The Surprising Diversity in The Division
“The Division” has been out for a while now (and has already seen one major update that added and changed things to the game) so I thought maybe a review this far out from its release wouldn’t be too late. Also, there is quite a bit more to discuss about this game than just the gameplay, story, or graphics. “The Division” is surprisingly and subtly diverse.
For those that don’t know, “The Division” takes place in Manhattan, New York shortly after an outbreak of some genetically altered virus. Thousands are dead, the island is in chaos, and the Division has been activated to try and regain control. The story follows a fairly predictable arc —players are trying to discover the source of and develop a vaccine for the virus called Green Poison or The Dollar Flu. You move from story mission to story mission, learning more about the virus, its creator, the various factions that have sprung up as a result of the lawlessness, and the first wave of Division agents that we deployed at the beginning of the outbreak. It isn’t awful but, without a voiced protagonist or your own dialogue options, the story never feels like your own. Also, the update that gave us a new mission but it didn’t add to the story much at all (and is only accessible once the main story is concluded). Still, it isn’t awful, and the cast of characters that supports your agent is voiced well and convincing. Despite its flaws, it was still pretty engaging.
Gameplay, even after the major update, is still wonky. Coming from a studio that gave us free running parkour like we see in the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, you would think moving, climbing, and walking off short obstacles wouldn’t be an issue.Well, it can be. There are times when you can’t walk off something less than three feet high onto the main street, times when you are stuck to cover and can’t move off of it, and times you won’t be able to enter an open window unless you are at the precise location that has been marked for entry rather than have you slide over slightly when you press the button. Fortunately, unlike “Assassin’s Creed” you are never in a chase where this would matter, so it can be brushed off as an annoyance rather than a serious gameplay flaw. Where “The Division” excels, though, is in its combat. I know what you’re thinking, “It’s a shooter, it has to have good combat,” and you would be right. But this isn’t just good, it is some of the best third person, cover-based shooting that I’ve experienced since “Mass Effect 3.” The AI is clever, it will even fight itself when two factions end up occupying the same space (which can work for you and against you should you get caught in the crossfire). Side missions have purpose beyond just grinding; by completing them, you can upgrade your base of operations which unlocks some pretty powerful skills and upgrades. The only drawback to the gameplay is that if you want to play alone, you are going to have a difficult time. “The Division” was designed to be multiplayer all the time, not just in the PvP area. Encounters in the story missions aren’t scaled down just because you are a lone agent, and while the first few missions are completely manageable on your own, the further along you get the more you will have to level and equipment grind to take on those story missions.
Now for what really surprised me: How diverse this game was. You have the option in the character creator to be male or female and several ethnicities but that isn’t it. The world you inhabit in game is the world we inhabit offline and it is diverse. You may not notice it at first, I certainly didn’t but, looking around the game now that I don’t have to worry about catching a stray bullet around every corner, I am noticing that the background is full of people of color, women, even children when you are in the safe houses. I encountered a woman wearing a hijab in my base of operations who thanked me for saving one of the refugee camps in the city. Sure, the dialogue was generic and I’ve had other women in the game tell me that, but for UbiSoft to include such a diverse background says something. America isn’t monochromatic, and New York is certainly one of the most diverse cities in America. Even among the more important background characters, “The Division” is diverse. Faye Lau is a woman of Chinese heritage and your commanding officer, the virologist that is developing a cure for this biological weapon, is Jessica Kandel, another woman who is also gay (and if you aren’t paying attention to or are skipping the dialogue you wouldn’t even notice because it’s not turned into a big deal).
Overall, I would recommend “The Division” for those who enjoy third person shooters. While light on story there is enough to do more than just check a box on a “what a game needs” check sheet. The inclusion of the new incursion mode, more daily missions post-game, and the Dark Zone PvP/PvE area are enough to keep people interested (including those that enjoy the MMO aspect of the game). Really, the only drawback is that to get the most out of the game you need to play it in a multiplayer setting. Be it in the main story mode or in the Dark Zone, being alone makes you an easy target; if you don’t have friends that play and don’t want to play with random people on the internet, maybe pass this one over. If you do decide to give it a whirl, you can always raid with me. Tweet at me and I’ll do what I can.