Preview: The Division

Tom Clancy's The Division™ Beta_20160130131035

It’s the beta weekend of The Division which means that until Monday: stuff is going to be contaminated. I put my fancy mask on – with integrated air-filter – and roamed the empty streets of fictional New York. Veni, Vidi, Vici and I got shot. A lot.

Update 02/02: Ubisoft has announced an upcoming open beta from the 16th till 21st of Febuary 

The Division beta code

Beta’s are the demo’s of the 21st century and a big publisher like Ubisoft plays his cards right, by inviting as many players and streamers to a “closed” beta as the servers can handle. It generates nice publicity just before release and it gives them a month to spin bad previews. But enough sceptical marketing analysis and let me quote Taylor Swift by saying ‘welcome to New York’

New York

The Division takes place in the most ambitious fictional New York we have seen since GTA IV, this time in Ubisoft’s engine Snowdrop that was developed for The Division. It seems the name of the engine has something to do with the seasonal setting of the game, because we are dropped in a snowy New York with the most beautiful blizzards seen in videogames yet. While stepping over the bodies in the deserted frozen streets of New York, I realized that this might even be the best looking game on PS4 so far.

The Division beta map

Graphics

The low shining sun is blocking your view, the eight story buildings are reflected in puddles of water from the melted snow and the misty mornings keep you from seeing a squad rioters ganging up on you. The things I mention here are all weather elements and that is exactly where The Division takes it to the next level, without dropping frames at any point. This is The Division beta, so their might be a difference in performance compared to the full game, but I think we will be able to play a very polished game at the 8th of March.

Graphics

Bugs & servers

The buggy release of Unity is not easily forgotten, which puts every game that says Ubisoft on it under a microscope. The Division performs well under a magnifying lens: I encountered only a few minor bugs that can be patched out before or on launch. The servers are also holding up so far, although on the beta website it says they’d stopped giving out new beta codes, because the server capacity was at its limit. Hopefully they will be able to install a sufficient server base before launch so that it will not become another always online fiasco.

Level design

The apocalypse setting of The Divison has not been used as an excuse to leave the world empty. In the streets lie piles of crashed cars, bodies from victims of the virus, trash from raided stores and there are roadblocks everywhere. The city makes you feel like walking through a place frozen in time. There are also a number of buildings to explore, from houses people recently lived in to a giant post-office that is your base. My personal favourite was a raided 3 storey store, where I had the most exciting shoot-outs by hiding between shelves and taking cover behind mannequins.

The Division Level Design

Gameplay

If you are expecting a fast paced action shooter, you are going to be dissapointed. The Division is very much like a RPG in which not head shots decide if you win or not – although they do help – but your characters skills and gear will determine the outcome of the fight. In a way it is very similar to shooting in the Borderlands series, although far more tactical. You will also have to rely on abilities that give you battle advantages like a riot-shield or remote controlled bomb. Talents and perks allow you to enhance your character further, but those were not available in the beta.

The Dark Zone

This is where de magic happens: A highly contaminated zone, that only the bravest and a bunch of gamers dare to enter. The Dark Zone is the pvp area in The Division and while it is almost seamlessly connected to the rest of the city, the gameplay within is very different from the rest of the game. You will have to watch yourself at every step you make and make sure to cover your back. If you manage to collect loot from other players or AI gangs, it will not be available immediately, you will first have to extract it by helicopter. While an extraction only takes 2 minutes, other players will be alerted about an incoming helicopter and try to steal the loot from you. This makes it the most difficult and exciting 2 minutes in-game.

Extract loot in The Division beta

Going Rogue

Other players can attack you to steal your loot, but they will be marked as rogue once they attack fellow agents. Other players will be able to see their name tag through walls and will often open fire on sight. If a rogue agent kills enough fellow agents there will be put a bounty on his head and a manhunt will commence. During the beta players often went rogue and extractions of loot resulted in free-for-all shoot-outs. This can be chaotic and frustrating and made me lose loot a lot of times. But after a while you learn to pick the best moments to extract loot: during a manhunt or when there is another extraction going on elsewhere. When The Darkzone will be expanded in the full game, this mode really has the potential to be a real urban – albeit more mainstream – DayZ experience.

The Division beta rogue

After The Division beta

Ubisoft has announced that this would be the last beta before the game launches on the 8th of March, so we will not see much more of contaminated New York before that time. And we haven’t seen much: the story is still unclear, 80% of the map was off limits and character development and creation was limited as well. Based on what I have seen The Division will mostly deliver what it has promised, although I have doubts about the amount of gameplay in the singleplayer area of the game. The beta was focused on the multiplayer and if this will be the same in the full game, you might want to hold of on this game if you like singleplayer better.

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