Will Tom Clancy's The Division Deliver? - PreviewBrandon J. Wysocki , posted on 07 February 2016 / 5,040 Views
Tom Clancy's The Division has been a long time coming. Its announcement and reveal trailer garnered a lot of interest back in 2013, but as with a number of other recent Ubisoft titles it's had a bit of a storied developmental process. With its launch now roughly a month away I wanted to share my experiences, expectations, and concerns about the anticipated title.
I’ve had the opportunity to play both the alpha as well as the closed beta for The Division on the Xbox One. I’m not usually one to read the pesky fine print of user agreements, but I'm led to believe that my discussing the alpha version too much would put me at risk of grievous bodily harm, so my focus here will be on the closed beta.
The closed beta is of course more relevant anyway, in that it represents a more recent build of the game. It also boasts a number of improvements over the alpha. That's not to dismiss the alpha entirely - I was pleased and entertained by it, but after finishing most of the story content that was on offer (which wasn’t much), I opted to go back to playing Rainbow Six: Siege and Phantasy Star Online (I still love that game!).
I can’t quite put my finger on why I got hooked into the beta so much more than the alpha, but that is nonetheless what happened. Even knowing that all of my progress would be lost, I was quickly engrossed in exploring the game's beautifully rendered New York City. The desolate, post-pandemic city looks great and has a terrific atmosphere which is somewhat reminiscent of the 2007 film I Am Legend.
The beta allows you to explore a large part of the city, at least in comparison to the alpha. As with most open-world sandbox game worlds, you cannot explore the interiors of most of the buildings, but the more massive buildings of New York prove to be welcome exceptions. Along with the alleys and sewers, it feels like there is going to be a large game world to explore. Indeed I find myself wondering what I failed to uncover in my time with the game, which is always a great feeling to have in a game like this.
While the setting and graphics are great so far, the story remains up in the air. Not much has been revealed outside of the fact that the world has been ravaged by a pandemic - even in the beta - and while there is certainly potential for a solid narrative, in a game like this which is designed to keep you interested beyond the completion of the main story, I fully expect that The Division's main pillars to be gameplay, presentation, and loot, not story.
Talking of presentation - The Division boasts a sleek, streamlined, augmented reality interface that compliments the game well. And that's more important than it may initially seem because there’s a fair amount to manage, so having an interface and menu system that facilitates inventory management rather than making the whole thing a chore is crucial.
The gameplay itself is about as good as I’ve experienced in a third person shooter that is open world-based. It has a good method for switching between cover locations whereby aiming at the piece of cover and holding A will cause your character to automatically run towards the designated area. Releasing the button at any point stops the process, allowing you to change up on the fly. That said, the game does still feel clunky at times.
The AI is impressive and oftentimes challenging, but I feel like part of this difficulty comes from the AI's ability to move around the environment more efficiently than users can.
Another concern I have is that when I first started playing The Division enemies seemed to be bullet-sponges, making the weapons and gunplay feel a little unsatisfactory. This has been improved slightly in the beta, but it's still quite common to have to use the better half of a magazine to kill a single enemy at first. Fortunately as you acquire better weapons things improve immensely, such that by the end of the beta higher level enemies tended to be pretty well balanced compared to my own firepower.
Loot-wise I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen. There's a good variety of clothing, armor, and weapons to find. Better yet, your weapons can be customized with accessories which really makes them feel like they're yours. It's still early days, but with color-coded rare weapons to find and lots of accessories with potential for extra perks, I found myself wanting to keep playing the beta simply to see what else I could conjure up.
An interesting area of the game called the Dark Zone is supposed to be the best area to find new items. This part of The Division takes the already impressive game environment and makes it feel grittier. It was genuinely exciting to enter the Dark Zone for the first time and it includes “contaminated” rare items that have to be extracted before you can make use of them, which naturally provides an opportunity for computer-controlled enemies to show up and try to throw a wrench in your plans.
It's not just tougher AI enemies you have to worry about in the Dark Zone, however; it also allows for PvP action. If you die while carrying contaminated items you drop them and anyone can pick them up. It's not at all unusual to see firefights erupt between human players as an extraction helicopter shows up. It’s the perfect time to ambush opponents as you can potentially grab the loot from your victim(s) and still extract it on the helicopter they triggered.
The Dark Zone is an interesting and fitting concept given the premise of the game, but I have concerns about it. I’m afraid that, although the Dark Zone is where a lot of the game's longevity will come from, it will punish beginners, solo-players, and less-than-full groups as they'll easily fall prey to larger, more experienced groups.
A lot of the time you'll see full groups constantly on patrol trying to kill other players, even when they have no loot. Occasionally, though, you'll encounter strangers helping clear groups of AI enemies from an extraction zone, or even rogue players, and these make up some of The Division's best moments. Unfortunately, at least as often, you'll witness betrayal and people losing their hard-earned items. It’s fun and unique, but I worry about whether the game will strike the correct balance, because if it doesn't then it's easy to see most players quickly feeling rather alienated.
It's also inconvenient that your levels and money are completely distinct between the Dark Zone and rest of the game. The perks and gear you've acquired from the rest of the game help you in obvious ways in the Dark Zone, but you no longer gain normal XP, just Dark Zone XP, and the same goes for money. The items from the Dark Zone can be used in either part of the game, but again the progress you make there in terms of XP and money really only benefits you in the Dark Zone.
The Division is off to a great start based on my time with it. That is perhaps most evident in how eager I am to get my hands on the finished product. I’ve seen people compare The Division to Destiny, and for good reason. They are both hybrids of sorts that seem to cater to largely the same audience. But while I had high hopes for Destiny, which started off strong, it ultimately disappointed me. The same could well prove to be the case with The Division - it will take some time after launch to really judge the game properly - but so far it shows a lot of promise and I can't wait to play it again.
Brandon J. Wysocki is a writer for VGChartz. You're invited to contact Brandon (username SpaceLegends) in the comments below or through private messages on VGChartz, or even at his barely ever used and effectively dormant Twitter account @BrandonJWysocki.