I won’t try to lie and claim that Ubisoft’s The Division left me feeling impressed when it first launched. There were some good ideas and man was it beautiful from a visual perspective, but it was ultimately a hollow experience. Still, with The Division 2 coming in a few months and lots of people saying The Division is far better than it was at launch I fired The Division back up.
Immediately it hit me that I had forgotten how good The Division looks. The recreation of New York post disaster and covered in a thin layer of snow looks beautiful yet sad and lonely. The streets are covered in bags of garbage, abandoned cars and general detritus. It’s a desolate place that oozes atmosphere. It’s such a shame Ubisoft failed to tap into the settings amazing potential to tell stories through environmental details.
“There’s potential here. It exists. That, however, is way off in the future. Right now, right here, The Division is nothing special. “– Me, reviewing The Division several years ago.
I picked up with a level 20 character I had left because I was interested to see if the early game had improved at all. Working my way up to level 30 cap I discovered that no, it hadn’t. The initial slog is still plagued the by the lack of interesting story or fun mission design. It’s essentially still the same game that forces you to grind away, although the rate at which new loot drops has been increased which did help keep me feeling more motivated.
Once I hit level 30 where the true changes become apparent, the end-game of The Division having been fleshed out considerably over the past few years. The first notable change to me was World Tiers, each one bumping up the power of enemies within the map. The key here is that you can choose the tier you go to, provided you’re current gear matches the requirements. The higher the tier the stronger the foes you face and the better the loot.
Of course, that doesn’t exactly solve The Division’s problems, but it’s a start. Venturing further I started to check out the other new features and ideas.
One of the things I found myself enjoying was more emphasis on being able to specialise how I play via the gear sets. They aren’t ground-breaking or anything, but these offer up powerful perks and bonuses based on how many parts of the set are equipped. Personally, I put a lot of focus on extra damage on headshots and wound up being a beast if I could consistently deliver bullets to craniums like demented Santa delivering Christmas presents at very high speed. Into skulls.
A whole new chunk of map got added somewhere along the way, like somebody suddenly remembered that there was more New York that had been hidden away in a cupboard somewhere. This area has plenty of named enemies spawning, plus missions that randomly pop up. It’s a fun place to visit, although I don’t think I’d want to live there. As I ambled around I noted that there were no civilians walking the streets like in the rest of New York. I can only assume property values must be pretty low around there.
I also really enjoyed the inclusion of daily and weekly High Value Targets that offer up nice chunks of loot and credits. To access these I had to venture out into the world, completely clear out a sector of side-missions and encounters and then head to the local safe house to get some Search and Destroy missions. These basically just tasked me with going to three places and killing all the baddies there before rewarding me with intel that I could then trade in to tackle a HVT. Again, there is the issue of dull mission design within this process, but I found myself looking forward to logging on and seeing what new targets were available for murdering.
Speaking of which, there are daily and weekly challenges, too. It’s busywork stuff like collecting electronics or killing X amount of elites, but it’s another little way of dragging you back into the game with the promise of slightly new things to do, goals to achieve and rewards for completing them. It holds the allure of games like Destiny where you find yourself jumping on just to see what the new missions are.
By far the biggest end-game change is the Incursions. These can be done solo, but certainly not by me, so I wound up spending a while finding some people willing to team up. As it turns out, the community on The Division isn’t the best since it’s largely just the most dedicated players left, and they aren’t too willing to help out relatively inexperienced players. Still, I managed to find a few folk and didn’t make a complete arse of my self as we fought through the missions. The Incursions require solid team-work and provide a pretty satisfying thing to do at the end of the game, even if they again don’t bring any new mechanics to the mix.
But the thing that got me truly hooked on The Division was actually its first expansion pack. It introduces Underground mode, basically a dungeon made up of various rooms strung together by the arcane magic of randomization. There’s still no gameplay tweaks to spice stuff up, so it’s all about killing things over and over and over again, but it offers up piles of loot, customizable challenges and bite-sized chunks of shooty fun. I quickly found myself delving into the subway tunnels and basements of New York again and again, seeking out shinier guns, better elbow pads and a wider assortment of padded jackets and beanie hats. It’s important to look good while you’re casually gunning down hundreds of people, after all.
Next month The Division will die and be replaced by its own predecessor. At the moment we can only speculate whether the sequel will right the wrongs of its father, but I have to say that nearly three years after its initial launch The Division is a stronger, more fun game to play than on day one. It still has issues, it still has no story to speak of and the core gameplay remains repetitive, yet Ubisoft stuck with their creation and their loyal players and slowly but steadily built The Division up. Arguably this is what The Division should have been at the very start, but a few years on I’m glad I went back and gave it another shot. I’ve rediscovered the game and found a joy in it that was missing when I first reviewed it.
With a month to go until The Division 2 arrives it’s difficult to recommend picking up The Division, but if you already own it then go ahead and fire it up – you might just be surprised by how caught up in the never-ending hunt for loot and a new pair of jeans you become.