Tom Clancy's The Division Review

Lee Bradley

I have a weakness for numbers in video games. If an item has a stat, I'm gonna agonise over it, weigh it up against the others, and um and ah. Is it better to increase my damage or health? My rate of fire or my crit chance? And what about my ability cooldown? I will quite happily lose hours looking at these numbers, refining them, improving them, making them work in chorus with the others, then venturing out to obtain new items to repeat the process all over again.

The Division is made for people like me. There are numbers everywhere! They’re attached to the guns and their multitude of attachments and mods; the knee pads, gloves, trousers and the rest; the numerous unlockable skills and perks; the crafting system. The Division is my stat-filled dream. For everyone else? The bulk of the game will be just a solid, open-world, third-person cover shooter you can play with your mates.

Bring New York back from the brink! (Un-fuck it).

Here's the setup: New York has been ravaged by a virus spread via dollar bills (money is bad, innit). Those who didn't die in a blizzard of snot either find themselves begging on the desolate streets or grouping up and militarising in an attempt to take over the city. You, meanwhile, are a Division agent, dedicated to returning everything to order, as best you can. Everything’s a bit fucked. It’s up to you to un-fuck it.

There are around 15 story missions in The Division, as well as a slew of side missions and events, all of which are playable alongside three friends (or strangers, via matchmaking). You’ll roam the streets, venture into the city's tunnels and explore abandoned buildings. And with a few exceptions, you’ll spend most of that time diving in and out of cover, picking off the members of New York’s various aggressive factions one by one, with an increasingly powerful selection of weapons and abilities.

Core gameplay-wise The Division can be rather workmanlike. Played on normal difficulty, the game’s story and side missions fail to truly excite. There are very few spectacular set-pieces, the firefights can be a little bit samey and the AI doesn't really lend itself to epic encounters. There are highlights, however. Pinging a flamethrower-wielding Cleaner from behind and watching as his gas-filled backpack explodes in a ball of flame is super satisfying. Some of the environments are very atmospheric. The final battle of the final mission is a nice change of pace.

For the most part, however, it’s just solid, enjoyable stuff. It all works and works well; the cover system and the gunplay is good, but battling through the story content is unlikely to get your blood pumping. Played on normal, the story campaign just doesn’t really sing.

To many, this aspect of the game is just the warm-up, an extended tutorial needed to level up and unlock your abilities (of which there are many, with many variations, very broadly themed around healing, dealing damage and protection). For these people, The Division really starts with the endgame, in which you begin replaying missions on a higher difficulty, and venture into the Dark Zone, where human players mingle with AI, in search of better loot.

It's important to understand this: if you just blast through all the story stuff and spend a while in the Dark Zone then call it a day, you won't feel cheated. The Division has a decent amount of content, roughly equivalent to Ubisoft's other AAA open world games at around 30 hours for a no fuss playthrough. Thing is though, if you do leave it at that, you're kind of missing out.

Played on hard difficulty, the missions take on a new life. Where before you just had to be careful about not staying out of cover for too long, on hard you have to work as a team, flanking, distracting and co-ordinating. It allows you to better appreciate how each mission has been crafted. Suddenly, The Division becomes a genuine tactical cover shooter, conjuring memories of Rainbow Six: Vegas. And while it may not quite stack up to those memories, it undoubtedly becomes a better game. There is reason besides loot to play beyond the story’s conclusion.

Deployable turrets are one of many skills at your disposal.

Challenging difficulty, meanwhile, is just straight up ridiculous. For my character, at this stage, anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if Massive nerfs it to oblivion in the coming weeks.

The Division’s real ace in the hole, however, is the Dark Zone. Covering a big chunk of the map, this uninviting space is home to gangs of AI enemies and groups of human players. Spend time here and you can collect some mightily powerful resources and gear. But there’s a catch: to properly earn these items for use in the game, you first have to call in a helicopter to evacuate it all. The chopper takes a while to arrive, indicates your exact location to enemies and tells them that you’re loaded up with loot. And then they come running.

If the enemies that flock to the siren call of an extraction are AI, then you’ve got a tense battle ahead. If the enemies that turn up are human, you could be in for a world of pain. Die to either group and you’ll lose everything you’ve collected. Destroy your enemies and you could be loading up the chopper with even better loot.

There’s a risk to turning on human players too. Initiate a fight and you’ll be able to grab your victim’s stuff, but you’ll also go rogue for a set amount of time. Doing so will indicate your position on the map to other players and advertise that you’re an arsehole. You’re fair game. They’ll be able to kill you, take your stuff and not be punished.

Welcome to the Big Apple. It's gone a bit rotten.

It’s a brilliant bit of design. There’s just such great tension to the whole thing. Is that group of agents you bumped into friend or foe? Will they play nice now and betray you later? Should you push on and collect more stuff, or extract now and get out while you can? The Dark Zone is fantastic idea, with a real risk versus reward push behind it. Thanks to it, every player of The Division will have a story to tell.

But who am I kidding? For me, all of this stuff is a nice little side bonus. The story campaign, the unlocks and loot, the Dark Zone: it’s all about the numbers, really. Killing things, collecting things, equipping things and upgrading things. That’s what The Division is for me and I’m only just getting started. I won’t stop playing until every single one of those numbers are as high as they can be.

If The Division gets its hooks into you, perhaps you’ll feel the same. Perhaps you’ll join my quest for ever-better loot and ever-increasing numbers. If not, you’ll just enjoy a fun third-person cover shooter campaign that falls short of hitting the real heights. Either way you can’t go far wrong.

Tom Clancy's The Division

A co-op, third-person cover shooter with a whole load of loot-based, ability upgrading, gear crafting, stat levelling stuff built in, The Division is an entertaining game. If you want to play through all the content and move on, you’ll have a good time. If you’ve a weakness for loadout-tinkering and don’t mind grinding, it could be your new obsession.

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The Division’s audio is deliberately low key. Obvious effort has been put into making the weapons, the world and the characters feel authentic. It does its job well.


While the snowy, abandoned car-strewn streets of New York can be a little samey, the interior environments sport some great environmental storytelling. There’s a lot of detail packed into The Division.


The cover system works well and the gunplay feels satisfying, but enemy artificial intelligence and mission design doesn’t combine to make for many epic encounters. On normal difficulty at least. It’s good, it’s just not great.


A main campaign that’ll take you around 30 hours, the potentially infinite replayability of the Dark Zone, and the MMO-ish structure of the game mean that whether you play through once or get grinding for the best gear, you’ll be satisfied with what you get.


It’s not the most imaginative of lists, consisting largely of 'do this 50 times' kinda challenges, but in a game like The Division it feels appropriate. Decent.

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