‘The Division’ is, arguably, the highest profile title to release in Q1 2016. For those of you who haven’t heard of the game (or the “graphical downgrade”, but more on that later) it is a third-person shooter with RPG elements and a persistent world. In this case a post-apocalyptic New York City after a weaponised disease has wiped out most of civilisation. Your job as an agent is to find out where the disease came from, who unleashed it, take back the city and restore society. Simple really!
Now that the BETA has closed and we will see no more of the Division until March 8th, how was it? Is it going to be the next big thing…
…or could ‘The Division’ be beta (see what I did there?)
First things first, lets address the elephant in the room. ‘The Division’ does not look as good as the e3 2013…
…but this does not mean that ‘The Division’ is an ugly game! Far from it in fact! The level of detail in the graphics is simply incredible, New York is an incredible location; the streets are littered with corpses, destroyed and siphoned cars, ram-raided barriers, gates and graffiti! It looks and feels like a city that has suffered from devastation. Around every corner and in every street the details give us some back story; from ambulances that have been shot up to body bags littering the subway stations, there are few better realised worlds than this.
Also I witnessed a dog peeing!!
The graphic fidelity goes far beyond the city though. The weather effects are hugely impressive; in my play-time I saw clear winter skies, a light mist, a light snowfall, a heavy snowfall and a combination of all these!
The most impressive thing is that these weather systems move in slowly, the fog and snow drift in and gradually build up. Another detail that impressed me was in a blizzard (in which the snow flakes respond to the lighting engine) I ran into an alley and emerged in an opposite facing street, the blizzard was much lighter here than it was previously. The wind had changed direction. Amazing.
The biggest factor in making New York feel lived in though is the fact that everything is integrated seemlessly. Aside from the initial loading screen there are no game breaks. You can go anywhere and do anything without a hiccup, missions can be accepted, played and completed without seeing a loading screen. Hell, you can go from the campaign to the multiplayer without loading! It is a magnificent technical achievement and it really is a game changer.
All of this would be nothing however without solid game mechanics and I’m happy to report that ‘The Division’ at its core is a very good game.
The cover mechanic is a very good one, it is flexible and allows the player a good range of movement. You can shift your aim from right to left in cover, aim around corners and over the top of cover, vault over (with numerous animations) and you can even move around corners using just the analogue stick! Moving from cover to cover is handled extremely well you aim where you want to go, press and hold ‘x’ and it’s done. It works superbly well and successfully gets around the issue of taking cover when you don’t want to!
The shooting mechanics also feel excellent. The weaponry all feel sufficiently different with a real sense of feedback to the player, the fear of “bullet sponge” enemies is largely avoided too. Yes there are bosses that had a higher pool of HP but they still fall quite quickly and there are none of the Spider tank-esque enemies we’ve seen in Destiny that take twenty minutes to put down. Furthermore the character abilities allow real strategy to occur within your group of players, my group had a member with a shield, another with the heal buff and me with my hard-hitting sticky grenade. We found ourselves naturally using our skills strategically, organising and carrying out pincer-movements and ambushes against the AI – putting down large groups of enemies was exhilarating.
Giving us only one story mission was a particularly stingy call from Ubisoft, it was tutorial level that was pretty forgettable, I would’ve liked more content. In saying this though it’s whetted my appetite for the release; the story has so much potential and it could be incredible!
So maybe Ubisoft knows best.
Finally the dark zone; while rather underpopulated and lacking in real content, is still absolutely fantastic! Emergent gameplay is the order of the day and while most players were really embracing co-operation; there were many who wanted anarchy to reign! It is in the Dark Zone that most players will spend most of their time .
It is essentially the wild west, PVP will occur at any time and absolutely anything goes. I saw groups of players go against one another. Hell I was in turf wars myself! The combat mechanics really come into their own during PVP, strategy is vital because everything seems fair and balanced, I never felt cheated or disadvantaged by the game which is crucial.
A genius feature is that all loot you earn in the DZ is contaminated and must be extracted via helicopter – which alerts everyone in the area to it and attracts them to your position. I saw extractions become a bloodbath as much as I saw successful extractions. Important to note here that when you kill you become a Rogue.
And going Rogue is risky business though as you become visible in everyone’s map screen for a minute. If you engage in combat your timer stops counting down and if you kill again it increases – you will remain visible until it counts down to zero. All this time you are a huge exp and credit boost for whoever kills you – survive though and you reap your ill-gotten rewards.
I can see players becoming addicted to the gameplay of ‘The Division’ specifically its loot cycle much like they did in ‘Destiny’. I also feel that this game could be more successful in giving its players things to do than Bungie’s title was.
Overall I thought that this was an incredibly good BETA. Sure there was very little content here, but there were also no technical issues of note (although I got stuck on some scenery in a mission) and everything ran at a solid, and locked, 30fps. It is encouraging to see a game run smoothly and gives me hope for a good launch, am I buying it though?
Ubisoft have assured us that the world will be much more populated than what we’ve seen here and I have no reason not to believe them; ‘The Division’ could be a very special game indeed! At the end of the BETA I cancelled my pre-order so I could upgrade it to the gold edition.
I am excited to see the final product (and what the endgame is, because apparently it’s not the DZ) and am eagerly awaiting March 8th.
Did you play the BETA?
What did you think?
Tell me in the comments!