Tom Clancy’s The Division beta is still running at least another day but the seven hours I’ve played has given me a very good taste of what to expect when the final game ships March, 8th.
A terrorist organisation has released a pandemic that has wiped out most of New York. Anarchy and violence rein supreme for those who have survived. Even though the beta has kept a lot of the opening narrative under wraps (so as not to spoil the story) you find yourself being revived by a similarly wounded Division chief on a helicopter. The Division is a martial law military force that is put in the hot zone to try and assist the JTF (Joint Task Force). The goal is to try and put New York back under control of a democratic government as it has since fallen into gang hands. This is the backdrop for what I think is a pretty unique game. Part RPG, part MMO and part third person shooter, the amazing thing is that it works. It confidently melds all of these traits into a very enjoyable and coherent game.
The first thing that will hit you is the graphics. My platform of choice is the Xbox One and the variety in the environments and the various particle effects, volumetric fog and lighting is amazing. The character models are well done too. At the start of the game you get to customise your character. Even though the customisation was limited in the beta you can definitely see how many different traits you can change, similar to Skyrim and Fallout 4. The environments are so well done and feel authentic. You’ll see traffic jams, litter and trash everywhere. Everything feels accurate and it seems to be set during winter, as snow and the cold is ever present.
The game mechanics are great. It takes a few minutes to get use to the new cover mechanic but it works so well. Basically on a Xbox One Controller you press A to move to the nearest cover (much like Gears of War) and can then move from cover to cover by aiming at the next location and holding A to execute. If you stop holding A before you arrive at cover it cancels the action. This is a brilliant mechanic, as it minimises you getting shot. The B button is used leap onto ladders and vault over objects. This too, works really well. The only time I had an issue with B not appearing is when I ran between two cars that were jammed together. It couldn’t identify that as an appropriate object.
New York is broken up into different zones, and as you walk through one it shows you what level range the zone is, both for PvE (player vs environment) and PvP (player vs player). This is a nice touch because it allows for some good risk / reward strategies. Do you go into the next zone to search the contamination area (you have to have an appropriate gas mask / filter to enter these) to search for loot or do you go somewhere else to level up a bit more? The beta only opened up a very small bit of the map but even then there was still plenty to do. You can do various side quests like re-establishing communications but getting a radio tower back online, rescuing hostages and helping the JTF reclaim an area. This beta did a good job of not showing too much content, but giving you a good taste of what is to come. For example, there was only one main story mission and it is set in a huge hockey stadium. It shows the scale of the levels just brilliantly.
There is plenty to customise and upgrade for your character. A lot of the guns you pick up allow up to five mods to help improve the effectiveness. You can pick up heaps of different clothes to wear, which will have certain perks and abilities the higher the level. In terms of scavenging and trying to find supplies this game reminds me a little of Day Z. Make no mistake though, there were no zombies to be seen. The enemies here are human, just on the wrong side of any law.
Another impressive feat is that there are no discernable loading times, albeit in a couple of sections disguised by decontamination areas you have to walk through. You get your own base of operations, which can be built up (30 main upgrades at least) over the course of the full game. These upgrades will unlock special perks you’ll be able to apply to your character. One, for example, will heal you and your teammates one bar of health. With regards to your base it is your own instance – you can’t invite your co-op buddies to have a look at your setup. The lack of waiting to loading areas is truly immersive. It becomes so much easier to just play that one more hour or do one more mission when you just have to bring up your map, select a mission and go.
The large PvP area you can enter, the Dark Zone, is fantastic fun too. The Dark Zone is a part of the map, so it isn’t a separate menu to enter multiplayer. You simply walk through a door, stock up on ammo and supplies and enter the Dark Zone. Basically all players start as neutral and the goal is to try and find worthy crates and supplies that you can extract in order to use in the main game. The more items you get (you could have up to 6 in the beta) the more you are a potential target for the other Division agents. Extraction is particularly hair raising, because you have to fire a flare in an appropriate zone, then wait 90 seconds for the helicopter to arrive. When the helicopter arrives you have to attach the goods and weapons you want to keep to it and wait another 30 seconds for it to extract.
If you shoot someone who is neutral you become rogue and that is exactly what happened to me the first time I called for extraction with my team mate. I was in cover and saw another player running full throttle in my direction, so I panicked and tried to kill him. The game mechanic is well designed here. If you shoot a few bullets at someone it is consider an accident and you won’t be labelled rogue. If you shoot more than half a clip into someone you will be termed rogue which allows every player to legitimately hunt you down. You and your co-op buddies (up to three others) will all become rogue if one team member causes it. Suffice to say my first extraction didn’t end well because I had four or five agents kill me for becoming rogue. You get a choice of where to re-spawn but you can lose the items you’ve found in the Dark Zone.
I came away from playing the beta very excited for Tom Clancy’s The Division. I had hardly any lag at all when playing with three other friends, both in the main game and the Dark Zone. The game plays just as well for those who like to go solo too. Dark Zone would be predictable more dangerous because you don’t have a squad watching your back but I found myself having a great time solo, as well as co-op. Just be aware that it is an always online game, even solo. As long as there is plenty to do and tonnes of missions I think this game should be a definite March 2016 purchase.