Returning to "The Division"

In 2013, Ubisoft announced it's vision for an almost post-apocalyptic, third-person, action RPG set in a desolate New York City, filled with dangerous factions, looters, and other players roaming it's streets - some friend, some foe.

The game immediately captured the imaginations of many (including myself), and after multiple delays, it finally released in March 2016.

Unfortunately - it wasn't all we'd hoped for.

The game felt shallow - long walks around a grid-based map, a few enemies here and there and then missions that felt like variations on a theme (clear the area, protect something, clear the area). Whereas Diablo or Destiny's loot could have magic effects such as a weapon that heals you or reloads itself instantly, The Division's weapons can only go so far from the contemporary setting. Oh, and then there was the dismal inventory management, repetitive enemy types and stingy loot progression.

The Division's killer feature, The Dark Zone, is an activity which revolves around finding loot either as a team or alone, but always with the threat of someone turning rogue, betraying the team and stealing the loot. In principle, its a fantastic idea, but in execution it devolved into spawn camping and other such griefing. It was also the only place to get the game's best weapons and armor.

The biggest problem I had with The Division, however, is that it LOOKS like a third-person shooter. It PLAYS like a third person shooter. But it's (impressively deep) RPG mechanics mean that it never quite feels right - you never FEEL like an elite agent, you just pump dozens upon dozens of rounds into enemies until they fall down.

DLC also felt like a band-aid on a fatal wound - while it was delayed to allow bug fixes, it also didn't add things in the way that traditional "MMO-lite" games would: Diablo and Destiny's DLC/Content Updates added new areas, gear, quests, anything to keep you playing. The Division added new game modes entirely -  randomly generated "dungeons" (Underground), a surprisingly ahead-of-it's-time PUBG style mode (Survival), and a PVP mode for the hardcore that had acquired gear that could make mincemeat of less committed players such as myself.

It wasn't all bad, however. Environmental storytelling, interesting side missions, plenty of NPC dialogue and matchmaking for every activity (DO YOU HEAR THAT BUNGIE?!)

So with all that said, why have I gone back to it? The reasons are twofold.

1) Destiny 2 fell apart as soon as the campaign was finished. No endgame to speak of and a PVP mode that is a huge step back from the original. The game I hoped would be my "Looter Shooter" until Bioware's Anthem had fallen away within a month of launch. The DLC was also insultingly short, sparse and uninteresting.

2) Ubisoft and Massive have committed to a steady stream of FREE(!!!) updates, including the most recent 1.8 update that adds an entirely new area to the map, with story content too.

So whats changed?

The key changes for me, as someone that dropped out of The Division midway through the campaign are as follows:

- Weapons actually feel useful. Not like peashooters, and still allowing enough challenge, but gunfights no longer feel like shooting into bullet-sponges ad-nauseum. Yes, boss enemies are still tough to crack, but it's infinitely more playable than before. In fact, I think The Division's general shooting mechanics are almost on a par with those found in the best third-person shooters such as Gears of War.

- Gear drops at a decent rate. Almost everything you do in the Division rewards you in some way. I've been working my way through side missions to be ready for the next area. I'm only at level 21 so I can't speak to the endgame, but every few missions I'm finding new ways to improve my character.

- New "High Value Targets" popping up while exploring is great fun. Turning a corner to see a higher level enemy is exciting, and taking them down feels like just the right amount of challenge.

- Either the Inventory system was tweaked or I just understand it a bit better now. It isn't perfect, but I'm learning!

These may seem to be fairly minor changes, but it's created that loop of kill, upgrade, kill, upgrade that Destiny 1 hooked me with back in the day and I'm so glad Massive and Ubisoft built on what was a great base. I should also mention that the game is beautiful, and hasn't even received it's 4K Xbox One X patch yet.

If you've not jumped into The Division in a while, or ever, you're now getting the best version of the game possible. You can grab the game (sans season pass) at the time of writing on Amazon for £6.99 on PS4 - an absolute steal with the swathe of content on offer.

I'd also like to give a huge shout out to Skill Up on Youtube. His "Re-Review" of The Division this month is exemplary - its a long one, but its also expertly edited and narrated.

So there you have it - The Division in 2018 is now my current go-to. Who'd have expected that?!

Thanks for reading!