The Division’s closed beta came and went last weekend and those lucky enough to experience the post-pandemic New York City got a glimpse into what the third-person open-world RPG will offer when it releases early next month.
In just a short time of playing it on the PS4, I found that The Division has a lot going for it with a beautiful world and classic third-person shooting mechanics. But as the game’s release date has been pushed back over the span of two years, there’s still a concern over how the game will look at launch.
The shooter has a lot of promise and the game itself is very solid. With such massive delays over the past two years however, there’s doubt as to how Ubisoft will handle the delivery of the main game and any future content. If it took the publisher this long to deliver the core game, will they be able to release the DLC on time? These are the kinds of questions that the Destiny community is currently going through as players wonder if and when more story content will arrive. Ubisoft needs to be very strong in their communication about content when the game launches in March.
The world that Ubisoft has built is beautiful. The setting of a post-pandemic New York City is showcased in the way signs, service vehicles, and barricades littered the streets. The dynamic weather and night/day cycle are impressive as players are able to experience different weather variations while running the same mission or side quest multiple times. Everything from how bullets impact objects to how posted ads flutter in the wind shows off the detail that Ubisoft Massive has created. There are nooks and crannies all over the map that told mini-stories.
There was even a moment in one of the abandoned subway tunnels where a friend and I stumbled upon a pile of yellow body bags lined up across the subway platform. We stepped through the pile while we searched the end of the tunnel in hopes of finding hidden loot tucked away back there. We didn’t find any loot, but experiences like this one left a lasting impression.
The beta’s map size was fairly big and it took some time to run from one side to other. When opening the map it not only showed off the area for the beta, but also the area for the main game, which looked to be a huge chunk of New York. Even though the map size is quite large, there were buildings that players could enter and explore.
There were times as I was running from one objective to another I got side tracked by an open door or the chance to pick a lock to an apartment building. Places like this offer up loot to scavenge and added to my wardrobe and loadout. While running around, enemies spawn and present a small challenge to agents. But once players ventured into the main story mission and the Dark Zone enemies scaled up in difficulty, the game offers a good challenge.
Only one main story mission was available in the beta and it consisted of rescuing a hostage in Madison Square Garden. The mission itself had a good amount of stages and playing it again on the hard difficultly provided enough of a challenge to feel worth the second run. It will be interesting to see how the difficulty level scales as agents progress through the game.
The system to upgrade the base of operations was engaging and a good way to chart progression throughout the game as the base is rebuilt. By upgrading the Heath, Technology, or Security sections, players will unlock upgrades to their abilities. There are twelve abilities ranging from sticky bombs to deployable ballistic shields to health guns and each ability has a subclass to unlock.
The RPG elements look great, albeit a bit confusing. There is the character level which determines what weapons and gear a player can equip and in the character screen there are three main ratings for Weapon DPS, Health, and Skill Power. Equipping gear, mods, and guns will change the level of those ratings and players will mainly have to choose a trade-off between the three ratings as there is normally a boost in one rating, but a reduction in another. With so many classes of numbers on the screen and when lower character level gear sometimes gives a better boost than higher gear, the path to get a higher rating can be a bit opaque.
There were many aspects of the game that weren’t available in the beta like crafting and talents, but the customization for weapons and abilities looks like enough to keep players engaged for an extended amount of time. Thinking about what happens after the base is fully rebuilt made me wonder about what the end-game content will look like. Will players have to run the same missions over and over again to gain better loot or will their focus be drawn into the Dark Zone?
Movement around the city was seamless and there wasn’t a single loading screen as I went from the base into the city then into the Dark Zone. The only time game connection was noticeable was when players in my party synced up going into the Dark Zone. Having such a seamless experience is a great thing, but it also made it oddly hard to know when the game was saving.
After playing the beta for over three and a half hours I realized that I never saw a save indicator. It was unclear if the game was saving changes all of the time or at certain points. So as a precaution I found myself running to the safe zones to make sure it would kick off a save point just in case. I didn’t lose anything, but I was worried I might have so it would be great if the developer told players save information from the start so no one has to worry about loss of progress if they leave.
If there was a specific area lacking however, it’s the fact Ubisoft desperately needs to add some features to The Division to enhance the social experience. One addition in particular would be an “Inspect Player” feature so that friends can show off their loadouts and gear to each other. Players don’t need to see everything, just the items that are equipped on the other players.
There were times in the beta when I wanted to show off the new grip I got, or when a friend wanted to show off the gold gun tier he picked up from the Dark Zone, but we were forced to check out those items on the back of the character or as the character was holding it. Overall, it felt like an odd limitation on an experience that is supposed to be shared with friends.
The Dark Zone is the section of the map that introduces ‘player versus player versus enemy’ or PvPvE for short. The Dark Zone’s size was fairly big taking up a little over eighteen blocks in a six by three grid. In comparison to the whole map available in the beta, The Dark Zone took up around a quarter of the available space to explore.
The zones in the city are well-defined and there was a nice distinction between the New York and the Dark Zone. Running around New York was relaxing and fun, but as soon as I stepped into the Dark Zone things change. When I went in alone I found it best to try to keep to myself and to keep running, but when I entered the area with friends I was able to fully experience the Dark Zone.
For the most part the Dark Zone isn’t too intense as players can respawn from checkpoints on the edges of the map, but when a player picks up a good piece of loot the tension can skyrocket. I noticed that even when I was wearing a biohazard pack on my back because I had loot other agents would leave me alone. As soon as I would send up a flare for extraction though, the pressure was on as I was mostly attacked while I was putting my loot pack on the extraction rope.
Sometimes just finding loot in the Dark Zone would be a frustrating task as enemies in the Level 1-7 bracket were few and far between. It might have been the timing as we ran through the Dark Zone, but we came across way more agents than enemies. There was also a huge lack of crates and other loot to find in the lower bracket. Once I entered Dark Zone Level 8 there seemed be more crates to loot and enemies respawned a lot faster. Additionally, the difficulty seemed to reach a good balance in Dark Zone bracket 8 as it took patience and teamwork to take enemies out. While there doesn’t need to be enemies on every corner, it would be nice to see Massive add a bit more density to the enemy population.
A major part of the Dark Zone is the Rogue system. Running into another player in the Dark Zone turns into a tense confrontation as both players train their guns on each other to see if either one will attack. Most times players will just pass each other and go on their merry way, but every once in a while one person will attack the other. When a player shoots another non-hostile operator in the Dark Zone they have gone rogue. So it becomes a game of “who will shoot first” as, once an agent goes rogue, all of the other agents in the area get a notification. They then have the free reign to shoot the rogue and will get extra DZ credits if they kill them. Thankfully going rogue doesn’t last forever as there is a countdown meter, but any time the rogue is shot the countdown meter resets.
Now it’s good that an accidental shot will only turn an agent rogue for twenty seconds, but it’s frustrating when another agent accidentally gets shot because the rogue decided to dive into a group of friendly agents. One issue I did run across in the beta was that some agents I targeted came up red even though they were non-hostile. This was confusing as they came up the same color as rogue agents. So I would fire off a couple of shots out of reaction and accidentally go rogue. Hopefully this is just a bug from the beta and it doesn’t find its way into the finished game.
A big issue with vendors in the city and the Dark Zone is that gamers can’t see the actual guns or attachments before they purchase them. So if players want to choose between a vertical grip, an angled grip, or a handstop they’re forced to either buy each attachment or pick one by guessing how it will look. Another issue with the loadout is that grips and laser attachments take up the same spot. Granted I’m not a huge laser sight user as it gives away my location in PvP sections like the Dark Zone, but it would be a great option to have the ability to use both on a gun.
The Division has a lot of potential in its core gameplay and RPG mechanics, but with the extended development time and the added unknown of how Ubisoft will handle player experiences, there’s a chance the publisher might mishandle a good game and find themselves in a situation like they have with Siege where the multiplayer focused game still has matchmaking issues and the latest patch has only created more glitches. The good news is that the base experience of The Division is great, but the question will be how Ubisoft will handle these possibly game defining issues.