I went into The Division with doubt in my heart. I got excited when I saw the E3 footage all those years ago, got excited when I saw the Frostbite/Snow Drop game engine tech demo a year later and had my hype bubble promptly burst, when I started seeing comparison videos between the closed beta and the E3 footage. I expected some downgrading, but the new gameplay left me with a mediocre taste in my mouth. However, the open beta gave me a chance to form my own opinions and I have jotted down a few ponderings for discussion.
My experience started with the character creation screen which looks pretty expansive, but for the beta, players were limited to a randomised player type. By the look of things, you can change everything from their gender and body type to all the differing layers of clothing. As player characters were not being carried over to the full release I just picked some white guy with some stubble. After being thrown into the action and touching down in Manhattan, I made all the necessary introductions and hit the streets to set up a base of operations. I was really happy with the graphics, as all the dynamic reflections, lighting effects and street furniture was all present and accounted for. OK, it wasn’t as polished as the E3 slice, but I didn’t expect it to be as these are usually pre-rendered for played on a Skynet super computer. The visuals are fantastic, if a little drab in the colour department. The myriad of greys, browns and blacks all help set the scene and New York definitely has that post viral infection feel. Running through the snow covered streets of the Big Apple give you a chance to truly appreciate the time and effort gone into the game. Whilst most shops and building were inaccessible, it was nice to see a few places open to explore and loot. Colour creeps in when inside certain buildings and the one of the early missions to save a virologist end up in a large red cafe. Coined as a third-person, cover-based, RPG shooter it reminded me of a mix of Gears of War, Borderlands and Diablo. Numbers leapt from enemies as you pummelled them with bullets and there are extensive levelling options and skill trees to keep you busy for some time, providing their are enough missions to keep it interesting.
The main upgrades tend to be guns. There are six categories of firearm that include the usual pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, marksman rifles, and light machine guns. Players can equip one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, and a sidearm. The primary and secondary weapons can be any types of weapons, but your sidearm is always a pistol, unless there’s a way to get non-pistol sidearms later in the game. Each of the weapons can be tweaked and customised by improved parts. Gear is a big part of The Division and I found myself changing everything from my bobble hat to my knee pads. General clothing is purely cosmetic, but items such as backpacks, masks and knee pads all come with stat improvements and bonus effects.
In addition to its extensive arsenal of firearms and gear options, The Division has various play styles to explore that each have their own skills, talents, and perks. There are 12 skills total, divided into three different trees — Tech, Medical, and Security — comprised of four skills each, although only four skills (two from the Medical tree and one each from the Tech and Security trees) were actually usable during the beta. I found myself leaning toward the medical tree in order to increase my health boosts. I came across a weird bug where I couldn’t go through up this little step and through a doorway. Despite. trying to roll, shoot and grenade myself up this one single step I ended up having to reboot. Not having a jump button proved and issue in this case.
Anyway, I soon breezed through the missions, took down the boss like character and cleared various points of the map of looters and thugs; it was time to hit the Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is a PvP area with its own score tables and specific loot. I found myself scouring the depths of the subway system taking out bad guys and finding chests I couldn’t open. Once loaded with loot it was time to call in the helicopter and stash it. This is when it got weird. Whilst waiting for the chopper to arrive various other players appear to attach their own stash. At this point you can share the loot or turn on each other. Thankfully, enemies start to appear which do distract the players from killing each other but only for so long. Most of the time I was happy to play nice but on two occasions I accidentally shot another player (whilst shooting at an enemy). This instantly tuned me ‘rogue’ and the whole group turned into blood thirsty psychos… it was great fun. Overall, I was sold on The Division. The open beta is just what I needed to convince me to pick it up on March 8th. The graphics set the scene, the sound fitted perfectly and gameplay seemed balanced and fun. I can see the mission structure could have legs as there appeared to be lots to do and the cover shooting and aiming felt right and accurate. The Dark Zone adds an interesting slant to the multiplayer shooting genre and the plethora of options could keep even the most hardcore RPG fan busy. My only worry is that it might be like Destiny in that the first part has lots to show off but it later just becomes a grind of the same ten missions. We will see in March. Did you play the beta? What were your thoughts and opinions?