Giant Bomb Review

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Tom Clancy's The Division Review

4
  • PS4
  • XONE
  • PC

The side content is too repetitive, but The Division's main content and exciting multiplayer component stand out and make this thing worth seeing, provided you've got some like-minded friends around.

Needy civilians will trade you jackets and shoes for your water or canned food. It's a pretty good deal.
Needy civilians will trade you jackets and shoes for your water or canned food. It's a pretty good deal.

I really enjoyed much of my time with Tom Clancy's The Division, but I don't think it's a particularly great game. On paper, The Division is precisely the Ubisoft open-world template, where the side tasks are somehow even more repetitive than usual and tower climbing has been replaced with running up to a person or "situation board" at every safe house to fill in your map with a ton of little, cookie-cutter objectives. But the Diablo/Destiny-like nature of its occasional online play gives it a social hook that helps overcome the game's lame attempts at storytelling, its city full of repetitive tasks, and even its complete non-ending. It breaks down like this: if you tend to play these sorts of games by yourself and don't like it when player-on-player conflict can have consequences, you probably won't warm up to The Division. But if you like to group up and do stuff with a set of friends, The Division's competent third-person shooting and its main missions are engaging enough to keep you going. And hopefully the chatter with your friends about hockey scores or where to get the best steak sandwiches or whatever will be good enough to keep you moving through the game's more monotonous moments.

The Division is an always-connected third-person shooter that lets you get into groups of up to four players as you take back a quarantined section of New York City from various looters and opportunists who are attempting to take control of the virus-laden city. It has a setting and a premise, but it's very light on actual story. Instead, the point is to get as much loot as you can. You can grab it from the dead bodies of your enemies. You'll find it in chests. You'll get it as a mission reward. You can even craft your own. But the real story in The Division is watching the numbers go higher. You'll find better armor with various stats. You'll re-roll some of those stats until you find ones that are to your liking. You'll slot mods onto your weapons and armor to make them more effective. You'll stare at stat screens that could have been laid out in a more informative manner and puzzle out which gun parts you should strap to your gun to make it great for murdering bad guys... or good guys, depending on what you're up to. The story doesn't really wrap up so much as it stops, as if it really wants you to focus on the numbers instead of the stuff you're actually doing.

That stuff? Shooting people in the face and hoping that they drop cool stuff. But since this game is semi-realistic, all that cool stuff is based on real weaponry. So the standard leveling curve that you'd expect from an action-RPG is in place, but you're just getting the same guns with higher levels and damage numbers attached. One AK-47 fires just like another, but your level 30 AK-47 is going to do more damage than your level 8 AK-47. And both of them require you to empty a fair amount of your magazine into the opposition in order to bring down enemies that are at or above your level. You have to really lean on a hardcore suspension of disbelief to care about the proceedings, but if you're able to write all that stuff off as "typical video game shit," it's fine.

Each safehouse has a poorly written character who will talk at you when you take on a side mission in his or her district.
Each safehouse has a poorly written character who will talk at you when you take on a side mission in his or her district.

While the side stuff may be monotonous, the game's main quests take you through some unique locations. You'll stomp through police stations, power stations, Grand Central Station, apartment buildings, and all sorts of other hastily fortified positions. They play like a good co-op cover-based shooter should. The action scales up if you're playing with other people and the AI, though prone to moments of complete idiocy, gets pretty good at flanking you if you aren't good enough at flanking them first. It feels hectic, and your various abilities and loadouts can make or break your team, especially at the higher difficulty settings. Those hairy moments, where your team is constantly saving each other and loosely coordinating attacks on waves of enemies, are the best that The Division's co-op side has to offer.

Then there's the Dark Zone. The entire middle of the city is cordoned off due to extreme contamination, so naturally you'll want to go there with some friends and see what's up. This is where the game's hybridized form of competitive multiplayer surfaces. This zone is one large death trap, with enemies that are at your level or tougher. They'll drop good loot, but the loot is "contaminated." So if you want any of it for use in the rest of the game, you have to call in a helicopter at a designated extraction spot and airlift those items out. Extracting that loot requires you to fire a flare gun, which tends to alert another wave of tough enemies, who descend upon your extraction spot to take care of you. If you die, you'll drop your contaminated items and lose a chunk of Dark Zone experience points, which accrue on a separate meter. Also--and this is the important part--other players can turn "rogue" and gun you down at any time, giving them ample opportunities to steal your loot for themselves. Once you do significant damage to a human player, you gain the rogue marker, which alerts every player in your instance and gives them your location. If you can survive, you'll eventually lose rogue status and blend back in.

This leads to tense moments around every corner, since you never know when another group of players might roll up on you, help you finish off some AI fodder, and then just turn on you in the process to take everything. Or maybe the guy standing next to you, waiting for an extraction, will get bored, get greedy, and try to take your stuff. The real consequences make every moment a nail biter. The only catch is that, now that I'm at the level cap, most of the loot I'm extracting isn't meaningfully better than what I'm already wearing. But since you can sell or break items down for crafting materials, the process of filling up on contaminated items is still valuable.

The environmental variety is good, but the activities in said environments are quite repetitive.
The environmental variety is good, but the activities in said environments are quite repetitive.

The Dark Zone, naturally, works best with a steady crew of voice chat enabled players. You can go in alone and hope for the best, but every fight is rough when you're alone and you have no one to back you up if another player or two decide they want your things. That only furthers the Dark Zone as a divisive addition to the game. It can be a hassle to collect a bunch of cool stuff only to see it ripped away from you, but in an era where most games want to reward you even when you lose, there's something sort of refreshing in the way The Division does things. If anything, it'd be cool if this mentality was applied to the entire game, not just the Dark Zone. As it stands, the "regular" parts of New York feel barren. You never encounter human players when you're out on those streets unless you manually group up with people, and there isn't much to do as you run from one place to another. A city-wide Dark Zone would've made the entire game feel like a pressure cooker. Even just occasionally seeing another human player run up and help you take down a side mission at random would've been a huge inclusion.

The city is visually striking in its design, with a lot of little detail and less repetition than you might expect from an open-world game. You'll see a lot of nicely devastated interiors and a weather system that makes snow an actual hassle, due to its impact on your visibility. The city changes a bit, too, as you retake parts of it, complete missions, and restore power. This all looks best on an appropriate PC, but the console versions still look great in their own right. My largest issue on consoles is seeing low-detail textures show up on up-close surfaces for a while before the "right" textures finally pop in. It's distracting. There's some good, ominous music used throughout the game, and things like gunfire are done really well. The sound of your weapon changes as you mod it, so silenced weapons sound appropriately snappy while loud ones sound messy and dominating. That sound translates roughly into threat, letting you pull aggro from enemies or reduce your own profile by going silenced, sort of like Army of Two.

It's a shame that more attention wasn't paid to The Division's story. The side missions didn't need to be as repetitive as they are, and that's disappointing. But there's a real foundation here that makes this worth paying some attention to, provided you don't intend to just shoot your way through the missions by yourself. As a solo game, The Division gets quite boring, and trying to marathon your way through all the side stuff you'll need to do to unlock every upgrade feels more like a chore than a thrilling video game. But enough of the different components work well enough to make for a good start. At times I had my doubts, but I came out of this one wanting to see at least the first couple of planned updates and ready to play more, when it's available.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+

180 Comments

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trucksimulator

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Thanks, Jeff.

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Doctor_doom1175

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Been waiting for the this review. I guess it's time to buy.

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listerfeend

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Edited By listerfeend

4 AK's out of 5.

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Vicious17

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I'll be honest, with the way Jeff's been talking about this, I was expecting a 3.

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dutch0vens

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Edited By dutch0vens

Best thing since Syndicate

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hassun

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Hmmm, from the sound and look of it I think it might be better to wait for some more content to see where Ubisoft is going with this. It seems like there is very little there right now. At least for someone like me who doesn't have that terrible affliction called Loot Lust.

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bboymaestro

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This game gets a Trendy Panel Hat out of Legendary!

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FaulPern

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Sounds like this was the game made for my sisters and me.

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Solh0und

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The short of it: Better than Destiny

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allodude

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Edited By allodude
@vicious17 said:

I'll be honest, with the way Jeff's been talking about this, I was expecting a 3.

Same. I'm guessing this is on the low side of a 4. Maybe this is Jeff's Syndicate-loving side talking.

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csl316

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Expected a 3, pleasantly surprised with a 4. It's been sitting here for a week and I still haven't had a chance to play it, argh.

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alwaysbebombing

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Jeff! The writing man!

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Jayzilla

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lots of "ifs" and "thens" up in that biz for a four star game.

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moregrammarplz

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Edited By moregrammarplz

I quite enjoy a fresh Jeff Gerstmann review. I'm enjoying the game quite a bit so far, even though I have yet to venture into the Dark Zone - I'm going to wrap up the tasks in the Tenderloin before I head in there. The side content is pretty formulaic, but being able to test out a variety of different weapons and skill loadouts while working your way through it can keep it from getting too stale. The game looks amazing maxed out on PC and panders perfectly to my love for New York City.

Plus I really enjoy the game's aesthetic, especially the contaminated areas. The first day I played, I was down in Chelsea near the contaminated area. The snow was coming down hard and I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of my character. The ground and the facades of the building were covered in bright yellow tarps and body bags were piled up on the sidewalks. It was incredibly eerie and silent. Then from out of the gloom comes an old, hunched-over lady. I gave her a bottle of water and she gave me a purple scarf. It was a pretty great moment.

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Colonel_Pockets

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I assumed this would be a 3 star game. The dark zone is a really cool concept. I'm lucky that I have three other friends that I can play with. This is definitely a co-op game.

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ItsMagicNeal

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Yep. Sounds like my experience with Destiny, and I just don't want another of those, especially since the shooting didn't feel especially good to me in the beta, wasn't bad, but not amazing. Also, is it weird to anyone else that a game that is trying to be so realistic in it's setting is so "gamey"? I had this issue with Fallout 4 where it was hard to get immersed in anything since I would run up to higher level raiders and shoot 50 cal sniper bullets in there face and do not a ton of damage. It's just this weird disconnect between the world and the things you do in it, kinda sounds like the same thing is going on here.

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benelori

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I have a feeling this barely passed 3 stars, and not just from what Jeff has been saying about it, but from the text of the review as well. I found myself having a hard time to discover the positives that gave this 4 stars....but that's probably because I'm not really a co-op guy :D

Too bad the story is bad, because the settings seems amazing and full of possibilities :/

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poke__egg

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NoneSun

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Edited By NoneSun

Wasn't expecting 4 stars at all but I guess after some more time it's grown on Jeff a bit. Bought the game a couple hours ago and still have another few 'til it's finished downloading.

I hope it's got enough content for me and some re-playability. I don't think I'll be satisfied unless they put out some free content for it too.

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cooljammer00

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Wow, 4 stars. Higher than I thought it'd be, considering how much Jeff ragged on it.

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Nameless2000

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This was a 3-star review, but the number just kept going up.

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geflato

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I'm enjoying the game alot, just reached level 30. I agree with Jeff though almost point for point. I'm not in love with the game and yet I've racked up almost two days of playtime. It's a great co-op experience and on paper there's a bunch of things about it that should be the most boring shit in the world. Yet I find myself sinking hours into the game without even really realizing it.

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stoneforge

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4 stars seems generous with the overall negative tone of this review.

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BagSquad

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Edited By BagSquad
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Shivoa

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Each safehouse has a poorly written character who will talk at you when you take on a side mission in his or her district.

Never have truer words been spoken about a game.

Really enjoying the game and have a feeling this is very much like the original Assassin's Creed: the series of 3 sequels they make after this that move to a new setting and then slowly expand it before it goes totally off the rails should be able to bring forward everything that works here and get away from so much repetitive mission design which lacks enough narrative flourish (or visual spectacle, as the main missions already craftily deploy here even if you don't care a bit for the ongoing story) to stop you minding that you're only doing the same 5 or 6 activities over and over again.

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ejiehi

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Division good Destiny bad.

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ll_Exile_ll

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ll_Exile_ll  Online

I'm enjoying this quite a bit, probably due to the fact that every second of my 40+ hours of playtime has been with a group of friends. Of course, I'm also someone that's played and really enjoyed 1000+ hours of Destiny, also almost entirely with friends.

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imtall

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Thanks Jeff!

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tr0n

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Lol 4 stars. Cmon Jeff.

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deactivated-58d2da148e283

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I'm playing solo and have to say it's a super polished 3/5 stars for me. I'm sure if I was playing this game with friends, it'd justify the 4/5 stars Jeff gave it.

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The game is actually a relax game to just roam around and do some questing or crafting parts run, where usually a group of hoody gang is located. My only problem is the enemy variety, currently at level 20 and all i see are like 3 type of enemy with varying health bar color.

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MichaelBach

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DefaultProphet

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A city-wide Dark Zone would've made the entire game feel like a pressure cooker. Even just occasionally seeing another human player run up and help you take down a side mission at random would've been a huge inclusion.

Man that would kill the game for me. Dark Zone is very tense, I can't be in it for that long without needing a break. It'd be cool if Friendly Fire was off and people showed up in the rest of the game though

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Aegon

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I'm usually not one to comment on the star amount...in fact I never have before, but I feel like this just doesn't fit with Jeff's general tone about this game.

Especially the "this game is the same at hour X as it is at hour 1" comment on UPF (majorly paraphrasing).

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KommanderCevin

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No more specific comparisons to Destiny?

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Yummylee

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Edited By Yummylee

I've actually played The Division completely solo (besides grouping up with randoms for main missions) and have still greatly enjoyed my time with it. Even the Dark Zone has had its thrills despite playing on my own. Hell if anything exploring the DZ on your own assuredly adds to the tension. Though end game DZ is real brutal since all enemies match your level, meaning that trying to survive on your own is now a bit too overwhelming for my liking unfortunately. RIP Easy Abandoned Gas Station dungeon.

The story does indeed have what can be summarised as a non-ending, however... The game even kind of acknowledges this as Faye Lau rattles off a bunch of loose ends with its post-game pep talk! I otherwise think the story is surprisingly engaging, or I should say rather the stories you encounter throughout the city via the echos and phone calls and such. Some really fantastic voice acting throughout when it comes to that stuff.

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Samba_P

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No mention of an end game? What do you do when you reach the cap and finish the story? Are there strikes and/or raids? The problem I got with these games is that I need something to work towards, just collecting and seeing numbers go up doesn't do it for me. From what I have gathered the end game is just collecting better gear in the darkzone, but to what end?

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Yummylee

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@samba_p said:

No mention of an end game? What do you do when you reach the cap and finish the story? Are there strikes and/or raids? The problem I got with these games is that I need something to work towards, just collecting and seeing numbers go up doesn't do it for me. From what I have gathered the end game is just collecting better gear in the darkzone, but to what end?

The End Game as of now is replaying previous missions on an extra hard difficulty setting and scouring the dark zone. Raids (called 'Incursions' I believe) are on their way via a free update.

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Zips

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@yummylee said:
@samba_p said:

No mention of an end game? What do you do when you reach the cap and finish the story? Are there strikes and/or raids? The problem I got with these games is that I need something to work towards, just collecting and seeing numbers go up doesn't do it for me. From what I have gathered the end game is just collecting better gear in the darkzone, but to what end?

The End Game as of now is replaying previous missions on an extra hard difficulty setting and scouring the dark zone. Raids (called 'Incursions' I believe) are on their way via a free update.

All of the official marketing surrounding Incursions have never once equated them to "raids." That's something a lot in the community kind of cooked up on their own. Incursions are going to be new end-game content but I wouldn't go into them expecting a "traditional MMO-like" raid experience, because neither Ubisoft nor Massive ever called them that themselves. I can see a lot of people potentially being upset with Ubisoft/Massive if Incursions aren't what they cooked up in their own minds as being.

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deactivated-5e60e701b849a

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If anything, it'd be cool if this mentality was applied to the entire game, not just the Dark Zone.

Absolutely! Just walking around in the Dark Zone is more exciting than the high point of the main missions. By the time I got to the east side of the map, I felt like the single player part is just a stepping stone to get me to level 30 and ready me up to "the real game."

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logaan

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The text of this review is mostly negative. It's not clear to me what about the game warrants 4 stars in Jeff's view.

That said, I'm enjoying the game a great deal, and was pleased to see the 4 star rating.

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dougfunk15

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Edited By dougfunk15

I've enjoyed my time with this game so far. Funny to see many in the internet gaming community erupt in a fit whenever someone says positive things about a Ubisoft product.

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ALavaPenguin

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Edited By ALavaPenguin

@logaan: How good a game is shouldn't be based on word count. There may be more things to say about its negative aspects than its positive, but having more things to say about a negative doesn't mean the negatives outweigh the positives.

I honestly agree though with this review... the game has some great highs, but some disappointing aspects to it that are very MUCH worth talking about.... I am enjoying my time with it as well, but I would most definitely not call it a great game.

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Soral

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this review really doesn't read like a 4/5

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Dussck

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I think this review reflects exactly how I feel about the game; awesome presentation, lots of fun to play with friends, but solo it's a bit boring. A city wide dark zone would be a great idea. Or how about making the whole city a dark zone when you reach the level cap?
Would've been very exciting to do all the single player missions with the ever presence danger of getting killed by other players.

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RevenantXenos

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The Dark Zone is a great idea and seems to be well executed. Watching the quick look I could feel the tension as Jeff, Alex and Austin were staring down other players at helicopter sites and hearing gunfire in the distance. I hope Destiny gets a Dark Zone equivalent some day. That's probably too ambitious to release as DLC but maybe when the sequel drops.

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Yummylee

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Edited By Yummylee

@zips said:
@yummylee said:
@samba_p said:

No mention of an end game? What do you do when you reach the cap and finish the story? Are there strikes and/or raids? The problem I got with these games is that I need something to work towards, just collecting and seeing numbers go up doesn't do it for me. From what I have gathered the end game is just collecting better gear in the darkzone, but to what end?

The End Game as of now is replaying previous missions on an extra hard difficulty setting and scouring the dark zone. Raids (called 'Incursions' I believe) are on their way via a free update.

All of the official marketing surrounding Incursions have never once equated them to "raids." That's something a lot in the community kind of cooked up on their own. Incursions are going to be new end-game content but I wouldn't go into them expecting a "traditional MMO-like" raid experience, because neither Ubisoft nor Massive ever called them that themselves. I can see a lot of people potentially being upset with Ubisoft/Massive if Incursions aren't what they cooked up in their own minds as being.

I mean, since you could almost consider the DZ Landmarks and contaminated zones as the 'dungeons' of the game, Incursions being what the closest The Division will see to a Raid isn't unreasonable I don't think. It won't be the scale of an MMO raid, certainly not, but nothing in The Division really matches the breadth of an MMO anywhoo.

Calling it a Raid in casual conversation is perhaps overselling it, though. But it seemed like the easiest go-to term.

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FruityGoblin

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I've been waiting on this game for the Jeff Gerstmann review. It was the suspension of disbelief about having to pile dozens of bullets into human enemies that was the catch for me. If you were fighting mutants/zombies/aliens/robot I would have been on board day one as it seems like "Yea, I need to blast loads of ammo into this mutant/alien/zombie/robot before it drops". Just makes sense. Although in a game like Boarderlands you come up against human NPCs and have to pile loads of ammo into the human baddies the art style and overall tone of the game makes it work for me, also you do get to fight a variety of other enemies which helps.

This review helps me put my hang-ups aside and treat it as a game where stuff like using a whole clip to put an enemy down and a beanie obviously will give me protection is okay. Although a mutant/alien mod/dlc would be great.

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Visualizer

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Edited By Visualizer

Very nice review. I decided to buy it at full price this weekend and have been having a lot of fun with it. This game really shines if you have friends or just decide to utilize the matchmaking to co-op play the missions. It's been scratching my loot itch very nicely over the past few days.

I'm also really surprised to see a more level-headed reaction than usual instead of the knee-jerk "its shit", "terrible game", etc. that commenters on video game sites often reply with. Honestly playing this game and enjoying it has given me a great deal more empathy for Destiny fans, and I never really a strong opinion one way or the other about that game.

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SamJ5001

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Edited By SamJ5001

Thanks for the review, Jeff; I was really interested in hearing your final thoughts. I've been enjoying my time with it so far and the Dark Zone content in particular has made for some hilarious situations, but the game certainly has some issues going forward. Still, it can be great fun when played with others.

It's definitely got a hold on me for now, but I don't see myself playing it long into the future. Will probably check out the raids when they go live, though.