Tom Clancy’s The Division has seen a long journey, from its initial reveal of uncertainty to the gradual unveiling of mechanics like the Dark Zone and Rogue Protocol. More importantly, it suffered delays. Publisher Ubisoft’s reputation took a beating in that interval with buggy launches and iffy sequels in our favourite franchises. Nonetheless, The Division continued to hold our interest, especially in this post-Destiny world craving a compelling MMO/loot shooter.
Now that the closed beta is underway, what did we think of it? Quite frankly, it was tons of fun. The biggest take-away from it is that for all of its mechanics and the content offered, The Division simply works with very little hiccups. Never mind for an Ubisoft game but with an MMO of this scale, it’s amazing to see The Division running as smoothly as it does on Xbox One. No lag during PvE missions, seamless transitions between areas in the open world, very little lag in PvP, only one disconnect during a PvP session – yes, it’s still a closed beta but that’s pretty cool.
"A good portion of the map – roughly five-sixths – is locked away for the beta. After completing the Madison Field Hospital mission, you’ll be invited to explore the rest of the area for side-missions and other activities."
In The Division, you play as a Strategic Homeland Division agent that is “activated” and sent to New York in the midst of a dangerous viral outbreak. The atmosphere in the game is palpable from the outset. Your comrade Faye Lau is the worse for wear but still struggles on. The streets are empty but for the odd civilian, sick and/or disenfranchised, and rioters. Your first real mission chain is to establish a home base and rescue a doctor who could be the key to combating the disease.
The closed beta offers a look at the game’s gunplay, co-operative elements and PvP components but also locks a fair share of content away for the full release. Crafting is unavailable. A good number of your abilities are locked away and you can’t use Talents or Perks. One is also restricted to mostly Blue and Green loot though the Dark Zone hides its fair share of high-level equipment.
A good portion of the map – roughly five-sixths – is locked away for the beta. After completing the Madison Field Hospital mission, you’ll be invited to explore the rest of the area for side-missions and other activities. Though it was a bummer at first – flashbacks to Destiny’s beta arose immediately – there’s still plenty to see. One side mission saw me trying to locate someone close to Faye Lau, activating Echoes that revealed past incidents leading up to the final reveal. It was an interesting side-mission and one that honestly made me care about Lau. All of the characters in The Division, even if they seem fairly typical at first, have some kind of humanity to them which makes the experience all the more immersive.
"If Destiny is the “feel good” experience of comfortable shooters, than The Division goes the other way. It’s fairly skill-based, rewarding you for headshots and emphasizing cover and positioning, even if you rush in to shotgun fools."
Other missions included defending a supply drop from thugs, activating virus scanners within a time limit (thus navigating through high rises and the like), traveling underground to the sewers and much more. Honestly, if this represents a slice of the entire game’s content, then The Division should be in fairly good hands at launch. Some missions can also be replayed at higher difficulties thus granting better rewards. Be warned however – The Division may be set in realistic New York but its purple bar and yellow bar enemies are not to be taken lightly.
The gunplay is also quite addictive. If Destiny is the “feel good” experience of comfortable shooters, than The Division goes the other way. It’s fairly skill-based, rewarding you for headshots and emphasizing cover and positioning, even if you rush in to shotgun fools. The movement system is pretty smooth once you get used to it, especially when clambering over obstacles and moving from cover to cover. No jumping here though. Sorry, jet-pack lovers.
The Division also gives you plenty of options to gear your agent. You can increase DPS and equip weapons with bonus head-shot damage, perhaps customizing your Pulse ability to increase damage on enemies marked as well. You can raise the stats on your Power, leading to more powerful sticky mines or potent healing solutions for your allies. Though the weapons may seem similar to each other, they’re differentiated on the basis of perks – one handgun did 100 more damage when enemy health was below 30 percent while a sniper rifle came attached with a 12x magnification scope. Mods can also be equipped to your weapons, leading to increased stability, decreased reload speed, varying levels of scope zoom and much more.
"The Division does have a grind of sorts with its Dark Zone ranks and currency but it encourages you to think tactically about it."
Also, for a game that’s been hit by downgrades, The Division still looks incredibly good on Xbox One. The game runs at a steady 30 FPS clip, hardly slowing down even with multiple enemies and explosions on screen. The real-time weather effects and lighting looked similarly breath-taking.
As for the Dark Zone, well, what can you really say? The experience is as tense as it is chaotic. Encountering an agent for the first time is nerve-wracking especially since you’re not sure they won’t turn you on. More importantly, when you encounter a group of naive, happy-go-lucky agents who think they can trust you, it’s all you can do to resist and not blow them to kingdom come. NPCs in the Dark Zone are more challenging which encourages you to bring a team while the loot is pretty typical at this stage.
Again, this is a low level Dark Zone instance and many have reported better items tucked away. The Division does have a grind of sorts with its Dark Zone ranks and currency but it encourages you to think tactically about it. Do you want to farm AI enemies to raise your rank and currency? Do you want to hunt down rogue agents and try to help fellow Division members? Do you want to go rogue and just rack up the body count? The last option is incredibly appealing for the funds it bestows but it carries a significant amount of risk – you can lose Dark Zone XP and currency when you die. At higher notorieties, you can lose substantially more along with items. One thing’s for sure – it’s tons of fun to outrun bounty hunters when going rogue.
On the whole, the closed beta for Tom Clancy’s The Division is the game’s best sell job to date. What’s there is fun, even when you’re playing solo. Now all we have to do is wait for the game’s final release.