Review: The Division: Survival

Cold, lonely, but great.

It’s been a rocky road for The Division. After months of post-launch support exacerbating problems and pushing away its player base, the game needed a major shakeup to get people back on board. It successfully pulled that off with Update 1.4, delaying the game’s DLC plans to instead fix the biggest issues with the game and bring it back on track.

Now it’s come the time for Ubisoft Massive to look forward, and it’s done so by releasing the game’s next expansion, Survival. While it isn’t as big as the previous one, Underground, Survival is still a great bit of DLC for newcomers, veterans and returning players alike.

The general concept of Survival is pretty simple. 24 players enter a harsh, snow-covered Manhattan and have to fight each other and NPCs over resources, reach the centre of the map, and extract the McGuffin. For those familiar with the concept, this is basically The Division’s answer to the Minecraft Hunger Games mode.

The Division’s answer to the Minecraft Hunger Games.

Survival is instanced and completely divorced from the rest of the game’s character progression, stripping every player of their items and skills for the duration of the match. It’s up to the player to scavenge and craft every weapon, gear piece and cosmetic item (which has a purpose that will become clear shortly) out of what can be found within the mode.

It’s an interesting direction for what is essentially an MMO expansion to go in. On the one hand, Survival is accessible to every player regardless of level. Those who’ve hit the level cap and are well-experienced with the endgame can play with those who’ve just made their way out of the tutorial and be on a level playing field.

Survival could quite easily be made a standalone game.

On the other, it’s easy for the DLC to feel somewhat inconsequential. Doing well in the match can give you various rewards for the rest of the game, but the entire process feels very separate and detached in a way Underground didn’t. You go in without your gear, and chances are once you’re done you’ll be straight back to the exact same character you were before with little to no progression. Survival could quite easily be made a standalone game with little to no impact on the rest of the game’s systems.

The mode itself is intriguing. As the name suggests, the main hook is the presence of multiple survival mechanics to juggle while you make your way through the tundra. Hunger, thirst, infection and temperature all need to be carefully managed, either through crafting equipment or looting consumables.

A cool twist is that hunger and thirst aren’t simple timers to you dying like in other survival games, but instead cause very tangible disadvantages if they’re not taken care of. For example, being thirsty will limit how much loot you can see through walls, and so keeping topped up with water is essential for efficient searching. It does a good job of making the different needs feel less like arbitrary timers you have to fight against, and gives you a real reason to look after your character.

The mode can be played in the 24-player PvP mode, where everybody generally kills each other on site, or in a 4-player PvE mode. It’s a chiller way of playing, as the only threats are the survival mechanics and the NPCs, but that doesn’t make it especially easier.

A chiller way of playing.

Survival is hard. Really bloody hard. If it isn’t frostbite or another player taking you out, chances are the enemies will be able to take you down incredibly easily. What would be an easy romp through the city in the core game becomes a tense creep through the streets, especially once you’re back in the Dark Zone where the difficulty ramps up even more. Trying to sneak around a group of Cleaner NPCs felt more like a Splinter Cell level than anything I’m used to in the Division, and I loved it.

That’s the biggest appeal of Survival to me as a fairly dedicated Division player. It does a great job of highlighting mechanics and systems that often get buried under side-quests and Incursions and the Dark Zone in the core game. The cover system’s stealth influences really come through, and having to pay attention to the character stats while crafting whatever you can makes you really think about the numbers at play to building a character. These aren’t things you think about in the normal game, but in Survival it becomes crucial.

It’s hard not to be disappointed by the slim offerings here.

Unfortunately, there is an overall lack of content compared to the previous expansion. Underground introduced plenty of open world stuff alongside the core Underground mode, the biggest addition being an entirely new Incursion (Division-speak for ‘raid’). Survival, on the other hand, doesn’t do this. The accompanying 1.5 update adds some new loot, but the DLC itself doesn’t add anything but the Survival mode.

It’s easy to understand why this is, after all the game’s just had to go through a major clean-up in the 1.4 update, but it’s hard not to be disappointed by the slim offerings here after being relatively spoiled the first time around. I think the lack of other things to do exacerbates the detached feeling Survival has to the rest of the game.

I love Survival. The mode is a shorter, fun-sized blast of what makes The Division so much fun, while also managing to put an interesting slant on some of the core game’s mechanics. The focus on crafting, cosmetics and scavenging in an even playing field for all players, instead of min-maxing the best character possible and sticking with it, makes it a nice change of pace. While I question the lack of content and the overall feeling of detachment from the rest of the game, Survival was worth the delay.

Not bad for a game that was pretty crap only a few months ago!

A review code for the base game and the season pass was provided for coverage at a previous site.

Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4

Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft Massive

Price: £11.99

Release date: November 22, 2016 (PS4 version launches 30 days later)

  • Great survival mechanics
  • Tense enemy encounters
  • Accessible for all players
  • Feels very detached from the core game

Survival is a great expansion. With beautiful, snowy weather and tense enemy encounters, it’s easy to forget how distant the rest of the game feels while you’re in a match.

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Joe is LPVG’s resident hardware nerd. If it’s overpriced and has gaudy RGB lighting, he’s probably drooling over it. He loves platformers, MMOs, RPGs, hack ‘n slashers and FPS, with his favourite games being Mirror’s Edge, Left 4 Dead, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Oblivion and Dead Space. Don’t ask him about his unhealthily large Monsters Inc memorabilia collection. Seriously, just don’t ask…

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