Tom Clancy's The Division: gameplay impressions

Division EMBARGO 1-15 7AM PST

There's plenty of combat in Tom Clancy's The Division: player versus AI, player versus player, and my personal favorite, crow versus rat. On the streets of post-apocalypse Manhattan, it seems like nobody is getting along.

At a Ubisoft event last week, I got to play about two hours of the co-op RPG shooter—mostly on an Xbox One, unfortunately, but we'll post some thoughts on the PC version next week. For now, these are my impressions of a brief, controller-operated jaunt into post-virus New York. Note that the new gameplay footage above wasn't from my session, and the screens below were provided by Ubisoft as well. As for the weak and cracking voice due to a nasty head-cold: that's all mine. Sorry.

Division EMBARGO 1-15 7AM PST

The Division's version of New York is littered with gun-toting, trigger-happy bad guys of various factions. During my session, my squad of three cleared enemies out of a few buildings, engaged in a healthy amount of random street skirmishes, and rescued an NPC from a rooftop standoff. The enemies came in a few flavors: low-level idiots who slowly charged us with baseball bats, grunts with small arms who sometimes took cover and sometimes blundered right into our bullets, and a few tougher types who used flame-throwers or threw gas-grenades that spewed a disorienting fog. Then there were a few boss enemies, who sent waves of goons ahead of them and wore heavy armor that needed to be chipped away bit by bit.

Ultimately, I found the combat a bit underwhelming, and even within just a couple hours of playtime it began to feel repetitive. The cover system worked pretty well, but I didn't find the weapons particularly exciting to use or the enemies very interesting to fight. The bosses, especially, didn't feel dynamic or even that dangerous: the ones we faced essentially just hunkered down behind cover and popped up to shoot. They made fights longer, certainly, as their health and armor needed to be whittled down, but they didn't make the combat more fun. Hopefully there's more to them as you progress further into the game than I did.

Division EMBARGO 1-15 7AM PST

We didn't spend a whole lot of time in The Dark Zone, The Division's PvP area, though it provided probably the most fun and tense moment in my session. Gear acquired in the Dark Zone is "contaminated," meaning you can't just hoist yourself over a wall and run back to base with it. You need to be extracted via a chopper summoned by firing a flare into the sky. Needless to say, other players can see this flare and know you're attempting to leave the Dark Zone with loot.

As we took cover to wait the 90 seconds it takes for the chopper to arrive, another group of players sauntered over to our extraction point, followed by several more. Our secluded extraction zone was suddenly very crowded with human players, until someone finally someone fired The Shot Heard 'Round The Server, and then it was complete bedlam. This extraction encounter was tense and fun, and I'm sure the occasional scrap to fight your way out of the Dark Zone will be enjoyable. I do worry about it becoming a constant: if extraction areas are KOS zones every single time you play, I could see it becoming bit tiresome, especially if you lose some precious gear in the process.

Division EMBARGO 1-15 7AM PST

The base of operations, located inside a post office, is essentially an instance for each player: everyone gets their own personal version of it. Skills, mods, and equipment are granted upon upgrading and investing in the base, so it sounds like Ubisoft wants to make base-building a big and important part of the experience.

In terms of the environment itself, it contained a lot of nice details. I saw one NPC trying to break into a parked car before giving up and slumping in defeat. I watched two other civilians fearfully trying to calm down a wild dog. I even spent a little time watching a crow fighting with a rat over a piece of trash. The rat eventually ran off and I followed him—for several blocks, in fact. I don't know if you care that the rat didn't simply scurry into a piece of scenery and vanish, but I do—I like when small details are given attention, and I'm impressed by a lot of The Division's environmental details.

What I'm left with after my short session is a general concern that the combat, at least at the start of the game, isn't particularly thrilling. The enemies I encountered—especially bosses—are more bullet-sponges than interesting or dynamic adversaries, and I'm concerned the PvP zones are quickly going to become KOS-boxes. I want to get in and explore more of the environment, though. Maybe follow some more rats around.

We'll have some PC-specific impressions next week. And while it's a lukewarm appraisal from me for now, it'll obviously take more than a couple hours to see everything The Division's got.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.