Tom Clancy’s The Division has had a bit of an odd, twisting road on its way to release. Its initial announcement blew everyone away back at E3 2013, but expectations soon dropped as more videos showed downgrades both visually and in the gameplay department. We’d all been down this road before, as Watch Dogs went from most anticipated game of the year, to just another GTA clone that few found compelling. Yet The Division seems to have overcome this, presenting a new tweak on the Tom Clancy franchise, and possibly taking over the Shooter/MMORPG realm that Destiny both invented and dominated for the last year and a half.
This comparison, between Destiny and The Division, might seem somewhat surprising, but as more information was shared about the game it made more sense. You inhabit a world that will also feature other players running around as they complete missions. You are all trying to kill enemies and find loot so that you can upgrade your character and take on tougher and tougher missions. The Division definitely fits the mold that was created by Destiny, but does it break out of it and become something better?
We definitely can’t say for sure, but after some time in the currently running, but almost concluded The Division Closed Beta, it feels like the game has a shot. This, of course, comes with many caveats, as Destiny itself presented a very impressive beta before launch, and then disappointed many (but not all as Will points out in the video below) with its final release. Still, what is presented here does give hope, albeit a small amount of it, that Tom Clancy’s The Division will trump Destiny and become the MMOesque shooter for all.
This is The Division Beta
The closed beta only offers a small sliver of content for players to try out, letting them enter post-infection Manhattan, set up a base, and go on one mission. The content here is sort of meant to hint at what the full game will include, showing off the base upgrade system, along with various crafting and gear stores that you can mess with. Even in its limited state you can already see what the idea is here, presenting a huge open world to explore, where you’ll complete missions, but also find supplies to upgrade your character, and base of operation.
Even in its limited state you can already see what the idea is here
The mission that you go on isn’t anything revolutionary, tasking you with storming Madison Square Garden in order to rescue a doctor to staff your base. The gunplay is a nice middle ground between the usual Tom Clancy realism and more arcadey shooters. You won’t be popping headshots all day long, at least until you really trick out your character and weapon, and you need to compensate for recoil and other concerns, but it’s not going to be too difficult once you get the hang of it.
Enemies will take a lot of shots though, especially boss characters, as this is still an RPG of sorts. This might be immersion breaking for some, as shooting human characters in the face with a shotgun will usually kill them in any other game. However, without this long time-to-kill there just wouldn’t be a game here, as it relies on building up your stats, including those that determine how much damage you deal to enemies.
Taking on this mission solo works decently well, but the entirety of The Division is meant to be played as a group. This is where the game definitely shines over Destiny, as it has a robust community feature set, allowing voice chat between strangers, and giving you the ability to team up quite easily. Some of this was present in Destiny, but it all just works much easier in The Division if my memory serves me well.
Teaming up becomes an even more important part of the game when you enter The Dark Zone, which acts as the PvP area of The Division. This really feels like the meat of the game, and the place that most players will spend, if not the majority of their time, at least the more fun part of it.
The Dark Zone contains all the really good loot, but it also has all the other players that really want that loot. Attacking other players is frowned upon, as it tags you as “Rogue” and puts an indicator and a bounty on your head, pushing other players to take you out. However, last long enough and you’ll get off scot-free.
With such a heavy burden behind it, you might wonder why you would ever attack other players. That’s because they’ll be holding all the good loot. You see, everything in The Dark Zone is contaminated with the disease that wiped out New York City, so it has to be extracted and cleansed before you can actually use it. This means you carry it around with you as you explore the area, and have to call in a chopper to extract it once you’re ready.
Firing off a flare and waiting for a helicopter to arrive kind of isn’t the best thing to do when you want to avoid other people though, and yes, calling one in will alert everyone nearby that you are there, and that you have something they might want. This is where having a group is really key, as you can fortify a position, call in a chopper, and secure the extraction zone once it arrives.
Of course, all of this cool player interactions relies on the players, which can be a dangerous proposition for any game. In my short time in The Division’s Dark Zone I was recalling moments from DayZ, where figuring out who is there to help you, and who is there to hurt you can be a game in and of itself. I was also reminded of the less enjoyable moments of that still unfinished game, as a band of random players shot me in the back for no reason at all (I had no loot on me). So whether The Division becomes a bastion for interesting player interactions, or just another run-and-gun PvP experience will come down to how it is handled by the millions of players.
Tom Clancy’s The Division certainly has promise behind it, and this beta showed me that as well as the fact that it could easily exceed my expectations. However, I still feel a bit of cautious optimism toward it, as the beta also showed the cracks that could form in its delicate foundation. Still, it’s looking a lot better than I thought it would just a few months ago, so that is an accomplishment in itself.