One of the most difficult things to accomplish in a video game is to achieve a suspension of disbelief, which makes players feel like they're part of a real story, not just an omniscient bystander watching events unfold around them or some mindless drone moving from mundane task to mundane task. Tom Clancy's The Division impressively pulls this off by crafting a scenario that's believable and compelling, then drops players right into the thick of it. The story isn't just told to players; it unfolds around them through overheard conversations between desperate survivors on the street or recovered voicemail messages explaining the fear and panic of the first days of the outbreak. It all comes together in such a way that you can't help but feel like you're genuinely invested in the events taking place. The gameplay also contributes to an immersive experience; at its core, The Division is a shooter, with some RPG elements tossed in for good measure, and it's those RPG elements that really make the game shine. Players can customize their characters in endless ways without getting locked down to a single role. By allowing players to customize weapons and abilities on the fly, the game encourages them to try out new combinations and ultimately find the ones best suited to their style of play. Controls are surprisingly responsive, especially for a cover-based shooter. It's a cinch to dive into and out of cover, getting the best angles to take out the opposition. This style of play works even better when you're part of a team, and The Division makes it easy to pull together a few friends or even match up with total strangers to take back New York.
Better yet, players can take the fight to the "Dark Zone", a section of New York that's been designated a no-man's land. Here, agents can work together or against each other to scavenge valuable items in this highly contaminated area and extract them via airlift for use. The Dark Zone is a high-stakes, high-anxiety multiplayer experience where you never know if the person standing next to you has your back … or is just waiting to stab you in it. Despite never feeling like a typical MMO game, The Division does require a persistent online connection to the servers to play. Unfortunately, this means if the servers are down for maintenance or overloaded with players, there's no recourse … even if you just want to dive in for some solo play. Also, due to the nature of the game's shooter roots, some of the genre's usual repetition is hard not to notice. When you've seen one crazed baseball-bat-wielding thug in a hoodie or a gas-mask-wearing pyromaniac with a flamethrower, you've literally seen them all. Even so, it's easy to look past these minor hiccups and see how well-crafted the overall experience is. The Division is a superb start to a new franchise and an experience that will leave you on the edge of your seat.