Gaming

Revisiting: ‘The Division’ (2016)

ScreenCritics takes a look back at 2016’s ‘The Division’. How has such a hyped game managed to disappear from mainstream gaming?

It’s hard to believe, but it was only 14 months ago that gamers were eagerly anticipating the arrival of Ubisoft’s next-gen behemoth. The Division was intended to be the culmination of years work and planning-  a game changer for the industry that finally would have a fleshed out tent pole online experience in the AAA-space. Sadly it didn’t take long for the hype to subside, as gamers realised Ubisoft had shot well short of the mark. Largely forgotten and often overlooked, what happened to The Division?

I’ll freely admit, I was one of those unfortunate suckers who fell for the hype around this game. After years of teases and some of the best E3 reactions ever – it was hard to avoid buying into the hype. I believed it would keep me occupied for a long time (I had been burned before by DayZ and ESO but remained optimistic) yet within a few short weeks, the warning signs were there. The Division’s burgeoning community could sense something going wrong.

The Division sees a scientist unleash a mutated virus onto New York during Black Friday. Millions die and groups of bad guys spring up to try and police the city their way – creating an iconic backdrop for the game. You are sent in as a Division agent, a sleeper agent who will only be activated in case of a dire emergency such as this one, the first wave to be sent in have gone dark and it’s up to you to help the JTF to regain order.

Perhaps the biggest misstep was just how uneven the experience was.  The story has a fantastic base to work from but unfortunately never feels truly explored. This isn’t helped by an endless parade of bosses that are bland and boring; combined with normal enemies that  are predictable and easy to defeat. The missions are a nice change of pace at first allowing for variation and a chance to explore back alleys and buildings but even this eventually become stale with the same missions types constantly popping up after level 10. Put bluntly – there’s no variety on show.

The main missions are no better – with cut and paste objectives that are often recycled; making missions linear and dull to experience. The entire thing is paced like a bad 90’s action film, with enemies attacking almost one at a time. There’s no sense of escalating drama or stakes throughout, just a marker telling you where you need to get to.

The combat was also a huge let down, reduced to duck and shoot tactics that rarely spiced up proceedings. Enemies were largely dumb too, meaning battles followed predictable patterns. The levelling system was also a bone of contention for me, as when starting a new game if you complete all missions and find all extra phone messages, echo’s and the like, you can end up three or four levels ahead of enemies and defeat them too easily. The decision to have enemy levels remain static was a shock for someone who has played the Elder Scrolls games and was used to enemies levelling at the same rate as the player.

Even with the release of the Underground and Survival – it felt like Ubisoft had forgotten about their title. More of the same rather than anything new and exciting to bring gamers into the world Ubisoft were trying to craft. It’s a sad state of affairs, and the dwindling player numbers have always suggested there was little here beyond the initial hype.

The reality is that The Division could have been something special. With so many lagging online-focused games this generation, the potential was there for a game which opened the doors and showcased just how amazing an experience playing with friends could be. Yet with a story that just fizzles into nothing and poor combat controls – it seems destined to be another game consigned to the pages of videogame history. Even the Dark Zone content became more about PVP and rogue agents watching over extraction zones that it would make everyone rage who went in there. Ubisoft’s recent addition of a 6 v 6 area just makes the game less an open world adventure and more an exercise in how to become another generic shooter.

Its been almost 14 months and I think we can all agree The Division is essentially a non entity. That’s such a shame for a game which had so much potential. Hopefully whatever Ubisoft have planned next for the franchise can help it to achieve its aims more clearly. As a piece of entertainment, The Division was certainly lacking.

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