What use would a launch day review of Tom Clancy's The Division have been? To start with, no review copies were sent out before release. Plus most that would be looking to buy this on day one already had their mind made up on the title. The rest were waiting on their friends to report back if The Division was worth getting before they hopped into New York with their buddies. So why a review now? As several new changes, updates, and a sizable piece of free content have hit, this one is for the holdouts.
To comment on the few opening days of potential server instability or hitches would be undermining to any game. Most have rocky launches, most have glitches. In a world of DLC and content drops, games can have quite a long plan to keep things fresh and exciting. So for a game with almost a year's worth of content still come, both free and paid, basing a score off of the first few days is pointless and narrow sighted. So with a few months under The Division's belt, let's take a critical look at the game and where it's at. With their first piece of paid DLC out now, should you get in?
Since this review is for new players to The Division, it only made sense to make a new character. Similar to many MMORPGs, the beginning phases of the game had fewer people in them. During my run with a new character, there were plenty of times I had to wait several minutes to match up with only one or two people. While matchmaking is not necessary at all until you step it up to Hard or Challenging, it is worth noting that the new player base has slowed to a trickle. The screenshots of people standing in a line to just get their tutorial off the ground are a thing of the past; most of these intro sections are now fairly devoid of new players.
While the sparse new player base is only a minor issue, there were bigger problems waiting for me in the Dark Zone. There were equal parts anglers to fish in a barrel in the Dark Zone, as other agents with Dark Zone levels 20 to 30+ ranks above mine were looking for easy targets. As a level 12 player and Dark Zone rank 7, I was frequently met with players at level 15 and up and Dark Zone Ranks in the 30's. It was a bloodbath. The gear they have obtained from the Dark Zone (DZ) significantly outclassed anything you could bring at that level. The DZ noobs were easily one shot by the kitted-out higher levels, and they chuckled at your attempt to do any damage to them. By the time I reached DZ 10, I had only 300 DZ funds, and never spent currency on a single thing. Any beginner to the DZ was just a piggy bank for higher level players to handily smash and grab.
There are some serious structural issues with the Dark Zone for players below level 30, as a level 30 player can simply farm armor sets and get geared in PvE challenges. I enjoyed the tension of the DZ on my level 30 character, which made it into the 40's for DZ rank. My Dark Zone experiences turned from fun to forlorn when I entered on my new character, as the difficulty ratings for each Dark Zone are merely suggestions and not relegated sections. There are a few ways this could have been handled better, but as the bulk of players are level 30 the structural problems show a lot more now. My advice would be to wait until you are level 30 to hop the fence, as you will most likely walk away with little to nothing.
Gearing up outside of the Dark Zone has received a few adjustments, and generally they are for the better. The Division is about the loot grind, and replaying the main missions to farm for gear is a good way to go. You can also up the difficulty to obtain better gear and bring some difficulty to the repetitive nature of farming. One of the best adjustments to the game was the way loot was handled, as they have increased the quantity and quality of what you can find. Running a mission on "Challenging" mode guarantees that a "high-End" item will drop from a named enemy, which is the best gear outside of the armor sets. This is a big improvement to the previously random nature of loot, where completing a Challenging mission would often net gear of a lesser rarity.
Now that you are clad in High-End gear, it is time to try the Incursions. Completing an Incursion rewards you with a random piece from an armor set. While these encounters are not too elaborate, they are quite a challenging for any team entering these scenarios. This is quite a challenging addition to The Division which requires some good coordination of skills and routes to get the job done. For free content drops, they are great additions to the game.
The addition of Daily and Weekly Missions are rewarding ways to get Phoenix Credits, Dark Zone experience, crafting materials and more. These daily missions really provided a reason to log in every day as the rewards can add up quickly. Just don't make the mistake I did, be sure to spend those Phoenix Credits! They max out at 999, and every credit obtained beyond that is just lost. There have been several quality-of-life improvements to The Division, and they have overall made this a better game.
I have frequently referred to The Division as "Tom Clancy's The Diablo III". This game is about grinding out loot to keep grinding for better loot. I really enjoy these types of games, as entries to Borderlands, Diablo and Torchlight rank among my all-time favorites. The Division has a lot of the familiar hooks, right down to a colorful beam of light protruding skyward from that new item that just dropped. Another aspect of loot grinders is the repetitive nature of running the same mission over and over again in search of that drop to fill out your character's build. With their first expansion, simply titled Underground, they hope to break the monotony.
Underground brings you to the sewers, subways and tunnels of New York, where enemies have been fortifying. The selling point to this expansion is the randomly generated "Urban dungeons", where no two runs through the seedy underworld should be the same. Rumors of a group of super powerful Cleaners called the "four horsemen" that have plans of burning out the infected. If the Dark Zone is not your cup of tea, this is what you will be doing with your time late-game. Underground even works similar to the DZ in that it has its own ranking which unlocks better gear the higher your rank gets. Receiving random boxes of loot is also nice, and not quite unlike a cache at the end of a rift in Diablo 3. The randomly generated levels keeps exploring fun compared to the memorized nature of rerunning the same the mission repeatedly.
None of the updates Ubisoft Massive have made stand out individually. They are nice tweaks but really only harmonize the more they add. The Division has been a game about additions. It has been growing into a deeper game with quality-of-life improvements like trading and assignments, Incursions, gear sets, additional activities in and outside of the Dark Zone, and The Terminal from their paid expansion Underground. What was once a shallow end game has become more exciting than the lead up to max level 30. The Division's story is not too dissimilar from that of Destiny's. The Division was a hard game to recommend to people at launch but if you have been looking to get in, now is the time.
State of the game review including the Underground expansion.
- + updates have fleshed out the end game
- + enough reasons to fire up The Division everyday
- - the Dark Zone is poorly designed, and lacks proper balance for PvP
- - this game plays best in a group, not as fun solo
Time played: 160+ hours
Available platforms: PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Costs: $60 full price, also goes on sale. Underground expansion $15