AA Postmortem – ‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’
Tom Clancy’s The Division has already broken many sales records since its release in March. But now that players have spent over a month in this post-pandemic version of New York – What do we truly think of The Division? Did it succeed? Or did it fail to reach our expectations?
In Analog Addiction’s recent review Nathan Manning said The Division is “an enjoyable concept for a new IP that kept me entertained for a solid amount of time, but then I grew tired and felt no need to return.”
In this latest installment of AA’s postmortem series, both The Division reviewer Nathan Manning and Jamie Briggs will discuss where The Division succeeded, where it failed, and ultimately what The Division needs to do to make players return to the gorgeous city of New York.
Jamie Briggs I spent the last week with The Division pushing my character to level 22…but unfortunately it was around this time I felt like I had finally had my fill of what The Division had to offer. Now I want to clearly state I do not believe The Division is a bad game, on the contrary I believe The Division has a lot of strong points; but ultimately keeping my attention for an extended period of time was one of its major problems.
Personally I attribute this to the repetitive gameplay wheel that The Division offers. I absolutely adore the main story missions, but for the most part these require your character to be certain levels in order to simply survive. This forced me to constantly play the same handful of side activities, the same structured events and collect the same boring collectables in a hope of raising my level before I could attempt the next mission. Honestly the side activities in The Division are some of the least interesting from recent memory, with many side activities even simply reusing the same dialogue that the last similar side mission contained.
It was beyond frustrating to have to trudge through such repetitive content to get to the good stuff, and at level 22 and over 20 hours in – I simply had enough. In your review Nathan, you seemed to experience a similar disinterest. Was this due to the same problems or something else entirely?
Nathan Manning I completely agree. All games are repetitive, but the great ones at least disguise the fact that you are performing a repetitive action. The RPG structure is that of completing main missions, and then doing side missions to level up enough to do the next main mission. However, other games at least have you doing different kinds of fetch quests in different areas. The Division just has you doing the same tasks in a different part of New York and with higher leveled enemies.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on the issue of repetition and I think it also relates to the setting itself: New York. While at first it was great to see New York represented as beautifully as it is in The Division, it all starts to look the same. New York is a city of sky scrapers, and that’s reflected in the game. The problem is that every street and location begins to look the same. Sure, you eventually encounter Time Square and other landmarks, but the streets are all designed parallel, making them look similar. If I didn’t have that way-point marker continually showing me which way to go, I would have gotten lost because of the similarity of the streets and general lack of landmarks. It just made everything feel the same.
Since you spend most of the time in The Division shooting people, what did you think of the enemy design in the game Jamie? And how’d you find the world of New York compared to other gaming worlds?
Jamie Briggs After my time with The Division during the beta, I found myself also questioning the location. In premise the idea of a post-epidemic New York sounds interesting, but as you said this New York just did not provide enough unique locations, or any real iconic locales. When I think of other open world city locations Ubisoft have produced, Watch Dogs comes to mind, and even Watch Dogs delivered a unique atmosphere in every different section of the city. The same goes for the enemies themselves. You have the general grunts, the shot-gunner, the grenadier and then usually a large tank like enemy with a mini-gun as your all mighty boss encounter. I can understand why the enemy types were kept as is (being set in realism) but surely there could have been more iconic or unique enemy types to shoot throughout the city.
I think the repetition also came into question so regularly due to the fact your character NEVER feels powerful. No matter what level you are, and no matter what area you visit, most of the time enemies will rank up alongside you and always deliver a challenge. I’m fine with The Division wanting to provide a challenge (which is why the main missions were so fun) but it felt like no matter what slightly higher piece of gear I equipped, or level I increased, I was never really making any progress in becoming stronger. No matter what, every single enemy ended up being a generic bullet sponge on my way to my goal. Perhaps this is just a personal preference, but I have always appreciated the character evolution in the RPG genre. Seeing your character progress from a general grunt, into an overpowered badass is a rewarding experience; but The Division never gave me that feeling and I think that heavily attributed to the repetitive nature of The Division.
But The Division is certainly not all bad; as I have alluded to a few times I had a great time with the main missions available. Perhaps deep down each mission had a similar structure, but I found each mission challenging, rewarding and thoroughly entertaining. I also found playing these missions with other players greatly increased my enjoyment, regardless whether they were friends or not. Tackling a mission on hard with three other players is genuinely intense and many times I found myself losing hours on one mission without even realising.
What did you think of the main mission structure? And do you think The Division delivered a strong RPG experience?
Nathan Manning I agree with you that the main missions are the better missions in The Division. There’s nothing memorable about most of them, and they probably won’t be making any of our round-table pieces for best levels in a video game, but they offered refreshing, different environments to shoot enemies.
I particularly enjoyed one of the first missions; the one that takes place inside the basketball stadium which we can assume is Madison Square Garden. It’s a great proof of concept of what would happen if society broke down. But to be honest the plot kind of breaks down after that. As I said in my review, the plot just becomes “clean up New York”. One minute I’m rescuing a doctor, the next helping the military to deal with the rival gangs that have popped up, and then dealing with some Division agents that have gone rogue and turned against the cause. It’s more a story about the world rather than the characters that inhabit it.
The sad thing is that the concept could have provided a strong sci-fi story about humanity, but I’d argue it suffers from a lack of cut-scenes to drive the narrative (and a voiceless protagonist for that matter). It’s very difficult to tell a story without cut-scenes – although plenty of games do it very well – and I feel that the missions would have benefited from the addition.
I did, however, very much enjoyed the length of each main mission. On ‘normal’ difficulty each one took 20-30 minutes to complete and they were action packed the whole way through.
With regards to The Division as an RPG experience, I’d say it’s a decent RPG experience, but not a strong one. Statistics play a large role in The Division, with players balancing attack power, health and skill power to try and develop the perfect character. I liked that every piece of gear only improves two out of the three of the categories, so you had to compromise to improve another. It brought back memories of games like Diablo, where I would constantly be switching the gear I had to try to optimise my character for my play style. In my case, it was to max out skill power so my sticky bomb grenade would deal massive amounts of damage.
In my review I expressed my opinion that loot collection wasn’t great because I wasn’t getting better gear at the right interval, which is an issue when the game is very loot based.
My biggest complaint about the way The Division handles RPG elements is related to the unlocking of skills and abilities. It doesn’t help that the currency you have to use is earned by some of the repetitive side missions (as well as story missions). However, it’s more a problem because I had unlocked all of the skills about halfway through the game. The only skills I had left to unlock were the signature skills, which are like ultimate skills that take longer to cooldown. It meant the second half of the game I wasn’t really unlocking anything.
How do you think the plot could have been improved Jaime, and what did you think of the RPG systems? Did you try out crafting and the re-calibration station?
Jamie Briggs I think you stated the story issues well, the two biggest games of recent memory that revolve around an MMO-esque experience are both Destiny and The Division. Both of these games lack cut scenes, focus on delivering most story content in audio log form, and in the end both games produced a poor overall narrative.
I would have loved a better story from The Division, especially since the premise itself caught my attention since the first reveal; which in my opinion just feels like a missed opportunity. It certainly didn’t take long for Division‘s story to take a back seat to the classic process of clearing a map that Ubisoft has become famous for (Far Cry, Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed) producing, but I still think the premise is as intriguing as it was the first time it was revealed. Which is why it’s a shame Division never tackles that premise well.
I dabbled in the re-calibration station situated in the Base of Operations, but (perhaps due to my level) most of the items I could craft were simply not strong enough. I think that is a feature that would truly enter its element when you reach the level cap, but being only in the low 20’s most of the loot I could create didn’t rival the loot I was amassing from missions.
As we have explained the story did not live up to either of our expectations, and the RPG systems certainly could have been improved, which leaves the third pillar in Division‘s arsenal – the shooting. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the shooting mechanics in Division, simply because it controls a lot differently to most third person shooters. I also found myself struggling to remember the difference between taking cover and vaulting cover, as Division chooses to go against the norm and assign both to the opposite. Overall I found the shooting gameplay to be serviceable, but it did not rival most of the best third person shooters already released.
That ultimately seems to be The Division‘s main issues. It does a little of everything, but it never does any of them extremely well. The Division is a lot more quantity than quality in regards to its features, and overall I feel that made my experience feel quite average when I reminisce.
What did you think of the shooting mechanics in The Division? And in regards to the post-level cap experience, did you find The Division delivered some interesting post-level cap content?
Nathan Manning The Division‘s shooting mechanics aren’t as smooth and tight as other third person shooters, but it didn’t take me too long to adjust. The main thing I wasn’t a fan of was the large amounts of recoil on guns. When you’ve got to put an unusually large amount of bullets into enemies, you want to be able to land most of your shots, but spraying a clip even at close range results in massive amounts of recoil.
I did gradually get used to the shooting, but would have preferred something tighter.
End-game content for The Division is somewhat lacking. Prior to the Incursion update, the only new activity you unlock once hitting level 30 is the challenge difficulty for all main missions. These missions are very tough, and require a team of four with a lot of teamwork to survive. It’s more Division for those who make it to level 30, but it’s just a harder difficulty.
The Incursion update included the addition of a new end-game activity that offers a new, very difficult, lengthy mission. I have yet to try out the Incursion, so I’ll refrain from commenting on it, but the end-game still appears lacking if you don’t revel in gear crafting and creating the perfect character.
The only other activity to do in the end-game is The Dark Zone, a player versus player versus environment area in The Division. I like the concept of The Dark Zone, but it just wasn’t fun, especially when playing solo. The enemy AI are too difficult, spawning with too much health and in too large numbers. A group of four might be able to survive against the enemies, but a solo player has no chance. This is especially true when the weather effects kick in and blanket the area in a thick fog that enemies can seemingly see fine in. And then, when you do manage to kill the enemies and pick up some loot, you either get killed by the next group of enemies you see, get killed by a group of players who can revive each other, or find a piece of gear that is worse than what you already have.
Across my review and this piece I’ve spoken plenty about my Dark Zone problems, so what do you think of The Division‘s PvP area Jamie?
Jamie Briggs Once again it seems our opinions align. I love the premise of The Dark Zone, but as you said it becomes almost unplayable if you decide to play solo. I spent a few hours in The Dark Zone with my mid-level 20 character and experienced all the same issues, which made playing within The Dark Zone on my own completely unenjoyable. Once I had teamed up with a player or two The Dark Zone definitely became a more enjoyable activity, one that still provided a challenging experience, but one that could be overcome with strong teamwork. When playing solo the overwhelming numbers of overpowered enemies simply destroy you from every angle and even my most powerful weapons barely made a dent. The Dark Zone is an experience designed for groups of players, and if you decide to enter on your own – be prepared for a tough time.
Seeing as we have covered most of The Division, I’m left wanting to know whether or not you would like to see more Division releases and where could the series go from here? If a sequel is made, one would assume it would branch out of the post-pandemic New York City location and extend to a new portion of America. Within the world Ubisoft has built, I cannot guess how they would do this, or whether or not they will simply slowly expand the base game with new areas and additional story content. I personally would like to see where the series could go in the future, especially if Ubisoft is able to iron out the issues and provided a larger palette of activities to enjoy.
Like Watch Dogs, The Division has an amazing premise, but the final product left something to be desired. In a possible sequel, The Division could perhaps deliver on the promises it originally intended to keep.
Nathan Manning I definitely want to see more of The Division in the future. When you get to the heart of The Division, it’s a very fun game. In my eyes it doesn’t do a lot of things greatly, but it doesn’t do them poorly. As a proof of concept, The Division is a good experience, but I’d love to see more variety next time round. More skills, less repetition, more activities to do in the end-game, and a better loot system.
Sales figures clearly show that a lot of people were interested in the game, and it’s still quite popular on Twitch, so people are enjoying the game. Like I said, I was enjoying The Division for the first 20 or so hours, but then it kind of sizzled out once I had unlocked most things and completed the same types of missions countless times.
What did you think of The Division? Are you still exploring the post-epidemic city of New York? Let us know in the comments below and keep an eye out for more Analog Addiction Postmortems.
Jamie Briggs manages Analog Addiction and you can like them on Facebook, follow his daily life on Twitter @JamieAA, and his videos on YouTube. Nathan Manning is an Xbox Editor for AnalogAddiction. He’s seen The Godfather once. You can find him on Twitter and AnalogAddiction there as well.