The continual journey toward the online gaming singularity first reached a new level with Destiny’s pervasive online shooting gallery. With an already massive army of Halo fans, the new game from Bungie easily won hearts and minds, even at its inception. I remember working at Gamestop at the time, and people would just hear “from the makers of Halo” and a preorder was happening. No one questioned how good it would be, what it was about, anything. In fact, in the very beginning, when the preorders began, we knew it was a shooter. That’s, honestly, about all we had to go on. Bungie teased us for months until the game’s release.
Ubisoft, meanwhile, had been showing videos of its smash new open world shooter, The Division, which is the subject of my commentary, and furthermore, some of my ire, today.
Ubisoft showed off what, in my opinion, was going to define the next generation of open-world gaming. Fully realized Manhattan, miles and miles of places to explore, both the surface and the subways and sewers, countless encounters, from department stores, to police stations, to underground labyrinths, the list goes on. Furthermore, early touting of the game also covered the implementation of tablet functions, allowing players who weren’t at their consoles to function as airborne drones, marking targets, providing cover fire, utility actions, all in the name of a deep, lovingly-created tactical engagement at every turn.
Before the other shoe drops, allow me to say a few good things. The Division is not, by any stretch, the worst game I’ve ever played. Visually, the game is absolutely stunning. The sheer level of precision that has gone into the Snow Drop engine is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The weather, first and foremost. Especially inclement weather. Accumulated snow coats the landscape in a sheen of water, giving fresh reflections and lighting effects. Snowfall, on the other hand, creates a haunting, almost Silent Hill vibe to the entire landscape, with vision distance dropping, lights creating massive, intruding blind spots where enemies can fire from the safety of glare, with little in the way of a retaliatory option. Those little tactical advantages are incredible in the middle of a firefight, and were the cause of several of my deaths during my tenure with The Division.
Tires pop, windows crumble and can be chiseled out with precision shots. Enemies aren’t completely safe behind vehicles, as the entire interior of the vehicles is realized, allowing shots through windows all around the vehicle, adding a deeper need for improved cover, depending on the enemies you are engaging.
These things, for the average graphic-obsessed monkey, are great. But the gameplay, despite all its hype, was watered down, and not balanced very well at all. The weapons don’t provide a whole lot in terms of variance, with SMG’s and assault rifles both providing nearly similar functions with little to truly make them unique. Shotguns and sniper rifles had their functions as well, but in a setting like the Dark Zone, those weapons functioned extremely poorly, with most encounters I found involving the Navy MP5 or the Vector SMG. Due to rate of fire, and how scaling worked with certain stats, these were your best advantages for spray, pray, get paid firefights with other players. There wasn’t much incentive in mastering anything else, in my experience.
At work, I hyped the hell out of The Division. I was so stoked for the game that I couldn’t shut up about it when customers asked for my opinion. Most people swore up and down that Rainbow Six was going to be Ubisoft’s king, and I was convinced The Division had it hands down. Boy, was I wrong.
In the end, we got generic, endless streets on par with Manhattan’s scale, but nothing that really gave us the feeling of a detailed New York, with the actual stores some of the original footage showed us. We got repetitive, and ultimately, boring levels to run through, save for a few like Warrangate and the Russian Embassy, which were, at max level, exercises in extreme frustration. Eventually, after countless hours invested and tweaks to builds, we started farming these places, sometimes even exploiting bugs, in order to get the one weapon we wanted, which usually had a 0.01% drop rate, and even then, without the correct stats, it was worthless. So the process started again.
It was a grind, and a tedious one at that. After a few weeks, my friends and I decided that our time spent in the Dark Zone was far more entertaining, because people are unpredictable by nature. The AI in the game does very similar things, regardless of which faction you run into, and by and large, they are extremely stupid. Their only true advantage is in sheer numbers, especially in Challenging difficulty missions.
Furthermore, the entire drone from a tablet gig that Ubisoft so heavily bragged about in its initial videos was ultimately completely scrapped, another denial in their lineup of projected content that, quite literally, removed a large chunk of the tactical advantages and options in this game. It was frustrating and aggravating after so much hype.
I wanted to like The Division, and for the month or so that I played it, I did. But with the late arrival of raids, and the subsequent closure due to player exploits and rampant difficulty, even in organized groups, the game’s luster quickly wore off, revealing Ubisoft’s tired attempt at conquering the online persistent game market. As little as I actually enjoy Bungie’s sci-fi shooter, I can’t help but think that they’ve managed to come out looking better in all of this, with Ubisoft’s train wreck of management of The Division’s servers and content.
Is The Division worth playing? After this review, you might think “Hell no, it isn’t!” This all on the table, I will say that The Division is worth playing, just if you want something to do between other titles. I wouldn’t pay $60 for it. Catch it on a sale. Steam would do well to have it for 90% off during the holiday.
Happy hunting, my friends!