Before I dive into what sounds like a scathing opinion on Ubisoft's latest, and possibly biggest, release, let me say this.
I really do like The Division.
I do! It's compelling, with loots drops that keep you wanting to explore one more block of the shattered New York City, a great cover system, and enough guns and gun-tweaking to make even the trigger-happiest gun-nerd pleased.
But it's also had a rather... less than stellar launch cycle. Nothing fatal, of course, but enough to certainly make you think that playing any game of this size on day one is a bad idea. Here's my own tale of Division woe...
How many discs?
You can never tell what form review code is going to come in. It may literally just be a code, it could be actual boxed games. In this case, Ubi was rather generous and sent out the massive Sleeper Agent Edition, complete with crappy watch and tacky armband. Hidden behind the artbook and a poster and codes for, I don't know, a tactical underwear set, was the actual game.
Five discs worth of game.
I foolishly figured that loading from discs would be quicker than downloading via the thrice-cursed pile of misbegotten code that is Uplay, and of course, Ubi had the last laugh. it turns out that the third of the discs was fatally flawed - it consistently bluescreened my system. Which if course meant that when I restarted, Uplay knew the game was in my library, so just started downloading it. From the beginning.
On the upside - an upside! For Uplay! Amaze! - The Division would be playable after download about 5GB of its 30-odd gigabyte total size. That was only two hours (I'd like an NBN now!), and even though the download spent a lot of time hovering on 1:43, it came down, and I got to play.
During this time, I was pottering about, wasting time on Twitter, and possibly trying to get the #FuckUplay hashtag trending. But there I discovered that my woes, while specific in my case, where more generally universal. The game's servers were down, then up, and then down again, delivering only oddly cryptic messages, often relating to the call-sign 'ROMEO'.
So maybe waiting was good, because when the stars were eventually right, I was able to log on just fine. That 5GB of data, though, only contained the opening newbie zone, which is a few blacks and enough missions to get you to about level 4. I cleared it in a half hour so, redid the Police Siege mission with a group, and then attempted to get into Manhattan.
The little of The Division that I did get to play was good though. New York looks absolutely stunning, and aside from the er, minor, um, risk of setting my PC on fire, it really does show the PC version of the game as the best version of the game. Ubisoft's really nailed its cover mechanic, and the time-to-reward ratio is pretty perfect/addictive. As a shooter it leans toward everything taking a long time to kill, but some people really like that. Personally, I prefer more lethal shooters, but this does suit the game's RPG systems more fully.
But this morning, however, when Manhattan had finally installed, it was back to Crashtastica, population shitty old me. The game decided to re-render the cutscene into Manhattan on the fly, replacing the battered NPCs and eagle-eye views of the city with... orange. And some brown. Maybe a dash of yellow.
Then it promptly crashed, and refused to start up again.
So I threw a file-verification party, which started the download of Manhattan again.
Now, despite all of this, I've got to give Ubisoft props. A lesser game would have me microwaving the installation discs and dancing on their sparking corpses. But, instead, I'm clock-watching while writing this because I want to get home and have a - gunfingers-crossed - proper night of playing the hell out of this game. I want more loot, I want to upgrade to a sniper-rifle, and I want to explore the Dark Zone, and hunt down rogue agents. I want to see if the game's narrative will actually surprise me, though I'm less sanguine on that front.
But mostly I want to enjoy exploring the world, tracking down the little bits of story and side-narrative. And yes, there'll be some face-shooting in between all that.
It's about the highest praise I can give is that bugs and crashes and blue-screens aside, I am still highly compelled by The Division.
If you want to see what the game looks like when it does work, however, make sure to click through our gallery of the game's opening minutes!