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Tom Clancy's The Division

Sam Loveridge

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Review Price £44.99

The Division preview

Available on Xbox One (tested), PS4 and PC

The Division release date: March 8, 2016

Xbox One The Division beta – 28-31 January

PS4/PC The Division beta – 29-31 January

When the Division arrives this March, there’s bound to be many a comparison made between this new Ubisoft IP and other games already on the market.

With its strong multiplayer integration, the first one will be Destiny. And for its persistent open world – GTA 5, Witcher 3 and even Watch Dogs.

In fact, you could say The Division is the game that Watch Dogs should have been, crossed with everything that’s good about Destiny. And so much more.

Firstly, there’s the setting. You find yourself in New York in the middle of a crisis. A smallpox outbreak, a targeted chemical attack, has begun on Black Friday – the disease has been spread on banknotes. The emergency services and national institutions have buckled, citizens are rioting and there have been massive casualties.

And what’s even more terrifying is that The Division’s plot is actually based on a real simulation carried out by the US in 2001, called Dark Winter.

Here are the five things you need to know about The Division:

The Division sees you play as part of a civilian sleeper cell of agents that’s trying to bring New York back from the brink of oblivion. You must establish a Base of Operations, a sanctuary for the people, which will slowly bring back a sense of normality.

My hands-on session dropped me into the game at Level 4, tasking me and my two comrades (one other gaming journo and a very helpful dev from Ubisoft Massive) with establishing said base and then initialising the three wings – Security Wing, Tech Wing and Medical Wing. We had to find three key players: a virologist, the leader of the Joint Task Force and an ex-military man with unique knowledge of the city’s infrastructure.

Getting these three wings back online gives you access to all the missions and side quests around the map, which all fall into one of these three categories. These can be played through in any order, at any time. Just be aware that some might be too difficult for your character’s level.

These three wings also signify the three core attributes of your character, and are the pillars for the Division’s RPG elements.

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Unlike games such as Destiny, characters in The Division aren’t confined to a character class. It’s all about having the option to make the character that not only fits your play style, but who can also develop the same abilities as other members of your team.

That means you can change your character’s perks and abilities whenever you wish.

As you level up, you’ll unlock two Skill slots and a third Signature Skill. These fall into those three core attributes, with Medical skills being related to things like healing teammates, while Tech will give you some awesome gadgets and weapons like a Sticky Bomb that can be detonated remotely. Security, on the other hand, has defensive skills such as body armour.

There are plenty more RPG elements to the game too, including Talents, Perks and weapon modifications. Your weapons and gear also have levels of rarity, similar to Destiny, which will affect how powerful and effective they are.

Every weapon can be modded, but the higher-level weapons can also have weapon talents applied to them, which will increase their effectiveness in fights.

What’s fantastic about The Division is that all of this can be changed on the fly – even in missions.

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The Division 1

The bevy of RPG elements does make for quite the busy HUD, but it’s all very elegantly done. Guides to waypoints glide above you Dead Space-like, weaving through buildings, while your health bar, ammo, special weapon count and more hang off your back over one shoulder, giving you instant knowledge of your character’s status without having to take your eyes off the fight.

But even more impressive is Ubisoft’s new Snowdrop Engine, which is behind the game. It’s enabled developer Ubisoft Massive to create a game that encapsulates the look and feel of New York’s Manhattan. There are no copy-and-paste street corners, no sections that just feel a bit “New Yorky”. This is Manhattan in every sense – even if it is in crisis mode.

And it’s absolutely stunning. Snow storms will start swirling around you, impairing visibility. But then, just as it started, it’ll clear, leaving the atmosphere feeling fresh and crisp – or even showing the clear night sky above you.

Forget the wilderness of The Witcher 3, this is an open-world game that’s totally believable and immersive.

But you won’t be able to rescue New York from the grips of the pandemic without a few fellow agents by your side. The Division allows you to play with up to three friends as a squad at any time – that means co-op is available across all story missions, side quests and more.

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There’s also a way that you can get a bit of PVP action. Head into the Dead Zone, a large red area in the centre of the map that’s completely unpatrolled, and you’ll come face to face with other players.

It’s recommended that you don’t attack them, but if you see a yellow contamination bag hanging off their back full of loot, you may just try your luck. It’s then that you’ll turn rogue, painting a big red target on your back for any other player or AI teams.

Even if you don’t go rogue, you’ll need to extract your loot by finding a landing zone, calling in a chopper and defend your loot until it arrives. You’ll then be able to strap your laden yellow bags onto the dangling rope, and then have to guard it again until the helicopter takes off and deposits your decontaminated swag in the stash at base.

It’s tense, exciting and ridiculously difficult unless you work together in the Dark Zone.

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The Division 5

But the way The Division executes its multiplayer is going to shake up the industry, especially in comparison to games like Destiny. All you need to do to start playing with your buddies is enter one of the hub areas, partner up and walk on out of there.

There’s no lobbies, no waiting times, no loading screens.

I’ll just repeat that for emphasis. No loading screens. Ever.

Yes, there’s a slightly long loading screen to boot the entire game for the first time, but once you’ve done that, you’ll never have to look at a loading screen again, regardless of what you do in the game.

It’s a revelation that Massive has been able to create such a seamless multiplayer experience, and one that could make other multiplayer experiences hard to bear.

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The Division 7

Although I’m giving The Division a glowing recommendation at this stage, I can’t escape the fact there were a few bugs during my play session. My Xbox One crashed around seven times, forcing me to restart the game entirely. Thankfully, booting the game back up dropped me right back into the mission I was previously playing with my buddies, with the multiplayer tether still firmly attached to my two compadres.

There were also a few glitches in the mission to unlock the Medical Wing, and one point where the city was sent soaring above me, leaving me stuck in a void – à la early Assassin’s Creed Unity bugs.

But, seeing as this isn’t yet final code, I’m willing to overlook these bugs as pre-release teething problems. The game is so impressive and immersive that it’s hard to fault even with these glitches.

First Impressions

It’s hard to get away from the fact that The Division feels like it’s been a long time coming. Announced back at E3 2013, it was originally due to come out in 2015, but was delayed until March 2016.

But thankfully, everything I’ve seen suggests that waiting time has been totally worth it.

The Division will be one of the games to define the gaming industry. Not only has Massive captured the essence of New York and created an extremely realistic and atmospheric mid-crisis city, but its lack of loading screens and seamless multiplayer will set the bar for all games to come after it.

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