I know most people who had even a passing interest in Ubisoft’s game Tom Clancy’s The Division have long since played it to death, spent hours traversing and murdering in The Dark Zone and are either done with the series, or eagerly awaiting The Division 2. For someone like me who never had any intention of playing yet another online shooter, I made an impulse buy for the “Gold Edition” of the game during a PS Plus sale. All told, I got the $100 package of the game which includes both expansions and a bunch of other content for $23.99. I figured I’d jump in at that price — and I’m kind of happy I did?
As far as an online, living world shooter is concerned, The Division is great to look at, has all the requisite color coded gear and damage indicators and a laundry list of tasks that populate a checklist. This is a mission and story structure gamers know well. Even though the actual meat and potatoes of what you do in The Division is a well-trod path, there’s something about it that keeps me hooked way harder than any of the Destiny games have.
Like most of these online loot grind games, The Division takes a bit of time before you fully unlock all the game has to offer. Which is one of the main reasons I prefer it to Destiny — sure, you lose the fun traversal, dashing and jumping, but you gain more options for character customization, player stat configuration and have access to way more activities with far better rewards than a Destiny game. For instance, you can level up three different aspects of your home base, security, electronics and medical. Completing certain tasks from the mission screen grants you points you can spend in each respective field. Free some hostages? Get some medical points. Help some security forces tackle some bullet sponge bad guys? Get some security points. These points can then be spent at the home base to unlock perks and abilities for your character, which you can assign to further hone how you want your nameless character to play. You can buff all of your healing abilities so you’re constantly keeping yourself and your team alive, or you can opt to boost your attacks by investing in rewards for pulling off headshots, running from cover to cover, etc.
In Destiny you’re limited to the abilities of the character you choose from the game’s outset. Your tank, rogue and mage classes are set in stone and in order to vary up your game, you have to load an all new character with its own set of progression. In The Division, you can swap out load outs, buffs, perks, weapons, aesthetic items and gear on the fly. Want to go in blazing with shotguns and automatic weapons? Buff your kill bonuses and healing abilities. Want to pick off characters from as far as possible and use turrets and grenades to keep enemies at bay (the best way to play, and my way to play)? Sink stats into the turret and buy or craft bad ass scopes that increase critical hit damage.
I really prefer this freedom of play over the play of Destiny. However, I will say, The Division isn’t flawless. Purely from a story standpoint, you’re not a righteous and blessed savior of humankind like you are in Destiny, instead you’re part of a shady government agency who kills looters, sick folks and civilians in the name of restoring “law and order.” The secret government agency/military commando thing hasn’t aged well. When we’re experiencing the very real effect of abuse of police and state power in our daily lives, the Division leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I am forced to hear dialogue about these “animals” who are really just scrambling to survive when capitalism fucked them over. When I help out a bunch of cops who brag about killing looters, it makes me want to turn my guns on the cops and blaze my own path. It would still be disturbing if we weren’t living under the rule of a petulant, dementia-ridden old man with burgeoning dictatorial tyrant aspirations. Now that we are, I’m hoping Ubisoft changes the formula for The Division 2. On the plus side, I’m having a blast shit-talking the characters in the game for being such murderous, self-righteous assholes.
Despite the sketchy pro-martial law stance the game takes, it still manages to be more interesting in the moment-to-moment than Destiny. Both games suffer from long traversal periods and constant backtracking though. This is one area where Destiny lands a headshot on The Division.
Dying in The Division is a pain in the ass. This is by far the worst part of the game. I’ve said the “Fuck” word more times at my TV in the past two weeks than I have in the past 20 years. When you die, you’re only able to respawn at safe houses you’ve unlocked — if you haven’t unlocked the safe house in a certain region of the game map, you’re forced to respawn back at the game’s main hub. That means you’ll have to hoof it 10-15 blocks (3-4 real-world minutes) just to get back to where you were. And more times than one, wonky A.I. spawns have dropped a ton of enemies on my flank out of nowhere, causing me to die not from lack of planning for battle, but because the game forgot I was in the middle of a mission and it thought it would be fun to give me 8 more flame-throwing bad guys to kill…right behind me. Then you do the long walk again. This happens far more often than it should for a game of this budget. And as far as I know, there’s no vehicle equivalent like the Sparrow in Destiny, so plan on running down the same streets over and over again.
I think the one thing that’s tipping my interest scale in favor of The Division over Destiny is how the game feels like it respects the time you invest. Even with annoying death retreads happening throughout my time with the campaign, I never feel like I’m being shorted in my rewards. You can gain equipment, credits, experience and points for the aforementioned branches back at your base for every task you complete. And that’s not even counting the PVP areas like the Dark Zone and other online modes that unlock when you progress further in the game. There’s a lot here. If you felt stung by Destiny 2’s lack of in-game shit to do, you might find The Division more your speed.
I was able to complete my first Destiny 2 play through in two solid days. I’ve sunk 16 hours into The Division over the past two weeks and I’m not even halfway to the game’s level cap. My list of tasks is ever-expanding with each new neighborhood I discover and I’m enjoying the weapon progression and customization more than in Destiny. While I’m a sucker for sci-fi shooters and bright sci-fi worlds — and Bungie’s shooting is second to none, I can easily see myself sticking with The Division far longer than I did with Destiny 2. Do I think The Division it’s a better game than Destiny? I don’t think so. But I do think the actual game of The Division is more fun and rewarding than the flagship loot grind that inspired it.