I’ve sunk about six of the last twenty four hours into The Division beta. In that time, I’ve wandered the virus-ravaged (yet still beautiful) streets of Manhattan. I’ve killed an alarming amount of bad guys in hoodies. I’ve collected loot, and upgraded one gun with another that has slightly bigger numbers. I’ve delved into the Dark Zone and come out in one piece – and better geared.
And I want to play more.
The Division is Ubisoft’s latest open world fare, developed by Massive Entertainment, who are previously known for World in Conflict. It’s online, and it’s multiplayer, and it’s an RPG. And you could even say it’s massive, since it was developed by a studio with that name, and the section of Manhattan you’re able to wander around in is quite large. The game could easily be compared to Destiny. Both of which are weird lite MMOs.
The beta, however, is pretty limited. You could almost call it a demo. You’re plopped into Manhattan sometime after the beginning of the game, at level four, and you’re able to play until you get bored, but you’ll stop leveling at level eight. Still, between the missions and side quests available, and the amount of the overall map you have access to, the beta offers a pretty good first taste of the game.
On one hand, it’s an RPG, featuring loot and upgrades, and enemy bosses that take slightly longer than regular enemies to kill. “Bullet-sponge” enemies is one complaint thrown at the game. When viewed as a shooter, yeah, I suppose killing enemies in The Division takes longer than Call of Duty, or Battlefield. But when viewed through the lens of an MMO, or an RPG, it’s perfectly reasonable. Normal enemies go down with relative ease, and beefier armored enemies do take more bullets. Now if higher levels and end game rolls around and enemies just become harder and harder to kill, without adding anything interesting the mix, we might have a problem.
On the other hand, it’s a Tom Clancy game, featuring guns and cover and tactics. From what’s seen in the beta, which – mind you – is only a snippet of the game, The Division seems to be lacking in the tactical aspects. It plays well, from a controls standpoint, but enemies react more like mobs in an MMO than dynamic opponents with a deep AI. They will take cover, and at times I thought that maybe a few of them were trying to flank me, but that might have been a coincidence. It’d be nice if they showed signs of being wounded, like clutching an arm, or falling to a knee, or limping. It’s still way more engaging than fighting mobs in most MMOs, but hopefully the higher you rise in levels, the more challenge and the more enemies varieties will show up.
With focus being more on loot, customization, and progression, The Division is sure to have its naysayers. This is a game built for the action RPG and the MMO fans out there. All the hooks are there, including rumors of end-game raid content. As stated, you’ll find better guns or armor with bigger numbers, or rarer guns with special perks, like 20% more damage, or more stability. At one point, I found a blue assault rifle, and after that I felt like I was in heaven. There are attachments, too. It’s not uncommon to find a scope or extended magazine with its own bonuses. There’s also a skill and talent system. There are only a handful of skills to try out in the beta, and the talent system is completely disabled.
There’s a story, too, but very little of it makes an appearance in the beta. There’s no telling if the full story will go any interesting places, or if what’s there is as par-for-the-course as it seems. But what the beta lacks in story, it makes up for with the Dark Zone, the game’s pseudo-PvP zone. There you can shoot other players and steal loot they’ve collected, but it’s not encouraged. Players who attack other players become “rogue agents,” and are marked on the map for other players to hunt down, kill, and collect a bounty.
Loot in the Dark Zone is interesting as well. Everything you pick up is contaminated and must be cleansed before it can be used. This is the loot that’s dropped when you die. Nothing currently equipped will ever be relinquished. But to cleanse this contaminated loot, you’ll have to make your way to an extraction zone and call in a chopper to lift the satchels away. Then they’ll be decontaminated and show up in a player’s stash. These zones are always PvP hotspots, and you’re just as likely to lose loot than to have it decontaminated.
But not every player out there is out to kill you. I’ve had just as many pleasant encounters as unpleasant ones. You never know who’s going to be friendly and give you a hand and who’s going to gun you down and steal your loot. Players carrying anything found in the Dark Zone will have it indicated by a yellow satchel hanging from their backpack. So if you’re loaded up with goodies, other people will know, and you tend to be more on alert than normal, and in general, the Dark Zone makes for a fairly tense experience.
Technically speaking, the game is gorgeous, and a whole lot of attention to detail went into the world. The UI can be somewhat overbearing, but it’s also fully customizable. You can turn off everything if you so desire. For anyone worried about a crappy PC-port, don’t be. It seems readily apparent that Massive Entertainment has a fair bit more technical prowess than Ubisoft has lately shown. Aside from handful of crashes when I first started playing, the game seems well-optimized, and those crashes could easily be chalked up to beta-woes, especially since they went away once I tweaked a few graphics settings.
It’s hard to tell just how much content there will be when The Division launches on March 8th, but from what I’ve played on the beta, I can definitely see it being worth the $60 asking price if you’re someone who gravitates toward loot and progression. It hasn’t won me over well enough to preorder, but assuming the day-one impressions and reviews aren’t surprisingly harsh, I’ll probably give it a whirl.
There’s nothing like a good whirl.