By Scott Southard. This is LOAD FILE, where we pass around contaminated cash like it’s Black Friday. This week, Scott answered his emergency phone and geared up in Ubisoft Massive’s ‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’, out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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It’s safe to assume that this is an era of gaming where we can pre-determine the course of the industry’s future. There exists pundits who make grand claims about the future of VR, and last-gen journalists who divinely explained in a very straightforward manner how horribly the botched Xbox One announcements would affect the course of the modern gaming landscape. Similarly, after Bungie’s Destiny — a big box take on on an old RPG model — we knew Ubisoft (and many others) would follow suit, flooding the market with a more universally accessible role playing games.

The age of the loot-based shooter has descended upon us, and now we reap what has been sewn. Taking a cue from Destiny (and Borderlands before it — and Diablo before that) Tom Clancy’s The Division (hereby referred to without that ridiculously overused and unnecessary Clancy moniker) provides another grindy RPG, this time with the grim tone of wartime politics and a realism rarely seen in this genre. It makes for a mixed bag of results — not to mention an uncertain future for multiplayer console games.



The Division opens with a dire sequence of quick cuts that depict a society poisoned by a batch of virally contaminated U.S. currency. (The bad bills were circulated throughout Manhattan on, of all days, Black Friday.) You, as a devoted member of The Division (the secret elite version of the National Guard), are called into action as the borough slowly devolves into a quagmire of death, riots, and power struggles. The premise is a perfectly acceptable Tom Clancy narrative, and it permeates through the majority of the game’s setting, as warring factions hole up in whatever abandoned buildings they can find. (A great early shootout has the player assaulting a group of looters in Madison Square Garden — it’s very cool to wage war on the home turf of Wrestlemania.) The span and depth of New York is impressive, and is beautifully utilized to a great degree.

Gorgeous metropolitan background aside, it certainly doesn’t help that you’re saddled with a character who lacks any character. The creation tools are lackluster at best, which means you’re not getting creative with your avatar any time soon. (Where are the ridiculous mustache options? What about the wacky hats or tuxedos?) This being a Tom Clancy game, The Division remains a sobering, realistic military shooter. Predictably, this narrows the scope of the playable characters and their malleability.

It runs into the incongruity of being a hyper-realistic game and being a loot-based RPG. The customizability of characters is so important in a game where gaining the best gear is the goal. If you can’t show off your hard-won scores, what’s the point? When every character looks like they’ve looted the local suburban Patagonia outlet, why would anyone spend any time trying to make their character look any different? Why customize your character at all? This line of questioning only leads down a path of darkly analyzing the cost-reward mechanics of the game you’re playing (or any game really). It leaves you fetally curled in a dark corner, listening to the ambient sounds of your PS4’s home screen, wishing you’d never booted up the mainstream online shooter in the first place.



While the narrative purpose of the game is hampered by its dire meta-purpose, there are moments when the game truly shines. The main mission design is solid, teaming players up and putting them through multi-faceted gauntlets, allowing them to run from cover to cover (a mechanic which is executed perfectly), blasting away until the levels are cleared (executed less perfectly if your lower player level inhibits the effectiveness of your shotgun, which is absolutely absurd). The end of each of these missions is a bit of a letdown, as boss fights are populated with similar enemies to those you’ve already encountered, only their decked out with a lot more armor and given an unique name. This tinges every mission with bummers, though it’s not bad enough to stop it from being entertaining.

What really sets The Division apart is its employment of a PvP arena called “The Dark Zone”. The Dark Zone is the area in Midtown Manhattan that got hit hardest by the outbreak, a chaotic zone of lawless pandemonium. This is the area of the game with the best loot. (It is also a place where other players can easily murder you and take that loot.) Each encounter in The Dark Zone becomes a game of Hitchcockian “I always lie,” where players circle each other in nervous anticipation of the inevitable betrayals to come. The tension of these moments is great, and is really where the game breaks ahead of its contemporaries.



It’s hard to break down a game like The Division, because there is so much going on at once. You’re constantly being inundated with new missions, new objectives, new groups to join, and new meters to fill. The main gameplay loop revolves around going through missions, gaining new gear, leveling up a bit, and then going through tougher missions. You can’t get all that attached to your gear, because something better is always around the corner. Constantly leveling up your guns, your clothes, your abilities (broken up into separately upgradable skills, talents, and perks), your Dark Zone level, and your overall level is what keeps this loop interesting. But again, once you’ve seen the system as a whole, it becomes a bit pointless, and without a greater driving force, motivation to continue is based solely on watching your numbers go up and up and up.   

I don’t love this game. Rather, I’m generally frustrated by it (I purposefully neglected to mention the insane server issues that will hopefully be fixed within the first week or two after release). But the compulsion to play still exists. Maybe it’s the quiet, dead city streets, or the physical heartbeat I can feel during the tense moments of The Dark Zone, or the thousands of rounds I’m pumping into bad guys, or maybe I just like watching my levels rise. There are hooks to The Division that have sunk into me. I am rooting for it as it roots into me, only we’ll have to wait to see what the future holds.

Developed by Ubisoft Massive.

Published by Ubisoft.

Directed by Julian Gerighty, Magnus Jansen, and Ryan Barnard.

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

7 out of 10