“The good old days are now.” –Tom Clancy
The Division‘s premise is well-known by this point in time: during Black Friday, a smallpox epidemic caused by contaminated bank notes brings New York to its knees, forcing the activation of the stay-behind units, known as the Division, to help law enforcement and emergency responders, the Joint Task Force, restore order. After arriving in Brooklyn, players assist the Joint Task Force (JTF) in securing supplies and a precinct station before meeting with another agent, Faye Lau. Players make their way to Manhattan Island and arrive at the James A. Farley Post Office Building, which has been repurposed as a make-shift command center. Severely understaffed and under-equipped, players retrieve medical expert Jessica Kandel, engineer Paul Rhodes and Captain Roy Benitez by fighting through the Madison Square Garden, subway tunnels and Lincoln Tunnel entrance, respectively. With the base of operations slowly restored, players can begin exploring other parts of Manhattan to help Kandel work out how the smallpox epidemic started, keep the facilities operational for Rhodes and aid Benitez in security-related details. I am, in short, back to where I was when The Division‘s open beta ended last February. In my original discussion, I remarked that my decision to buy The Division would be determined by whether or not there was sufficient content in the game once it launched; post-launch, it was shown that The Division has a solid narrative that creates a highly immersive, compelling background for the game. While The Division is a loot-based shooter, the amount of minor details that went into explaining how the smallpox epidemic came to be is nothing short of impressive, and so, once the price point became suitable, I decided to pick the game up a year and a half after its launch.
My current plan is to play through The Division as a solo player – my interests in The Division was largely in its atmosphere and setting, rather than the Dark Zone and any endgame content. There’s a substantial campaign to The Division, and this can be completed alone, allowing me to explore the empty streets of Manhattan at my own leisure. It is in solo play that the enormity of what’s hit Manhattan becomes apparent: taking on missions on my own means being forced to rely on my wit to assess a situation and determine how to best handle it. Escaping pinches boils down to reflexes and good use of gear. It’s a thrilling solitary experience, giving players the sense of just how challenging the process of dealing with the aftermath of a large-scale epidemic in a first-world nation is. Solo play through the campaign offers a more authentic experience, and I’ve experienced only moderate difficulty in making my way though things thus far – after readjusting to The Division‘s unique control scheme, things have progressed relatively smoothly, and I’ve finished off all of the major missions available during the open beta. This sets me up for continuing the process of upgrading all of the wings in the base of operations to access all of the different talents and abilities available, all the while diving deeper into Manhattan and uncovering the cause for the smallpox epidemic seen in The Division, as well as what caused the first group of Division agents to disappear.
Screenshots and Commentary
- During the open beta, I spawned in at level four and was already on Manhattan. However, in the completed game, players start out with an MP5 and a pistol on Brooklyn. After ISAC, the player’s AI assistant, walks them through the tutorial for the basics, players can meet up with JTF forces at a local safehouse and undertake their first few missions. The streets of Manhattan are rather monotonous to traverse, and safehouses allow for quick travel across the island.
- The first few missions of The Division introduce players to the different types of missions available in the game. They aren’t very diverse with respect to what they entail: main missions will involve entering a subterranean or closed off area to clear off hordes of enemies before defeating a boss. Side missions and encounters will involve completing tasks in a set amount of time, defending supplies or a JTF commander, rescuing hostages or investigating missing persons. Enemies are similarly limited in variety. This is a longstanding shortcoming in The Division, but I’m okay with this aspect, since the game makes up for this with its world-building elements.
- Unlike first person shooters, where health is easily acquired as pick-ups or regenerates automatically, The Division is a cover-based shooter, where players must hide behind cover and strategically use it to win firefights. Careful, controlled bursts of automatic weapon fire and retreating behind cover to reload, or moving from cover to cover improves survivability. Here, I begin the precinct siege mission, which involves clearing out a police installation and taking it back so the JTF can use it as a headquarters.
- The skyline of Manhattan is visible in the distance, as is the Brooklyn Bridge. Once the boss to the precinct siege mission is beaten, players will travel over to Manhattan, where the game proper begins. Bosses in The Division are characterised by their yellow health bars and an additional layer of armour on top, which must be stripped away before any damage can be dealt to them. I’ve found that engaging bosses at longer ranges with a modicum of patience is ideal – once the armour is gone, bosses go down with almost the same ease as standard opponents.
- As I make my way to the base of operations, Christmas lights and decorations can be seen everywhere. The Division is set in the months following Black Friday; this is usually the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States, leading into the Christmas season, and as a result, one of the things that I was looking to do was play The Division during Christmas, when folks have set up all of their Christmas decorations.
- Christmas is a busy season, and can be quite stressful, as well, especially for folks who are preparing for the arrival of relatives. However, in my family, Christmas has always been a highly relaxing time of year: we’ve never gone overboard with preparations and have placed greater emphasis on togetherness over how grandiose the events are. This Christmas, we have no plans for travelling, having already visited Japan and Hong Kong during May, and so, I look forwards to a quiet Christmas that I will likely spend reading, gaming and if the weather is favourable, taking a bit of a walk in the nearby hills.
- On the topic of weather, one of the best features of The Division is the dynamic time of day and weather systems: snowfall and fog can change the atmosphere, as well as forcing players to modify their play-style to accommodate shifting weather patterns, while lighting differences between day and night give locales a completely different feel.
- We’re now a mere fifteen days from Christmas, and therefore, Christmas festivities have become much more visible. Yesterday morning, I visited the Edelweiß Village, a speciality market selling German, Dutch, Polish and Scandinavian foods, as well as crafts. I’ve long been interested in aspects of German culture and took all of the German language courses during my time in high school, visiting the Edelweisß village on a field trip, where one of the requirements was to order a complete lunch auf Deutsch.
- During the evening, I had dinner at a newly renovated Chinese restaurant; there was a special five course meal that was superbly prepared, featuring pumpkin-and-salmon soup, lobster salad, triple-A Alberta Beef with a black pepper sauce, white-cut chicken and sweet and sour pork. This restaurant’s cooking was superb, bringing to mind the sort of quality I recall enjoying at an upper-scale restaurant at a hotel in Shanghai some years back. I’ve heard that in Cantonese cooking, the freshness of ingredients can be inferred by how much spice and seasoning is used in a dish; last night’s ingredients were definitely fresh given the minimal (but well-adjusted) use of spices and seasonings.
- I spent most of today doing my Christmas shopping and are finished for the year; this is perhaps one of the advantages of being a free agent, in that I don’t have to buy something for a significant other. A South Street Burger also opened at the local mall, so we had a chance to try their grill burgers: they’re definitely larger and more flavourful than conventional fast food burgers, with fresher ingredients. I ended up combining maple syrup with jalapeño peppers to create a uniquely-tasking burger, and once lunch ended, I proceeded to finish my shopping.
- The malls were not particularly crowded today, despite it being quite close to Christmas, making the shopping process rather straightforwards. Back in The Division, I’ve returned to the Madison Square Garden to rescue Jessica Kandel. I think I was equipped with the M4 rifle and MP5 on my first play through during the open beta, but here, I’ve swapped out the MP5 for the RPK light machine gun. I would have preferred to have a good marksman weapon on hand, as well, as this would have made taking on the boss a bit more straightforwards.
- Admittedly, one of the reasons why I initially was not keen on The Division (besides that price tag), was that I would need to go back through and do all of these missions again. However, playing through them again proved to be a different experience. Inspection of my HUD shows that here, I’ve got the ballistic shield ability equipped with proximity scan. During my original play-through during the open beta, I had only the proximity scan slot open. Despite being the first ability available, proximity scan remains immensely useful well into the late game, being able to pick out the location of different threats.
- The other ability I have equipped here is a ballistic shield that blocks incoming damage, while limiting players to their sidearms. I’ve personally only found limited use for it, but the ability is fantastic for situations where there is not much cover, and players who improve their sidearm performance can perform very well with a ballistic shield.
- Being armed with an LMG is actually quite useful for a boss fight. I normally run with assault rifles in The Division for their general versatility; LMGs can hit quite hard and have a good firing rate, becoming more accurate as they are fired, while marksman rifles can deal bonus headshot damage. Shotguns are capable of one-shot killing enemies at close ranges, and PDWs have the highest probability of dealing critical damage to enemies, but are similarly limited to close ranges.
- After rescuing Kandel, the next mission I did was the subway morgue, where the goal was to find Rhodes. I’ve featured a fair number of screenshots during my talk on The Division‘s open beta, so there won’t be too many more screenshots of this level here. With this being said, the level hasn’t changed too much since the beta, and one of the other elements of The Division that stands out is that interiors of buildings, tunnels sewers and other areas are incredibly detailed.
- Cleaners are quite entertaining to fight, since they carry large, flammable tanks on their backs that can be ignited for massive damage. Here, I deal with Benchley a second time: he’s armed with a flamethrower that has more range than those of the other Cleaners, but keeping him at bay and returning fire made this mission a straightforwards one to beat. At this point in the beta, I already had a marksman rifle, but lacking one, I improvised with an LMG.
- The Division‘s open beta did not feature the Lincoln Tunnel checkpoint mission, which unlocks the security wing at the base of operations when completed: I visited this site for the first time and found a sea of abandoned vehicles. In reality, the Lincoln Tunnels are one of the most busy traffic links from Manhattan to New Jersey and was opened in 1937. It is considered to be a high risk target for terrorists owing to how much traffic moves through it, and in The Division, it is how the JTF have managed to ferry supplies into Manhattan to help recovery efforts.
- The medical wing provides players with abilities and talents that improve survivability, while the tech wing offers upgrades for their skills. The security wing provides players access to better weapons. All of the wings require a total of 4000 supply points to unlock, and these can be accrued by playing main missions, as well as finishing encounters. In general, main missions and side missions are the best way to gain experience points for levelling up, while encounters offer much less experience. I’ll only do encounters if they’re en route to a main or side mission to save time.
- At high settings, The Division doesn’t look too different than on medium, which is what I was playing on during the open beta. An upgraded GPU has allowed me to push the game a little and gain more frame rates: my old GPU could only run the game at 40 FPS, but I’ve had no trouble maintaining a steady 60 FPS at 1080p with my current GPU. I make my way through the tunnel here, admiring the water effects on the road surface as I push closer to the floodgate.
- Finch is equipped with a sniper rifle here, and despite being two levels lower than myself, proved to be a challenge to fight because I did not have my own long-range solution. I eventually closed the distance using the RPK to suppress him and managed to best him. For The Division, I will likely write about the game every ten levels and at other interesting milestones, and with this comment, the post comes to an end. Upcoming posts will include a talk on Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! now that we’re past the three-quarters mark, and a pair of posts on some additional content in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. In addition, Battlefield 1‘s Turning Tides DLC is releasing the first two of its new maps tomorrow, so I’m looking forwards to seeing how the new maps and weapons play out.
With the journey projected to last quite a few hours, I look forwards to seeing what The Division‘s campaign has to offer most: at the end game, I may swing by the Dark Zone to try my hand at procuring better gear for kicks, but at the end of the day, I’m largely here to dive into a world that is simultaneously intriguing and terrifying, working towards uncovering the mystery and exploring what is probably the most detailed incarnation of Manhattan in gaming. Coupled with the game’s unique UI and AR-like elements, The Division‘s campaign and atmospherics are easily its strongest points. The game is presently still being expanded upon and patched; one of the recent things I’ve heard is that some of the end-game events and activities have been modified to be more accessible for solo players, and if this proves to be true, it would be quite entertaining to come back once I’ve hit level thirty and see how I do on my own against the enemies of the Dark Zone, as well as some of the more involved challenge missions. In the meantime, it’s time to continue the campaign in The Division: it’s been great to continue on the journey that I started during the open beta.