We’ve been going solo, teaming-up, and marauding in the Beta version of Ubisoft’s open-world tactical shooter, The Division, and there’s a few key things we’ve learnt while surviving post-apocalyptic New York.
The Division is a mash-up of Ubisoft’s best properties
When playing The Division, it’s hard not to notice the call-backs to other Ubisoft franchises. The high-tech augmented interface and cover system is reminiscent of Ghost Recon Future Soldier‘s, while the exploration elements harken back to the type of environmental discovery associated with the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell. It’s as if Ubisoft’s prized possessions made a super-baby incorporating all the best game mechanics, and the result is something quite diverse.
A taste of what’s to come
The closed beta only offered a small sliver of content for players to try out, letting them enter post-infection Manhattan, set up a base, and go on one mission. The content here is sort of meant to hint at what the full game will include, showing off the base upgrade system, along with various crafting and gear stores that you can mess with. Even in its limited state you can already see what the idea is here, presenting a huge open world to explore, where you’ll complete missions, but also find supplies to upgrade your character, and base of operation.
Trust no one
The Dark Zone is the online PvP arena of the game, throwing players into a cornered off segment of New York which contains all the really good loot, but it also has all the other players that really want that loot too. Attacking other players is frowned upon, as it tags you as “Rogue” and puts an indicator and a bounty on your head, pushing other players to take you out. However, last long enough and you’ll get off scot-free. So you’re left with the conundrum of teaming up with strangers to help one another survive, or go on your own, but the paranoia of not knowing who really has your back is a truly nerve racking experience, leaving you constantly looking over your shoulder. We went in alone, made friends, did missions, bonded, got stabbed in the back during an evacuation. It was a roller-coaster.
It’s hauntingly desolate, but incredibly details
The beta shows off the same kind of detailed environmental design as the initial trailers showcased, rendering a disease-ruined and fallen world where hauntingly beautiful signs of decaying civilisation are everywhere you look. Abandoned vehicles, deserted quarantined areas, body bags, and fires fill the empty shell of New York’s streets, and it provides a fitting backdrop and some gravity to what you’re actually fighting for.
A little help
Three of The Division‘s special abilities were available in the Beta. There’s a reusable sticky explosive that’s pretty easy to shoot with pinpoint accuracy, but its detonation barely fazed even normal grunt enemies – whether this will be remedied in the final version is unknown, but it did appear a little ineffective. A riot shield ability is nice for moving between cover, but it limits you to a pistol when hiding behind it. The abilities that send out radar pings to highlight nearby enemies and heal nearby party members are at least useful, if not especially novel. The menu system hints at a bevy of additional abilities, talents, perks, and upgrades that are unlockable as you play, but none of them were available in the beta.
On the side
I thought some of the side missions were actually more fun than the main quest that was available (saving a doctor from a hospital taken over by bad guys). In one of the side missions, you have to kill a woman accused of murder, but first you have to mow down two of her lieutenants in a long courtyard before you can get to her. In another, you have to race through a house trying to find some sort of virus data, before a timer runs out. It’s great to see some emphasis being applied to the side missions, we just hope the main quests get a little more intriguing too.
There were also some small moral dilemmas that emerged while exploring the city, such as sick NPCs asking for a medkit – have to make the tough decision whether to sacrifice your supplies to save them, or keep them for yourself in a firefight. These moments added to the world around you to highlight how desperate things really are in The Division.
It’s been a long time coming – it was originally unveiled at E3 2013 – but The Division finally launches on Xbox One, PS4, and PC on 8th March.