by Christopher M. Novas
Tom Clancy’s The Division (PS4, XB1, PC)
Genre: Open World, 3rd Person Shooter, RPG
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Version Played: PC, in Closed Beta state
Hours Played: 3 to 4 hours
For the sake of full transparency, I’ve been hype for The Division since it’s initial reveal at E3 in 2013. Unfortunately, I jumped in just shy of its closing so I can’t give you all a detailed report of what it’s like in its current state. However, what I can say is that the Closed Beta we were presented feels lacking thus far. To be completely honest, it felt more like a demo hailing from the late 90s/early 2000s than a fully realized Beta. Firstly, the character customization was incredibly limited only allowing players to use random template models in creating their female or male agents. Secondly, there was a distinct lack of content shown throughout the Closed Beta in its entirety. You start off with a video tutorial of the basic UI/combat in the game, and then are thrust into what I can only assume is an hour or so into the game’s main story, as you fly into a collapsing New York fresh off the calamity of an unknown virus that plagues the city (and possibly the world?). From there, you are given one story driven mission which you can solo, or party up with options to increase the difficulty, and numerous side missions and random encounters throughout the world. The PVE in the early stages of the game feel a little easy, although if you’re not careful you can get wrecked. Enemies can seem bullet spongey, especially when you pull off headshots and it seemingly has no effect on them. Difficulty mostly comes from the Named Enemies, who are rare elites with different colored health bar, and armor, and mobbed with regular goons can become a real hassle to deal with. The upside to them is that they drop better gear, and weapons for your character.
The world feels rather empty just with roaming NPCs that you can help by giving them food, water, soda, medkits, etc receiving cosmetic items and EXP in return. In addition to the roaming NPCs, you will also have random encounters with enemies and instantaneous sidequests such as protecting JTF agents in a certain area. Although we were only presented with the Rioters faction of the game, its been reported that there will be more roaming enemies, more instantaneous side quests, more NPCs, and the more varied factions will make an appearance in the full game. Despite the emptiness of it all, New York is beautifully rendered by the art team, admittedly not as stunningly gorgeous as the original E3 videos would lead to you to believe. Surprisingly, there’s already a graphics mod to make the game more beautiful than it already is.
Early into the Beta, you establish a base of operations, which is an instanced HUB area that is exclusive to you, and you fix up the different wings to the base with the ongoing missions which are divided into three categories: Medical/Tech/Security which also happen to unlock your skill set in those areas as well. The aforementioned story mission is medical in nature, specifically rescuing a virologist, and once completed opens up the skills tree. Unfortunately in the Beta build, you are locked into the 1st two levels of skills, of which you can only activate two at any given time and can switch back and forth depending on how much skill points you’ve allotted into each subdivision. It makes for great flexibility in play style, but unfortunately you can’t experiment with this as it was all locked in this Beta build. There are two other ways in which you can grow your character: Talents, and Perks, but these were also locked. Another aspect that is crucially missing in the Beta is the crafting aspect of the game. You have workbench in which you can craft items, or weapons, but this was locked altogether.
Onto the PVP portion of the game — the game is divided into PVP only areas called the Dark Zone, where players enter an established free for all and can kill each other on sight. In addition to the threat of potentially enemy players, there are mobs of elite level or higher in this area. Now, the Dark Zone itself is possibly the most compelling aspect of the Beta, because of the mechanics and nuances seen in the Dark Zone. It has its own level system outside of the main portion of the game, and it has its own currency, which you can use to buy (or find) possibly the best loot in the entire game. The compelling aspect of the Dark Zone is found in the tension building up upon seeing other players, figuring out if they are friend or foe, and how to dispatch them accordingly. Interestingly, items found in the Dark Zone are contaminated, and thus must be extracted before you are able to use them. You can extract them using a flare which calls in a helicopter, and the time to wait for these extractions are 1 minute, 30 seconds. Once you make extraction, you are marked on the map, and fellow players can come help you or devour you and your team, stealing all of your loot, and de-leveling you in the process. Another interesting (yet potentially frustrating) aspect of PVP is the rogue status, which is activated once you attack a neutral player. You are marked on the map, and any player can see you within 200 meters of your location, hiding or cover notwithstanding. It’s currently unstable because it takes a certain amount of shots to a neutral player to activate rogue status, which is just ridiculous. Although the PVP portion of the game is highly enjoyable, I fear it may turn into an unending war as enemy players killed can respawn and come back to your location within the time that your rogue status holds (30 seconds, and increasing as you kill more players). I highly recommend entering the Dark Zone with friends or allies, because it’ll take away the more frustrating aspects of PVP as mentioned above.
The map of the city is grand in scale, but most of it was unfortunately blocked off. The GPS in the game can be incredibly frustrating as it guides you using the main streets, and not taking alleys or side streets into account. There were many times were I tried doubling back or cutting through a certain street only to find it blocked off, or at the point where the map was block off.
Ultimately, I have high hopes for the game. It’s doing a lot of interesting things, but I can see the game easily going into Destiny area with not a lot of variety or end game content to keep people playing other than loot whoring. I’d like to see more RPG elements make it to the final game, such as raiding dungeons, special boss battles, interesting expansions when the time comes, etc. I want to see people playing The Division for more than its story (which I hope is satisfying and compelling in its own right), and establishing a base audience that will return, myself included. Is it a day 1 purchase for me? I’m not sure. Despite its shortcomings, I had a lot of fun with the little time I had. I’d need to play the Open Beta to get a fully formed opinion of the game, but I believe it has the potential to be a great game if it makes the right moves pre-launch, and post-launch.