WHAT UP INTERNET?!
Like a few million other Bros, I invested a few hours into the open beta of The Division. Knowing full well I was going to invest some time into the title over the weekend, I opted not to look any information on the title up. I figure-why see what someone else did in the title when I could just play it for myself? For as long as I’ve been playing games, I’ve been avoiding spoilers-none of those Prima strategy guides ever lined my bookshelf. While there’s a fair chance I’ve missed some cool items during Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda runs, never once was a surprise-be it gameplay or narrative related-ruined for me. I’ve always thought you can’t replicate the feeling of experiencing something for the first time, so no looking anything up for me.
The basic premise of The Division is the city of New York is dealing with a chemical terrorist attack on Black Friday, thus meaning some areas of the city are “contaminated” and looters and rioters abound. Perhaps this is me speaking from age or a particular corner of my ConLife interests, but seeing snow as my character huffed it through the streets of New York, coupled with Christmas décor littered throughout the city, reminded me of Die Hard continuously. I’m not sure if this is the particular aesthetic the developers were going for, but any time you can evoke sentiments of John McClain vs. Hans Gruber it’s safe to say you’re doing something right, at least in this Bros book.
In a nutshell, the gameplay is a blend of The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto, with a glossy veneer of past Tom Clancy titles. The action takes place from a third person perspective, using environmental cover (a la Gears of War) is encouraged and there is a wealth of customization options available. The world is open, with several neighborhoods (and underground, subway interiors) to explore, although only a couple were available in the beta. There are numerous buildings, alleys and rooftops to explore, although not nearly as many buildings allow for interior exploration as you’d anticipate. There is a base to build along with a nice number of passive and active perks to choose from, although your options for expanding both were limited during the open beta.
The elements of customization are similar to that of a title such as Grand Theft Auto. There are aesthetic customization options and a large variety of guns which can be modified via attachments which can drastically alter a weapon’s utility. There are also various items such as gloves, jackets and bags (among other things) which contribute to your character’s armor rating and can provide a litany of passive perks. These elements of customization (and the frequency with which you stumble across gear) ensure players will be constantly chasing better loot, and considering the large number of items I picked up during my limited time with the beta, I’d imagine the full title will include even more options.
The shooting, movement and controls of the title feel on par with third-person action titles such as Uncharted and Grand Theft Auto, although I never used (or even checked if the option was available) any sort of automatic-targeting. Each weapon handled well-and different-enough to warrant a quick try out until I found the specific type I was most fond of (sub-machine guns in case any of you Bros are interested).
There are a number of base perks available (four to start) and players can have two equipped at any given time. I opted to use the ability to heal myself (and my teammates) as well as a sonar pulse which showed me the location of nearby threats, although I also could’ve wielded a riot shield or a weapon which fired remotely-controlled explosives. Upgrading specific wings of your base allow you to upgrade and further customize these parks, and it’s obvious a team of three or four players using a combination of all these perks could prove quite formidable for the opposition in the Dark Zone.
Apart from the main story there are a number of side missions players can partake in, which can reward them with gear, resources to expand their base or currency. Considering the scope of the city, these side missions seemed to be few and far between. This seems peculiar given how well the game illustrates atmosphere and size. The New York The Division takes place in is certainly not the living, breathing metropolis Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos is, however NPCs (both hostile and indifferent) is sporadically littered throughout the city. That being said, there were numerous times where I’d opt to venture off on my phone to explore parts of the city I’d yet to visit, and I’d spend a solid ten minutes simply running around with nothing to do, no gear to collect and very few enemies to engage.
While the single-player campaign takes center stage, by going to a certain area of the map, players are seamlessly transported (via a door and a small safe room) to the “Dark Zone”, the game’s PvE focused multiplayer component. Notice I said “focused” as all gear collected in the Dark Zone must be “extracted” before use, and this is done by going to a specific area of the map and triggering an extraction. Once there, all players in the area are alerted to the extraction taking place, allowing them to ignore this, make their way over there and extract their own items, or make their way over there, kill other non-hostile players (which marks them as a “Rogue Agent” to all other players until killed) in order to appropriate the goods the other players have picked up. The focus on PvE in multiplayer means if a player has enough teammates, they can largely neutralize any threats be it from NPCs or other players online. The option to be matched with a team encourages players to venture into the Dark Zone in order to secure the game’s best gear.
The Division does quite a bit right: the RPG-style elements of upgrading your base, character stats/perks and gear, controls and atmosphere. Truth be told, the title doesn’t really do a lot wrong- save for a dearth of mission types and buildings to enter. For players like myself who primarily focus on single player, the inclusion of an optional (albeit, extremely lucrative due to the gear available) cooperative multiplayer type is awesome, even if there is a fairly strong competitive aspect to it. However, the lack of variety in mission types can truly hamper an otherwise intriguing experience.
Titles such as Grand Theft Auto do a phenomenal job making players feel as if they’re one individual in a vibrant city populated with thousands. The feeling of immersion is something The Division struggles with. While a city struck by a terrorist attack should undoubtedly be relatively barren, for no rhyme or reason the player can cross paths with many non-hostile NPCs, and they do nothing except walk around their designated area. They do not need help or ask for anything-and considering the setting of the title, this feels like a tremendous missed opportunity. Additionally, each of the side missions are mostly “go here, terminate with extreme prejudice, success” and this grows repetitively quickly. This may be due to the limited amount of content available in the beta; however this makes me weary of purchasing the full-title.
Overall, The Division does quite a bit right and I’m excited to see the wealth of content the full-title is released with. It’s easily a title I would’ve overlooked had it not been for the open beta, despite being a big fan of titles in the Tom Clancy series. Hopefully, the limited amount of content available was only due to the scope of the beta. Until next time, Bros!