Play The Division for a few hours and you'll think you've got the gist of it.
You haven't, but you'll think you have.
At first it feels like a basic cover shooter with a layer of RPG added on top. You go from mission to mission, shoot people and replace whatever you're using with whatever you've picked up. The little numbers that pop out of enemies when you shoot them get bigger, you feel good for a bit and then you move on.
The shooting is good enough, if not anything special. Enemies are pretty stupid, weapon types have different quirks, helping you pick a favourite to look out for in future loot pick-ups and the cover system works but offers nothing new. It just felt like it offered nothing truly special.
This isn't helped by the fact that the game is set in a near future, post epidemic, midtown Manhattan. Just a few hours in and you'll realise that you wont stumble across huge monsters or interesting weaponry.
But I couldn't ignore the fact that my friends list was lit up with people playing while my phone buzzed my battery flat with mates talking tactics and telling stories from the night before.
So I stuck with it, if only to level up enough to join them in their adventures, and slowly began to understand that there's far more to this game than plodding through New York, shooting people in the head and switching out the odd weapon here and there.
The more I played, the more questions I had for my gaming partners. I'd notice systems that I didn't even know existed and questioned how best to utilise them. Before long my focus had shifted from improving my aim to improving my stats.
tried to simplify the RPG elements of the game to concentrate on combat, The Division
wants you to get wrapped up in numbers and math. It's not a matter of simply replacing you current armour and arsenal with kit that has a higher number attached. It's more complicated than that.
Everything in your inventory can be tweaked and improved. Guns have mods to help with aiming, reloading and shooting from distance while your armour can be improved with stat boosts and increased ability effects.
It's a balancing act. Where one piece of chest armour may offer you a slightly improved defence number, the weaker one can make your healing ability more effective. It's the old risk/reward system hidden within item stats, and there's no easy answer to creating the most powerful soldier.
With that in mind you'll have to decide on what sort of character you want to build, be it a tank holding the front line; a medic who can support your team through distraction and healing or even a tech expert.
More importantly, if you put in the hard work required to understanding The Division
's ins and outs you'll be rewarded by having more fun when the bullets start flying. It changes the way you play the game. You no longer feel like you're chasing levels in a weak version of Gears of War
- you are actually having a real effect in the battlefield of the Big Apple.
Currently all PvE missions are four-player based, and although most can be played alone, the only way you'd want to approach them is with a team.
I've finished a few missions without any help and although the game scales well enough to let you get to the end, it doesn't make for an exciting experience. You'll be hiding behind cover constantly, getting the odd shot off and backing away. Slow and dull.
However, add three players into the mix and you're no longer a quivering wreck hiding behind a wall. With a crew to back you up your confidence is sky high and you wont think twice about storming forward to chuck a fire-blasting turret out into the middle of a crowd so that the rest of your team can concentrate fire on the ball of burning flesh.
It's the combination of abilities and skills that a team of four have to offer that takes the average shooting and makes it special.
Thankfully if you're not fortunate enough to have similarly addicted mates The Division
offers matchmaking for pretty much everything you want to do and is surprisingly effective with it. Those excuses Bungie give for not allowing strangers to team up in Destiny
have been proven to be nonsense here.
Even roaming the streets of Manhattan in free-roam mode is vastly improved with random players by your side, and if you have your game set so that anyone can join at any point you can go about your business as you see fit while players of a similar level drop in and out and follow whatever you're doing like a well oiled team who've been gaming together for years.
In some ways playing alongside randoms is the better option. The Division
suffers from the age-old RPG problem of scaling difficulty with teams of varied levels. It'll adjust the enemies to sit somewhere between the level spread making it too hard for the lower levelled players and too easy for the more experienced.
It's a good sign that Ubisoft has already highlighted these issues and promised to put them right in future updates.
Progression to the end game is a decent one. The further you get the better the enemy AI becomes, as you'd expect when you've gone from fighting looters to renegade armies.
There's a mixed bag of enemy types too. Snipers are a constant threat and force you to pick your moments when moving from cover, while those with grenades will take the luxury of picking those moments away.