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Fear and Looting in New York – Tom Clancy’s The Division Beta Impressions

With little over a month until its release, Tom Clancy’s The Division (henceforth to be called The Division), had a beta event going on this weekend. A few friends and I tried it out as part of our search for a rebound after mostly quitting a stagnating Destiny.

Short recap: The Division is an upcoming RPG with third person shooter elements (no, I did not reverse those by accident) in which you play an agent of some organization or another in the wake of a devastating viral outbreak. Most of New York has been evacuated and it’s your job to help with the containment and further evacuation efforts while fighting roaming gangs of looters and rioters or something.

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The Division Deja Vu

I called it an RPG with shooter elements because, a bit surprisingly, The Division plays more like an MMO than a cover-based shooter, which is a bit strange given the gritty realistic tone and Tom Clancy background. While the weapons, enemies and for the most part, the abilities are based in reality, combat is more of a statistic game than skill-based. You still have to aim your gun and move from cover to cover but the enemies, NPC and player alike, can soak up a lot of bullets, even if you repeatedly headshot them. If your DPS stat is low enough it can take more than a full magazine worth of ammo unloaded into an enemy player’s head in order to kill them.

The PVE is fairly standard. In fact it’s shockingly standard. Make no mistake: The Division is Ubisoft™ The Game. Stop me if you’ve heard any of these before: free-roaming, minimap pips for missions and points of interest, set points where your map gets updated, red zones signifying increased danger, augmented reality overlays on everything, collecting crafting materials, upgrading your base gradually unlocking features and abilities, zones being walled off by digital red walls and so on. If you’ve played Watch Dogs or any of the Assassin’s Creed games, you’ll find a familiar environment here.

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The beta was a bit disappointing in terms of access to content. Allow me to clarify: the game does have content. it was just unavailable. In fact, if you’re into the kind of sandbox content Ubisoft has accustomed us to, odds are you’ll be fairly satisfied. However, during the beta most of the wings in your base of operations could not be upgraded, the crafting system was completely locked away, and there was a grand total of one story mission (along with a handful of side missions and encounters), but most disappointing of all was the fact that the skill trees were limited to four usable abilities across all three and the perk and talent trees were, again, locked away.

The three skill trees available are Medical (self explanatory), Tech (explosives and the like) and Security (effectively an enforcer/tank class). The PVE consists mostly of fighting off gangs of enemies, and occasional instanced missions with more scripted events. The loot system is exactly what you’d expect and is similar to something like Diablo or maybe more appropriately Borderlands.

While the beta locked away a lot of content and lowered the hostile NPC population count, effectively rendering the main roaming areas to a jogging simulator, the PVE shows promise, provided you’re into the concept of a cover-based looter-shooter. There are high level instances such as raids planned for the final release so there should be a lot of content by that time. I only hope that the enemies will be more varied, since all I fought in the beta were minorities wearing hoodies and trying to loot stores, which is a capital crime for some reason.

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Fear and Looting in New York

But the PVP…oh my, the PVP. Ok, so there’s this thing called “The Dark Zone” because in the near future we name things like we did in 80s action movies. The game is essentially single player with coop possibilities, but always connected until you enter the Dark Zone. This is a multiplayer instance with tens of people running around, looting NPCs and all around having a great time. Except you can’t leave the Dark Zone with the loot you collected, because it’s contaminated. You carry it in a highly visible bag tied to your backpack and you need to call an extraction helicopter to safely extract and decontaminate your loot. And players can kill you. Yes, it’s that kind of PVP. That EVE Online or DayZ school of video games.

Once a player shoots at you enough (one or two stray bullets don’t count) they will be flagged as rogue. Rogues are fair game for anyone without penalty and you gain a portion of their loot and cash on killing them. They also occasionally pop up on the map so you know where they are. After a while, the rogue timer runs out and they return to normal. This turns the Dark Zone into something truly enaging, as there is a constant game of cat and mouse while you try to get your loot safely back to your base, hunt other players for their gear or try to kill rogues for bounty. There is also proximity voice chat, allowing you to listen to other players’ lies while you plot their death. The bullet sponge problem is a bit more visible here, but in spite of that I had a lot of fun with it. And because there are no scoreboards and objectives it feels very organic. It’s not the stressful competitive PVP of Destiny or Call of Duty, it’s simply fun for fun’s sake.

Visually, of course, the game looks gorgeous. I played it on PS4 and PC reports are also greatly favorable, but with Ubisoft’s resources that’s hardly surprising. What would be surprising would be it being properly ported to PC from the get go, but that remains to be seen come release date. While generic in terms of audiovisual style, The Division does some interesting things with its level design, contrasting a Christmas-decorated beautifully lit New York, with the stark atmosphere of abandoned buildings, wrecked cars and heaps of trash. As a bonus: the companion AI’s voice on the PS4 comes from the controller speaker.

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Conclusion

The Division looks like a generic open world game and plays like one too. And that’s perfectly fine. There is a market out there full of people that are looking for exactly this sort of game. I enjoy an Assassin’s Creed or Batman game from time to time and I think I’m going to like The Division as well. But even if you’re not 100% into all of that, it might still be worth checking out for the multiplayer alone. It’s its own spin-off game within the game and I can’t wait to play it again come release.

PS: There have been some reports of cheating on PC on Reddit. While the OP content has been removed by moderators, the videos showcasing this are still up. The PC community is concerned because it seems that most of this information is kept on the client side with no (at least at time of testing) apparent validation by the server. Ubisoft has addressed these concerns in typical corporate PR fashion, but it remains to be seen what solution they come up with and how effective it will be.

About Paul Policarp

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Paul is mainly a PC Gamer with an affinity for interesting or unique gameplay styles or mechanics. He prefers a good story and engaging gameplay over polygons, and frame rates. He's also going to make a game one day, just you watch. Just as soon as he gets some time. Any day now.

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