Ubisoft held a closed beta weekend for The Division. In terms of beta previews and tests, it was certainly on the small side, but for what it was, it was legitimately fun and shows a lot of promise. And it shows a lot of confidence that Ubisoft is allowing press and non-press alike to speak about it openly. It also pointed out a few issues with the game that I hope won’t be represented in the release build.
Is it close to what was teased so brazenly at E3 2013? Absolutely not. So don’t get your hopes up for something that revolutionary. What was shown this weekend still fits a need in the video game market, so don’t write off The Division until the full build releases and most of the reviews start rolling in.
After my time with the game, I’m more on the fence than ever. This could be a smash hit or a flub.
The Division has you playing as an agent charged with rebuilding order in New York after a near apocalyptic event. The game is essentially split into two different modes that work seamlessly together. There is a player vs. environment section of New York where you explore and fight against enemy NPCs alone or cooperatively with friends. There are instanced missions in specific buildings where you can team up with other players through a matchmaking system. Enemies drop loot and grant experience that you use to build your agent how you see fit.
It’s a 3rd person cover shooter with RPG elements, so the simplest way to think about it would be to mentally combine Watch Dogs with Destiny. The Division uses a cover to cover scoot mechanic that was introduced in Splinter Cell: Conviction. From what I could see, there isn’t a stealth system, per se, so building a stealth class seems to be out of the question which isn’t disappointing, but a little surprising considering they are both from the Tom Clancy franchise.
As a shooter, the enemies are on the bullet spongey side, but they can also deal out damage pretty quickly. No question, it’s odd for human enemy types to be this resistant to bullets and looks a little out of place, but it doesn’t feel bad.
As a Ubisoft game, it’s also open world. You can explore the streets of New York at your own pace. Doing so will lead you to finding new trinkets and gizmos like cosmetic changes for your character or finding supplies to upgrade your base.
Your base–which is set in the single player portion of the game–is where you can spend materials on upgrades to your tech, your medic station, or to your defenses which in turn unlock skills and perks for the player. During this beta, only one of those trees was open, the medical one, so it’s tough to say if players can, with enough time, maximize all three branches, but only select a set number of skills, or if players need to create new characters for each branch.
Here you can also pick up new missions, buy and sell gear, and manage your extended storage.
For a Ubisoft game, the single player portion of the game is on the light side for this beta. In the past even I have criticized Ubisoft for just dumping junk all over their maps, but here I feel like the single player portion of the map is on the empty side. There weren’t that many enemy encounters. There was only one real mission to complete. And as far as goodies go, I can only say I found a neat hat and some random cosmetic items. There were a few side missions that showed off some more potential, but, again, for the size of the space given, it was light on the activity.
Which lead to another concern I have about the full launch. With so little to do (and no real means of transportation), I can see that walking from one part of town to the other will get quite boring. Comparing it to Destiny or Borderlands (other hybrid multiplayer shooter experiences), those games gave you speeder bikes and road warrior cars. Digging through the menus, I couldn’t find a fast travel system to cut down on the schlepping. There IS a small fast travel system meant to port you to the mission location, but not one that takes you to your base, or to the entrance to the Dark Zone.
The Dark Zone is the unregulated wild section of New York. There are other players searching the same buildings you are which leads to some unique experiences. You can team up with other players, and I had a GREAT time chatting and playing with random people. We cleared floors as a team. Gathered goodies as a team, and watched each others’ backs when we put our items onto helicopters for extraction.
However, when you’re not on a team, friendly fire is OFF. Stray bullets hitting other players can mark you as a rogue agent. Or, you can just intentionally start a fight with other people. Players can get malicious, too. So if you want a pvp-less experience, I don’t think the final build of The Division will offer that.
Enemies are much stronger in the Dark Zone, so you have to be more careful about how and when you want to engage in a fight. And if you’re alone, you also have to watch your back all the time. But, the stronger enemies also drop better weapons and armor than the single player portion of the game, so while venturing into the Dark Zone doesn’t have to be your core experience, it will definitely be enticing enough to take your chances.
When you pick up a new item in Dark Zone, you can’t simply carry it back into the single player portion. It needs to be extracted via helicopter for decontamination. Then it’s placed into your storage box back in your base. But if you’re killed by a rogue agent, he or she can take some of your items. So, careful extraction is also something to worry about.
It’s actually a pretty clever system that will be fairly unique to The Division. My concern about the Dark Zone is that in this beta, the enemies spawned a little on the slow side. My first two visits into that portion of New York were entirely fruitless. I didn’t see a single enemy NPC. I got shot and and took down a few rogue agents, but personally, I’m not interested in a pure pvp experience. You can find that pretty much anywhere.
It also lacks structure, which is both a massive benefit, and a huge detriment. I hope there will be missions that can be accomplished within the Dark Zone, even if it’s very MMO-lite. “Hunt down X member of group Y.” “Explore zone Y.” Something that will funnel players together and focus their efforts.
But what is interesting is the two zones have completely different experience levels and currencies. The money you get outside the Dark Zone, can’t be spent inside. And the levels you gain the Dark Zone, mean nothing to your overall level outside.
Graphically, the game looks nice and ran well enough on my GTX 970 and my aging i7. The sound wasn’t as rich as I was hoping (another disappointment from the E3 presentation).
But all in all, I had fun with The Division. A lot of fun. But it is still entirely too early to say whether or not the full build will be worth the cash. It’s still bubbling with potential and is poised to be a truly remarkable cooperative experience, but a lot can go wrong. For now, I’m looking forward to testing out and reviewing what the game will be, and trying to forget about what the game was teased to be.
Tested on: PC
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One
Relaunch Date: March 8, 2016
Beta access provided by developer