The Division is a mysophobic’s worst nightmare – in the wake of a modified smallpox virus being seeded throughout New York during the shopocalypse (or Black Friday, if you prefer), Manhattan isn’t only shut down and cut off from the outside world to stem the epidemic, it’s a garbage-strewn mess.
Enter you, as a member of The Division – a last resort cell of highly-trained secret agents, embedded in civilian life and waiting for the call to action in worst-case scenarios. Which, in practise, means a lot of cover shooting. The gunplay is superb, however, with each weapon having its own district feel, while character attributes – the skills and talents you assign them, their gear loadouts, their perks and mods – make the game surprisingly tactical. Randomly throwing items onto your agent won’t necessarily be beneficial, even if they do offer a stat boost. You’ll need to think about character build and how you want to play.
The sprawling recreation of New York is also one of the game’s major attractions and stunning in its attention to detail. You can’t enter every building, but those you can – from tenements to iconic landmarks – further enhance the believeability of the setting. There’s a real sense of world (re-)building, too. Missions see you restoring services and order to New York, slowly gaining ground against looters and rioters, while solid voice work from even background characters helps create the impression that your efforts are slowly improving the city.
Despite being an open online world, The Division is also an enjoyable solo experience. Short of the Dark Zone, a dedicated PVP area in the centre of Manhattan, you’re free to run around saving the city alone, inviting friends as you like or dropping in on other player’s shootouts to lend a hand, pick up some sweet loot from enemy drops, and move on to your next objective. So far, there’s nothing really forcing you to team up if you don’t want to, aside from the occasional raid or missions feeling nigh impossible unassisted. As an evolving game, Ubisoft may well introduce more team-specific raids in future though and that wouldn’t be a bad thing, so long as single players aren’t left behind.
If Destiny is Borderlands without a sense of humour, The Division is one step further removed – a loot-packed open world that also abandons any sense of fantasy or whimsy. But in stripping things back to a scarily plausible reality, the whole experience becomes that much more engaging.