Surviving Manhattan in The Division Beta
I tried out Ubisoft’s closed beta for The Division a few weeks ago, and was excited to jump into the open beta this weekend and spend some more time in the dark zone.
In The Division, New York City is a warzone after terrorists unleash a modified strain of smallpox on Black Friday. Your goal is to take back the city, whether on your own or in a team of four. It plays like a slick combination of Destiny’s loot-shooting and the third-person combat in games like Gears of War. I logged around ten hours over the weekend, on my own and with friends, and I’d like to share my impressions (+ gifs!).
World & Atmosphere
I don’t really want to dig into the story, since the beta only features two main missions, but the world-building I’ve seen so far has been solid. New York City is dense. On this front, The Division doesn’t disappoint. Though you can’t investigate the interior of every building in the city, you can get into quite a few, and there’s a strong feeling of verticality too. You can climb fire escapes and explore the roof in many areas, or climb over cargo crates and construction scaffolding on the streets.
I’ve never been to NYC myself, but I’ve heard from others the real world locations depicted in the game are fairly accurate. The first story mission in the beta takes you through Madison Square Garden, and I’ve heard rumors Rikers Island will feature in the DLC.
Coming from Destiny, so far the world of The Division feels a lot more lived in, and the design reinforces the idea that you’re in the aftermath of a tragedy. The second story mission in the beta takes you underground into a subway system that’s been used as a morgue and, well… there’s a lot of bodies. The image stays with you.
It’s been awhile since I played a third-person shooter, but The Division’s learning curve is pretty generous. The combat basics are the same as most cover-based shooters. Smashed up cars, traffic barriers, and cargo crates are plentiful, so you’ll always have a place to hide. There’s a real slick mechanic for moving from cover-to-cover too, where you just highlight where you want to go and hold X to crouchrun over.
In addition to a massive selection of guns and mods you can have 3 moddable skills equipped at any time, selected from three different schools:
- Medical (Support)
- Tech (Damage)
- Security (Tank)
I’ve been having a blast with the sticky bomb, the first skill unlocked in the Tech tree. You launch a sticky grenade which attaches to any surface with R1, whether that’s a wall or an enemy, and another press of R1 detonates it. Once you unlock some of the mods on the sticky bomb, you have a choice between a bigger explosion / bleed effect, proximity triggering, or a flashbang effect.
It looks like there’s a large selection of talents and perks too, unlocked from upgrading the wings in your home base, but most of those were unavailable during the beta.
After playing a lot this weekend, I’d say the gunplay feels serviceable. It’s difficult but I can’t keep from comparing it to Destiny, which has by far my favorite moment-to-moment shooter gameplay in years. The aiming could be tighter, sometimes the skills and movement feel cumbersome, and right now it’s hard to say how much of an effect all the different skills, guns, and mods will have on core gameplay in the endgame.
While you can try to liberate NYC by your lonesome, The Division encourages group play. Skills and gear are designed so, depending on your loadout, you could fill a very clearly defined role, whether that’s as a turret-tossing damage dealer, a heavily-armored tank, or as a much-needed medic.
You can run story missions again at higher difficulties, and these will be a lot more approachable with friends. I’m assuming later in the game we’ll see some dungeon content too.
Of course, you can’t talk about The Division without talking about the dark zone. The dark zone is chaotic, pvp playground. Any loot you collect from killing NPCs or opening chests in the dark zone is contaminated, and can’t be used until you extract it via helicopter. You can’t just walk back out through the checkpoint with it either, which feels a little counterintuitive, but okay.
The draw of the dark zone is that, at any time, you can attack other players. If you kill them, they drop at least some of their contaminated loot. On the flip side, as soon as you attack another person you’ll be marked as a rogue and lose increased dark zone experience and currency if you’re killed. The more people you kill as a rogue, the steeper your losses will be, and the longer it’ll be before your rogue timer runs out.
The dark zone and rogue system present an awesome opportunity for immersive player stories, with a serious risk v. reward to consider. Of course, in the beta many players would go rogue for no reason, since everything will be wiped before the full game anyway. But after the game launches, and we see the stakes increase with high-level gear, it’s going to be real nerve-wracking getting a sweet drop and trying to extract it before somebody jumps you.
Looking Ahead to Release
The Division launches March 8, only two weeks away. After the time I spent in the beta, I’m almost positive I’ll pick it up at launch. I’m still very curious what the endgame will look, and we haven’t even been able to touch the crafting system yet, but I liked my time with it enough to take the leap.