It’s been just short of 3 years since The Division revealed a glimpse of itself at 2013 E3. It promised to be something different than what we have seen before, yet feel familiar in certain ways. The failed launch of Ubisoft’s Assassin Creed: Unity, the somewhat success turned failure of Activision’s Destiny, the graphical downgrade of Ubisoft’s Watchdogs, and multiple delays of The Division contributed to an interesting "Is it going to be truly unique or another co-op gimmick like AC:U?" Will launch day be a glitch ridden frustration or will we actually be able to play? Will the graphics actually be as impressive as originally shown (Watchdogs)? Would the leveling up and MMO style require grind while being rewarding?
The Division opened to potentially the largest launch of all time. Without there being any offline modes available to play, this means Ubisoft’s servers were handling some serious activity. To do so without any major interruptions, is impressive but uncommon. Most of us hope for a smooth launch day for any game we play, but it has become the common expectation to experience issues on Day 1 of any major game. Nearly every friend I have on PSN played The Division opening day. Minor glitches aside, not one person I spoke to reported any major issue when asked. There was the occasional kick from play; however, The Division combats being kicked by keeping you locked into your group after disconnection for a small period of time. This allows you to jump right back in where you left off. Fast travelling to friends makes this even less of an inconvenience. Being kicked mid-mission is never fun, but Ubisoft making it less of a hassle to get going after re-connection is a big deal worth noting.
Graphically, The Division is close to what was originally promised. Apparently Ubisoft has learned a lesson from Watchdogs, where fans reacted negatively to a game whose graphics were significantly downgraded from what was originally shown. The lighting mechanics are stunning. Whether you are looking at reflections or studying the reaction of shadows, the lighting is realistic without being overbearing. Oddly enough though, your character doesn’t have a reflection in any of the environments, which is an all too common occurrence in games these days. Ubisoft has created an environment that feels large and real, yet included small details that add to the reality of the world you experience. Whether its fliers that advertise a coke brand or love-confessing graffiti, you see an incredible level of attention to detail. There is no noticeable, graphical difference between the Dark Zone (DZ) and the rest of the game. This is worth mentioning because dozens of players may be on the same server in the DZ. Making this happen without any graphical downgrade is impressive and immersive.
Many fans have had the minor complaint of not enough character customization in terms of facial features. The game comes preloaded with a few default faces. The player can change a small number of details, but there is not a lot of facial customization. Even though you hardly see your character’s face, people like to make their own unique character. The game makes up for this with the number of options for clothing. You rarely look at someone’s face (especially if their character has a hat), but you constantly see the outfit your character/others are wearing. There are dozens of options for how to dress your character. Every single one of them looks GREAT. Had The Division had multiple character customization's in terms of facial features, it would most likely suffer graphically or take that much more processing power. I think it’s a fair trade to have less customization for something you rarely look at anyway. Making it up on the back end with clothing options is a brilliant compromise.
Speaking of character customization, one minor frustration is the current inability to inspect fellow agents. There’s not a real option to look at what others have equipped and the stats of those items. Rumor has it, this will be addressed in an update. Perhaps Ubisoft did not have the inspection system perfected and wanted to wait until after launch to fix it. Believe it or not, every little detail included in a game is not as simple as it first appears. Another minor frustration is not being able to preview clothing/weapon skins before purchasing them. A weapon skin may have a sweet name, but you have to buy it to see what it looks like. I expect this will be addressed in an update as well. Again, this could be intentional by the creators in hope of perfecting the preview system.
The story of The Division is excellent, but somewhat repetitious. You basically check in with home base, go shoot a guy, come back, go take an enemy base, and then come back again. This game doesn’t promise to be anything else though. If that isn’t your cup of tea, go drink somewhere else. Personally, I enjoyed the story. The basic premise accounts for different gangs rising throughout NYC. In real life, this is exactly how you would take the city back; check in at home base, go shoot up a gang, take stuff back, and come back home.
Playing with friends can make a HUGE difference in how you play this game. Each mission you do accounts for the number of players in your team. You can have up to 4 players in a squad. If you have 4, the number of enemies Is adjusted accordingly. The levels of the highest payer and lowest player are taken in to consideration. The enemy’s levels are based on the calculated difference between the two. This is GENIUS. You can boost your lower level friend through lower missions, but it won’t be a guaranteed breeze for all parties involved.
Multi-player is a unique experience in this game. Props to Ubisoft for coming up with a unique system unlike anything we have seen before. There is an area referred to as the Dark Zone. The DZ drops higher levels of gear, because you face higher levels of computer generated enemies. However, other players are in the same server as you. Those players can attack you if they choose. They can't take any items you have equipped, but they can take anything you have recently gained within the DZ. The DZ requires you to call in an extraction for your items that you have recently gained. As you can only hold 9 “contaminated” items at a time, you are forced to call in extractions, from specific extraction points, frequently. These extractions take a couple of minutes to come in. Other squads can wait around the extraction point, kill you, take your recently acquired items as their own, and run off. It creates a tense, untrusting environment that is as well done as it is realistic. Can you trust this squad coming up to you? Are these guys waiting to extract stuff as well or waiting to kill you right before extraction and take your items?
There are a few frustrations associated with the DZ, though. As you reach a higher rank within the DZ, you lose considerable amounts of experience and currency each time you die. You do NOT gain much more per enemy killed, but your losses increase as you level up. Dying can set you back in a major way. Sure, this enables you to actually strategize and not just “run and gun.”. But, your loss seems a little excessive each time. Punishing players for dying urges them to live. Excessively punishing them urges them to avoid parts of the game.
Proximity chat is amazing. Walking up to another squad and potentially hearing them speak (everyone has to option to turn off proximity chat) is a fun time. It allows you to meet new people and also verbalize your motive when approaching untrusting agents. However, team chat does not work while you are in system menus. Meaning, if you are not in the game for a little bit while you look at something on your system, you cannot hear in game chat amongst your squad. This is a minor inconvenience, but this is the only game I know of that does this. Also, there is no option to allow game chat through your TV while you are using a headset. This is more of a Sony issue though, because the PS4 SHOULD allow party chat to come out of the TV while you use a headset. However, it does not. As a result, some games include this as an in-game option. It is a small detail, but for people who have others in the room who want to know what’s going on, it can be some what of a big deal. Also, I LOVE that this game utilizes the speaker built within my PS4 controller, and there is the option to turn this off for people who don't like it. I like how much this game utilizes that speaker; it just makes it that more immersive.
There are a few other small things worth noting. Being able to reload while sprinting is realistic and awesome. Why more games make you walk (or stop) to reload is beyond me. Leveling up is done extremely well. You are rewarded for your grind. So many games make it too easy to level up or do NOT reward you for your work proportionally. This game is a good balance. I do wish there was a crouch/prone option. I see why there isn’t, but I think the pros outweigh the cons in that area. There should also be more fast travel options. It is frustrating to run a long way to a mission, die, begin running back, run into several gangs just chilling, kill them, and continue to where you were. Many times after dying, it took me 15+ minutes to get back to where I was. A place to adjust your stash within the DZ would be nice. Leaving the DZ, going to a safe house or Base of Operations, then going back in, is a slight annoyance. However, a counter-argument here is that this should make you more selective about the things you choose to extract. Also, seeing other people’s DZ levels doesn’t work very well. You have to hold your aim on that individual for a few seconds before their DZ rank shows up. If they move, you don’t see it. Why not just have the DZ rank show at all times? The User interface in this game is brilliant. So much information is decimated in a simple, easy to read way. You have access to a plethora of information at all times without it being overbearing. Creating a user interface this complex, but simple to read, was most likely a task that took quite a while. There should be more available multi-player modes. These will be included in the DLC, but many people would love a team death match or capture the flag. The urban environment set in NYC would be a fun place to do this. Why not launch with at least a couple of these PVP options? The cover system is well thought out. You are shown a simple overlay of where you will take cover before doing so. This ensures you don't accidentally take cover in an unintentional spot. This is a simple, very convenient feature that facilitates a pleasant cover system opposed to annoyingly snapping to the wrong place. The weather adjusts constantly. This makes the same mission harder at times because visibility may not be as clear. I do wish that crafting was a little smoother. Being able to convert multiple materials at once would be a huge convenience.
The gun mechanics (and over all mechanics/physics of the game) are very well done. Every gun feels and sounds unique. You can get a specific gun at level 5. You can get the same gun at level 25. The difference will be the stats of that weapon and the available mods you will have with different stats. Both guns will shoot and sound the same, because they are the same gun; the stats have just changed. Some reviewers have an issue with that. But in real life, an AR-15 is an AR-15. You can mod it or buy new bullets. Sure this changes the way you shoot it slightly, but it still feels like an AR-15. However, and ACR shoots completely different than an LMG in this game. Each type of gun has its own weight, stability, sound, and overall feel. Mods do effect those things as well. The amount of guns and modifications available is almost overbearing. There are a lot of options.
The Division is a solid game. Most of the complaints are minor. Launch Day was a success with few issues. There are lots of guns and modifications. Your grind is rewarded accordingly. Playing with friends creates a different feel. The Dark Zone is a unique experience that needs a few adjustments. More multi-player options will be nice. Graphics are beautiful. User interface is brilliant. It would be nice to have an option for in game chat to come through your TV while using a headset. I would love a prone/crouch option. There needs to be more fast travel options throughout the map.