Tom Clancy’s The Division (2016)

When Tom Clancy’s The Division came out in the 2016, it looked like a drab boring shooter with not much else to draw you in. Touted as a mainly multiplayer game, it quickly fell off my radar, as I don’t really have anyone else to play these games with, and I sure wasn’t going to play with random people on the internet. 3 years later to the day, Division 2 was released, and the publisher Ubisoft decided to put out a demo of the game and since I was between games, I decided to try it out. I immediately fell in love with the setting, and since I got the first game for free the month prior, I installed it and had a blast.

The Division, which takes place in the Tom Clancy universe of military politics and tactical espionage, is about a group of normal people who have been employed as basic undercover agents for when the government needs them. Set a couple weeks after Black Friday in New York City, a virus spread by the exchange of cash, dubbed the “dollar flu”, has run rampant through New York and decimated most life in the city. In a complete State of Emergency, makeshift hospitals and safe places have popped up amongst the rioters and various groups who have taken over the city. Your character gets alerted and you take up the call of being a Division Agent, given free range to take back the city and restore some semblance of decent civilization at any cost.

The setting is what initially drew me into the game since I am a sucker for abandon environments. Having New York at the hight of Christmas time, with tons of decorations, snow on the ground mixed with towering piles of trash in the streets and even human bodies, where the city is just in modern ruins really isn’t something you see much in games or even media. It really does stand out from the drab urban environments or boring deserts that most games tend to go for. The day night cycle, weather effects and even snow storms make this world feel so much more real. Taking cover in a safe house while a blizzard happens, or trying to see through the morning haze just brings life the the world.  Citizens roam the streets almost like zombies looking through abandon cars, or digging through trash to find a clean bottle of water or a spec of food. Some will walk up to you and you have the option to give them something from your inventory, usually a medkit or a soda. Since these are things you need in the middle of a battle, it's up to you if you want to be kind and show mercy or save it for yourself. This amount of morality, denying or helping people with some basic forms of humanity makes this game stand out a bit.

After a brief character customization, and a tutorial level, you get set free in New York. You start out at a safe zone (one of around a dozen) that allow you to stop, change loadouts, customize weapons and just hang out and find members to start a crew to take down the groups out to cause trouble. There is so much to understand about how the game works that it can seem overwhelming at first, but the game really cuts back the amount info and spreads it out over time.  NYC is split up into various zones, each of which have a suggested level requirement and a safe zone. If you are underleveled and enter into a higher level area, you will have an extremely difficult time with the enemies. Staying in the areas that you are currently leveled at is, is really the only way to play. Once you unlock the safe zone for the area you also unlock main missions, side missions, encounters and other collectables on the map. This is where the “map vomit” can be incredibly overwhelming for most. I usually stick to my method of collection with “either I am committing to getting 100% of these collectables or doing as many as I want if I am having fun doing it.” This really does help focus my attention on what will help me through the game instead of just wasting my time. The collectables are mostly cell phones or laptops that give you extra background information or data on the story. Collecting a forgotten cell phone, you get so many different takes on the situation of the dollar flu. Some conversations are rioters trying to talk their friends into committing crimes too, or police encouraging their officers to be brave, or even just families trying to survive and also coping with the loss of a loved one. These conversations really bring the world to life and make it feel real. The voice acting is usually spot on, with very convincing reads, again making it sound like you are listening to someone’s real voice mail.

The game itself is a open world, third person cover shooter. Allowing you to roam around freely, doing what you want when you want. Encounters can be random at times, just stumbling into a group of rioters or a squad of rogue military officers. The cover mechanics offer a bit more than the normal “push up against the wall and you’ll squat”. You also have so many options of moving from any other area that could be considered cover. Which is exactly what you have to do to survive in this game. Staying out in the open is really not possible. The enemies will flank you, stay behind cover, or even run straight at you. The amount of enemies also doesn’t allow you to just run and gun your way through the game. Strategically planning out your options, popping out of cover when it is safe to fire off a few rounds to suppress the enemy then running to a new cover location is key. The mobility of movement is so much more diverse than what is normal for third person shooters. Being able to point to any other piece of cover will allow you to hold a button and perform a roadie run to the next cover point. This is where I really enjoyed the level design of the game, each barricade, overturned desk, or car became a new opportunity to get the jump on the enemy. Dodging also becomes key near the end game. Grenades, be they fragmentation, incendiary or even EMP get lobbed at you from all directions during a heated shootout. Being able to dodge at the last moment feels like you are re-enacting a action movie scene.

Having a 5-10 minute shootout in the middle of Times Square while running and ducking behind all forms of cover was a blast. The enemies are leveled too,so you have to pick your fights wisely, if you are in an encounter with a few snipers and grunts, you have to really focus on where everyone is and who you want to take out first. I usually took out the grunts as they mainly would pop out to take pot shots at you, or make a bee line right for you causing massive damage or killing you outright. Once the grunts and scouts were out of the way, I played little sniper games, using my skill to locate them behind cover if they were close enough, or scan the horizon for a glimmer of a scope. Once I found them out, I’d pop out of cover, shoot them once and then duck down, while they recovered, I would run to a new cover location and wait for them to start shooting at my old spot, pop out and shoot them from a different angle.

While you defeat enemies, some will drop loot, which is a main part of this game, you don’t ever stick with the same weapons, You have so many different guns to use, each with a different stat and perk. Combining these with different attachments and also gear and armor, really does lead to an insane amount of customization for your character. No two characters have the same gear or loadouts.

This is one thing I both like and dislike. If I find a weapon that I feel is amazing, deals a ton of damage and feels good to shoot, I’d like to stick with it, but since you basically level up around once an hour or two, your guns you fell in love with a few hours ago won’t even be worth using once you get to a higher level. But it does encourage you to use different weapons and try stuff out you normally wouldn’t. You can also find crafting material around the world or sell your old loot for money to buy new weapons and gear for. This is where loot shooters really shine and take a lot of time away from gameplay.I didn’t do much of this, as I felt my guns were mostly fine as is, and I’d rather play the game than spend hours comparing stats that usually are just small stat changes that don’t matter much and will be outdated in an hour anyways.

That isn’t to say it’s not smart to do, and since this game has a whole multiplayer component to it where you are meant to play hundreds of hours running different scenarios in the “Dark Zone”. The Dark Zone is the middle of the city, where the outbreak hit hardest. It is quarantined off and is really mostly for after the game. I went in once, at level 24 and was usually one shotted by really high level enemies. You also have a different level number specifically for the Dark Zone. Luckily I ran into two other players who had a much higher level and helped me kill a bunch of guys and leveled me up to Dark Zone level 7 within half an hour. The main reason you go to the Dark Zone is mainly because it has extremely good loot, much better than what is normally found around the game, but you have to extract it, by going to an extraction point, calling a helicopter waiting for it and holding off approaching enemies. This can be NPCs or even real people who go “Rogue” and just want to kill you for fun.

The Division seemed, on its surface, to be a basic multiplayer loot shooter. I had no intention of playing it. Especially after several years of it being out. But once I dove into it, I remembered why I like the Tom Clancy games so much, they have a interesting premise, even if the story and writing aren’t amazing, with a good level of detail to make the world more believable. Also having a solid baseline of shooting and the amount of loot that you can really sink your teeth into. The game allows you to really play it how you want. If you want to play it like a linear single player game, you can. If you feel like spending is as a hang out game with your friends and just tackle a mission or two a night, you can. Even if you feel like being a hardcore rogue and spend the entire time just messing with people in the Dark Zone, you are free to do that too. The Division is a game that has so many different ways to play, and so much customization that I feel bad finishing it and moving on, I want to spend more time with it, but knowing I have the sequel installed and ready to go right now is the only thing that is keeping me from playing the game more past the point of the single player missions.