackling the same endless waves of enemies, unloading an ungodly amount of bullets into each before progressing to the next side quest to repeat the grind. The impressive graphics and physics-based engine make the journey a little more tolerable in this cover-based third-person shooter, but The Division slips up with lacklustre gunplay and an endless barrage of side quests that turn the game into an unnecessarily lengthy grind fest to experience the best content. The Division does have some redeeming features, but it’s hard to ignore the issues that make this post-apocalyptic shooter more tedious than it should be.