Impressions – The Division Open Beta
The upcoming installment of the newest iteration in the Tom Clancy franchise, The Division, had an open beta last weekend that anyone could take part in on the PC, PS4, and XBOX One. I had the chance to play a bit of it over the weekend on PC, and I had a pretty good time with friends.
Understandably, the open beta was pretty limited. The character creation was basically disabled, only providing gender and randomized presets, so I did not get to experiment with the detailed character creation they have been toting. Ubisoft has explained that the character creation in the full game allows you to intuitively push and pull elements of your character’s face, making detailed character creation much less complicated.
The beta drops you in at the the middle of the early part of the game (at level four), and tells you to go establish a base of operations, after which time you are introduced to the base-building aspect of the game. The majority of the base building was disabled, but what I got out of it was that you can complete and upgrade certain wings of your base. The beta only had the medical and security wings available, but a tech wing also exists. The purpose of building and upgrading the wings is to obtain additional abilities that you will be able to equip for combat. Certain upgrades will also allow you mod options for those earned abilities, which can make certain abilities even more powerful.
|Cover is important in difficult firefights.|
The overall third person gameplay is pretty solid. The gun-play is a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of variety between weapon types. The melee impact and damage is disappointingly very underwhelming and isn’t even a valid tactical option in any situation since it does so little, besides get you shot in the face rather than from-behind cover. Head shots do additional damage, but do not instantly kill. This is a third-person shooter RPG, after all– think of numbers over the head like in Borderlands or Destiny. The cover system is pretty solid, but the transition off of cover can be a little awkward, especially when you need to detach from cover quickly to avoid a grenade or flank.
The crafting system was also disabled in the beta, so I cannot speak to that, but I can speak to the very deep and detailed attachment system. I had a lot of fun slapping on different attachments to my guns and experiencing how they changed the damage and control of my weapon. I also enjoyed trying out the different scope options. Attachments can impact recoil, ammo capacity, reload speed, accuracy, threat generation… the list goes on! I doubt I even saw all the attributes that attachments may affect. I hope you have the option to craft your own attachments with custom stats, as well.
The character advancement didn’t have much freedom, at least in the beta, so I am unsure if there are particular paths you can take to create some variety between characters. There appeared to be various skill trees, but unfortunately, the beta had the majority of that window disabled so I could not investigate. From what I did experience, I had a radar pulse and buff ability, along with a remote sticky grenade on a cool-down. I also had the base of operation abilities, proximity healing, and a remote turret. All of these abilities were fun to use in their own right and gave a unique tactical advantage in encounters. Hopefully, the remaining abilities I did not see follow the same path.
|The attention to detail in the environments is spectacular.|
In addition to guns, level progression, and equipment, there is also a robust appearance system. The armor and gear you obtain does not change the way your character looks–what determines that is what you select in the appearance tab for your character. As you play the game, you will find clothing items just like you would find loot. While the variety wasn’t phenomenal early on, I would imagine that the later game will have more variation in the clothing department.
The beta only had two story missions to partake in, but both were fun and engaging, especially with friends and going with “hard” mode. The “hard” mode mission option makes enemies hit harder and have a lot more health, but rewards you with more experience and better chances at quality loot drops. Making tactical use of cover, flanking, and head shots become a necessity in this mode. My crew and I had a lot of fun playing the first mission on hard, and we felt challenged by the experience. Unfortunately, the second mission would not allow hard mode for some reason, but we had fun with that one as well.
Ubisoft has always excelled at quality world-building and a sense of place, and The Division is no different in that regard. Post-apocalyptic New York City is full of nice little environmental details that tell their own narrative without having to spell it out for the player. Various factions have cordoned off pieces of the city and have their own goals. The beta introduced the Cleaners, a group of survivors that believe the only way to rid us of the sickness is to burn all who are even potentially infected, without any regard for human life. I am unsure who the other factions will be, but I’m sure they will be spurred on by their own twisted agenda, just like the Cleaners.
The biggest feature that Ubisoft has been toting, is the Player versus Player (PvP) Dark Zone area. The Dark Zone is the place that you can supposedly find the best gear, guns, and mods, which was definitely the case in the beta. The Dark Zone is an infection-ridden location that is full of tough groups of computer-controlled enemies that drop some very nice loot that you share with other players.
|Stand-offs are common in the Dark Zone|
However, there’s a catch; the loot you find in this area must be extracted for disinfection by chopper before it can be used, which any player in the area can see. The other twist to this formula is that the players that share the area with you are free to gun you down, and take any non-extracted loot you have on your person. However, if you attack another player, you and your group will be flagged as being a rogue agent (which we learned the hard way– thanks Dan!). When you are deemed a rogue agent, other players may take you down, absent consequence.
While this idea sounds novel and exciting, in the beta, it created a situation where no one would attack each other. This is due to the fact that going rogue instantly reveals you on all non-rogue agents’ map and makes you fair game for them to take down. In my experience, rogue agents would die about as fast as they appeared on the map. Hopefully, Ubisoft can find a way to encourage people to go rogue by making the act of doing so more enticing or survivable.
Overall, though, I had a lot of fun with The Division open beta, which was most definitely magnified by playing with friends cooperatively. While it was a beta, I’m a little concerned about the amount of content present in the game. I found myself becoming disinterested about five hours in, but that was largely due to the lack of content. Hopefully, this will not be an issue at release, like it was for vanilla Destiny, which launched with very little content, but hid this lack of content well in the beta.
I’m looking forward the release March 8th–just a couple short weeks!