The Division – Beta Preview
It is hard to deny there is a lot riding on the shoulders of The Division. Ubisoft have put some serious money into marketing this game and are hoping for it to be the next big thing. Unfortunately for Ubisoft the game has suffered multiple delays and it seemed for a while that public interest was fading. So it with this in mind I was a little apprehensive of what I was going to find when I dove into The Division beta over the weekend. Thankfully though it appears my apprehension was wasted because if my time with the game is a true indicator of the full version then Ubisoft may just have the next gaming mega franchise on their hands.
For those of you that don’t know The Division is a 3rd person cover based shooter with RPG and MMO trappings set in a post-viral outbreak New York City. During the first hour or so of my time with the game the city of New York was the real star of the show. This is a New York that has been decimated and plundered but at the same time feels completely real. Desperate people wander the well-known streets, searching through empty cars trying to eke out a living. These forlorn figures make perfect targets for the less scrupled survivors, often being mugged for whatever possessions they may have found. Empty apartments, forgotten trucks and abandoned emergency medical centres litter the scenery in this depressing locale. But there is beauty here too, the snow is some of the best I have ever seen in a video game and the day/night cycles are breathtaking. This is a gorgeous looking game and that beauty is used to bring this bleak city to life.
Thankfully the gameplay seems like it matches up to the game’s beauty. The initial hour or so seems to be a very standard 3rd person action romp. A nice cover mechanic and some fun enemies are on display but little more. Thankfully things start to get more interesting as time goes on. There are some intriguing secondary missions, including one that uses as system very similar to the detective mode from the Arkham games. The open world nature of the game also allowed me to approach these encounters in different ways. I was able to use fire escapes and roof tops to come at enemies from a different angle, giving myself the advantage of the higher ground. It allowed me to think outside of the box and made the combat infinitely more interesting.
But the highlight of the Beta was without doubt the Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is a quarantined area of NYC that is a huge hub of deceit and betrayal. This area is where the game’s best weapons and gear are found but to be able to use this gear it needs to be airlifted out of the Dark Zone and decontaminated. This created a host of gameplay options for me to use to achieve this goal. I could team up with friends and rove around the area like a pack of wild dogs, taking down other players and stealing their loot. I could work with the other people in the area and hold off waves of AI controlled enemies as we all waited for the evac helicopter to arrive. I could even sneak in and go solo, picking and choosing my moments to loot gear and perhaps go rouge. Regardless of how I played it was tense, edge of the seat gameplay that was utterly enthralling. It was also interesting to notice that as players spent more time the with game their tactics changed in the Dark Zone. When I first loaded the game up, the Dark Zone was a blood bath with everyman, women and child for themselves. But as the beta went on I noticed a definite shift towards more tactical gameplay that encouraged working in groups and well thought out attacks. It will be very interesting to see how this area evolves once the game is released.
If I have one concern with the game it is the story missions. Granted the beta only gave me access to one story mission but this mission was quite boring in its execution. It was simply a matter or proceeding to an area, clearing a few waves of enemies and then moving on. Rinse and repeat. I am hoping that Ubisoft didn’t get lazy with the single player portion of the game, especially considering how much effort has clearly gone into the rest of the experience. To be fair though it is very hard to judge based on one mission so feel free to take this information with a grain of salt. It is also worth noting that the single player components could also be tackled with a few friends which was certainly welcome and added to the enjoyment. These single player story missions will allow the ability to upgrade home base in the full game but this feature wasn’t fully implemented in the beta so it is hard to say how much it will affect gameplay.
Short of some sort of catastrophe in the later parts of the game I can’t see how The Division will be anything but a highly entertaining experience. The world is beautifully realised and the combat is thoroughly engrossing. Throw in the superb Dark Zone and I have no doubt that Ubisoft are onto a winner. The only question that now remains is will The Division be able to hold this level of excellence for the entirety of the game’s runtime? Because if it does manage that feat I can see this as a game that will hold people’s attention for months, and possibly years, to come.