I’ve found my favorite part of The Division. It’s the sticky bomb. I giggle with glee every time I nail a pack of hoods standing around with my remote death device. Aim, fire, remote detonate, and watch if any survivors remain. If they do I plunk them off with a few well aimed shots. It really is the simple things in life that bring you joy.
Last week I bemoaned the lack of world building by Ubisoft in the Division. I compared buildings to props on a movie sound lot. They are there for the façade but they don’t feel real. As the game has progressed that feeling of being trapped in a maze with building painted walls has become less oppressive but is still noticeable. The game has opened up and become a lot more vertical. Instead of being focused on moving north, south, east, and west, you’ll be forced to navigate up and down. Different levels of a building, sewers, and even street underpasses are there to be explored. As you clear a building you may have to pass through a broken window onto a fire escape or scaffolding. Once there you can make your way up or down and onto the next level, or across roofs and descend into a different building. So while it is still a maze, it has increased in complexity and feels less constrained.
In addition to the growing complexity of the buildings you have to navigate the enemy AI has becoming increasingly difficult too. Cleaners won’t stand in the open for long and let you mow them down. They will seek cover and wait for a partner to lay down suppressing fire before they try to move across a field. One chief complaint about games such as the Division is that your opponents feel like bullet sponges. While there may be a grain of truth to that accusation it is no worse than what you find in most RPGs with climactic encounters.
What is the difference between shooting a person carrying a flame thrower for 5 minutes and hacking away at some mythological dragon’s leg for 5 minutes with a sword? Other than the psychological difference of one being human and carrying a weapon and the other being a dragon armed with their teeth not much. They are both RPG tropes where upping the difficulty scale on an encounter almost always implies that an adversary will have an increasingly complex attack pattern and an increased pool of health. If the Division falls victim to this critique it is one that is unfairly leveled at the game when it should befall the genre. Does it feel like it takes an obscene amount of shots to kill a man at times? Yes. But then again this is a work of fiction.
Initially I was skeptical about certain aspects of the UI. However, I have come to enjoy the augmented reality presentation. The AR isn’t confined to the UI either. Besides the world opening up after those early stages you’ll also notice that there are different flavor items hidden throughout the world. Missing agents, dropped phones, downed drones, and echoes all serve a role in telling the story of a city plagued and dying before you.
Echoes are the most interesting and they fill the area around you with blue ambient light and provide orange shadows of the people. These shadows act as a recorded history of an event. Your computer will also fill in the information that is currently known about the people present in the echo. The story is unfurling nicely through these devices and the title of this RIP is ripped straight from an early line of dialogue. A police captain is hesitant to throw Division members to the wolves. You casually remind him, “Captain, we are the wolves.”
The Division shines in co-operative play. Creating overlapping fields of fire to pin enemies behind cover or mow them down when they risk a peak out from behind it is thrilling. While most missions can be tackled solo it’s not as convenient and quite simply not as much fun. However, this brings up the biggest whiff of the entire game. The lack of coop play when you are in the story mode with people who aren’t already on your friends list. As you saunter down the streets of New York clearing alleyways and subway tunnels you will find safe houses that are shared spaces with other players.
In those safe houses you will be able to inspect other agents and see how you stack up. But, once you step back into the streets you’ll find yourself all alone. When you do come across a main story mission you’ll have the option of queuing for a group finder but wouldn’t it be nicer if you could organically form groups by bumping into people that you meet while doing side missions and resource gathering missions? Of course it would. Hopefully we will see this as an option introduced later in the game. I’m not advocating that you no longer be able to play alone but there should be the option to have a shared space with others.
I also gathered the fortitude to brave the Dark Zone. This is the PvP spaces spawned from the cesspools of humanity where plague victims were sent to die. While they are not filled with shambling corpses they are populated with NPC criminals and possibly murderous division agents that are other players gone rogue. I’ve met players who were quick to befriend strangers and others that were just as quick to put two rounds center mast on any new comer they saw. The success of the Dark Zone will depend on the players that take part in the experience. The local chat makes it easy to talk to the other agents you bump into. Emotes also serve to declare your intentions.
The flavor of the day is to do jumping jacks to let others know you come in peace. Other than the PvP the goal of the Dark Zone is to capture items from enemy NPCs or items that are dropped from other players, and extract them. You do this by taking the items to extraction zones and helicopters to airlift the items out of the zone. You can’t just carry items out of the DZ at a check point. Once the items are safely evacuated you will find them back at your stash decontaminated. The items I’ve found early on don’t appear to be that much of an incentive to risk going in and dying for. While it is a fun experience in small doses I’m not sure that Ubisoft has managed to incentivize it enough or get the fun factor where it needs to be to keep the DZ a populated experience.
Next week I’ll have finished the main campaign and I’ll wrap up this review and stick a score on it. Until then let me know if you are enjoying your experience and specifically your take on the Dark Zone.