I’d like to thank that my stance on the act of purchasing a game hasn’t changed. Buying a piece of entertainment as expensive as a video game takes daring. What if the game is terrible? What if you don’t like it? Heavy gamers are all into buying every new title that comes along. The industry sometimes forgets that most people purchase a few games in a year, not every major release that makes it to store shelves. It’s for that reason that I worried about Ubisoft’s The Division.

I’ve spent roughly three Earth days in The Division since I purchased it. I knew from the game’s beta that I loved its cover mechanics and tone. How the game would age did make me hesitate a bit. I worried that the game wouldn’t be something I’d want to keep revisiting over and over again. For days I waffled over hitting the boy button.

One day I just decided to take the plunge. I have yet to regret it.

The Division Review – A Story for the Ages

A Story for the Ages

A game like The Division could have had a pretty hokey story and gamers would have eaten it up. On Black Friday, someone – we don’t know who – manages to cover paper currency in a lethal dose of smallpox. The citizens of New York do what Americans do best to kick off the holidays: they spend money on gifts like there’s no tomorrow, spreading the virus unknowingly.

The game’s story begins weeks after government task forces have sprinted into action to curtail the growing number of deaths. Quarantines have already been established, cutting Manhattan off from other burrows of New York City. The Division is shorthand for Strategic Homeland Division, SHD agents are sleeper soldiers, that look like us, talk like us and hold down a 9 to 5 job like us. You’re sent in to pick succeed where an earlier round of SHD agents failed.

The Division weaves bits of what happened outside of the main story too

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That Ubisoft Massive manages to pull off this story in such a realistic way is startling, if I’m being honest. I was expecting action-hero style bravado and grandeur, but that’s all lacking here. Instead, The Division’s story is a dark, twisting set of tales that take you all across mid-town. The high-level stories are rich on lore, even if the dialogue writing is a bit pedestrian sometimes. The Division weaves bits of what happened outside of the main story too; there’s lore scattered throughout the environment on abandoned smartphones, notebooks and file reports on the previous wave of agents that disappeared.

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Horrible one liners from the head of operations back at your base aside, there’s a good story to be had here. It’s a little too thinly spread, but interesting just the same.

The Division Review – All That’s Fit to Kill

All That’s Fit to Kill

In The Division, you’re going to kill a lot of people. With the pillars of society shattered, some bad guys have more power than they know what to do with responsibly. Rogue thugs roam Manhattan, waiting to fire on you at any second. The Cleaners, a kind of cult that thinks burning people dead or alive will somehow help the situation, are horrible. The Last Man Battalion’s leader at least has a firm grasp on reality. He just wants to take advantage of the power vacuum. The Rikers were society’s enemy before the disaster. Now the group of robbers, rapists and murderers get to do what they do best without fear of repercussions.

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Different parts of mid-town are controlled by different groups. Missions are laid out across the gameplay area, with landmarks getting the story missions and smaller side-missions taking place wherever. You absolutely want to pay attention to whatever area you are in. Getting too far ahead of your character’s level will get you killed, in most cases. Later in the game, you can fast travel to different safe houses scattered throughout Manhattan. You have to visit those safe houses first though, and you’ll come up against opposition every time.

Some missions are basically all about finding and sending back samples of the virus. Others are military offensives for bringing as much game territory as you possible can back into sane hands. When you’re in a story mission, you’ll know it. Your partners back at base fill you in on the details and circumstances.

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Side-missions grand you experience to level up your character, but encounters get you the supplies you need to sustain your operations in New York City. New York City’s old Post office is used as headquarters for the SHD and military task force that assists SHD agents in field operations. Completing missions assigned by your task forces gets you base upgrades that come in handy for the overall mission and your character. For example, unlocking the Tech Wing of the base gets you some very hand grenade upgrades. Medical and Security Wings also provide character upgrades.

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You can see the base slowly evolve over time. People have better attitudes. There are folks celebrating. Also, it doesn’t look like something out of a modern-day Dickens novel. You feel like you are making a difference.

The Division Review – Online & Dangerous

Online & Dangerous

The best thing about The Division are the mechanics, for sure. It’s a third-person cover shooter that forces you to make smart decisions about what skills your character has at the ready and what weapons you think are best for the situation.

The game is relentless about not letting you be a super-hero. Not taking cover in a firefight will absolutely get you killed. Shotguns, side arms and straight up military weaponry feel great. Weapon mods allow you to piece together customized primary and secondary weapons based on your play style. I’m big on laser sights and getting recoil down as much as possible. (I stink at aiming.)

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Tech upgrades and perks add some interesting tech-based stuff to your character. Besides self-guided grenades, there are healing grenades, sticky bombs and mobile cover devices that make the combat more interesting than it would be otherwise. You can craft items, or purchase them from merchants. Help out a citizen and you’ll get something cool in return. Finish a mission and you can expect some cool new toys that all go boom.

Weapon play in The Division is good, but I do wish Ubisoft would have given us the opportunity to switch which button send us into cover and which cause us to climb. I also wish that we could grow our stashes for storing items. I find that most of the time I spent admiring gear went to managing how much stuff my character had so that I could free up space for the next mission’s gear. Getting a bigger Go Bag helps.

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Cosmetic gear is scattered through the game world, with jackets, beanies and tons of items available. None of this stuff counts towards your stashed gear or carry gear slots, which is great. Character customization with gear is great, but general character creation in this game is laughably bad for a role-playing title. The faces are few in number. Everyone looks like everyone. There’s no adjusting height or size.

For the best gear, you’ll need to venture into The Dark Zone. The Division doesn’t have traditional PVP. Instead, there’s a walled off area in the middle of the city where a battle between agents and the gangs is raging. The military left a lot of gear there when it pulled out. Claiming that gear for yourself requires you going in and extracting it. Get killed by another SHD agent and your gear will go bye-bye. Kill another agent for their gear and you’ve gone rogue. A bounty is placed on your head.

The Dark Zone’s best moments are always with a team, in my opinion. There’s a thrill that happens the moment you spot another group of agents. Will they kill you for your gear, or will they show you mercy and be a good sport? It’s tense and something unique to The Division.

The Dark Zone’s best moments are always with a team, in my opinion.

Another unique quality of The Division is its effortless multiplayer. Within your map are the names and locations of your friends and other agents. As long as they’re not blocking folks from entering, you can jump in their game and complete a mission or free roam with them. You can also venture into the Dark Zone. If there’s a wide gap between you and your friend’s level, the game’s severs adjusts the levels of enemies to meet somewhere in the middle.

The Division Review – The Verdict

The Verdict

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I’ll level with you. I’m not big on games that require a huge time investment before you start to see the fruits of your labor. When game developers tell stories of players that complete stories and move on to their next title, they are talking about me. Batman Arkham Knight aside, I finish a game’s story and move on unless it’s really compelling.

I won’t be moving on from The Division. In fact, I think it’s something I’ll keep coming back to over and over. The shooting is top-notch, and online play is ridiculously seamless. Ninety percent of the time I’ve spent in The Division has been with at least one other person.

I have only three major complaints. First, the dialogue can be very, very pedestrian at times during missions. Second, character creation absolutely needs some tweaking. Third, we need a better character creator.

I’ve you’re considering picking up The Division, I say make your move.