Early Impressions: TOM CLANCY’S THE DIVISION
In this Crossfader series, our video games staff takes a look at early versions of upcoming releases so that you can know which hype trains to board.
When Ubisoft revealed TOM CLANCY’S THE DIVISION at E3 2014, the gaming world uniformly exploded with anticipation; a tactical squad-based third person shooter with typical RPG mechanics and a dense open world set a few days after a catastrophic outbreak devastates New York City (how’s that for a mouthful?). But really, the game looked gorgeous, and with a description like that, what is there not to love? But with Ubisoft’s recent track record of overhyping some games (WATCH DOGS…) or not being able to fulfill on their promises (ASSASSIN’S CREED UNITY), as time went on, eager fans slowly felt the fear dripping into their brains, that ever terrifying doubt dominating their anticipation. What if THE DIVISION is a bad game?
Thankfully, almost two years after that first announcement, Ubisoft is ready to release the game, but not before a final beta to test server strength and to squash a few pesky bugs before final retail launch. I was able to gain access, and after hours of gameplay I have a thought or two about what has become of THE DIVISION after its long development.
The beta opens a little ways into the game with players having access to a couple of story missions to play through either by themselves or cooperatively (I choose to play with a squad of friends, but randos can join, too). Along with this, a small chunk of the game’s map is open for exploration, with a few side quests to discover and complete for loot and experience. The game might not look as great as it did in its original reveal trailer, but the recreation of New York City is gorgeous, and to the developer’s credit, the effort to showcase how a city would turn to ruin so quickly after an outbreak is tangible.
THE DIVISION is not so much a straight third person shooter as it is first and foremost a role-playing game with shooter elements (think BORDERLANDS). Enemies take man bullets to take down and all of your damage and health is calculated by a series of stats and numbers. This is not “realistic” like other Tom Clancy games, such as Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six. THE DIVISION encourages progression and finding better weapons to survive in the ravaged New York City.
The story missions are simple, short, and fairly unexciting. If anything, they exist to help players get acclimated to the gameplay mechanics and introduce skills and the RPG systems. As this is a beta, much of the game’s systems were locked out of sight, so I never got a chance to tinker with the game’s crafting system or its perks which modify the player’s attributes. I did have ample opportunity to test three of the games “skills,” which are activatable devices that assist in combat scenarios. Each seemed tailored to a specific play style ‒ a deployable riot shield to tank damage, a remote detonated grenade, and a support device to heal allies. Even at this early state, I can see how in the final release THE DIVISION mechanics will differentiate playstyles amongst groups to tackle difficult missions and quests, not unlike popular MMOs like WORLD OF WARCRAFT.
I spent a large bulk of my time with the beta exploring the open world with my squadmates, testing various game mechanics, and I’m happy to report that gunplay feels solid and “realistic.” Recoil bounces with every shot, so players are encouraged to burst fire to steady their aim. Beyond this, movement in the third person can be make or break a game like this, but THE DIVISION features a fairly simple cover-based system with the touch of a button that allows players to fluidly traverse the environment.
New Yorkers always were a fiery bunch
But without question, the one thing that stands out in THE DIVISION is the Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is a section of the open world in which player vs. AI components blend with player vs. player action. Basically, it’s a portion of the map where other players online can enter your game. There’s no menu, being treated as an extension of the open world, but with the lingering threat that some other player could shoot your head off. This threat is worth overcoming in that the Dark Zone offers better loot than anywhere else in the game.
Now, attacking another player deems you as “rogue,” meaning that everyone else who is currently in the Dark Zone knows you are hostile and can freely shoot you on sight without becoming rogue themselves (ouch). But when you kill another player you can steal their loot before they can extract it out of the Dark Zone (all loot is contaminated and must be extracted before it can be used). Playing through the Dark Zone is stressful, exhilarating, and forces players to make real time decisions about who to trust and who they should avoid at all costs. And perhaps players might even go rogue for some of that sweet gear someone has strapped to their back.
I spent a few hours patrolling the teased open world and eventually braving the Dark Zone for loot, but in the end I wanted to keep evolving, growing stronger and piecing together the truth about what caused this whole outbreak in the first place. But alas, the beta only has a tiny fraction of the full game, and now I must wait until the game releases next month. But after playing the beta, I am excited to charge back into the contaminated New York City. THE DIVISION looks, plays, and feels just how I want it. The jury is still out, but from what I have seen and played, THE DIVISION looks like a winner.