The Division Preview: A Very Social Apocalypse
UPDATE: The Division release date has been set for 8 March 2015. You can play The Division on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. There will be three major DLC launches throughout the year for the game as well as a newly released game mode called ‘Incursion’ which will allow players to swap loot with each other.
The Division has been widely touted as ‘the new Destiny’. It’s a not unfair comparison to make – both games have taken a long time to make, both were hugely anticipated at launch, and both are inherently designed to played with friends.
Take those comparisons away though and it’s clear that Ubisoft’s game is a very different proposition, so lets just get this out of the way now: If you’re a Destiny fan looking for something to do until Destiny 2, don’t expect to like The Division. In fact, you might hate it.
From our short time spent playing the game though it has become clear though that The Division holds the same alluring promise of a game that will not only suck hours of your life away, but will very thankfully make sure you’re doing it with good company.
This then is a game for playing with friends.
The premise of The Division is all too realistic: A terror attack on New York sees a new strain of smallpox introduced into the population through bank notes. The bank notes are planted during the America’s busiest shopping spree, Black Friday.
Within a matter of days thousands are infected and die and the city is placed under quarantine, it is then at this point that America’s civilisation starts to collapse, as the virus infects the rest of the country there is a complete collapse of government.
This is where you step in. You play as a sleeper agent, hidden in plain site whose job is to activate when the government collapses. Once active you work with other agents of the Strategic Homeland Division to restore law and order to the city.
It’s classic Tom Clancy territory and is based in some very scary truths which are that many governments actually have these plans in place already. Known as ‘stay behind’ protocols they were first used in the Second World War and have become standard practise ever since it became clear that our precious vision of society is far more vulnerable than first thought.
What’s interesting is that we have no idea who planted the virus, or why and indeed any of the plot progression for any of our characters. While this is exciting, it also makes us hope that Ubisoft hasn’t just gone with the checklist for restoring democracy approach. There’s great potential to explore the humanity of the situation as well.
The Division is a third-person shooter, so immediately that’s going to feel very different to the other online-focused shooters that many gamers will be used to. Think a blend of Ghost Recon’s slow and tactical movement with some first-person precision shooting.
It also takes a lot of cues from RPGs, so like Destiny, shooting at an enemy will cause numbered damage with the objective being to diminish their health bar.
Where games posture aliens and fictional beings it is easy to imagine that these creatures will require a little more than a few shots to the chest, however in The Division it also appears that high-level characters will also require a LOT of shooting before they’re downed.
This can have a jarring effect at first, especially for realists who find the idea of unloading a clip into a baseball wielding lunatic only to find he’s still running utterly infeasible.
Persevere though, suspend your disbelief because while it might be annoying at first you’ll be surprised how little it bothers you the more you play. The system exists for a reason, and that’s to justify the idea of getting better gear.
This is where Destiny and The Division share the most similarities. They’re both founded on the simple premise which is: be better. Whether that’s getting powerful, rarer weapons or updating your armour to make you more powerful.
This loot system seems to work as well in The Division and might even work a little better than Destiny in that it’s far more customisable. Every weapon can be tailored to your needs, every piece of armour can be modified and you can even get loot items to change your characters clothing.
Using all of this loot in actual tactical gameplay is seemingly another success, The Division feels like a challenging game to play.
Your character is relatively tough but The Division’s many enemies are equally as tough and very quick on their feet. They’ll rush you, flank you and do everything they can to make life difficult resulting in some of the most satisfying gun battles we’ve experienced.
The Dark Zone
The Dark Zone is The Division’s own unique take on multiplayer. While you can play the entire map co-operatively as a team of four, the Dark Zone is a lawless section of the city which is inhabited by strangers.
These other human players might be working in their own teams or might be going it alone, the tension lies in the fact that when you encounter them, you have no idea how it’s going to turn out.
If you shoot another human in the Dark Zone you become classified as a Rogue Agent, giving other players freedom to fire at you without themselves being penalised. Continue to shoot other humans and you’re rogue status is elevated, revealing your position to everyone in the Dark Zone.
It’s an ingenious system which allows you to fire on other players, but attaches a very considerable risk to it which is that you yourself then become a target.
This is crucial, because the very best gear can only be found in this part of the city and until it’s ‘extracted’ to the outside world it can be stolen by any other player.
This combination adds a huge amount of gravity to the idea of shooting another player, and as a result the game’s publishers actually found that players would just as often work together as turn on each other.
It’s a glorious approach to the classic idea of ‘multiplayer’ and if balanced well it’s going to be a shock to the system for every player who first enters it.
The Division, like so many of Ubisoft’s open-world games will surely be won or lost on its city. While Assassin’s Creed has managed to claw back average games by boasting incredible worlds, so to does The Division feel blessed with an incredible game world.
The game’s developer Massive Entertainment, have placed an unfathomable amount of love and attention into its vision of a post-apocalypse New York.
It’s a breathtaking achievement when you consider the sheer depth of detail that this city boasts, from seeing people peer through window blinds in abandoned apartments to the floating sheets of burnt paper and ash that gently weave their way through the snow-capped city.
Even in our brief time playing the game New York felt ominously alive, as if beneath the huge weight of its collapse there were people desperately trying to lift themselves above their seemingly doomed situation.
This is apparent through the random encounters you have with the civilian population and is even prevalent on the buildings themselves – adorned with apocalyptic graffiti.
That last point deserves a special mention, all of the street art in the game was actually designed and created specifically for Massive by some of New York’s best and most influential graffiti artists.
It’s a sometimes beautiful, oppressive world that demands your respect and we personally can’t wait to explore the rest of it.
The Division has a LOT of pressure riding on it. For a game that was supposed to be launching alongside the PlayStation 4, it is now considerably late to the party.
Thankfully, it seems as though that time has not been spent wasted. It feels vast in its ambition, asking just four of you to restore law and order to a game world that’s reportedly the same size as Fallout 4.
With what looks to be an equally huge and customisable progression system though, Massive have equipped its players with everything they could possibly need to survive.
Technically then, this game seems to be ready. Where we have questions though is whether the plot, or indeed the characters themselves will be gripping enough that we’ll actually want to carry on playing. In that regard, we’re none the wiser.
For now then, we can only hope that the storyline is as gripping as the world within which it is set.