The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Tag Archives: Gameplay

Wolfire Overgrowth: Review and Reflection

“At my last job, the tools had no Ctrl-Z, so I learned to be perfect on first try.” —Aubrey Serr, Wolfire Team

Set after the events of Lagaru, Overgrowth follows Turner after he defeated the alpha wolf and the corrupt monarch, Hickory, avenging the death of his family. Since then, he has wandered Lugaru seeking a new purpose. After bandits begin ravaging the island, Turner decides to investigate and help dispossessed find a new home in a mythical island in the sky. Turner reluctantly help those in need, finding himself entangled in a much deeper conflict involving slavery. Fighting his way through frigid glaciers and distant swamps, Turner is captured by the cats and proves his combat prowess in the arena, before killing off the leader of the cats. Turner eventually reaches the island and after ascending its sheer walls, reaches the top, where he kills its leaders. No longer denied homes, the rabbits aiding Turner find a new home, and Turner himself sets off, continuing to seek his purpose. This is Overgrowth‘s main campaign; clocking in at around four hours, it’s concise and accompanied by a remastered version of Lagaru, Overgrowth‘s predecessor. The game’s defining feature is that its development started around a decade ago, and in its finished form, the title very much feels like a demonstration of Wolfire’s Phoenix Engine, which is a technically impressive system; the main campaign showcases the different physics aspects available in Overgrowth, as well as a highly-evolved combat system. However, with only a pair of short campaigns and a few modes beyond this, Overgrowth comes across as being much more limited in content.

Overall, the combat and parkour system in Overgrowth are the game’s greatest strengths. The context-based fighting system is quick to learn but has a remarkably high skill ceiling: like Receiver, Overgrowth is very punishing. As Turner, players are able to hold their own on skill, but brute force will quickly result in death. Overgrowth‘s campaign rewards players who strategically make use of the environment to survive, as well as those who’ve taken the time to learn the fighting system. Consequently, every successful kill in the campaign is a satisfying one, and the game reinforces this by slowing things down on each kill. It is incredibly satisfying to survive a fight against large groups of opponents, whether they be other rabbits, rats, dogs, cats or the nigh-unstoppable wolves. Each of the different opponent types require a unique approach: Turner can stand toe-to-toe with other rabbits and rats, but cats, dogs and wolves involve strategy in order for Turner to survive. Turner can also make use of weapons to bolster his survivability in a fight, and against superior opponents, the terrain becomes an ally, as well – I’ve won most fights against wolves simply by kicking them off ledges. Similarly, Overgrowth has a particular emphasis on navigating vertical landscape features to reach a destination. While the controls are a bit challenging, once mastered, players can scale sheer walls and jump across vast distances. It is as satisfying to climb to the top of a structure as it is to survive a fight, and on both counts, Overgrowth‘s central features are well-implemented. With a narrative tying things together, it was superbly enjoyable to see the game exit the beta stage and become a full-fledged, if somewhat short, title that could form the basis for a much more content-rich game: it’s clear that the Phoenix Engine is quite powerful, and with the basics finished, I would like to see Wolfire use this engine to its full potential with a game that has a more detailed story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been just a little less than four years since I bought Overgrowth during a Steam Sale while the game was still in its alpha stages: I experimented with the game only briefly and did not have too much to say about it, but now that Overgrowth is technically finished, with two campaigns, the game’s worth returning to, and returning for the first time since 2014, I’m impressed with the lighting effects and visuals.

  • While Overgrowth‘s textures are a bit dated and the lower polygon count is visible, the lighting effects and sense of scale in the maps have seen considerable improvements since the early days of the alpha. Missions in Overgrowth‘s campaign are usually broken up into two types: ascension and combat. Ascension missions involve parkour to reach the top of a map, and combat missions entail fighting a large number of enemy combatants.

  • As a rabbit, Turner can jump great distances, an ability that is useful for both parkour and combat as a defensive tactic; being able to escape swarms of enemies is especially important, since Overgrowth lacks a HUD: Turner will go down every quickly to large numbers of enemies, and against certain kinds of enemies, will die in a single blow. Thus, a large part of the gameplay is picking one’s engagements wisely and making use of the environment to assist in combat.

  • In conjunction with punches, kicks and blocks, Turner can silently dispatch enemies by means of stealth take downs to avoid alerting nearby enemies. The AI in Overgrowth has been meticulously designed and will begin investigating if players are not careful in their approach: once combat breaks out, all stealth goes out the window, and fighting multiple opponents simultaneously is difficult, so like most stealth games, if one can commit to not being spotted, missions in Overgrowth become much more straightforwards to complete.

  • Weapons in Overgrowth come in two varieties: two handed weapons that deal massive damage at the expense of mobility, and one-handed weapons that can be employed very quickly. Weapons can be thrown, although the AI will pick up any missed weapons and use them against Turner, block them with weapons of their own or even throw them back. When used properly, weapons can one-shot most opponents.

  • A Chinese-style junk is visible at this port city: Turner visits a vast range of locations in his travels, and while Overgrowth‘s narrative is constrained by a lack of cohesiveness, it does allow players to see a variety of locations. Wolfire only has four employees, all of whom have backgrounds in programming, development and 3D modelling: Overgrowth is by far their largest title, and so, it is understandable that Overgrowth does not have a more powerful story or voice acting.

  • Water effects in Overgrowth are impressive, but there’s no opportunity to go swimming in Overgrowth: if Turner falls into deep water, he will die instantly. Overgrowth states that rabbits cannot swim to explain this mechanic: while rabbits can in fact swim to escape dangers, this is an action they are absolutely not fond of, since they become waterlogged very quickly. The resulting cold and panic can lead to drowning, and since rabbits can be literally scared to death by a shocking change in conditions (by the way, this is the correct way of using ‘literally’ in a sentence), rabbits avoid swimming where possible.

  • With a pair of swords in hand, I effortlessly decimate all of the crew on board the junk, including the boss that comes out. Blood effects and ragdolls in Overgrowth are fun, adding satisfaction to finishing each fight. Besides swords and knives, spears and staffs are also available. Weapons can be sheathed when not in use, and there are occasions where it’s better not to have weapons drawn, since they can be knocked from one’s hands during the heat of combat.

  • Besides other rabbits and mice, Turner will also encounter dogs, cats and wolves in Overgrowth. Having weapons allows Turner to even the odds out somewhat, but Wolves, being the most powerful animal in the game, can absolutely tear Turner apart. Getting up here from the ocean was no cakewalk, involving all of my resourcefulness to find spots on the shear walls to parkour up. I ended up beating the wolf by using the jump kick, an overpowered move that propels enemies back, and kicked it off a ledge.

  • The jump kick is a fantastic move for creating space and dealing massive damage to enemies, but because it propels Turner back a large distance, as well, there are risks to using it. Wolfire has since patched Overgrowth so that AI will respond more effectively towards jump kicks by evading: it proved incredibly effective against wolves, who could be insta-killed if they were kicked over ledges and fell great distances.

  • I spent a portion of Christmas Day and Boxing Day playing Overgrowth; the cold, snowy environments perfectly capture the feel of a frigid Canadian winter, and I recall the many attempts it took to sneak past the dogs and lure them into single combat. I eventually managed to best them, and savoured the victory: if there’s anything Overgrowth excels at, it’s creating a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with each fight won.

  • Like ReceiverOvergrowth is very unforgiving with its gameplay, and this is compounded by the lack of a UI; to counteract this, Overgrowth allows for near-instant respawns that put players right back into the things. This feature allows one to experiment with different approaches towards a problem until a solution is found.

  • I recall a six-on-one fight in one of the glacier missions where the ability to instantly respawn proved to be superbly useful: guards travel in pairs in this mission, and taking one out while the other is not looking is not possible. I ended up using stealth to take one out before going loud with a weapon with the other. The combat system in Overgrowth is very complex, and while easy to learn, mastering the controls is another story.

  • Turner goes from fighting in the cold glaciers to fighting in a fetid swamp. While lacking the steep drops of the glacier missions, the swamp is a dreary place that is quite easy to get lost in, and the lack of a HUD forces players to keep an eye on visual cues in the environment in order to figure out where to go next. They can be subtle, especially under low light conditions, and so, players might be forced to backtrack and explore.

  • Fighting rats in the swamps turned out to be relatively straightforwards: rats aren’t particularly challenging as a foe. Looking back, Overgrowth‘s development timeline was probably the biggest impediment the game had during its developer cycle. People wondered if the game would ever exit the alpha stage, and while the developers were constantly pushing updates, the game remained in alpha and beta stages for a few years.

  • One aspect of Overgrowth that sees very little discussion elsewhere is the game’s soundtrack. Composed by Mikko Tarmia, the music of Overgrowth is majestic, brooding and fits the game’s setting of a post-apocalyptic world. I would absolutely love to see a soundtrack, which, unfortunately, is not available for purchase at the time of writing. I recall listening to the game’s main theme frequently while writing Objective-C code, and because of our lab’s yearly excursions to Canmore, the soundtrack also reminds me of the mountains and valleys on the way leading into Banff National Park.

  • It attests to how much time has passed, now that Objective-C is being phased out in favour of Swift; when I began my time as an undergraduate researcher seven summers ago, I was a volunteer. My initial applications for funding were unsuccessful, but I decided to stick it out, since my goal was to learn, and two months in, I managed to build a simple model of blood oxygenation and deoxygenation in the lab’s custom game engine. Impressed, my supervisor switched me over to a funded programme, and I began work on a fluid flow model using agent-based approaches.

  • The mission to climb to the top of a tree and reach that glowing bucket proved to be an exercise in patience, and like the ascent to the top of a snow-covered mountain, it was immensely rewarding to actually reach the top and finish the objective. This is probably the “sense of pride and accomplishment” that all game developers want their players to experience; while the way to the top is marked by bioluminescent fungus, Overgrowth offers few other cues and suggestions, leaving players to work out how to get to the top.

  • By my second year, I managed to win the OCSS, a small scholarship for students enrolled in the Health Sciences program to do summer research. That summer, I continued on with my flow model after implementing a selectively permeable membrane system. Work on the flow model proceeded into June, and after spending many summer days tuning it, I was surprised to see my entities moving in a convoluted vessel without being stuck in the walls. I subsequently tried the algorithm out on a nephron model that we had, and it proved successful, so I spent the remainder of the summer trying to mimic renal flow and reabsorption, making use of the selectively permeable membranes in the process.

  • The camp in the swamp is such a visually impressive level with its lighting effects, and while quite difficult to nagivate, it was worth exploring every corner of this map to find the exit after all enemies had been eliminated. During this level, the intense fighting meant that I lost my weapons, but Overgrowth‘s jump kicks are overpowered to the point where they can be used if one lacks weapons. On a map with no ledges, this tactic is not a particularly dangerous one.

  • During my third summer in my undergraduate program, I did not return to the lab until August, having been entangled with the MCAT, but once that finished, I helped get a paper submission off the ground. By my fourth year, my old work with the nephrons eventually led me to build a multi-scale renal model in our lab’s in-house game engine, and I returned to this project that summer with an NSERC USRP award, building a distributed model that allowed different computers to share information with one another. In this implementation, I had one computer handle the renal calculations and the other handle cardiac functions. As they shared data, their visualisations, run locally, would be updated.

  • As we reach the end of Overgrowth‘s campaign, the levels become much more ominous in nature, featuring lavafalls and hellish environments. I fight in an arena here against increasingly difficult opponents, until at last, wolves are introduced. Wolves are terrifyingly powerful – Turner is no match for one in a straight-up fight, so I utilised hit-and-fade techniques, making use of distance to my advantage and waiting for the right moment to jump-kick a wolf into the lava below, which is an instant death. There was an occasion where I mis-timed one of my jumps and took myself out, but in the end, I managed to secure the win.

  • Turner is tasked with retrieving something whose value I cannot quite remember, but what I do remember of this mission is that it involves ascending ever-higher. It was quite the achievement to reach the top of the map and make my way back down: the way down was actually quite tricky, and even with the bioluminiscent markers helping, there were a few occasions where I overestimated how much falling damage that Turner could take.

  • Turner is later pitted against opponents of varying difficulty in another arena, and it was here that limitations in the pathfinding for some of the AI became visible. I exploited these limitations to win all of my matches, and during one match, managed to wrench a weapon from an opponent and turned things around instantly. While the organisers of the match are impressed, Turner will have none of this and proceeds to masacre all within the arena, including the cats running the event.

  • After killing off everything in sight, Turner must escape the cat’s desert city. The streets are unusually quiet, and it’s a good idea to hold onto any weapons one may have for the upcoming fight ahead: a number of cats stand between Turner and freedom, but compared to the fight in the arena, this one is relatively straightforward in nature.

  • Unlike the Wolfire Team, who continued to develop their Phoenix Engine until its reached the level of sophistication that it’s at today, our lab slowly phased out the in-house game engine once Unity made their engine freely available. While our own engine was robust, powerful and extensible, its biggest constraint was that it was not optimised; even simple simulations only ran at around 30 FPS, and more complex simulations would drop down to 10 FPS. This coincided with the arrival of The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and when I managed to build a functional prototype within two weeks, Jay Ingram and my supervisor were impressed with the engine’s capabilities. Since then, my old lab has used both Unity and Unreal.

  • While I’ve remarked that Overgrowth reminds me of Canmore and its surroundings, one should not expect to find such a structure in Canmore. This is the legendary country in the sky that was being referred to throughout Overgrowth. This is the culmination of all of the parkour and ascension skills that players have accumulated over the course of Overgrowth, and even then, climbing up here is no walk in the park. There are long jumps and tricky catches to make: any mistake will send Turner falling many metres into the water below, resulting in an instant death.

  • With the Phoenix Engine in a good state, one wonders if the Wolfire team will hire script writers and voice actors for any titles they might choose to make in the future. Since Overgrowth, I’ve not heard any news that the Wolfire team will be moving onto new projects, and from the looks of things, they will continue improving Overgrowth. In the time since I completed this game, two patches have come out to improve the AI and game performance.

  • I stop for a few moments to admire the scenery up here before continuing on. Once reaching the top, a brief fight awaits Turner. Beating down the tower’s leaders will bring an end to Overgrowth, and while the campaign was very short lived, it was quite entertaining. The fights are easily the best aspect of Overgrowth, especially with respect to how things slow down when a zone is cleared.

  • Overall, while I cannot say I recommend Overgrowth as a game, I can say that the game is a very pleasant reminder of my days as a university student. I bought the game mainly as a token of thanks for the Wolfire team, whose efforts and updates motivated me to delve further into the world of biological visualisations. With this being said, if people do not mind the shorter campaign and somewhat unoptimised performance, and they have a greater interest in all of the map tools than I did, then Overgrowth is not a particularly bad purchase, especially if on a sale; there are a host of worse ways of spending 33 CAD.

Having been in development since 2008, Overgrowth definitely feels dated with respect to its visuals, but the Wolfire team’s efforts have resulted in a superbly mature game engine that handles Overgrowth‘s fighting and parkour system well. The campaign is quite short, and it appears that the flexibility of Overgrowth‘s game engine stems from a desire for the community to create their own content. Work on this engine is why Overgrowth‘s development has spanned the greater part of a decade: I learned of Overgrowth during my first summer as an undergraduate researcher – my old research lab had developed its own game engine in-house to provide a 3D space in which to model and visualise biological systems. The lead developer on this project drew inspiration from Overgrowth‘s map editor, especially the transformation, rotation and scaling tools, to make it easier for objects to be placed in 3D space. This in-house game engine powered my thesis, and while it’s been replaced by commercially-available game engines like Unity, it formed the basis for the work that I would end up doing for my Master’s Thesis. Consequently, while Overgrowth might not be an impressive title from an entertainment perspective, there are features in Overgrowth that directly inspired the work at our lab. Improvements to our in-house game engine’s ease-of-use and navigation eventually led me to build a visualisation of the renal system at different scales, complete with a mathematical model to depict responses of my virtual renal system to various stimuli, for my undergraduate thesis. I watched the map editor demonstration and its accompanying humour eight years ago and found it deeply inspiring for my work; I ended up buying Overgrowth in its early access stage to support the development as a bit of thanks in 2013, after I had successfully defended my undergraduate thesis.

Tom Clancy’s The Division: How Global Events and Yuru Camp△ Led to the All-Exotic Loadout

“I’d rather talk to people who do things than complain about other people who do things. I say they’re idiots.” —Tom Clancy

Since I last wrote about The Division, I’ve put in an additional forty hours into the end-game. The Division 2 was announced, and an unveiling will likely occur at this year’s E3; in the build-up to this, Ubisoft has held a month-long series of Global Events, which modify gameplay throughout The Division. There are four types of events: Outbreak, which focuses on headshots, the close-quarters Assault, the bombastic Strike, and Ambush, which favours tactical play. These events add a considerable amount of incentive to revisit The Division, and by my admission, I’ve spent the past month playing almost nothing but The Division: the modifiers introduced by Global Events have made it possible to pull off stunts that ordinarily would not be possible. I’ve managed to solo challenging missions on my own with these modifiers, and have even partied up with random players on legendary missions. These missions feature LMB forces that are far deadlier than standard enemies: for most players, solo play in legendary missions is not an option, and so, like Rin of Yuru Camp△, who learned the joys of camping with a group, I’ve come to experience a side of The Division that I might have otherwise skated over. The Global Events were a powerful motivator in leading me towards the Legendary missions; in these missions, I found a completely different side to The Division, facing enemies unlike anything I’d seen previously. Through basic teamwork, I managed to help out my groups in prevailing over foes of overwhelming calibre, earning new equipment and gear in the process to build an all-exotic loadout, something that I was looking to accomplish ever since reaching level thirty.

In the process, it would seem that I’ve more or less experienced the thematic elements of Yuru Camp△ from Rin’s perspective as a consequence of the Global Events. Although it’s take little persuasion beyond the possibility of exotic caches, playing with a group of randoms in The Division aligns very closely with Rin’s learnings in Yuru Camp△: much as how I went through a majority of The Division as a solo player, completing missions and counting on my own wits and resourcefulness to get by, Rin enjoys the solitude of camping on her own, calling on her experience to plan out a time that she enjoys. However, when she begins travelling further on her own, the unknown surprises her and leaves her uncertain of what to do next. Reaching higher world tiers in The Division was a similar experience: there comes a point when solo play in The Division breaks down: without that perfectly rolled gear set and weapon talents, in conjunction with the right skills and perks, players can be eliminated very easily, much as how Rin would require more experience before camping further on her own. However, with a party to work with, teamwork allows individuals to achieve together what would be very difficult to accomplish independently. Rin discovers this when camping with Nadeshiko, and I found this out in The Division during the Global Events, when I accidentally used matchmaking and joined a group of players doing a mission I could have soloed. The advantages of a team led me to wonder what legendary missions were like, and I decided to try the Time Square Relay mission; Rin similarly consents to camping with Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena when remembering Chiaki’s assistance and the companionship that Nadeshiko provided when they camped at Lake Shibare. For her open-mindedness, Rin is rewarded with an unparalleled camping experience, and for my troubles in trying out group play in The Division, I now have an all-exotic loadout.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • One of the challenges in the Dark Zone at world tier five is that unlike the other world tiers, which were largely empty, there are plenty of people in the tier five Dark Zone. Extracting gear solo is nigh-impossible not because of enemy NPCs, but other players looking to prey on solo players. As a result, I’ve largely stopped using the Dark Zone to get good gear, but the Dark Zone remains fine for just entering and testing one’s loadouts against the tougher enemies in here.

  • I would suppose that it could be fun to collect gear for a good PvP build, then call in extractions and attach onto the chopper a single item of no value, then attack the players who’ve turned rogue for fun. A simpler method that wouldn’t involve any new gear on my part is to simply run around to every extraction site and request an extraction: besides saturating would-be-rogues with enough bogus extractions so they wouldn’t know where to run, calling in extractions would also spawn enemy NPCs that can be killed for Dark Zone experience. My journey to leveling up in the Dark Zone has slowed to a crawl ever since the Global Events went live, as I’ve been quite interested in seeing how the different modifiers impact gameplay.

  • Today’s page quote is another Tom Clancy quote; as a bit of a stab against armchair experts and those believe virtue signalling has value, I similarly believe that the only people whose opinions are worth respecting are those who do something: it’s far easier to talk to someone who’s actually gone and done something, as opposed to people who while away their days on the internet and never end up putting in an effort to create or do something meaningful. A Place Further Than The Universe deals with taking this first step: like Yuru Camp△, the anime reminds viewers that these first steps can be easier with friends and well worth it. So for all the folks out there who count themselves as inadequate, I would argue that it’s never too late to start out on this journey and become people who do and make, rather than people who can only complain.

  • Different players have different strategies for dealing with rogue agents; after being killed by a rogue on one occasion, I coordinated with another solo player to get some revenge. For my troubles, I got some Dark Zone funds and recovered all of my gear for extraction. On another occasion, I was killed by a group of rogues, tried coming back for revenge and got their leader down to around half health before he opened up his comms and apologised. I get that people are playing in the Dark Zone for fun, and I’ve accepted the risk of dying to rogues, so when rogue players happen, my inclination is to simply respond in kind for fun, so if a player no longer wishes to play the rogue game, I’ll leave them in peace.

  • I’ve had a non-trivial number of exotics drop from Light Zone bosses: my first-ever drop was the Caduceus assault rifle, which was one of the two exotics featured during the open beta: the Cassidy was the other weapon. At the time, I did not have enough Dark Zone funds or rank to buy one, so one of my goals upon reaching thirty was to acquire some of these named weapons. Before one of the earlier patches, exotic weapons appeared as named high-end weapons, but named weapons eventually became exotics, with their own colour scheme. Light Zone bosses only dropped the Caduceus, Tenebrae and Skulls MC Gloves, but a patch will allow all exotics to drop from anywhere in The Division.

  • The biggest advantage about being in a team is that I can run with skills that I might not otherwise use. For challenging missions, I’ve felt that the most useful skills are the life support variant of the support station and then a combination of tactical pulse and flame turrets (which set enemies ablaze and deal damage while preventing them from firing). Seeker mines are also useful for flushing opponents out, and the ballistic shield in conjunction with a four-piece D3-FNC set could also be useful in drawing fire away from teammates.

  • For my part, I’ve been running with a 4-piece Striker set, with an extra piece from the D3-FNC and Lone Star set so I could gain an advantage while using automatic weapons. In conjunction with the Ninjabike backpack, I gain the D3-FNC’s 15% protection from elites and doubled ammo capacity from the Lone Star set. This is my preferred PvE build, allowing me to solo reasonably well. I’ve heard stories where players were kicked from groups for having low gear scores: gear scores are only a rough indicator of one’s actual performance, and one of the reasons why I remained at gear score 278 for the longest time was because the gear I was running with actually worked.

  • I explore the northeastern side of Manhattan, just north of the General Assembly. By night, the area is quite beautiful, with all the blue Christmas lights aglow, and it is here that the more impressive-looking buildings are found. Of course, the area is populated by roaming LMB, so exploring is no walk in the park, but now that I’m properly outfitted, the NPCs roaming the Light Zone are no problem at all to deal with.

  • The northern ends of the Dark Zone, from sectors seven onward, are supposed to be home to some of the Dark Zone’s toughest NPCs, and the mission to reach the sector nine safe house was a harrowing one. I found that running in the Dark Zone and killing groups of NPCs is a lot less stressful than attempting to extract gear from it: in my experience, would-be rogues tend to leave one alone if they do not have any gear.

  • During the assault global event, I decided to give the legendary missions a whirl and spawned in with a group of well-equipped and coordinated players in the Times Square Relay mission. I typically run with survivor link for this mission so I can increase my resistance to damage and speed while carrying the fuse parts. This legendary mission is probably the most straightforward to complete; players fight against waves of LMB soldiers, but there’s enough cover and open spaces so that one can simply put down a support station and then slowly pick away at the enemies incoming.

  • The items awarded for completing a legendary mission aren’t always impressive, but what does make legendary missions worth attempting is the fact that they award exotic caches, which contain a guaranteed exotic item and provide some Division Tech, as well. I’ve found that besides their illustrious nature, their performance in combat actually varies. There are some occasions where an exotic weapon or gear piece is useful – the first Caduceus I got wasn’t too bad spec-wise, and I ran with it in conjunction with the M700 Tactical.

  • With my older loadout, I predominantly kept my distance and sniped enemies: the M700 was powerful enough to deal serious damage to enemies in Legendary missions, and I switched over to the Caduceus to finish off enemies at closer ranges. Here, I am partying with another group in the Warrengate Power Plant mission. We started off with a team of three, and another player joined the group later. Despite its close quarters environment, I was able to make use of my marksman rifle, picking off opponents from a distance while teammates did the remainder of the work.

  • The main reason why running with a team in legendary missions works is primarily because a diverse array of skills increases survivability and damage output. As well, save for explosives and offensive skills, enemies can only focus on a single target at a time, so having teammates allows one player to run distraction while others finish an opponent off. After a harrowing twenty minutes, our team managed to complete the mission, earning me yet another exotic cache that put me one step closer to an all-exotic loadout. During this mission, I died and was revived by a support station more times than I cared to count.

  • The Napalm Production Site mission on legendary really depends on the team one is running with: a coordinated team with properly configured weapons and skills can do quite well. On my first run, I succeeded in clearing the map to collect the mission rewards, but during one memorable attempt, our team continued to get wiped, and since it was getting late, I ended up leaving the group so I could catch some sleep.

  • This was no fault of the group’s, but rather, the lateness of the hour: we had gotten to the very end and were wiped twice by the agents we were up against, but I had an early start the next day. One of the reasons why this mission had been more difficult was because of the Strike event, which sees enemies exploding when killed. While they deal minor damage to those around them, the effects overall are not particularly impactful, so players cannot count too much on them to help them. Assault was a fun global event: at close ranges, players deal increased damage.

  • On missions where there is a need to slowly carry a heavy object to a target point for insertion, I always run survivor link. Almost all of the teammates I’ve matched with run recovery link: I cannot begin to state how useful this is, since I’ve been saved by a teammate’s recovery link more times than I’ve cared to count.  When used in the right situation, a player can revive his entire group to keep their run going. Slow and steady wins the race in legendary missions, so I’m tempted to say that a team of four, running three recovery links and one survivor link is probably the way to go – tactical link boosts damage, but the number of enemies encountered means that the decreased time to kill ends up being less important than being able to keep teammates alive.

  • I’ve heard statements dating back a year that state The Division was on its last legs, and this seems to vary at present: there are some instances where matchmaking is as simple as hitting the button and then joining another party, but I’ve also had situations where matchmaking was unsuccessful. Overall, I think that matchmaking is only really necessary once one gets close to the gear score limit; below that, acquiring new gear is reasonably quick.

  • The ambush global event is by far my favourite: standing still, one can do considerably more damage against opponents. The effects were profound enough so that I could solo the Lexington Event Centre mission on challenging mode with my standard overheal and tactical pulse skills. The roof and basement segments of the mission are the most challenging, but with the ambush effects active, I was consistently hitting for 1.2 million points of damage with my SRS A1 rifle on critical headshots. Since finding one, I’ve made extensive use of it to great effect – in the absence of the global events, it hits for around three hundred thousand points of damage when landing a headshot, and can take out most Light Zone bosses in two shots.

  • The M4 rifle was a weapon I did not use with any frequency while going levelling up in The Division – the damage was not quite there despite its accuracy. However, once I picked up the LVOA-C variant, the LVOA-C became my go-to assault rifle: I’ve recalibrated it so it has the destructive talent, which bolsters damage to enemy armour. In conjunction with the armour damage bonus that assault rifles have and its high rate of fire, I’ve found the LVOA-C to be the perfect weapon for solo missions against armoured opponents: I can melt through them without too much difficulty.

  • My curiosity was piqued, and I decided to give the Rooftop Comm Relay mission another whirl: with my current setup, I walked through the mission and melted all in my path. Defending the engineer at the end, during which I had to fight Glass and one of his cronies, had been a considerable challenge when I first went through the mission, but having geared up, it turns out that Glass was no challenge. I’ve tried to focus on armour damage, and some of my gear pieces have bonus elite damage, so unlike my first run, this one ended very quickly.

  • Curiosity led me to attempt the General Assembly mission on my own: for the most part, I was aware of the fact that at hard difficulty, the missions do not pose a significant challenge for me, so entering the mission, my main interest was to see how capable I was of dispatching Colonel Bliss’ helicopter without resorting to the automated turrets that I made use of when beating the game for the first time.

  • As it turns out, eliminating Bliss’ helicopter turned out to be an exercise in patience. I would’ve liked to see more vehicular bosses in The Division, along with more anti-vehicular options in the game, as well. This is something that could be done for The Division 2: one of the things I mentioned back during the days of the beta was that travelling from point A to point B was quite slow, but this was before fast travel was unlocked. While going on foot has since proven to be okay in The Division, and vehicular combat is not strictly necessary, it would still add a bit more variety to engage enemies in vehicles.

  • The main question now is whether or not I would pony up for The Division‘s DLC, once I’ve done everything in the endgame (I still need to give Resistance and Incursions a whirl, plus the HVT missions). The answer is going to be a no: while I greatly enjoy The Division, the fact is that The Division is a game that’s reaching the end of its life cycle, and there are other titles that I’ve neglected as a result. I still need to complete the “Behind Her Blue Flame” missions in Valkyria Chronicles, play more Skullgirls to gain a better idea of how I feel about the game, and go through Ori and the Blind Forest.

  • With the Ambush event over and things returning to Strike for an encore, I decided to give Lexington Event Centre another whirl on challenging, but got my face kicked in at the roof. I predominantly snipe in The Division and only fall back on automatic fire when enemies begin closing the gap: by sniping, I pick enemies off at a more methodical pace, allowing me to control the engagement. As a result, when enemies get closer to me, I am no longer in control: this particular play-style means that I run with a Striker set, which confers damage bonuses for landing consecutive shots with automatic weapons.

  • I enjoy being a marksman, and while one might say that having a Sentry’s Call or Hunter’s Faith set would let me capitalise on this, my reasoning for running a four-piece Striker set is so I increase my damage at closer ranges. I snipe to whittle numbers down, and then using the Striker set, in conjunction with a good assault rifle, I can tear through enemies quickly. Classified gear is hard to come by, so I decided to diversify, slotting in a single piece from the D3-FNC set to gain protection from elites, and a single Lone Star piece so I can increase my ammunition capacity.

  • All of this is facilitated by the NinjaBike backpack, which acts as a wildcard for gear sets: rather than specialising in any one style, the NinjaBike backpack allows me to enjoy benefits from a variety of gear sets and I’ve attributed having this to helping improve my survivability in various situations. Apparently, the NinjaBike backpack was less valuable in earlier builds, helping players dampen their losses in the Dark Zone when they were killed.

  • During one legendary mission at Times Square Power Rely over the past weekend, I joined a match where I was made leader. I switched over to a pulse turret and the recovery station: by now, I’d become reasonably familiar with the way enemies spawned, and so, did my best to keep the group alive. I must’ve done alright, if no one in the group quit out at any point, and while one guy disconnected, we were joined by another fellow who definitely carried their weight. I noticed that no one was running the recovery station, so I used it to help keep teammates alive at choke points, and the pulse turret helped me keep Sargent Wilbur busy: he’s immune to all damage except that dealt to a small plate on his backpack, but pulse turrets work on him. While my turret chipped at his health, a teammate snuck behind him and finished him off. With the other threats dealt with, our mission ended successfully.

  • While we might be into April, I’m a bit surprised that winter has not left us yet: forecasts predict cooler weather for at least another week in my parts, and I’ll be looking forwards to when spring really returns to the world. In The Division, the perpetual winter weather is perfect for atmospherics, in-game, but in reality, winter weather is known to have a profoundly negative impact on one’s well-being. With this in mind, one of the things I’ve longed to do since buying The Division is to play this game, after work or on a lazy Sunday, during the hottest day of the year.

  • Before I wrap up this post, I will show readers what my preferred PvE loadout looks like. The NinjaBike backpack acts as a wildcard, allowing me to run a four-piece striker set and gain two-piece bonuses from the Lone Star and D3-FNC set. I will mix things up depending on what I’m doing, but this loadout’s really worked well for me. As my primary weapon, I run the LVOA-C with the destructive perk, which allows me to rip through enemies with relative ease, and the SRS A1 acts as my secondary. I have deadly and destructive on it, which makes it great for longer range engagements. I admit that my setup was inspired by TheRadBrad’s, although he runs with a six-piece Classified Nomad set for survivability in the Dark Zone. Since I don’t PvP, I’ve opted to go with a damage-oriented build: if I could customise the naming for my loadouts, this one could probably be called “The Shimarin”.

  • Here’s a setup I’d never thought I’d ever be able to collect: the all-exotic loadout. This loadout is made up of Barret’s bulletproof vest (increases damage while skills are on cooldown), Ferro’s oxygen mask (continue shooting even while on fire), Shortbow Championship pads (grenades explode slightly faster), Skull MC gloves (damage increase if one has no gear set bonuses active) and Colonel Bliss’s holster (sidearms hit harder the more consecutive shots one lands) in addition to the NinjaBike backpack. I’m running the Liberator and the Centurion. As well, I also happen to have The House SMG, which I got during a very lucky drop. It’d be awesome to have an Urban MDR and Bullfrog, but until the RNG favours me with these weapons, I’ll continue to run with what I’ve got.

Admittedly, I’ve perhaps played a little too much of The Division over the past month; the climb through the world tiers and corresponding increases in gear score have been a remarkably fun journey. The uncertain thrill of being in the Dark Zone at tier five means that I’ve largely kept to running around landmarks and supply drop events: extracting gear that I’ve found has typically resulted in my being attacked by groups of rogue agents. Since I’m geared for PvE rather than PvP play, such encounters usually end with my death, but a sign of The Division‘s maturity is that I don’t necessarily need to go into the Dark Zone to get Phoenix Credits and gear. Rogue players don’t tend to attack people without the contaminated loot bag, so I’ve had no difficulty in running around the Dark Zone, clearing out landmarks and occasionally going for supply drops. The short of it is that The Division‘s been great fun, and with the announcement for The Division 2 a reality, one can only wonder what the sequel will deal with: the first game left quite a bit of the narrative open, and with Aaron Keener still on the loose with the chemical makeup of the dollar flu, there’s plenty left to explore from a storytelling perspective. I’m personally hoping that The Division 2 will be set in Asia: Hong Kong or Tokyo would represent fantastic places to set The Division‘s gameplay, and beyond my own speculations, it’ll be very exciting to see just what lies in store for The Division. For now, however, purely for bragging rights, I can say two things: first, I’ve got an all-exotic loadout (practicality notwithstanding) and second, I’ve surpassed MeoTwister5 in terms of gear score.

Tom Clancy’s The Division: That First Foray Into The Dark Zone

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” –John F. Kennedy

The Dark Zone is the final frontier in The Division, being the central part of Manhattan where those afflicted by the Green Poison virus were taken for quarantine, with the aim of curing them, but with the overwhelming number of victims and constant threat of riots, the area remained a contentious one. The JTF that were initially sent in, along with the armed forces, eventually withdrew once the power went out, leaving their equipment behind. This area has long been advertised as the pièce de résistance of The Division, being a lawless, unregulated area of Manhattan that rewarded risk-taking and punished the unprepared. Featuring tougher enemies, and gear that must be extracted, the Dark Zone offers a completely different experience in The Division, and during the days of the open beta, I entered to gain a sense of what the area was like after reaching the level cap. When the beta concluded, I decided that if I were to ever pick up The Division, I would likely spend a bit of time just to explore the Dark Zone. However, being an area where I could easily be eliminated by powerful enemies or rogue Agents, I decided to reach level thirty in the game first so I had access to the full set of skills, talents and perks to maximise my survival and ability to acquire gear in the Dark Zone. My experience in the beta was that folks largely kept to themselves, and there had only been a few instances where I found myself being hunted down by groups of rogue Agents: the Dark Zone’s main threats were tougher enemies, which I wondered whether or not I had been sufficiently equipped to deal with.

With some trepidation, I thus entered the Dark Zone’s lowest tier, and immediately after exiting the checkpoint, I found myself under fire from a group of veteran enemies. Ducking behind cover, I emptied my weapons in to them and levelled up seven ranks by the time the firefight was over. Picking my way through the deserted streets, I stumbled across a landmark and found myself face to face with a group of elites and a named boss. The firefight that ensued was a brief one that saw me triumphant; with a host of newly acquired high-end items, I made my way towards an extraction point and sent my items off for decontamination. Subsequently, a supply drop landed nearby, and I cleared out the host of elite enemies guarding it. During this hour in the Dark Zone, I only ran into one other player, who arrived at the extraction point to get his gear out of the Dark Zone. We briefly provided covering fire for one another while waiting for the helicopter to arrive and parted ways after our gear was secured, but beyond this, I’ve yet to run into other players in the Dark Zone. Lacking any ambient music, roaming civilians and radio chatter, the Dark Zone emanates a completely different feel compared to the other parts of Manhattan, which is referred to as the Light Zone – there’s an unnerving stillness here, and coupled with details in the environment, such as the mountains of body bags and burned out structures, the area conveys a sense of foreboding and tension not found even in the campaign missions in The Division.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My old post on the Dark Zone was published precisely two years ago, although things are rather different now in many regards. After finishing Unknown Signal, I began hunting named elites in the light zone to ensure my entire loadout had gear score items (as opposed to items with levels); this brought my gear score up to 177. There are a host of means to attain good gear – the main way to acquire equipment that fits one’s play-style is to purchase blueprints for weapons, gear and accessories of interest. The best blueprints and items can only be bought with Phoenix Credits, which drop from named elites and caches, as well as being earned through completing daily and weekly missions. The payoff for these credits through group missions, considering the time spent, is actually quite small.

  • This is why I’ve returned to the most desolate part of Manhattan after two years: the payoff seems to be a bit more suited for my play-style in that I can enter the Dark Zone, explore contaminated areas and fight Dark Zone enemies to earn caches, and then extract the items. Dark Zone enemies include standard ones, as well as veterans and elites; their presence is denoted by purple and dull yellow health bars. What make them tougher is the fact that they are protected by armour that must be blown away before the health itself can be whittled down. In large groups, these enemies can be devastating for solo players, making it imperative to make good use of cover and crowd control techniques: some skills make it easier to manage large groups by stunning them or distracting them.

  • While I largely ran with assault rifles and LMGs in The Division‘s campaign, occasionally shifting over to a marksman rifle as the need arose, the end-game is rather different. I’m running with SMGs more frequently now owing to their improved accuracy and short reload times; in close quarters, this allows them to quickly stop enemies rushing in. Their additional critical damage bonuses make them perfect for a highly mobile play-style, and in conjunction with a good marksman rifle, allows players to handle threats at all ranges effectively. However, my preferred primary and secondary weapons largely depend on both what my requirements are, as well as what the most difficulty-appropriate weapons I have available are.

  • Because I’d not entered the Dark Zone previously, I leveled up twice from shooting out one veteran NPC, and in the space of ten minutes, reached Dark Zone rank ten after engaging a named elite. Here, a gear set piece is seen dropping: characterised by a teal marker, items in a gear set will confer bonuses if one has more than one of the pieces equipped. They specialise a player for certain roles, and The Division also introduced the concept of loadouts so players could quickly set themselves up to be effective as a support or offensively-driven player to help a team out, switching out to gear more suitable for solo play in other instances.

  • I can’t quite remember if Landmarks with elite enemies were present in the open beta, but in the full game, they’re populated with elites and named elites. Clearing them out will provide rewards for the player. Unlike the Light Zone, named elites will respawn in ten minutes rather than four hours, making it possible to devise a route for killing off the elites, moving to the next area, and then returning to kill them off again. In this manner, players can amass a sizeable collection of items and caches in the Dark Zone.

  • The large yellow bag with the biohazard markings on it telegraphs to other players that I’m carrying contaminated items, including caches. Some folks suggest running the Dark Zone and leaving all drops, using the Dark Zone only to level up until one reaches rank fifty, after which the vendor in the sixth zone will begin selling blueprints. This is to dissuade would-be rogues from stepping in and stealing one’s gains. However, since the beta, the Dark Zone’s mechanics have changed so that going rogue usually is more detrimental than beneficial. Further to this, players cannot accidentally become rogue by shooting at non-hostile players. Instead, players must announce their intention to turn rogue.

  • Extractions are among the most stressful events in the Dark Zone: once player fire off a flare, it telegraphs to other players that an extraction is in progress and immediately results in the spawning of several waves of NPCs who will swarm the extraction zone. Some extraction sites are notorious for having close quarters environments that are difficult to defend against: the parkade in zone two is one such instance, and I died here several times to NPCs before running in, pulling out my dropped gear and making for safer extraction sites in zone one.

  • My first ever-attempt at securing a supply drop was met with success because I happened to be nearby: once deployed, I ran over and opened fire on the elites guarding the box. After scanning them with the tactical pulse, I moved in and mowed the lot of them down. I’ve attempted to capture supply drops on a few occasions; it’s important to have enough time to reach them, since they are guarded by elite enemies. I have access to a trump card to help with the fight: besides using consumables to boost damage and stacking this with the tactical scanner pulse, there’s also the signature skills.

  • The observant reader will note that I’ve got the tactical link signature skill here. Doubling rate of fire, halving reload time and dealing bonus damage, the tactical link skill is The Division‘s equivalent of Trans-Am or the NT-D. I’ve not used in the Dark Zone at the time of writing, but while testing it, I managed to cut a named elite down within a space of ten seconds. Like the Trans-Am System and NT-D, signature skills vastly boost one’s performance for a short period and then requires a long cooldown, during which the skill is unavailable for use. Here, I receive the contents of the supply drop. Once items from a supply drop are acquired, the drop self-destructs, and these items directly enter the player’s inventory.

  • Here is the moment where I run into the only other human player in the Dark Zone during my first few hours. We provided covering fire for one another while awaiting the extraction, and went our own ways after that; one feature I noticed here was the ability to hijack an extraction. While this could be amusing, truth be told, there aren’t enough incentives to do this.

  • The post title is admittedly inspired by ARIA: The Animation. I finished watching all three seasons of ARIA a year ago, and never got around to writing about it. Peaceful, cathartic and presenting an exceptionally well-built world, ARIA is counted to be one of the greatest slice-of-life anime of all time, bar none. Having seen it for myself, I can see where this assertion comes from, and further remark that if remastered in a faithful manner, I could see myself watching all three seasons of ARIA again.

  • Like the Light Zone, there are subway entrances in the Dark Zone that invariably lead to contaminated areas. Most subway areas in the Dark Zone have a contamination level of four, so it will take a level four filter to keep one alive in these areas. Entering with a filter below this level will result in the filter wearing down until the player sustains damage. The subway tunnels occasionally see contamination events where the contamination level rises up to six, instantly killing all those who enter. At level five, players may enter to try and take out named elites. Clearing an area successfully will provide players with new equipment that go directly into their inventory.

  • I’ve yet to try out the contamination events, mainly because I’m always quite far from a subway entrance when they occur, but on my trips into the subway tunnels, I’ve always found a good number of crates to open: this is where most of my sealed caches come from, and while they may not always provide the gear one seeks, they are a fantastic source of Phoenix Credits. There are named elites that prowl the tunnels with their entourage of minions, and they will drop items, as well as Phoenix Credits, making entry into the tunnels a good idea (provided that a contamination event isn’t just about to begin).

  • Because The Division is a gear-based game, where the end goal really is to collect increasingly better equipment by ways of a variety of events, there’s innumerable discussions out there on what builds are optimal for a given play-style. Gear Score is invariably at the centre of all discussion, and one important thing to note is that a higher gear score item might not inherently be superior to a lower gear score item. I constantly tinker with my weapon talents are active, as they confer additional bonuses that help with my survival. There will come a point where I will re-roll weapons, but I feel that at World Tier Two, the time is still early to be spending resources on Blueprints and recalibration.

  • The relative quiet of the Dark Zone means that I’m usually forced to completely clear an area on my own, but one of the older tricks is to get a few good shots off against enemies; if other players finish them off, one will still get credited with Dark Zone experience. Going from these screenshots, the Dark Zone has not changed too much since the days of the beta, and it does feel a bit nostalgic to be running through this part of Manhattan again.

  • The gas station visible here on the left is adjacent to my favourite extraction zone: during my run in the open beta, I camped behind a pile of crates while working on a presentation on the Sunday before the beta was set to close. I was in the middle of my final graduate course and was working on a presentation of some sort. This was prior to my travels to Laval, and I remember that the weekend of The Division‘s open beta was a busy, if fun one. It feels fantastic to return with full gear and explore the area again.

  • The Division has seen considerable changes since it launched back in March two years ago, and I’ve read that higher Dark Zone sectors no longer give better gear: as of the current patch (1.8), all sectors have the same drop rates. What does separate the higher sectors from the lower ones is the number of named elites: players well-equipped to fight in higher sectors will simply get more gear. Of course, curiosity will lead me to explore some of the higher sectors, and there’s a mission in sector nine that I’ll eventually look at completing.

  • The Library in Sector Two was infamous during the open beta: I recall being waylaid here by rogue Agents, and other players have recorded the same. Back then, I was not equipped to deal with them and so, played the evasion game, while TheRadBrad manages to take them out in a hilarious manner. These days, the Library is a landmark home to some named elites, and the amount of open space here meant that it was viable to sit back and snipe them.

  • After clearing out this landmark, another piece of classified gear dropped for me. I initially wondered what the drop rates on classified gear was, but it turns out they’re not as rare as I thought they were. The “rarity” metric is actually somewhat misleading and is better described as quality (e.g. “high-end” items have more desirable attributes than “superior” and so on): at level thirty, high-end items drop more frequently than anything else. I played World of Warcraft years ago, and initially assumed that “rarity” corresponded to “probability of getting the item”; I imagine that the same thing holds true in World of Warcraft as it does for The Division in that rarity is only a measure of quality.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I don’t have any pictures of the Dark Zone being a “dark” place, so I’ve added this extraction here to rectify that. The Dark Zone is a relatively quiet place by day, but at night, it becomes downright eerie and even intimidating. The atmospherics in the Dark Zone are unparalleled, and very few games have managed to create such an unsettling atmosphere as effectively as The Division has: every time I exit the Dark Zone, it’s like a great burden has been lifted from me. The tensions are tangible, and this is one of The Division‘s greatest strengths. I intend to see just how far I get on my own before either I reach the gear score limit, or the servers shut down: I’ll return occasionally to write about The Division, but in general, readers can expect this blog’s usual repertoire of anime posts to resume.

Having entered the Dark Zone and successfully extracted my gains on several occasions now, I’m going to continue exploring the higher-difficulty areas at a much more casual, relaxed pace: my main aim in The Division now is to improve my gear score such that I reach the final world tier. Once this is done, I will continue to enjoy exploring Manhattan’s last unexplored realms without worrying about being blown away by exceptionally powerful enemies or rogue Agents, as well as for bragging rights. I’ve heard that the Dark Zone is an unfavourable place for solo players, but I am curious to see the extent to which this statement holds true. With a bit more time in the Dark Zone, I’ll also unlock a special vendor and begin accumulating enough Phoenix Credits to buy some interesting gear: it’ll be quite interesting to test just how far one can get on their own in The Division, as well as seeing whether or not solo players can acquire exotic weapons and gear without joining any groups. Besides the Dark Zone, I’m also curious to see how I fare in some of the end-game missions and assignments; I’ll occasionally return to recount my experiences in The Division, as well as share some of the more amusing or entertaining things I’ve come across in the end-game. Finally, there are a handful of encounters and side missions on the eastern side of Manhattan that I’ll need to wrap up.

Tom Clancy’s The Division: Russian Consulate, General Assembly and the Unknown Signal

“Ideas are important. Principles are important. Words are important. Your word is the most important of all. Your word is who you are.” –Tom Clancy

As it turns out, having all superior gear entering The Division‘s last set of campaign missions translates almost directly to the ability to tear through the levels and waste even named enemies without much difficulty. The Russian Consulate is the first of the missions I had left in my story: after learning of virologist Vitaly Tchernenko’s knowledge of Green Poison, the player is sent to the Russian Consulate at Murray Hill so he can be extracted and questioned. Fighting through the ornate halls of the consulate, players eventually reach the library where Tchernenko is hiding. However, despite being able to convince Tchernenko to accompany the player, LMB arrive and extract him. In spite of this, players are able to gain access to Tchernenko’s work, allowing Dr. Kendall to investigate the virus further. Players must also fight another First Wave Division agent. Once the consulate is cleared, players move to the United Nations building in the General Assembly with the goal of taking out Colonel Bliss, who is making a last stand. Moving into the UN building, players will take on two rogue First Wave agents and eventually square off against Bliss himself. Tchernenko is nowhere to be found, and while the remaining forces in Manhattan can begin working on the vaccine for the Green Poison, as well as begin restoring function and order to Manhattan, the loss of Tchernenko in conjunction with the disappearance of one Aaron Keener suggests that he managed to escape Manhattan, with the aim of using a more virulent form of the Green Poison and the highly sophisticated Division technology to bring the world to its knees. Once Bliss is defeated, players receive an unknown signal in which Keener addresses the player, inviting them to join him and his conquest to rule the world; in the chaos and despair, First Wave agents were swayed to betray the Division and joined Keener. Faye Lau also congratulates the player on having done so much to help bring order back to Manhattan, but remarks that even with things under control, much still remains to be done.

While The Division might be a tactical third person role-playing loot shooter, its premise is certainly an interesting one worthy of consideration: through exploring the various locales of Manhattan, listening to conversations amongst Division agents, JTF staff and various recordings scattered in the world, it becomes apparent as to just how extensive the damage to society was through the introduction of a weaponised biological agent modelled off a virus thought to be eradicated by vaccinations. Inspired by Operation Dark Winter, The Division explores the government and society’s ability to respond to a fast-moving pandemic: Dark Winter had found that existing infrastructure was not equipped to handle biological warfare, lacking surge capabilities. Further to this, the results showed that the media would not be effective in conveying information, slowing down citizens’ access to medication and potentially exacerbating panic. In general, Dark Winter was a sobering reminder that the complexity of modern society, and the interdependence of different systems on one another made our society highly vulnerable to attack. Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector explored this from the cyberspace perspective, and The Division reminds players time and time again of just how destructive pandemics can be considering how ill-prepared our infrastructure and policies are: it is only through the intervention of a powerful stay-behind force and the resolute belief in doing good that The Division‘s protagonists are able to slowly bring society back from the brink. While suggesting that it takes extra-governmental power and an uncommonly strong faith in people for society to survive given our current infrastructure, The Division also shows that people who believe in others, as well as themselves, can be successful even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I bet no one was expecting a thematic discussion on what The Division is about here: when The Division is mentioned, people’s minds immediately go towards the Dark Zone and the uphill journey of accumulating good gear. However, for me, The Division is more than being merely about collecting gear: it’s a powerful bit of speculative fiction that warns us of just how vulnerable our societies are and what can happen if the right people do the wrong things. The game is a reminder that we shouldn’t take stability and security for granted, and that these are things working hard to preserve.

  • Of course, I imagine that these social topics are far removed from the minds of the players, so I won’t go into too much more details about it in the figure captions. Here, I make my way further into the Russian Consulate after clearing out the first group of LMB soldiers. The ornate decorations are quite befitting of a Russian site, and I note that I’ve not played a game set in a ostentatious locale with Russian or European architecture since the days of 007 NightFire. It was therefore such a treat to be able to walk through these environments again in modern-generation graphics.

  • I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ve known about The Division since late 2013, when I was perusing a gaming magazine at the local bookstore. The premise intrigued me, as did their E3 demo footage, which blew me away with its impressive visuals. While the finished product is quite different than what the E3 presented, my intrigue in the game remained; by early 2016, the open beta for The Division was announced, and I was excited to play it. I think I got around eight hours into the open beta before it ended, spending it doing the two available story missions and in the Dark Zone.

  • When the beta ended, I remarked that The Division would be worth buying if it could deliver sufficient content. While reviews initially dissuaded me, Ubisoft has been adding to the game, and the journey to level thirty is a reasonably-lengthed one. I took forty-two hours to reach level thirty, and this includes time spent exploring the game, as well as adjusting my loadouts. I bought the game on a sale back during Black Friday last year; by my metrics, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth for the game, since it now costs less than a dollar per hour spent in the game.

  • The Russian’s intelligence capabilities are alluded to in this mission: upon finding the server room, radio chatter deals with what the Russians are doing with this amount of processing power, and it is remarked that normally, this would go towards reconnaissance, but in light of the crisis, the processors are turned towards genomic applications. It turns out that Tchernenko has been using the grid to sequence himself, and Dr. Kendall requires all of this data to continue research against the Green Poison, but before the data can be downloaded fully, it is remotely terminated.

  • One of the cool things about The Division that very few games have implemented in full is a dynamic day and night cycle, so one thing I’m going to be looking forwards to is reattempting this mission as a daily mission during the day: in 007 NightFire, players can only fight through Drake’s Austrian castle by night, and I’ve long wondered what the place looks like during the day. In The Division, day and night cycles mean that there will be opportunity to explore this level again.

  • The interior design of the Russian Consulate switches between classic Russian and more modern styles. While the spaces in the consulate are mostly close quarters, a good marksman rifle is surprisingly effective in some areas with more open spaces. On a per-shot basis, the M4 is the most powerful bolt-action rifle I’ve encountered: before stacking critical damage bonuses on top of it, I could hit consistently for around 75 thousand points of damage with headshots. Its main disadvantage is a slower firing rate and small capacity. To make the most of this weapon, one must land consecutive headshots, which is very difficult considering the mobile nature of The Division‘s firefights.

  • I usually experiment with a variety of weapons to see what works and what does not; the M1A is probably the best marksman rifle in the game, striking a balance between firing rate and damage per shot. Optics are rare to come by, so one of my goals at the end-game will be to buy blueprints for a good set of high magnification sights. The artwork and lighting create a warm environment befitting of the diplomats and politicians that work in this building.

  • Along the way, I found a green laser sight that looks amazing. In shooters, I’ve been very fond of green lasers because they are much more vivid than red lasers; green light stimulates more photoreceptors than red light, which is why our eyes are more sensitive to green wavelengths than any other wavelengths. I recount a story in my undergraduate studies, where I paid more attention to a lecture if the instructor was using a green laser simply because it stood out more. Consequently, having blueprints for a green laser sight would also be quite nice.

  • The firefight in the library is intense, and there’s a heavily armoured LMB soldier in here awaiting players once the rest of the LMB have been neutralised. Tchernenko has locked himself in a panic room and will only agree to go with the US Army, but once players put him on the line with Kendall, he agrees to accompany the Division to safety. Before players can get through to him, the LMB forcibly take him. There’s no way to rescue him in The Division, but players will not fail the mission for having been unsuccessful in recovering Tchernenko.

  • I am briefly reminded of my days in graduate school when Kendall and Tchernenko begin discussing their work; Kendall is familiar with Tchernenko’s findings as a result of a previous conference. It’s been some time since I published to an academic conference, and in Laval, my paper was selected as one of the best papers, after which I was invited to submit an extended paper to the International Journal of Virtual Reality.  My current work is far removed from VR and AR, but as the field of apps and software is constantly evolving, it is not implausible that I may eventually returning to some VR and AR work.

  • The long, open courtyard at the Russian Consulate is why carrying a good long range option is wise: the courtyard is filled with LMB soldiers, including an elite sniper who can blind players. By this point in time, LMB elites and rogue Division agents will employ the same skills that players have access to. Earlier in the server room, a support station was dropped, allowing enemies to heal themselves, and later, the Division agent Hornet is equipped with cluster seeker mines. This is a somewhat challenging fight in the absence of good equipment, but with a marksman rifle, things become more manageable.

  • After cleaning up the first wave of enemies, I cautiously made my way towards the waypoint. It turns out that red light visible here is merely an emergency light and not the laser sight for a turret or some enemy sniper’s marksman rifle. Because there’s no way to save Tchernenko, there’s no real rush here to pursue him at full speed – once players reach the end of the courtyard, the objective changes, players instead must defeat Hornet in a one-on-one battle.

  • Hornet has the power to hack turrets that players deploy, so strategy guides recommend using seeker mines against him. After eliminating the remainder of the minions accompanying him, Hornet will keep his distance, and this is the part where the marksman rifle really shines: I had no difficulty putting Hornet away, standing in stark contrast with the protracted fight against Scarecrow. When I began the Russian Consulate mission, it was nighttime, but by the time I got to the end, day began breaking.

  • Finishing the Russian Consulate mission illustrated that I was ready for whatever final challenges had awaited me, and with this mission in the books, I decided to wrap up some of the remaining side missions before I continued, as well as get my wings up to full completion. Completing all of the main missions won’t yield enough supplies to finish each wing, so players must also do encounters. The encounters are generally quite short and can be done quickly, and there isn’t too much variety in the encounters.

  • Yielding sixty supply units apiece, encounters entail rescuing hostages, securing supplies, recovering supplies, assisting JTF or else activating virus research data stations scattered throughout Manhattan. Of all the encounters, my least favourite ones are the ones where I must bring supplies back to a container and the virus research ones: the latter involve data scanners that are hidden about, and it takes some time to find all of them.

  • I was short one upgrade for each of the medical and tech wings after finishing the Russian Consulate mission, so my first priority was to gather enough supplies to fully upgrade them. During the process, I leveled up twice: the reason why there aren’t many screenshots of me doing these missions is because they can be a bit dull, and so, I’ve chosen not to show them. It took around an hour and a half to wrap up enough encounters to fully upgrade each of my skill wings.

  • As sunlight breaks over Manhattan, the entire area is thrown into sharp relief. The downside about reaching level thirty ahead of finishing the General Assembly mission was that I would be fighting enemies scaled up to me in terms of strength and durability, rather than the level twenty-eight enemies that one would ordinarily encounter, so I also took out a few of the roaming bosses in the light zone to get some upgraded gear. I thus entered the General Assembly mission with the MP5 ST.

  • Armed fully with each possible update, I made my way to the far east side of Manhattan to take on the General Assembly mission. At level thirty, my level indicator has changed into a proficiency indicator, and ever four hundred thousand points, I earn a proficiency cache, which contains high-end items, possibly exotic (named) items and some Phoenix Credits. This currency allows players to buy blueprints for top-tier weapons from the vendor at the base of operations.

  • While I initially started the General Assembly mission with the cluster mines, I switched back over to the tactical scanner pulse, and here, I’m running with the Tactical Link signature skill, which would confer increased damage. I’ve noticed that experience gain is much higher for surviving firefights and killing named enemies at level thirty: this is plenty of incentive to make headshots, which now provide a much larger scoring bonus.

  • With the JTF providing support, the players are free to make their way into the UN Assembly building to continue with their mission. The laser sights for the automated turrets are visible here, although players needn’t worry about them: the JTF will address these, as well. I’ve found the JTF to be moderately effective, especially with regards to giving enemies something else to shoot at besides myself, and so, after picking up some explosives, it’s a straight shot to the parkade area underneath the building.

  • It is nice to have the pulse option again: being able to locate enemies is critical, and the added bonus of dealing additional damage against enemies that have been scanned makes firefights more straightforwards. Paired with a good submachine gun, even the purple and dull yellow enemies no longer were a serious threat. I’d been running assault rifles as my primary up until now, but the higher damage output at close ranges means that I’m finally open to using them in my primary slot. Assault rifles, on the other hand, have better range and accuracy, making them good all-around weapons.

  • The United Nations was established after the Second World War in 1945 to replace the League of Nations in maintaining international order and stability, and while it has been credited with successes, especially peacekeeping missions during the 90s, the UN today is ineffectual in its function: sanctions against rogue nations go unheeded, peacekeeping missions are fewer in number and their concerns have even shifted towards the irrelevant, such as a well-publicised but exceptionally poorly-written report on cyber violence. The report in question is filled with grammatical errors, insufficient citations (which even included a link to a C-drive directory) and suggests that all online hate is motivated purely by identity politics.

  • The UN’s credibility took a further hit when two individuals, self-proclaimed “experts” in the field, were invited to address the commission: they were, in effect, championing the idea that telecommunications should be censored so that their feelings are not hurt, while on the flipside, certain individuals should be allowed to say whatever they please. All of this occurred back in 2015, prior to The Division‘s launch, and since then, it seems that for the most part, this UN report, and whatever those two speakers had to say, have fortunately not had too much of an effect in either the enjoyability of games and the flow of information within the internet.

  • The negative impact that the people participating in virtue signalling have had on the world is what motivates the page quote: Tom Clancy believed that one’s word, their commitment to something, is singularly important, and this is something that those who engage in virtue signalling lack. The fight against the second rogue Division agent here in the UN Assembly, and the sheer resistance players encounter, is a fantastic visual analogue for the sort of pushback people might encounter while trying to convince the world of the fact that virtue signalling folk are acting to further their own interests without a genuine commitment to the cause they are supposedly promoting.

  • After beating the second rogue Agent in a short firefight, the time has come to take on Colonel Bliss himself. While radio chatter suggests he got away, it turns out there’s a chance to stop him yet. Bliss was originally assigned to protect Wall Street assets and performed his duties with honour until his men were abandoned. He thus joined with Aaron Keener and has employed the LMB towards furthering Keener’s goals, but is betrayed by Keener. Unlike the other bosses, who fought on foot, Bliss is in a helicopter that has access to a powerful chain gun, missiles and flares.

  • While a properly outfitted player can focus fire on Bliss’ helicopter and blow its armour away without using the automated turrets, I was minimally equipped to deal with the armour and so, I used the turrets as suggested. Once the armour is gone, any weapons the player has got will quickly weaken the helicopter and destroy it. In the aftermath, a host of high-end items dropped to the ground, and after playing around with my loadout, I found the stats that worked best for me. I subsequently proceeded to the final mission, titled “Unknown Signal”.

  • Besides playing the living daylights out of The Division, this has been a relaxing, if somewhat eventful, long weekend. I spent the whole of yesterday taking it easy (as well as tending to some cleaning), and today, I went for a bit of a walk with one of my friends on account of the nice weather, before going out for Chinese New Year dinner and catching up with family (among the things on the menu included wonton soup, grilled ribs, deep-fried pork, yi mein and crispy chicken). There’s a science fair tomorrow morning that I’ll be helping out with, as well, so as soon as I mash “publish” on this post, I’m hitting the hay.

  • The last mission leaves a bit of an open-ended conclusion to The Division, and what happens next is anybody’s guess. I’ve heard unverified rumours that The Division might be getting a sequel, and it would be quite interesting if another similar game were to be set in a European or Asian city, involving another Division’s efforts to stop Keener. His escape with the virus blueprints is particularly chilling, so a story aimed at stopping him would be the most logical next step. For the time being, however, I’m done with the main campaign, and I’ll be occasionally returning to The Division to get my gear score up, accumulate more Phoenix Credits, and experience the end-game at my own pace.

  • This is what my final loadout looked like when I finished the General Assembly and Unknown Signal missions. With this, it means that I’ve done something that some feel to be a nightmare: I’ve completed The Division‘s entire campaign solo, without once using specialised ammunition or deploying my signature skill. I did not spend any of my credits on gear, and all of these high-end items come from the drops acquired during General Assembly. Looking ahead, I don’t think there will be any more anime posts for this month – Battlefield 1‘s Apocalypse comes out tomorrow, and it seems I’ve hit level thirty in The Division at just the right time for this update. I’ll be returning to see how the new maps and weapons play out since trying them out in the CTE. As well, I’ll also be making my way into the Dark Zone to see just how survivable it is for a solo player in the near future.

All of the missions in The Division are visually impressive, but this is especially apparent in the final two missions, which definitely feel at home in a Tom Clancy novel. The interior of the Russian consulate is well-decorated with distinctly Russian elements, feeling very similar to Rainbow Six Seige’s Kafe Dostoyevsky (itself modelled after Cafe Pushkin): from the well-furnished office spaces and chandeliers in the great halls, to the bar and pool room, the place simply seems like a place where allies of the Jack Ryan administration or the Campus might operate out of. Similarly, the vastness of the UN Assembly building is captured in superb quality. The fight against a rogue First Wave agent happens in the very same council chamber where major decisions affecting the UN’s policies are made. Even amidst the chaos of each mission, I nonetheless found the time to really enjoy the environments that I was exploring. At this point in time, I adopted a slightly different play-style: switching out my cluster seeker mines for the tactical scanner pulse, I returned to the approach I utilised previously to scan out enemies before jumping into the fray, and this time, with bolstered critical damage, I began making more extensive use of the submachine guns, which I’d largely ignored up until now. Coupled with a good marksman rifle, picking my way through these missions was superbly entertaining and also much more straightforward than I anticipated. I thus ended my campaign of the game in a solid manner, and will begin my journey into the endgame with a gear score of 137. My first task is to bolster that up, and then decide where I will go from here.