There’s three of us, an elite team of operatives trained to operate independently and without orders in the case of a total failure of government infrastructure. Up ahead is a small group of rioters causing chaos. They don’t know we’re here. We pick our targets, take aim. Let’s keep this quiet. I’m rolling with a sniper rifle, and the guy in my sights has a beanie on, protecting him from the winter cold and little else. I squeeze the trigger, blood sprays.
He turns around and starts shooting. Wait, what?
For many players of Tom Clancy’s The Division, this moment is going to be jarring. It certainly was for me. Once I got over it, though, I had a lot of fun.
Comparisons to Bungie’s Destiny are going to be inevitable, so I’m not going to skirt around them. There are some similar elements. But if Destiny is more shooter than online RPG, The Division is the opposite. It’s a bit more online RPG than it is a shooter.
The Division, like other Tom Clancy games, pulls its action from real world events and ideas. The Division is populated with human characters wielding realistic weapons in what is a nearly 1:1 representation of a section of New York City. Unlike the aforementioned spaceman shoot’em-up, we’re not shooting at aliens with space guns. We know exactly how much armor a skull provides and how a bullet ought to interact with that. We know how much armor a stocking cap adds.
In this way, it feels a bit more like Gears of War.
The Division has a solid cover system that lets you stick to cover and move from cover point to cover point. Suppression is an important part of gameplay, and flanking is crucial to winning against tougher enemies and the chaotic aftermath of the attempted evacuation of New York seems suited to promote it. Weak spots like exposed grenade pouches add to the effectiveness of this tactic.
Enemies are, for lack of word, bullet sponges. But then, so are you. It’s a rare situation that you’ll be taken down with a single shot. This means that, if you overestimate your team’s strength against some tough computer-controlled enemies or, worse yet, find yourself ambushed by some rogue operatives in the Dark Zone, you get a chance to regroup and make a plan or get the hell out of dodge if necessary. You might still find yourself crawling on the ground, bleeding out, while someone in a gas mask puts you down like a sick animal, but that sponginess helps mitigate how frequently it’ll happen.
As a result, I didn’t find sniper rifles to be terribly effective in player versus player combat, personally. Shotguns, on the other hand, came in quite handy – calling Gears to mind once again.
That’s not to say stealth has no place in the game. Against AI enemies, staying quiet and still will often keep you out of their line of sight. A pack of high-leveled rioters strolled past me casually while I waited crouched against the side of a dump truck. Stealth and the eventual comprehensive knowledge of the city you’ll develop as you play will help avoid unnecessary conflict.
While multiplayer is split up into tiers, I could also see stealth takedowns becoming something worthwhile in single player. I’d love to see missions that pit you and your allies against a bunch of lower-leveled enemies with strict rules about how much ammunition you have and how much noise you can make.
Because enemies are so spongy, I often felt more like another faction in the game rather than some special elite soldier, and missions like these could provide that powerful feeling and add some variety to the shooting.
Those that can get past that initial jarring sensation, and move past the demos we’ve seen that have pretend players planning out fast takedowns, will find some solid third person shooting that does a good job of building on some past games while incorporating them into what feels like a real, living version of New York City.
The Divsion is set to release for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on March 8. Stay tuned today and early next week for our thoughts on the Dark Zone, the game’s real-world inspiration, and more.
Note: Our time with The Division was spent at an official preview event hosted by Ubisoft. All footage was acquired through live gameplay recorded on Xbox One.