Hands-on Preview: Tom Clancy’s: The Division


It all starts with a highly contagious virus in a densely populated area, at the busiest time of the year.  Black Friday goes from a day of gluttony and excess to the herald of loss and decay. Thousands die, rioters have taken over Manhattan and with the loss of power and water, things look pretty bleak. Manhattan looks like the remains of a battlefield, picked clean and oddly quiet. You are there to try pick up the pieces, to tame a section of this deadly city and try bend things back into shape. It starts with an acted out news broadcast, it all looks chillingly real. The “what if” hangs in my mind about how easily society could collapse.

Julian Gerighty, Associate Creative Director for Tom Clancy’s: The Division talks about Operation Dark Winter, a simulated (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Dark_Winter) bio-terrorist attack that happened in 2001. It found that America wasn’t ready in any way for the breakdown in government, in critical institutions and massive civilian casualties. This is the backdrop which The Division is based on. You are an agent, living a normal life in Manhattan, and are activated to respond to the bio-threat. There will be no Sam Fisher saving the day, it is up to you, to us to get the city going again.


All about that base

Your base of operations (BOO) is yours. Unlike the rest of the city, which will always have other players sprawling through it, your base is yours. Unique. You will need to find people with skills to run the day-to-day operation of a part hostel, part fortress while you go out and do missions. Besides the core building which has traders and a crafting station, there are three wings to the base: technical, security and medical. These wings line up with the three skill trees in the game: technical has gadgets for dealing damage, from deployable turrets to small grenades that roll towards enemies before exploding. Medical has healing abilities, and can set off a Pulse that shows where all nearby enemies are, allowing the team to track them through cover. Security handles the tanking aspect, with deployable cover, reinforcing cover or using a large riot shield to goad the enemy into attacking them while the rest of the team flanks. Upgrading a wing will allow you to unlock skills related to that wing, so a player who prefers dishing out damage will probably have a much better technical wing than someone who prefers to go into combat with extra healing ability, who would focus on medical. Missions in the world are split into these three categories as well, letting you choose to go just for missions that offer rewards that will improve a certain wing. Side missions don’t improve your base, but offer experience or money and equipment as rewards, but I will touch on that later. Your base of operations is pretty much a second character that you will be levelling, a stronghold that gives you an edge while you are out in the field, and a safe place to return to after fighting off enemies.


No class, all skill

Thanks to the game being classless, you can switch your skills at any time. For one mission I ran in with sticky bombs and a pulse to find enemies hiding behind cover. In the next I took the riot shield and a healing skill to make myself more self-sufficient, leaving the other players to worry more about their own health instead of mine.  It is really flexible, meaning you can choose to have a solo build for running around, but you can quickly change to a support role should your friends require it. It also means if you get bored of always being the tank, you can switch things up without going and levelling up a brand-new character. Characters only have space for three skills: two base skills and one “ultimate”-style skill. The base skills, like healing aid or a riot shield can also be modded, with each skill having three variant mods to be unlocked. These have interesting effects, like causing the heal to overheal, giving agents health above the normal maximum, or making the healing kit revive downed team-mates when tossed at them. The riot shield can either be strengthened to absorb more damage, or make you do extra damage and knockback with your pistol when the ability is in use. Each of these skills can also be improved to a “mastered” version, with better cooldown, damage resistance, healing and the like, which requires a lot of work on your BOO, and is kind of the “end-game” power boost, the crowning achievement of your arsenal.


All online, but not all multiplayer

One of the things that I was hesitant about when first mentioned was the fact that this is an ‘always online’ game. While it has a strong multiplayer component to it, the game is hardly an MMO. Besides your base being completely your own personal space, a lot of the content can be tackled alone or with a few friends. Most of the time you will be trying to take down AI enemies, ranging from rioters looking to make the best of a bad situation, to the now escaped convicts of Rikers’ Island, trained goons with access to heavy weapons and police issue kevlar. A third group also roams the harsh wastes, blue-collar workers that have taken it upon themselves to cleanse the infected with fire, along with the possibly infected. Even in the Dark Zone, the only place in the game where PVP takes place, AI enemies lurk. (Expect a full post on the Dark Zone and its PVP later this week.) It still feels very much like your typical open world game, albeit with some RPG elements to work towards. This is a cover-based shooter, making use of the tactical pedigree common in Tom Clancy games.



Welcome to Manhattan. The developers discuss the map being a near 1:1 scale recreation of the New York borough, and it is huge. Hospitals, police stations and metro tunnels have become hazardous points of interest, ranging from high concentrations of contaminants to newly fortified strongholds for gangs. Food, water and new weaponry await in these spots, as well as upgrades for your base and you get to choose how to go about tackling these objectives. The story of The Division has been split across three threads in the game, tying to Tech, Medical or Security-related missions. If you play like a completionist, you will see the whole story and have an amazing base of operations, or you can focus on upgrading the wing and related skill tree that you enjoy using, and just get that thread of the story. What I have seen of the story has been enjoyable, with more than a dollop of Heart of Darkness in the mix.



If you have played a hack-and-slash like Diablo, the loot and inventory system of The Division will be immediately familiar to you. Gear like ammo pouches, gloves, respiratory scrubbers and backpacks add vital stats and improve your DPS or survivability, while a whole host of guns, with a host of mod slots, give you the means of hurling lead and damage numbers at the enemies. Mods are pretty important, because they tend to modify DPS or accuracy by a percentage instead of a fixed amount, and they can be reused. Your favourite mods will probably end up being used on several weapons as you level up and find better loot, making finding a great mod (or crafting one) worth the effort. Also being able to remove mods to put them on other weapons means you won’t sit worrying about waiting for the right gun to come along. Wait that sounds awkward…

At lower levels it was interesting to just run around and shoot everything, but at level 20, it started making sense to have someone as the tank, with others flanking the target or healing when necessary. A silencer on your weapon lowers the threat you create, so I can only imagine that this points to the game having aggro tables for the AI to pick targets. Suddenly a mod that adds a few percent to weapon damage means an increase of 4,000 DPS. On top of that, some weapons have stats that only unlock if you have certain prerequisite stats. One SMG that I saw got a serious damage boost if the player had a really high weapon skill stat, with a low health stat. Another option on the weapon helped with survivability, but only if the character had a really high health stat to start off. It was these little hints at customisation and tweaking of gear that got me excited, hinting at some serious loot with abilities not obtainable through normal levelling.

Disclaimer: My trip to go see Tom Clancy’s The Division was paid for. This included flights, accommodation and food while I was in Malmö, Sweden.

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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