Friday, April 22, 2016

The Division

Played on: PlayStation 4
Release date: March 8, 2016

When Ubisoft showed The Division at E3 the first time, it was when I realized, "Wow, the new consoles really are coming." It was the first game I wanted for my PlayStation 4.

Ubisoft has my number. If they slap Tom Clancy's name on a box, I'm probably going to buy it because dammit, I love my shooters to be based in a more realistic world. The Division is probably the most non-Clancy game Ubisoft has released under the name. Honestly, I think the game suffers from trying to shoe-horn some Clacy-ness into it.

I've been putting off writing this review as like most MMO type games, this one is constantly evolving and unlocking additional content. I've gotten to a point where I feel comfortable in knowing what the current version of The Division is.

What I didn't like

There are 18 story missions in the Division, probably about 35-40 side missions, and the Dark Zone. When you hit level 30, you get the option to run "dailies" of the missions for rewards. The daily mission system is broken. It seems to rotate the same 5 or so missions over and over again, and there were a few days before the update where the missions didn't appear at all.

I am playing these missions so often that I'm on autopilot and just finishing them.

And I have the very adult problem of schedules of my friends not lining up at all. So the Incursion is a brutal wave based mission where communication is key. I can't get 3 friends together to play this thing. You can play with random people, but no one will have a microphone and you will die by wave 3.

I have the same issue in the Dark Zone. You can go in alone, but there's always these roaming packs of four 13-year-olds just waiting to ruin my day. How do I know they are 13? It's a guess, but when I get a rocket to my chest as I'm attaching my gear to the helicopter and then I see four rogue agents run up to me and start using the clapping and jumping jack motions on my corpse, I sort of feel like that immaturity has to be young kids.

And even on the off chance that I get a one on one fight with a rogue agent, their gear is always better than mine. I have only survived 2 of probably 20 fights against other players in the Dark Zone. You know why their gear is better? Because they were roving as a group of 4, taking the gear of players like me, and leveling up.

There needs to be something to protect you just a little more. There are so many times where a group goes rogue and their timer expires, so they are normal agents again. But you see them in the street and you know they are going to murder you any second.

You can't shoot first unless you want to be marked rogue. So you have to wait for them to shoot first. If I could shoot someone knowing they are going to go rogue without punishment, I would be happy.

And this is likely something that will be rectified in the future, but why is there no competitive death match type mode? Seems like it would be really easy to implement and it would give me a reason to keep signing in.

What was OK

The combat is just OK. Generally the encounters are really interesting. Ubisoft and Red Storm did a
fantastic job of level design and building distinct enemy types. You can really see that some Dungeon Masters worked on this game. 

As far as cover shooters go, there have been many better: Gears of War, Splinter Cell Conviction, Army of Two. There are too many times where a shotgun guy rushes your position and you get stuck at a weird angle where you can't shoot him, but he can shoot you and the camera sort of freaks out and just points at the ground. 

This same issue can ruin trying to use any special abilities that require you to launch something. There's a health grenade that I very often fire through the level or on a lower platform because the camera and targeting system has issues when you point downward. 

I also wish the enemies didn't feel so bullet spongy sometimes. With better gear and the right rifle, you can get a really satisfying head shot kill, but before them, shoot that dude in the head 30 times and he'll go down. 

And the story... there's not much of one. At least not much of one told in the main story missions. It's mostly, "there's a guy that used to work for us, but doesn't now, go get him. Oh, we need a field hospital, go save this doctor." 

Instead, most of the stories in the Division are part of the environment. You might pick up a cell phone where you can hear of a masked vigilante running around the city or an urban explorer that got stuck in a tight spot. Or you may run through an apartment where all the furniture is turned over and clothes thrown everywhere alluding to a quick exit from the city. 

And there are definitely some server hiccups. It's not often enough to be really upset about, but when it does happen, it's annoying.

I have to form a private party if I want to chat with my friends in the dark zone, otherwise one of us is always breaking up. There are times where you'll shoot an enemy and the shot doesn't register for a solid 10 seconds. Or there's even sometimes where the enemy will teleport 20 feet. 

What I liked

The game is beautiful. If it looks this great on the PS4, I can only imagine what the PC version looks like.

The missions feel varied. You may need to hack a terminal, you may need to assassinate someone, you may need to get out of an exploding building. It's not like Destiny where every objective involved you waiting for your robot to hack soemthing.

Most the bosses for each level feel unique and have a layout that plays to their strengths.

Even when replaying the missions, you can make it harder, or add more people, both of which change the dynamic of the mission.

And there are very distinct groups of enemies that have themes. There's the looters (who appear to be mostly black men in hoodies, esssshhh), the cleaners (flamethrower guys that just want to burn away the infection), the Rikers (escaped prisoners), and the military guys gone rogue. It has a very Warriors feel to it and I really like that.

And then there are the great stories you take out of the game.

During the Amherst Apartment mission, two buddies and I were working together and got to the end. It's a no-respawn zone. A sniper takes out one of my friends and I'm downed by the boss I had been working on. The third guy, who happens to be the weakest of our group, is the one that survived and the boss is barreling down on him. If he dies, we lose 15 hard fought minutes.

He's playing cat and mouse in this apartment building, taking a couple quick shots and running. He's trying to work his way around to revive one of us, but the boss has him cornered. He takes cover behind a box and starts blind firing. His health is down to the last bar, the bosses health is barely visible. The boss goes for a reload and my buddy switches weapons,pops out, and takes him down. All three of us started screaming into the microphones.

And then one of my favorite video game moments happened in the Dark Zone.
I hadn't really seen anyone in the area yet. It was peaceful, before people got off work and out of school.

This guy  (who I will call the stranger) called in a chopper, and I had my first piece of Kelly Green rare gloves to extract, so I ran for it.

As we were attaching our gear to the helicopter, this group of three launches a trap on us and we die. They loot our gear and then run away from the extraction to hide while their rogue status is activated.

And then me and the stranger spawned at the nearby safe house. As soon as I appear on the street, the stranger is being murdered. Those three assholes waited outside the safe house for us. They kill me again, lowering my level and taking more dark zone credits.

I decide to spawn at a gate instead. I'm pissed. I don't like bullies. Not having any gear to lose and not really caring about my dark zone level, I rush back into the dark zone hoping to at least murder one or two of these guys.

The stranger had the same idea. We're at opposite ends of the street battling these guys. We get one of them down, his friend helps him back up. These guys are just diving around in the street to avoid our firing. They have healing armor on, so they really are just buying time.

Finally they take the stranger down and kill him gangland style. Just surround him and shoot him until he's fully down. Then their attention comes to me. I shoot my little BB-8 seeker mine hoping to buy some time and hoping my buddy comes back. It burns them, and I move back. They move up.

I'm in bad shape, so I start to pull out a grenade to try to buy me more time and as I pull it out, they all come around the van I'm hiding behind. I panic and drop the grenade at my feet and they quickly gun me down. But as they come to do jumping jacks on my body the grenade goes off and takes all three of them down, and since they were rogue, I know they have 45 seconds before they can respawn where I can respawn in 10.

I respawn, run back in, grab my gear, call in the chopper by the gas station extraction point.

Then I sit in a shipping container, knowing they can't surround me, but expecting them to come back for revenge.

I see two guys come back and I recognize one of the names as the rogue guy.

He looks up at me and realizes it's me. He goes rogue again, trying to kill me.I start sprinting around the block, I run through several groups of looters that start fighting the rogue guys who are following me.

The helicopter comes in, I made the full block, attach my gear, and as I turn around to face the rogue guys again I see the stranger come riding in like the cavalry.

While they are fighting the looters, and starting to come toward me, the stranger fires a rocket at two of them, killing them. The third guy tries to run, but we gun him down in the street.

We salute each other and go our happy ways.

Final Thoughts

And that is what The Division is about. Most the time, you're going to be on that gear treadmill, you may be on autopilot. But then you have these great moments of overcoming adversity that invigorate you.

And every time I think, "I could've spent my money better" I just have to look at the timer that says I've played the Division for 2 days and 7 hours and realize, this thing had it's claws in my hard.

Rating: If you like cover shooters, loot games, or co-op, buy the Division.

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