I think it’s safe to say that The Division is the most anticipated game of the first quarter, 2016. It’s perhaps the most anticipated game of the year. Players finally got a chance, on both platforms, to play the beta this past weekend. I was one of those players and I wanted to share my initial impressions. Keep in mind, it was a beta. This isn’t a full-blown review, it’s less of a critique and more of a collection of casual observations. With that out of the way, let’s dive in.
What’s the plot? It’s the beta. Are we good here? Yep. If you’re really that interested in the plot of the game, I am sure you can just visit Wikipedia for a decent description. With an understanding that the plot wasn’t going to be spoiled, the first thing that struck me was the graphics in the game. The in-game cut scenes weren’t anything special, but the character models, background and the simulated weather were really well done. There was definitely a polish to the environments and it was noticeable in the way the sun reflected against other objects and how the water reflected other objects in the environment. The size of New York City was massive. While a good chunk of it was locked, there was still a lot to explore. It was easy to imagine how the full game would allow for hours upon hours of exploration, and future DLC would only add to that.
The gameplay was very seamless and polished. I never had problems with the controls, and the default button layout felt natural. The cover system for combat was certainly something the developers invested quite a bit of time in. The gun play and aiming was easy to pick up, and I felt comfortable immediately. They incorporated a sensitivity in the controls to make sure that you definitely intended to move from one cover spot to another. The beta offered a few encounters where it was obvious that teamwork and coordination were paramount, but could have been finished solo with a little bit of patience and savvy.
Several of the RPG elements were locked, including the crafting system. But from what I saw, there will be a lot of options. So long as each option has a tangible impact on gameplay, it will provide hours of testing, especially if the abilities impact the group you’re with. The handful of missions available in the beta also previewed that upgrading your base would be necessary to unlock new abilities and perhaps new missions.
Nothing I am really saying is “new” if you’ve been following all things The Division. However, it should be a relief to know that, for the most part, what Ubisoft is pushing in their trailers and teasers is indeed in the game. With that said, there were some small changes that I’d like to see in the game come March 8th.
For starters, when you’re in a group, only one person can see the waypoint if you mark it on the world map. It isn’t always the group leader, it’s really whoever is first. While the rest of the group can simply follow that person, the fact that waypoint doesn’t show up in the mini-map or on the screen means wandering off isn’t advisable. This certainly isn’t a make-or-break issue, but enabling that for all players would be nice.
In terms of what I experienced, that’s really it for the PvE section of the game. I completely omitted the Darkness Zone (PvP) portion up until now because I had a really, really bad experience. Look, the premise is fine: Go in solo or with a group of up to three other players and extract loot while fending it off from potential rogue agents. There is a suspense to that and the unpredictability can keep you on your toes. However, my experience was six rogue agents camping outside the only “safe” checkpoint I had unlocked, and just hammering any player that came out of the door.
In many ways, I applaud the mixture of both PvE and PvP elements in the DZ. Taking down progressively (if you choose) more difficult groups of PvE enemies, looting the area, and then extracting it all while being suspicious of everyone, including your own group, is a really cool idea and feel for a game like The Division. It simply needs some refinement, as it’s not a fun experience if you can’t even get 20 feet past the entrance. Perhaps establishing a small area outside of the checkpoints where rogue agents are more penalized for entering or non-rogue agents are stronger.
Additionally, it seems far too easy to go rogue, especially if you’re working with another group that you aren’t able to verbally communicate with and one of them steps in front of you. I am not really sure how this can be fixed, and perhaps it’s more of a learning curve than an actual problem. Lastly, the penalty for losing experience and currency if you’re downed in the DZ seems harsh. Again, there is a learning curve here and one needs to be tactical. Still, losing experience is brutal, and depending on the item, can be a real deterrent for some players. Given that it would seem the best drops are in the DZ, that’s an issue that should be addressed in some capacity.
Overall, the beta really highlighted some of the PvE elements in store for players in a few months. With a few small tweaks to the DZ, it will be a complete game that will satisfy a majority of those who’ve been anticipating The Division for several years. Also, kudos to Ubisoft for extending the beta for an additional day.