Two beta periods have come and gone for Tom Clancy’s The Division, Ubisoft’s third-person answer to loot-based shooters like Destiny and Borderlands. With the betas being quite successful for Massive Entertainment, here’s our thoughts on what went down in New York’s streets, and what you can expect in the full game.
After a brief opening cutscene, players are dropped onto New York City’s Hudson Pier, now worked into a makeshift refugee camp and quarantine zone. As the city (and presumably beyond) have been ravaged by a plague transmitted by money on Black Friday, much of the city’s population has been forced out of the apartment blocks and the homes lining many city streets.
It is in a few of these blocks that much of the betas took place. Obviously, players were limited in scope and scale of content, and the limited number of story missions and upgrades available in single-player missions reflects that. Regardless, participants were given a taste of the missions and overall world structure on offer.
Players had access to a reclaimed looter base, which serves as the central mission hub, in addition to offering a place to restock, shop for new gear and weapons, and generally catch some chatter about what’s going on unseen in the streets. Out in New York proper, your character can stumble across various “encounters,” small pockets of violence or reassembled stories from the city before it descended into chaos. Sidequests themselves are longer affairs, and may involve combat, exploration, interaction, or a mixture of all three.
Missions themselves take place in instanced locations, all of which feature more difficult enemies and better loot. These missions can be matchmade with groups of random players, increasing the difficulty and also the quality of items found. As some of the encounters were few and far between, it was the best chance players had to level up their overall character. Players also had the ability to do other missions with a party of friends.
Gameplay itself is similar to a cross of Destiny and Borderlands, where you’re facing off against a few small pockets of enemies at a time, dealing damage to an overall health bar in lieu of working with a pseudo-realist system, all from a third-person perspective. First-person aiming is available, but nowhere near useful. Loot is abundant and found almost everywhere, and weapons can be modified with a number of attachments that are found on other weapons, ranging from barrel extensions and new stocks to paint jobs for the weapon itself.
Players also had access to a few limited skills, which consisted of a deployable shield, a healing grenade, a local radar pulse that revealed enemies and allies through walls, and a sticky bomb. These skills can be further upgraded by investing resources into your home base, resources which are acquired by doing encounters and side missions. These upgrades provide necessary depth and flesh out the skills, and that’s not to mention the other progression trees, most of which were not available in the beta period.
By far, the mode most experienced was the PvP side of The Division. Taking place in a highly contaminated area known as “The Dark Zone,” players are lured in by promises of valuable weaponry and equipment, with tougher enemies, who then promptly find a lawless bastion of chaos. Anything discovered within The Dark Zone must be extracted by attaching a canister to a helicopter. However, if you’re killed in the Dark Zone, any items acquired within can be picked up by any other player.
By attacking other players in The Dark Zone, you are marked as hostile, or “rouge” to other characters, who can attack you without penalty. This system is not dissimilar to the Wilderness in, Runescape, but imagined in the context of a third-person shooter. The “rouge” system lends itself well to players forming uneasy alliances with other random people, communicating using limited gestures and voice chat, all the while looking over your shoulder for someone attacking you from behind. Playing in the Dark Zone was refreshing and enjoyable, even stumbling around the city streets on your own, attacking players when having the upper hand, and watching for any suspicious characters.
In addition, for a beta, the graphics were quite polished, and it’s clear some attention has been made for the textures, and attempting to recreate New York City as faithfully as possible. The snow particle effects and the ice reflections in particular were quite gorgeous, and the abandoned cars littering the city streets caught bits of newspaper blown by the wind. Though there was some hullabaloo made about the quality of the graphics, even on my aging hardware, the game looked and ran quite comfortably.
In the full release of the game, players can expect a wider array of skills and talents, a fully-realized crafting system, more areas in the Dark Zone to engage with, equipment modifications, access to audio logs and other bits of lore, and of course, the rest of the story. In the full game an hopefully we will find an engaging and intriguing story, and a number of lengthy missions, possibly even with a larger-styled “raid” on top. In addition, deviation from the standard “Ubisoft game” of climbing towers to reveal more of the map, an inventory full of trinkets, and otherwise unremarkable gameplay would really be welcome. All this will be cleared on 8th of March when The Division launches worldwide.