The Division PS4 Review: Gritty. Brutal. Brilliant.

The Division PS4 Review: Gritty. Brutal. Brilliant.

Taking back New York is a tough and challenging experience - but also a thoroughly enjoyable one.

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This entry in my review-in-progress will probably feel a little staccato, because I'm articulating a series of observations from my notes, rather than writing a narrative, but here goes.

At this point, I'm about sixteen bleary-eyed hours into the game, and am leveling up slowly, but surely. The Division's progression seems to be fairly smooth, and a combination of side missions and main missions, plus the odd encounter here and there has helped my character develop consistently, without the game feeling like a grind. There are certainly plenty of activities to keep you busy, and I've noticed that I've already out-leveled a fair amount of side missions and encounters that I imagine I'll go back to once I reach the end-game to see what I've missed.

On the whole, my online experience has generally been good. There were a few hours of downtime last night when the servers went offline for maintenance, but other than that, playing has been a fairly smooth experience for me. I have occasionally encountered a server queue to get online during peak hours, but the wait has never been more then a few minutes, so I can't complain too loudly. Your mileage might vary, of course, but so far I haven't had to deal with much in the way of frustration when it comes to server reliability.

The more I explore it, the more impressed I continue to be with The Division's beautifully desolate take on a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. From subway stations stuffed with corpses through looted building interiors to the chaotic, trash-filled streets, there's so much to see and admire in this game, and so many details to capture your interest and fire your imagination. The game is expansive, and there are a myriad of nooks and crannies to explore – it's one of the most fully-realized and immersive environments I've ever experienced in a game, and it still continues to amaze me. It just feels so oppressive, and almost depressing because of what it is essentially conveying. This really does feel like a city gone to ruin, and it's a truly remarkable technical achievement.

I've praised the AI for generally being quite effective, but I did run into a couple of problems while tackling a side mission just now. It was set in a bus depot, and I was using a marksman rifle to pick off enemies from a distance. For some reason, the main boss kept running back and forth, and every time he did, his health reset. I was probably at the edge of his aggro range, and was triggering some kind of reset, but it was frustrating nevertheless. In the end, I just moved closer to him and that solved the problem, but there definitely seems to be some issues with long-range shots. I've encountered a few other situations where I've been able to take out enemies from a distance without them actually shooting back – probably because I wasn't close enough to set off their aggro. It's a rare enough occurrence not to feel like a consistent exploit, but I've definitely found a marksman's rifle is a great weapon to use for clearing out enemies at range – especially when using it with a scope.

Level demarcation continues to be quite strict in The Division. By that I mean taking on missions and encounters that are above your level – and sometimes not by much – can prove to be very tough. Enemies can be bullet sponges when they're a few levels above you, and I've found myself in a number of situations where I've pumped hundreds of rounds into an enemy character just to take him down. Part of the reason for that is because I've been exploring areas that I probably shouldn't be in, and I end up triggering encounters that I'm not ready for. But even so, it just feels weird to shoot at enemies with an assault rifle and ding them for a few points of damage. It's one of the few situations that I feel breaks the immersion of The Division's experience, and where you can really feel its game mechanics creating something that feels artificial. I know that the cure for this is to stick to activities and areas that are suitable for my level, but I just enjoy exploring.

Perhaps it's just me, but I find The Division's cover mechanics can sometimes be a little sticky when moving around corners. I've noticed that I occasionally get hung up on the edges of obstacles – which can be a real bind when you're in the middle of an intense firefight and you're trying to get out of the line of fire. It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it can have deadly consequences, and that can be frustrating. For the most part, though, the cover mechanics are effective and work well. Running from cover to cover is fine, and I haven't encountered any issues when I haven't been able to get behind cover when I want to. Just watch those corners!

On the whole, I'm finding that I enjoy The Division the most when I'm in a group. While I've tackled a few missions and side missions on my own, the dynamics of group play are just more interesting and exciting. Fortunately, the group matchmaking system seems to work well, and whenever I've wanted to hook up with other players for a mission, it's done its job quickly and efficiently. I feel the game seems to have been designed more with group play in mind, and I find a lot of missions are quite hard when you tackle them on your own, largely because it's easy to get flanked when you have to deal with numerous enemies at once, and especially when they're higher level than you. However, when you join up with even one other player, you can add width to your fire lanes that can stop the enemy from advancing and getting the upper hand. That's not to say The Division isn't a decent single-player game, I just find it's generally easier and more enjoyable when you have company.

Another aspect of the game I'm enjoying is its drama and storytelling. As you complete missions, there's a distinct feeling of progression, and it really does feel like you're indeed taking back parts of the city – especially when you combine that with the development of the Base of Operations. The excellently-rendered cutscenes help to articulate this well: They're convincingly acted and voiced, and the characters' dialog feels very down-to-earth and realistic. What also adds to the atmosphere is some of the incidental dialog that accompanies side missions and echoes, and even the radio commentary that you hear when you go into safe houses. It just richens the overall experience and helps immerse you deeper into the game.

Before I sign off for today, one thing I would like to say is that I initially had concerns that the overall premise of wandering around a city shooting people in the head would eventually feel somewhat relentless and almost desensitizing, but so far that hasn't come to pass. The game does a good job in justifying its missions and encounters, and whether it's rescuing hostages, protecting civilians from being burned alive, or simply breaking up weapons deals, I always feel that I have good reason to kill the people I need to. I know this is a minor issue, but it's something that helps make me feel like more of a hero than an executioner. While it's mostly a shooter, The Division is also an RPG, and I'm playing a character that I want to feel good about – and so far that's definitely been the case.

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