I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Ubisoft’s The Division. After the fiasco that was Watch Dogs, in which the promised visuals and features weren’t completely delivered (the infamous 2012 E3 trailer and the final product), I was initially impressed by The Division’s E3 reveal tech demo, but I took it with some hesitation. The impressive visuals, the fluid and seamless transition from exploration to combat, and the excellent multiplayer communication as the group took out all the baddies – it all seemed too good to be true. While I knew it would technically be possible on current-gen consoles, Watch Dogs’ legacy would always warn me of misdirected hype. But now that the closed beta is finally available and I’ve had some time with it, I can finally relax. While it’s not exactly the same game that was shown at E3, it’s very close to it, and most importantly, it’s tons of fun.
Tom Clancy’s The Division – Closed Beta
Developed by Ubisoft Massive \ Published by Ubisoft
Coming to the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Previewed on the Xbox One.
The beta features limited content, and sends you right into the action without knowing what is going on (in order to avoid major plot points). After selecting one of the pre-made character builds, players land in a quarantine zone, and are taught the basic mechanics: shooting, getting into cover, rolling to dodge, swapping between weapons, using the map, etc. Being a third-person shooter, most of the actions in The Division are standards in the genre, but the controls here feel really good, responsive and natural. Soon after, players are sent into the ruins of New York City, and that’s where the real action starts.
One would think from the initial trailers that the game would be a standard military squad-based shooter with a deep multiplayer component, but surprisingly, The Division holds much more similarity to action RPGs/MMOs, similar to games like Borderlands and Destiny. Upon setting foot in the city (a small chunk is only available in the beta), players are presented with a variety of missions that can be played alone or with a squad, some of which move the plot forward, and side missions that litter the map and have players assisting others in need. This allows players to tackle the game and its content as they see fit, which is not typical of straightforward shooters. Shooting at enemies also reflects the RPG influence, as they display levels and have health bars, and upon dying leave behind loot in the form or ammo, weapons, resources or equipment. It’s pretty much an action RPG, which caught me off-guard at first.
This actually makes the experience pretty unique however, as The Division successfully mixes third-person squad-based action and the skill systems and progression of RPGs. The game features solid gunplay, which I had fun with as I weaved through incoming fire and returned some of my own with various weapons, but I also had fun with the skill trees, which players can use to learns skills that can turn the tide of battle (though limited in the beta once again), like team healing, using special grenades or ballistic shields, and more. Leveling up and getting new skills is a pretty streamlined experience, and equipping stronger weapons and better equipment – which is key to surviving higher level challenges – is as effortless as possible. And from looks of all the skills, mods, weapons and more that are unavailable in the beta, it’s all looking pretty promising.
Gameplay pretty much breaks down to completing missions, side missions and leveling up to face even greater challenges. With one main mission branch in the beta (and all too brief), the main mission branch shows a lot of promise, filled with action-packed combat sequences that’ll have players scrambling for cover and shooting at tricky and often cover seeking A.I. enemies, making for a challenging time. These missions also feature secret, inaccessible areas that mean that players will have to revisit missions to find every hidden item as certain criteria must be met, like using higher-leveled equipment to access dangerous zones. The gameplay in these main missions is action-packed, and the variety of environments you’ll trek through, like an abandoned hospital, are very cool, making for some good times.
Once the main missions are tackled, players are free to explore the city, and take on the side missions to gain additional loot and experience. These objectives are usually smaller in scope in comparison to the main missions, but they give players a chance to level up and get some new stock to mow down baddies with. Once again, due to the game being in beta, now a lot of these encounters are available, but they do offer up some entertaining scenarios, and I’m sure players will be visiting them to prepare for harder missions.
The most intriguing element of the game however, in my opinion, is the Dark Zone, the game’s PvP area, which represents the unexplored and extremely dangerous parts of New York City. Here players have to tread carefully as A.I. enemies are much stronger, absorb way more damage, and hit hard, and everybody can shoot and kill each other at will, making it a no man’s land. You’ll never be sure if a friend can be a foe in disguise and vice versa, and the backstabbing is tons of fun. The benefit of exploring here though is that there’s even better loot here than the main game, like stronger weapons, better equipment and tons of resources, but even then players have to watch their step, as other players can steal it from you at any time by making you a corpse and prying it from your cold, dead hands. The only safe way to keep your loot is by extracting it via a helicopter, but summoning the vehicle announces it to everyone in the map, making you a potential target. It’s a pretty thrilling and nerve-racking time, and I’m sure it’ll be one of the highlights of the main game, as it’s a really unique experience.
Overall, I had a really good time with The Division’s Closed Beta. While I would have loved a chance to check out more missions and play with more weapons and skills, the small amount of stuff available here did a great job showing me how entertaining the main experience will be. Of course, things can still go wrong come release date, but so far, The Division looks like it’ll definitively be worth everybody’s time.