Review: The Division, More RPG Than Shooter

This review is based on playing the PC version of The Division.

The Division is a complex mixture of third person shooter with RPG basics, topped off with a dash of MMO. One thing players need to know right away though, The Division is not really a MMO. Most of the time you will only see other players if you are in a hub or if you have grouped with them to do a mission… or in the Dark Zone, but I’m mostly going to leave the DZ to the side and just deal with the PvE aspects of The Division for right now. As far as “end game” content goes there isn’t a whole lot currently. It is mostly just Challenge Mode missions and dailies. However, we do know there will be 3 expansions (DLCs) this year, so more max level content should be coming soon. In fact there are also two free content updates and the first of those should be hitting in April.

Gameplay

Overall the gameplay for The Division is straight forward and intuitive both for mouse and keyboard control and if you choose to use a controller. Players can rebind any keys to have their preferred set-up if the default isn’t to their liking. Unfortunately this isn’t true if you decide to play with a controller as those keybinds can’t be changed. The only controller keybind I found particularly annoying was for running you have to hold in the left stick, which is really sub-optimal.

20160320175107_1The Division is a cover shooter, which helps to avoid the “just run in and shoot everything” monotony. Moving around from cover to cover and placing yourself in optimal spots is a huge part of the game, and the system works pretty flawlessly. It can also be a danger, especially on some of the harder missions. I would occasionally move to a place which seemed like a good spot only to find out I now have mobs running in behind me and I’m caught in a crossfire. Part of the learning curve is to really think strategically about how you are going to accomplish goals… also learning which objects aren’t so good at providing cover.

The Division also has some fairly basic RPG elements in it as well, but even though they are basic you can’t really ignore that aspect of the game. There’s only three stats to pay attention to, but if you don’t pick one to really focus on you’ll be really limited on your effectiveness. Also which abilities you choose to equip are also important because, obviously, they affect what you can do. These things become particularly important when working in a group because if everyone is packing the same strengths and abilities, your group will be pretty limited.

One of my favorite aspects of The Division is how simple it is to switch up the build on a character. Talents and special skills can be switched out at a whim, which makes making adjustments when needed pretty simple. While switching these things around will have a pretty big effect stats still are also important and the only way to switch those up are to keep extra gear around. It is possible to change one stat on a piece of gear, but it’s expensive and not really a good solution for a temporary switch.

Unfortunately the gameplay quickly starts to get a bit monotonous as the game settles into a familiar set of mission types. You are either trying to clear out an area of hostiles, trying to rescue citizens, or defending an area. For the most part no matter what you choose to do while leveling you’ll be doing one of those three things consistently. Hopefully when we get the content updates more mission variety will be added.

There is a little bit of variety provided through side missions, though those do tend to also  be clearing out an area or rescuing hostages. However, occasionally there is a side mission where it changes things up a bit. For instance there is one side mission where you are trying to find out happened to a scientist who worked for a local company right when the outbreak was first happening. This mission is an entirely non-combat mission where you just explored and searched for clues. It was absolutely refreshing to take part in something different and these sorts of missions sprinkled around really does help.

Multiplayer

One of the most rewarding experiences in The Division is gathering some friends together and tackling the harder missions together, and you really shouldn’t shy away from doing this whenever possible as it really adds another dimension to the game. One thing I will point out though, whenever possible use an out of game voice chat program because there are many great options when playing PC which make the in game voice system feel especially frustrating to use in comparison.

All of the missions have a way to queue up with other players fairly easily, which really can be a big help. Additionally all the main missions have the normal difficulty and they also have a hard mode. In general the hard mode versions aren’t too hard especially if you go in with three other people. All of the mobs are tougher, on hard modes they all have a secondary healthbar which needs to be taken down before you can start diminishing their actual healthbar, and sometimes there will be more of them.

The real downside to multiplayer is only the main story missions can be progressed for everyone. Since they were trying to preserve the feeling of being alone in a hostile area, each player has their own map. When you group up with players everyone will then join one player’s map. While on that map any side missions or encounters which are completed will only be done for the player whose map you are on. It’s a bit of a pain because doing these things multiple times can really increase the feeling of monotony, so players are sort of encouraged to only group up for the main game.

TheDivision 3-21-2016 4-18-26 PM-983Setting

The way this post apocalyptic world is rendered is nothing short of amazing and done with meticulous attention to detail. They’ve managed to not only accurately capture what various parts of New York look like but also the look and feel of what would happen if chaos broke loose in the city.

Time of day and weather also make a pretty big difference as well. Since the game is set in late November/December snow is the most common form of bad weather, and it is isn’t just a binary snowing/not snowing. Snow can range from small flurries to a full out windy mess where it is actually difficult to see where you are going let alone try to fight anyone else. Night is also much darker than daylight as well and really adds to the feeling of danger no matter what you are doing in game.

TheDivision 3-16-2016 10-12-58 PM-194One particularly nice addition which helps to make this game feel more authentic is the radios playing in each safe house. They will often have news reports or someone broadcasting their (some might say paranoid) take on events, but then interspersed will also be music. The music is particularly nice because occasionally I’ll recognize something.

For instance one day I was in a safe house and realized The Moldau was playing on the in game radio. I stopped what i was doing and just listened… and there was background noises (like coughing) as if it was a broadcast of a live performance somewhere. That particular moment really surprised me and really made an impression. Since then I have started listening to those radio broadcasts more and have recognized even more music. It’s a really thoughtful and interesting choice to include these little real world auditory references.

The overall attention to detail in everything from how things look to how everything sounds adds a really important layer to The Division. It is one game where I’d argue if you aren’t playing with the sound on you are definitely robbing yourself of a huge chunk of the experience.

Conclusion

Overall The Division is a pretty solid game where players are put in the role of trying to bring order back to a city which has fallen to fear and chaos. The missions can get pretty monotonous at times, but there are random side missions and a lot to explore if you just take a moment to look around and venture off the main path a little. Additionally multiplayer can be a ton of fun and add even more interest to the main game. It is definitely worth a look if you are interested in a RPG with the feel of a shooter.

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