Last night I made a terrible decision.
My wife was working late, and I was hungry.
I went to Burger King. I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, thanked the cashier and walked home. I unwrapped my prize to find that it didn’t look anything like the picture on the menu.
What followed was a series of cold sweated regret, and imagining that my wife would come home to find my lifeless body next to a Burger King bag, feeling no remorse because I brought this disgusting fate upon myself.
This morning, after I had finally stopped begging for death to take me and end my misery, I made two important observations:
– I’m too old for fast food.
– Life is fleeting, and I shouldn’t be wasting it on The Division.
I’m going to be frank, The Division probably isn’t a bad game. It’s made extremely well, looks pretty, and is solid on a functional level. Unfortunately, it took me close to 11 hours of gameplay to understand that this game wasn’t made for me. In fact, I’m really only playing it because of a free copy given for buying a new videocard. Therefore, this isn’t a review. It’s more of a retrospective on why not everything is meant for every person.
The Division is a loot grabbing, cover-based shooter that you play with friends. Plowing through hordes of enemies, getting cool items, and becoming the ultimate survivor badass.
On paper, The Division’s story is a kick ass premise. Isolated New York City is left to fend for itself after someone dumps a nasty virus on some petty cash and hands it out on Black Friday. What is dubbed by the game as “Dollar Flu,” becomes every New Yorker’s worst nightmare as the metro populus gets deathly ill. Everyone who lives in NYC knows this place is a germ riddled death trap. Heck, we are so gross we are even creating our own bacteria! Anyway.. People buy TVs, get sick, and start a good ol’ fashion turf war. As a former retail employee, I have no sympathy for these Black Friday victims, (should have respected your family values!) but it’s a cool idea regardless.
The problem wasn’t with the Story, or even the gameplay for that matter. They’re both solid ideas. Publisher Ubisoft is great with ideas. Where they fall flat is execution.
I have three large concerns that are keeping this game from being something great. The Map, the mechanics, and the grind. Let’s tackle those.
The Map: Snooze York City, USA
The New York City presented in this game is down right beautiful.
I really felt like I was present in a chaotic real life place. Familiar locales stand out with super accurate details. The weather effects are also some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The snow is wonderful and the rain looks cool and legit. But get past that and city’s inside is hollow, and falls flat faster than Nicolas Cage’s range of emotions.
The Division’s map is segmented in a frustrating way. You get a large chunk of (mostly accurate) NYC. I was impressed by how familiar it felt to real life. Thing is, all of the action is broken up into small areas. Safe rooms where all of the online players appear to watch each other do jumping jacks, and landmark areas where a bulk of the combat happens. If you want your gameplay to be condensed into segregated areas, that\’s fine. Cool, do what you have to do. Don’t give me a large open world and then leave all of the in-between boring and empty.
Don’t get me wrong, boring and empty can be cool if it’s done right. I’ve played hours of space exploration games where I’m staring into nothing, waiting for something cool to happen. That idea succeeds when it has a sense of wonder and reward. The Division doesn’t have that; it just has streets. What I expected was a sprawling New York City, full of survivors, fending for themselves and having interesting stories to tell. What I got was a lifeless wasteland with nothing to do between missions other than wallow down abandoned streets, closing car doors and donating my hard earned supplies to panhandlers in exchange for H&M clothes. In between that, the only thing to do is piece together the story by picking up cellphones (which apparently have incredible standby power options) and listening to voice clips not unlike Bioshock’s audio tapes. Since I said Bioshock, let’s get to the next problem area.
The Mechanics: Haven\’t I seen this somewhere?
This man is Tom Clancy.
More specifically, this is Tom Clancy, scratching his head at why this game has his name in the title because it’s already a bunch of different other games.
Remember when Rainbow Six came out? It was awesome, and original! You were taking your elite squad, spending meticulous time plotting out a plan of attack, and thwarting terrorism with an iron fist! It was unique and an experience worth holding on to.
The Division is built solid. It works, and it works well for what it is. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past this feeling that I’ve seen LITERALLY EVERYTHING it has to offer elsewhere. Everyone knows this game is a pretty shameless parallel to Destiny. Hooking up with a group of dudes, shooting waves of baddies, high-fiving, and using your spoils to become stronger. The familiarity goes way deeper than that and the aforementioned Bioshock-like audio drama. Let’s Explore a few of the games platform features.
No.. Gears of War arguably did that better…
Enemies that expel numbers when you shoot them; getting higher as you progress?
Nope.. Borderlands definitely did that better.
Cool Co-op gameplay where the tides can turn and your allies can gun you down for your spoils?!
Sorry friend… Kane and Lynch 2 did that too!
Don’t get me wrong here, there is NOTHING wrong with drawing on the inspiration of other’s successes. Look at Bruno Mars. Are you even trying , man? But when your game is built almost exclusively on the successes and ideas of others, it’s hard not to write off and forget about.
I can’t help but be reminded of Ubisoft’s last attempt at cool post-apocalyptic gameplay, “I Am Alive.”
Long before Antonio was creaming his jeans over The Last of Us, I Am Alive was a similar idea of a guy rescuing a girl, and surviving the perils of life after society. It ended up largely forgettable because it was mostly a series of recycled ideas. Much like The Division, it didn\’t have a sense of unique style. It did have one great element though. Resources were scarce, and you had to rely on your bravery to disarm enemies and survive. You could put an empty gun to a man and at gunpoint, hope he decides to back down from the encounter. Cool!
If only The Division had one of those cool ideas worth remembering. It doesn’t, though. It only has one real draw, which is the last point of criticism.
The Grind: What am I working towards?
Maybe I’m too old, too much of an antisocial hermit to enjoy games like this. I know I’m in the minority compared to my Pixelrater friends, but this game\’s lack of narrative and meaningful direction are its biggest turn off.
There’s. No. Endgoal.
The Division is a multiplayer experience. That’s fine. Infinite replayability is cool! A lot of people love Destiny! It’s why this game exists. But it’s also wrapped in a single player shell. A shell that dumps you into the abandon and doesn\’t really care about anything more than your guns and their damage-per-second ratio. It almost encourages you to finish the main story missions as fast as you can in order to squad-up and grind some more for cool gear. A big problem though, is, even in multiplayer, the only real difference from a solo experience is more bullets flying at groups of guys.
Shoot. Loot. Repeat. Your numbers go up, and the damage you take goes down. That’s the game.
If that’s your thing, great! I’m so happy this game is there for you. For people like me? There has to be more than a social hook and an endless grind to be memorable. If your narrative sucks, you are getting shelved.
If you’re really into Destiny, MMORPGS, or collecting loot, give this game a solid go. It has a lot to love there. But if you’re looking for something deeper, keep on trucking.