First Impressions: The Division
A few weeks ago, a few of the more privileged media groups were invited to go play The Division behind closed doors. They posted their videos and impressions and one of the big takeaways was the revelation about floating combat text, ala RPGs. Shoot a bad guy, see numbers fall off of them, showing the damage that you were doing to them. This had me worried. Up until that point, I was under the impression that we were getting a normal Tom Clancy tactical shooter in an open world. This looked more like World of CoD.
I’m glad to say that I spent most of my 3 day weekend playing in the latest beta for The Division, and I’m no longer worried. I made it to the beta caps, and got to spend quite a bit of time in the Dark Zones, The Division’s take on pvp (similar to battlegrounds for anyone that’s ever played WoW.)
First the basics. The game’s pretty. The graphics aren’t as good as the early “game play videos”, but they never are. It looks and feels like an abandoned NYC in the middle of winter. You really get the sense that you’re a soldier rummaging through the city after a major incident. The controls are very solid, although a little odd (no jump or duck keys?) It’s got one of the best cover systems I’ve ever used. Any surface you look at is highlighted as something you can hop behind for cover. Get behind that cover, start looking around, and you’ll see that it gives you the option to move from cover to cover, and even shows you a simple line that shows the path you’ll take to get to it. Speaking of cover, use it. All the time. If you try and run and gun, you will take a lot of damage and likely be mowed down. There are exceptions to that, which I’ll cover later, of course.
The in game interface is very smooth. Almost everything is presented as Augmented Reality. Want to see your inventory? Your character activates their wristed mounted watch/computer and it displays a large holographic that lets you navigate your inventory. Want to figure out where you are? Open the map, and the game zooms out, and your computer projects a large 3d map of the city on the ground around you. It’s very cool. Your standard ammo/health meters are also a holographic image that is projected just to your right as you move around. It doesn’t get in the way or detract from anything, fitting in very well.
So, back to the floating damage text. This game is a shooter, but it is very much also an RPG. Forget the CoD reference I made earlier, and I want you to imagine this as Tom Clancy’s Mass Effect. The RPG elements are very reminiscent of that great RPG. You’ll come across all sorts of gear and equipment you can equip to alter your base stats (health, damage and tech skills)…6 armor slots in total, as well as 3 different weapon slots. The beta gives you quite the selection of weapons to find/sort through, in everyone’s favorite color coded rarity/quality system: greens, blues and oranges. Speaking of weapons, each weapon can have up to 4 different mods attached to it. There are slots for scopes, silencers, under rail mounted mods and mods for your magazine…all also falling under the quality system.
The other half of the RPG is the development of your character. You’ll find talents, perks, skills, everything you’d expect from an action oriented RPG. This part, however, was pretty limited in the
beta. You get a total of 3 different skills to unlock and use (being able to pick 2 at a time) and each skill can also have a specific perk to modify it’s base usage. The one I ended up using the most was a scan pulse that highlights enemy targets and increases my hit chance and damage for a short time. I could leave it at that, or enable a perk. For the pulse, I could have it also mark lootable objects with an increased range, give me an extra damage buff against any hostiles that get marked, or even hide me from enemy scan pulses (very helpful in PVP). The talents and normal perks were, unfortunately, completely locked off in the beta, so I could see much. As you play, you’ll gain levels, and there are level advantages. You’ll do less damage and take more in turn from someone higher level than you.
The one thing I did gather is that talents are perks are linked to your Base of Operations that you establish in the game. The beta has you establishing just 1, and you really don’t get to see much into the development. Your base gives you access to vendors, a stash, mission boards, mission giving NPCs, and comes with 3 major wings: Security, Medical, and Tech. In the beta, you unlock the Med wing, and get a simple upgrade to it. Unlocking and upgrading it is what unlocks you third skill and the mods for it, so it’s clear that as you develop your base, your skills, talents and perks available to you will also grow.
The beta lets you play essentially 2 main story missions, 1 side story mission, and several side jobs, and gives you access to the Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is where it’s at. Dark Zones are large outdoor quarantined areas. You enter through military checkpoints, and once you’re inside, you gain access to another level/currency system, specifically for PVP. Dark Zones are intense. As you run around, you’ll come across other players, and a few hostile NPCs. Dark Zones will have some of the best loot available, and it is not shared loot. If you pick it up, no one else is able to.
However, this is where it gets interesting. They can kill you and take part of what you’ve gathered. You’re able to carry 6 pieces of loot at a time within the Dark Zone. The problem is, since this is a massive quarantined area, everything in it has to be decontaminated and you can’t do that yourself. You have to call in an extraction a helicopter swoops in and drops a cable to let you attach your contaminated loot to get hauled off and placed in your stash. Extractions can get hairy. The second you call in the extraction, everyone in the zone is notified. And then you have to wait 90 seconds for the chopper to arrive. The chopper can take 4 loot satchels at a time, so not only is it a giant “come get your loot extracted” beacon, it’s also a potential loot pinata for anyone that wants to get loot the “easy” way. That’s how PVP works. Every single person you see could want to kill you…or they may not. Everyone is invisible on the map, and you’ll only run across them in the wild. Until they try and attack someone. Shoot another player, and you’re labeled as a rogue agent, and are immediately painted as a target that shows up for everyone else. Kill a rogue agent, and you’ll get a bounty reward. Kill enough people as a rogue, and they’ll call a manhunt on you. Even bigger rewards and incentives to hunt you down.
Dark zones have a great feel to them. While running around the snow covered streets of New York, you stumble across another agent. You now have to stop and wonder if they’re hostile or not. Should you run around the streets without a care in the world, or should you stick to the sides/alleys and dodge anyone that could end up going rogue? Can you trust that guy that you just saw, or is he going to sneak up behind you? Call in an extraction, and you have to setup defensive positions around the area, and watch and wonder about anyone that might show up to try and get loot extracted. Every single person is either going to kill you and loot your corpse, or is just another person that is willing to help/ignore you as long as it benefits them.
So should you play The Division? Do you enjoy tactical shooters? Do you daydream about a Mass Effect style RPG but set in a more modern/less crazy scifi world? Either way, shut up. Yes, you should play. It’s a fun shooter with decent controls and a great take on player vs player combat. I and several friends spent the weekend roaming the streets of NYC and all of us are now trying to figure out what to do in between the end of the beta and the March 8th release.
Did you play in the beta? Let us know what you thought of it!