Having hit the maximum level of 30 (in a non-rushed 42 hours), and with all the story missions complete, I feel I finally have enough perspective on The Division to conclude this review.
The journey through this game has been a truly memorable one, and exploring the streets of this particular post-apocalyptic Manhattan is something that'll stick with me for a long time. As I've previously said, The Division's chaotic, disturbing environment is very well realized, and I think it's one of the greatest examples of video gaming landscaping (or should that be cityscaping) yet seen. The sheer level of detailing is absolutely incredible, and the exceptional lighting and real-time weather really helps bring it to life.
Beyond The Division's run-down, dystopian façade lie some of the most tense and gripping shoot-outs I've tackled in any video game. The story missions are the real stars of the show: They're all basically firefights that largely follow the same kind of structure – shoot waves of bad guys as you progress through the mission's locale – but they vary in style thanks to their creative use of the game's glorious environment. From fighting in the cramped, close-quarters confines of office buildings to trying to stay out of multiple lines of fire in the very open UN Plaza, the story missions are all very well designed to provide action that really gets your adrenaline pumping.
The AI generally works well, and there are enough threats to make most encounters challenging. The tradeoff for this are enemies that are like bullet sponges, but it's something I really didn't think about too much while I was in the midst of the action. The end result is dynamic and intense set pieces where a lot of the time you're trying to survive a hail of incoming bullets by moving from cover to cover, while picking and choosing when to return fire. It just feels really exciting.
While I did tackle a couple of missions solo, I found that they were far more enjoyable when played with a group. Indeed, I'd say that's true for most of the activities in this game. It is perfectly possible to play The Division as a solo player, but I think it's at its best when played with other people, since working as a team is just really enjoyable, plus you're also able to revive one another and coordinate on the use of skills and abilities. Also, the superior numbers of enemies you have to deal with when playing with a squad helps dial up the action and makes fights more interesting. Whether you're attempting to make your way to a downed friend to revive them, or trying to pick off snipers who have got your team pinned down, The Division's multiplayer action often feels like barely-controlled chaos.
Fortunately, the matchmaking system works very well, and whenever I wanted to play with a team – either for missions or free roaming – it hooked me up with other players very quickly and easily. Like with all games, it can be a bit of a crapshoot who you end up with, and sometimes you might have to go through a few tries before ending up with a group that works for you, but thankfully doing so is straightforward and penalty-free.
The Division is a deep game with many facets, some of which work better than others. I've found that crafting isn't a particularly useful aspect of the game – most of the time, the loot I've received is better than what I could make. Of course, your crafting mileage might vary depending on what you've received as drops, and when you pick up blueprints, but for me it just wasn't something that I found worthwhile. I've also amassed a huge amount of money because, like crafting, most of the drops I'm getting are better than what I can buy. That's not to say I haven’t bought items – it's just that useful pieces tend to be very rare, and most of the time I look, what's on sale just isn't an improvement over what I already have.
What does work well is character customization. Rather than having specific character archetypes, players can pick and choose whichever skills and abilities they want to use, which can result in a really interesting mix of talents. I went the full medic route, because I love role-playing healers – and that's been great for group play, but I've teamed up with players with all sorts of different talent load-outs, from offensively-oriented, to hybrid healers with defensive shields. It's a great system that lets you augment your playstyle in a very personal fashion.
Loot also lets you customize your character by concentrating on specific stats. You can boost your stamina and be more of a tank-like character (that's me), concentrate more on electronics and boost your skills, or go all-out on DPS by equipping gear with firearms stats. Or indeed, go for a balanced mix. Of course, you'll need to grind for gear to do this, but it's definitely worthwhile to end up with a character that reflects the way that you want to play.
What initially impressed me about The Division was the sheer volume of side missions and encounters there are to tackle. However, what's disappointing is that many of them repeat themselves as you progress through the game. In some situations you're dealing with the same fundamental game mechanics in different locations, such as finding and booting up virus scanners against the clock, while in others you're doing the exact same thing in the exact same environment, such is the case with the water supply encounters. To be honest, I didn't mind doing the same sorts of things repeatedly. The game is pretty much an endless parade of shoot-outs after all, so whether you're defending supplies or helping JTF agents re-take a location, it was all one to me, but some might find that the side missions and encounters do get a little old after a while due to that repetition.
The other aspect of the game that's a little disappointing is the lack of endgame PvE content, especially once you've finished building out your base by completing the encounters you might have missed on your way through the game. I assumed there would be high-end raids available, or something like that, but there aren't any. Sure, you can tackle daily missions on hard – and some of them are really hard – but really, once you reach level 30, it's all about going into the PvP Dark Zone and grinding for loot there.
Fortunately, the Dark Zone is an interesting environment, and that's where I'll end up spending my time when I fancy playing The Division going forward. It's tough and unforgiving, and indeed can sometimes deliver a brutal experience – especially when you get killed carrying some really good superior loot – but that's what makes it so exciting. It's a high-stakes environment where sometimes you can get lucky and meet players who want to cooperate with you, and sometimes you'll run into groups of players who are hunting down individuals. You never quite know what you'll face, and that randomness makes for some tense and thrilling times.
Indeed, tense and thrilling sums up much of my time playing The Division. From its brilliant missions through exploring its amazing environment to tackling its many side missions and encounters, working my way through this game has been a truly enjoyable experience. Sure, the action can be accused of being repetitive, but for me – a hardcore shooter fan – I couldn't get enough of it.
Complex and occasionally tricky to navigate, but generally very effective.
The Division doesn't feature a huge amount of endgame PvE content at launch... but there's always the Dark Zone until new DLC arrives.
The sparse music really adds to the atmosphere, and the ambient sound effects are excellent.
Absolutely brilliant. The Division's post-apocalyptic Manhattan is exceptionally detailed and well realized.
Featuring one of the most remarkable and realistic video game environments ever created, The Division offers a disturbingly dystopian take on a ruined Manhattan. Its action is similarly brutal. Although much of it boils down to firefights and shoot-outs, most are very well executed to deliver truly exciting and thrilling gameplay. Add layers of RPG-like complexity and a really solid storyline, and you have a game that, while occasionally flawed, really does deliver the goods.