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Developer: Ubisoft Massive Publisher: Ubisoft Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Date: March 8, 2016 ESRB: M for Mature This review is based on the PC version of the game Three years ago, Ubisoft unveiled The Division, one of the most ambitious projects in gaming ever conceived. The Division, an open-world, co-op focused MMO set in a post-apocalyptic New York, was to herald the next generation of console gaming. Ubisoft said it would blur single-player and multiplayer within a seamless, one-to-one replica of the Big Apple infested with criminal gangs, rogue soldiers, and other players. In-between then, we“ve been surprised and disappointed by games that have attempted to implement a similar conceit, a la Destiny. While The Division and Destiny may share a similar base concept, their implementations couldn“t be more different. Whether that“s enough for you to make the decision to purchase is dependent upon what you“re looking to get out of The Division. Ubisoft Massive“s rendition of New York is a lived-in, forgotten place. A weaponized smallpox virus, conveniently unleashed during Black Friday, has left the city in a state of chaotic violence and disrepair. Trash litters the streets, crime runs rampant, and the burned out hulks of once-mighty structures are all that remain of the greatest city on Earth. Players take on the role of an agent from an organization called the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD). The SHD is supposed to provide â€œcontinuity of governmentâ€ in a time of societal collapse. Make of that what you will. The Division isn“t interested in the morality of the SHD so much as it is in giving you loot for shooting lots of â€œbad peopleâ€ in the face. Much has been made of The Division“s use of civilian targets as the in-game opposition, but it“s mostly a vehicle for players to earn loot. There“s a main storyline, with some well-written mission segments and audio collectables, but the majority of the game is about player progression and unlocking new gear. Main missions on the solo side will provide player currency and XP, both of which help to grant the agent more powerful gear and abilities. Solo missions, which can be played in co-op, also help you unlock points for upgrading the solo hub. This base of operations visually expands as you upgrade three different wings. What you“re really doing, however, is unlocking three separate talent trees. My personal favorite is the Tech tree, which grants access to the Seeker mine and automated turret. For support players, it“s the perfect tree to invest time into. Side missions that populate each game zone will also provide points to upgrade each talent tree. The skill trees also feature Talents, which are placed into unlockable slots, and dozens of passive Perks. Some are more useful than others, especially in the Dark Zone, so look at each tree carefully to make sure you pick the right build for your use. The good news is that leveling up is a relatively quick process, so you“ll be able to create a balanced, well-rounded agent in a relatively short amount of time. Unfortunately, that“s due to the limited amount of solo side content. Quests outside of the main campaign usually devolve into fetch quests, defense missions, and â€œpress this buttonâ€ missions. It wouldn“t be undue to get some greater quest variety in subsequent expansions, especially since the main missions are well-crafted and a ton of fun. As you level up, you“ll gain access to better equipment that impacts three different statistical categories; Firearms, Stamina, and Electronics. Each category is given a numerical ranking, affected by your choice of weapons, backpacks, and more. A pair of gloves, for instance, might grant more DPS from your rifle but reduce your health pool. Another might make your skills more powerful but sacrifice primary DPS. It takes a while to get the hang of, but once you figure out the nuances of the system, you“ll be tearing through enemies like there“s no tomorrowâ€¦ because there may not be a tomorrow. At the higher levels, weapons and gear also start to offer passive stat buffs. The greater the rarity tier of the item, the more passive buffs it has. In order to access these stat boosts, you“ll need to make sure you meet each buff“s ranking requirements from the three stat areas. Again, it sounds more intimidating than it really is. Dropped gear in the solo exploration mode is fairly standard stuff, though you might find a nice backpack or rifle here and there. You can also scavenge for crafting ingredients that allow you to make higher-end gear at the base of operations. Gear blueprints are unlocked as you complete more and more side missions, so make sure to keep up with those in addition to the main campaign. Arguably, The Division“s biggest draw is the previously-mentioned Dark Zone. This area, separate from the solo mission instances, seamlessly blends PvE and PvP in one chaotic region. The Dark Zone has an entirely separate leveling system, new safehouses, gear vendors, and currency. The best loot also drops in the Dark Zone, but in order to get it, you“ll have to extract the gear at designated zones. To do so, you“ll need to wait around two minutes for an extraction chopper to arrive, fending off waves of enemy AI and the occasional rogue agents. If you“re in a squad of friendly players, other agents are less likely to attack you. But if you decide to go lone wolf, be on guard. Neutral agents can turn hostile in the blink of an eye and steal all of your hard-earned loot in a flash. In concept, the Dark Zone is great. The execution is not as promising as I would have liked. There are no missions in this area, which does make some sense in keeping non-instanced servers. That said, some co-op or competitive game modes would be ideal, like pitting squads against each other to accomplish objectives or reach pre-ordained loot chests. As it is, the Dark Zone is a tense, entertaining experience, but Ubisoft Massive could do wonders with a few improvements to the gameplay. As you might have guessed from the opening, The Division is a gorgeous game. The â€œvisual downgradeâ€ that“s so frequently associated with post-E3 launches isn“t noticeable here. Ubisoft has crafted an intricate, detailed, worn presentation of New York and it“s incredible. Combined with the frequently-disturbing audio and video logs, The Division firmly establishes a sense of place. The audio is just as strong, with the cacophony of gunfire and explosions echoing across the empty streets, though I wasn't a fan of the repeating dialogue of enemy soldiers. More variety would have been greatly appreciated. If you“re expecting more Destiny, that“s not what you“re getting with The Division. Ubisoft has crafted a capable, considered cover-based shooter with relatively deep RPG elements. Adding in a seamless transition between solo and multiplayer content is a real treat, and the Dark Zone could become something special over time. I“m not in love with every decision Ubisoft made, but The Division (at launch) is a very solid foundation for future iterations and expansions. Pros: + Great blend of solo and multiplayer content + Deep customization and crafting options + Well-written campaign missions + Rewarding sense of progression and loot Cons: - Enemies begin to feel a bit samey - Some repetitious dialogue - Dark Zone needs some work Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good If you“re expecting more Destiny, that“s not what you“re getting with The Division. Ubisoft has crafted a capable, considered cover-based shooter with relatively deep RPG elements. As such, it's a solid foundation for future iterations and expansions. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer