Tom Clancy's The Division Review

Hey Guys. Tom Clancy’s The Division did an “Open Beta” this weekend (Let’s be real, it’s a pre-release free weekend / demo, it releases 2 weeks from now). I checked it out yesterday and wrote a review that’s too long today.


Tom Clancy’s The Division is a persistently online open-world over-the-shoulder third-person shooter with role-playing-game elements. Gameplay can occur either solo or in a squad of up to four players, in either single player or co-op versus environment or adversarial modes. Base building (integrated with your skills and abilities progression), crafting, and an inventory / merchant system are also added as gameplay elements.


The game looks good, no question, taking advantage of the tour-de-force of visual effects available to AAA game developers. Performance seemed stable enough on my system, although as I was playing I had friends point out unusually high CPU usage levels. The game does require integration with uPlay, Ubisoft’s electronic distribution platform. Game environments are post-apocalyptic urban in nature, as the setting is New York City following a deadly pandemic, with the expected spread of streets choked with abandoned cars, signs of looting, casually discarded body bags, and the remaining stereotypical suite associated with the genre. The developers, as expected, fully leverage the location and other genre “must-haves”. Firefight locations ranged from underground maintenance tunnel networks to a sports arena converted into a temporary hospital.


Players take control of an agent of “The Division”, a generic Tom Clancy paramilitary intelligence group. The single player and co-op experience’s core mechanic is roaming around New York City completing story missions or random missions in an effort to level up, improve your base, and acquire items. Player skill progression is inherently linked to base improvement, i.e., your abilities are based on having completed the story mission corresponding to the facility in your base that enables said ability. The first aid skill requires your infirmary, for example. Co-op is enabled by inviting players (either uPlay friends or random players through the matchmaking menu) who load into your instance of NYC.

Adversarial multiplayer occurs in cordoned off arenas known as “Dark Zones” where weapon damage is enabled against fellow players, however, friendly fire (against players in your squad) appears to still be disabled. Entering the arena, all players are initially neutral. An unprovoked attack against neutral players tags the offending squad as “rogue” for a damage-based length of time, allowing any squad to attack the rogue squad without repercussions. Within the arenas are also non-player adversaries of higher difficulty which drop more rare and powerful items, however players must recover these items by triggering an “extraction”, which alerts all other players in the area and begins a count down. At the end of the count down players have a small time window to attach their loot to a rope dropped from a helicopter. Once the loot is attached, it is “extracted” and players have access to it at their base. Dying in an arena with unextracted gear results in said gear being dropped, which can then be stolen by other players.

Gunplay mechanics are typical of a third-person cover-based shooter. Players can equip two primary weapons, one secondary weapon, a variety of grenades, a variety of power-up items (food and drink), and two abilities (based on facilities unlocked through story missions in your base) which may be offensive or defensive in nature. Weapon variety is as expected from a Tom Clancy game and includes real life analogues of pistols, shotguns, SMGs, assault rifles, etc.


“Hey man, big news.”
“What’s up?”
“The Division’s pre-release Beta is this weekend. It’s free.”
“Huh. I guess we ought to check it out. Let’s see if we can drag anyone else in with us.”
“Awesome. 30 minutes left on the download.”

Tom Clancy’s The Division is quite possibly the least definitive shooter experience I’ve had since the last Ubisoft / Tom Clancy title I played and provides further evidence to my hypothesis that Ubisoft is not a game developer- it’s a producer of entertainment software based on consumer research and projected demands.

That said, I think we knew this was coming. The budget, setting, publisher, and gameplay videos all pointed to the same unoffensive, generic presentation Ubisoft and Activision have been offering since 2010. If you’ve played Rainbow Six: Vegas, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Ghost Recon: Phantoms, Splinter Cell: Conviction, or Splinter Cell: Blacklist, then you’ve already played The Division.

I know, I know, it’s easy to make a generalization. All shooters are the same. All RPG’s are the same. No- hear me out! Ubisoft/Tom Clancy have been refining this near-future, augmented reality, cover-based shooter system since Rainbow Six Vegas, with the last two installments of the Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell franchises being close enough in gameplay mechanics that in a prior era it would be conceivable that The Division were simply a well-polished mod or expansion pack to any of them. Gunplay is defined as frantically sprinting from cover to cover and quickly popping out to dump your entire magazine on sequential members of the shooting gallery with questionable hitboxes and comically low recoil. Weapon stats and character abilities promise a level of greater depth that doesn’t really hold a candle to selecting a P90 and holding down that left mouse button.

My experience through this game was with one friend as we ventured through the two story missions available in the Beta, and then being joined by two more for a sortie into the game’s adversarial “Dark Zone”.


I’m no fan of the Modern Military Shooter (MMS), and Ubisoft’s cover-based third person shooters are a fantastic example of the genre’s stylistic and mechanical choices. The time-to-encounter (average duration between combat encounters) and time-to-kill (once the bullets start flying, how long until someone dies) are both awkward mediums between the traditional arcade shooter (Unreal Tournament) and tactical shooter (Rainbow Six, SWAT) resulting in the setting, tone, and gameplay options available suggesting a slower, more deliberate approach while practicality and experience reveal the game is far more suited (especially in adversarial modes) to the fast-paced aggression of an arcade shooter. The mismatch means a fair portion of the game’s potential gameplay options and choices are neglected because they’re simply irrelevant.

This is a reoccurring theme throughout The Division, which is frustrating, because Ubisoft’s had the past four Tom Clancy games released (not including R6:Siege) to rectify this. While I have the option of taking cover with a sticky-prompt, an enemy player located anywhere other than dead-ahead of me can simply aim for my exposed elbow. Poor hitboxes and awkward weapons handling immediately disqualify all weapons from having a competitive edge with the exception of fast-firing, low-recoil options. I found myself more effective at range with the MP5 than a scoped SCAR-H.

Another reoccurring theme of the Tom Clancy MMS is excessive automation of tasking and what I call “the illusion of choice”, in that meaningful decisions are removed from the player and masked with what are effectively “options” or icing elsewhere to compensate. Positive ID of targets is easy- hostiles highlight your crosshair red, friendlies highlight it green. Players, regardless of friend or foe, are highlighted with green or white outlines, even if behind cover, and previously spotted enemies are highlighted red. Incoming enemies are immediately tagged on your radar and their incoming vector marked in the upper-left corner of the screen. The Division continues a long trend of reducing the number of critical decisions that players make by either minimizing consequences or automating the process. Getting physically lost in the game is nearly impossible, given the game’s holographic map and waypoint system (both with perfect accuracy, of course).

The intent of these features is accessibility. Unfortunately, the aspects that make simulated small unit tactics interesting and intense also tend to be the ones that result in frustration and/or boredom. Needless to say, I’ve had my share of “Hiking Simulator” experiences from Project Reality and ArmA and frustrating team wipes in the original Rainbow Sixes. The dichotomy here is that there’s a certain pleasure when the game isn’t holding your hand. Taking an extra 15 minutes to stealthily (and hazardously) negotiate a series of cliffs to hit the enemy stronghold from an unexpected position is extremely rewarding, and even failure can be entertaining. While the accessibility diminishes the potential for frustration, they have yet to figure out a way to prevent it from diffusing much of the tension as well.


The four of us were sprinting full speed through an alley that would eventually lead to the parking garage where our “EXTRACTION” indicators were flashing. We hadn’t called for one.

“Hey you see those red skulls over the extraction icon?”
“Yeah- I think those are rogue players.”
“…So we can just kill them?”
“Yeah I guess so.”
“I mean, we’d just schwack them anyway, right?”
“Pfft. Yeah.”

Reaching the base of the garage we found a rope leading to the top just before the main ramp. With about 45 seconds to go before the opposing players could load their loot on the helicopter we decided to split- two going up the rope, me and another sprinting up the ramp. We were facing an unknown number of enemies on the roof.

Sprinting up the ramp I heard gunfire shortly after our two guys arrived on the roof interwoven with them coordinating over Mumble. We scrambled around the last bend before the rooftop and I notice our first victim: someone hunched behind a car facing the opposite way (waiting for our other two). We unceremoniously hose him down with SMG fire met with a wonderfully surprised, “OH GEEZ” over the game’s local VOIP channel. My buddy ran up to him and finished him off with a comical rifle butt that didn’t even connect with the downed player model. I called back cheerfully on local VOIP, “We’re coming for your friends too!”

About a minute later we had successfully extracted what was now OUR loot (the helicopter doesn’t differentiate between who calls it in and who can extract).

“So we just mowed down a bunch of human players and took their crap.”
“Yeah we’re kinda jerks.”
“This is pretty much Griefing: The Game.”
“…Let’s go do it again!”


Awesome as that first experience was, within 20 minutes it got stale. We leveled up quickly, sending us into a Dark Zone instance with more experienced players where roving groups of thugs are the norm, more than the exception. Fast respawn times severely diminish the potential tension of situations within the Dark Zone- it’s not much of a burden to go rogue when the worst that can happen is getting hit with a 60 second spawn timer. The modern military shooter’s convenience based mechanics and philosophy of minimal consequence have absolutely hamstrung a game concept with solid mechanics.

If Tom Clancy’s The Division were $10 or even $20, I’d consider it. But for $60? I seriously doubt there’s $60 worth of content in The Division. I’ll be waiting for Escape from Tarkov instead.


Good review - thanks @AeroMechanical!

I too have been playing the beta. It’s ‘ok’ so far and I think you’ve covered everything well.

Here’s some eye candy to give people some flavor:

I’m so rugged…

New York looking good

3rd Person Aiming. Sigh. It’s at least with a mouse though.

It’s a RPG with a RPG!

So much stuff, like crafting a quilt etc.

Hey, Citizens - Don’t Steal That Plank!

Fancy Aug VR Map Thing

Big play area so far…

Some action shots. Notice the cover mechanic.

Lots of ‘I’m hiding behind this waiting for that guy to stop firing’

Or just firing like a maniac. Pew pew.

Actually aiming here. Kinda.

My friends seem more relaxed about the whole ‘cover’ concept.

It’s good fun, but the amount of damage the enemies soak up is probably the biggest annoyance so far. Woolly hats seem to protect from 5 plus headshots, so I guess that weaponized virus must have been pretty smart. :smile: All good fun though, but I’ll doubt I’ll get into it. Technically very impressive though.

Plus, teamwork! lol

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Nice writeup, @AeroMechanical! Thanks!

@fearlessfrog, looks like they’re extracting a few pounds in that .gif. Did Jillian Michaels have any part in producing this game? :wink:

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