So, turns out I gone done got a bit addicted to The Division. And when I say “a bit”, I mean like, properly, wake-up-thinking-about-it, currently-smelling-a bit-funky-because-I’m-foregoing-showers kind of addicted. It’s not the first time that’s happened to me, for sure (see also; the Fallouts), but it’s not a regular occurrence – and as much as I love playing games, and as much as I’m often itching to turn them on, it’s rare that I get to the thinking-about-a-game-all-the-damn-time stage. I wrote my First Impressions piece having played roughly 10 hours of the game, but that’s now increased to around 30 (which I know thanks to that handy and helpful ‘here’s how much of your life you’ve wasted with this game’ stat that’s prominently displayed when you load up your game – cheers, Ubisoft), so I figure I’m in a position to write a Secondary Impressions piece. Which is what I’m doing. Like, right now.
Obviously, the whole ‘being addicted’ thing is going to be a big part of those Secondary Impressions – and whilst it’s not necessarily an objective measurement of the quality of a game – and even less a measurement of the game’s technical accomplishments – it is worth elaborating on anyways, I think. OK, addiction might not be a great thing when you factor in “real-life”, or say, personal hygiene, but it is a reasonable indication that a particular game’s got something right – at least from a subjective point of view. And as far as The Division’s concerned, there are quite a few things that are distinctly working that addiction angle – from a basic ‘oh, that’s quite cool, I like that’ level, all the way up to an ‘Evil Genius Gaming Smack’ kind of one.
For me, the former category would include your open-world, Sandbox-ey basics – collectibles, discovering hidden stashes etc, – and there have been many (many) occasions where I’ve set off to do a particular mission or encounter, only to realise an hour-or-so later that I’ve forgotten all about it, getting sidetracked by an echo, and then an open apartment building, then a random firefight that led to me discovering a particularly juicy cache of goodies, etc, etc. Usually, such shenanigans mean I’m low on ammo, so I have to return to a safehouse to restock, then start the process all over again. That’s quite cool, obviously, but like I say, that’s not uncommon for Sandbox games, and particularly in the early stages when you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff on offer – and you bounce around from one thing to another like a hyperactive kid on Christmas morning.
What’s more towards the Evil Genius Gaming Smack level though, is the loot and upgrading festivities. Again, whilst this isn’t unique to The Division, it’s certainly very well done in the game – and I think there’s a definite hint of brilliance to how it’s been executed. Of those 30 hours I’ve played, a reasonable chunk of that time has been spent faffing around with my Gear and weapons, trying to get a decent balance, or even sometimes just making a really cool gun the centrepiece of my build. Given the number of agents milling around motionless in safehouses, I think it’s safe to assume it’s not just me that’s doing this, either.
Ordinarily there’d be a 50/50 chance that I just couldn’t be arsed with that kind of stuff, but something about the way it’s incorporated into The Division is just so utterly, utterly compelling to me. It’s entirely coincidental (unless Ubi have figured out a mind-reading Doodah), but for the past few days I’ve gotten hold of a particularly awesome weapon in the last five minutes of my Gaming session – and it’s that that has had me thinking about the game whilst I’m not playing it. Figuring out how to pimp it out, how to work it into my current build – even just being excited to see what it’ll do to a gang member’s face – occupy my time, invade my dreams, and have me desperate to get back to the game at the earliest opportunity. It took me a little while to get to grips with the intricacies of all that stuff – but now that I’ve (just about) figured it all out – it’s just so ridiculously addictive and enjoyable. It’s like a math puzzle, but where getting it right results in obliterating an enemy’s head and not, say, a good test score.
Elsewhere (and in more regular, non-addiction-orientated gaming categories) The Division continues to impress. Just about everything I was fawning about in the FI piece has held up with extended play-age, and as of yet, I’ve had no real (technical) issues with anything. The camera’s freaked out a few more times, I’ve occasionally been unable to open a loot cache for no discernable reason, and once or twice the usually fantastic cover mechanics have disintegrated into my agent doing a bizarre modern dance routine – but nothing major – and certainly nothing game breaking. The Graphics are still mesmerising, post-apocalyptic NYC’s still compelling, and shooting people in the face is still a silky smooth dream.
I mean, if I’m being honest there are some things about The Division that aren’t superlative, but all bar one (I’ll come to that in a minute) are eminently forgivable. The different “personalities” of the JTF officers at the safehouses adds variety, for sure, but if they’re supposed to provide some comedic light relief, they’ve not entirely succeeded – to the point where it’s sometimes embarrassing. I appreciate I might be lobbing rocks around in a greenhouse here (see, for example: this sentence) but honestly Ubisoft, who’s writing your (quote, unquote) “jokes”!? It’s like you’ve spent a bajillion dollars perfecting so many aspects of the game, then got somebody’s Dad in to do the one-liners.
Conversely, the amount and variety of NPCs/civilians on the streets (or lack thereof) is also disappointing – and it’s often jarring given the otherwise immersive, realistic and diverse nature of The Division’s world. A couple of times, just as I’ve been thinking to myself how realistic everything is, the same civilian I’ve passed three times already walks by again, and it’s enough to break the illusion. I know why developers and game-makey people use the same stuff over and over again, but it just seems a shame that something so insignificant can undo the quality of the work elsewhere. Is that overly picky? Probably, but it’s my blog, so no fucks are currently given.
My one major (non-picky) issue however, is with the “narrative” aspects of the game – or, more specifically, the lack of any real sense of diversity within it. It was brought to my attention (by Anidaan – cheers, dude) in the comments below my First Impressions piece, and at that point, I’d not really noticed, having been in hyperactive kid on Christmas Morning mode. Since then, I’ve cracked on with more missions and encounters, and there is definitely a huuuuge degree of repetition there. Again, that’s not unusual in open-world, Sandbox games – particularly with “activities” – but here the more “main-ey” missions are also very, very similar. Or at least they are up until now. If you’re playing with friends, or spending the majority of your time in the Dark Zone, that might not be much of an issue, but when you’re lone-wolfing it, or even just focusing on the narrative for a bit, it can be a little disappointing.
My final wee gripe is, I suspect, likely to be a minority one, but it’s one that I think may very well have helped with the samey stuff I just mentioned had it been an option. I’m talking about Stealth. To be clear, I’m not suggesting for one minute that The Division should be a Stealth orientated game (like, say, MGSV) – and I appreciate it would be next to useless in the PvP/Dark Zone stuff – but in Missions and general gameplay, I think it would be a useful option to have. If you could utilise cover to sneak up to an enemy group, and snap a few necks/slit a few throats before engaging in all out gunplay, for example, I think it could add an element of variety and strategy that’s currently lacking. Even just having the suppressors working properly would be a good start, and would likely create interesting options. I mean, I’ve shot people who are standing quite a distance from their nearest ally, standing at a fair distance with a suppressor equipped myself, but within milliseconds, the whole gang know my whereabouts and are returning fire.
Again, I’m not suggesting there should be an emphasis on stealth – and I appreciate most people playing the game aren’t looking for anything remotely stealthy – but I just think it would be interesting, add variety, and I think it would certainly fit into the ‘tactically open’ ethos of the game brilliantly. Perhaps suppressors will allow more of that at a higher level (anybody know?), but if not, I think it’s a trick missed in The Division.
That said though, it’s only one tiny thing amongst a mahoosive amount of stuff Ubisoft have gotten spot-on. Such is the quality of the game that I’ve yet to properly dive into The Dark Zone, which by all accounts, is where Tom Clancy’s The Division really nails it, and I’ve been more than content to focus on un-Dark Zone-y stuff thus far. If The Dark Zone is even half as compelling as I’ve been led to believe, there’s every reason to hope TCTD will go from genuinely awesome to ‘holy shitting fuckballs this is the best game ever’. As of right now, I’m enjoying the game more than I was at first (see again: addicted) and given I’ve still got the DZ stuff to look forward to, there’s a decent chance my enjoyment is still going to be following an upwards trajectory for a while yet.
All things considered – bravo Ubisoft. Bravo!