When Tom Clancy’s The Division was announced, I immediately spammed my friends’ inboxes with righteous fury, compelling them to buy the game once it was out. That was 2013, the first time the game was delivered with grace to the public. The squad-based cover shooter was then revealed with titillating graphics and mechanics that were yet unheard of in the gaming industry. From then on, Ubisoft produced a minuscule amount of teaser content, mostly highlighting the reduction of graphics quality and cementing our fears of a basic cover-based shooter. Is the game doomed due to the hands of its creator? The good deal however, was I got the chance to try it during their Beta run last weekend.
For those not in the know, Tom Clancy’s The Division is set in a devastated and virus-ridden New York. The Big Apple has succumbed to a mysterious disease that kills the infected in just four days. Seeing as this is a breakdown of organization and governance, rogue groups have formed to take advantage of the chaos. The player, as part of “The Division”, is tasked to restore order and retake New York.
As this is a Beta, or unfinished state, of the game, it is not proper to pass judgement on it. However, the Beta does show the core of The Division. The gunplay, character customization, and RPG elements, were all available, but at a limited extent. With this, we can deduce how the game will ‘feel’ like once it gets out on the shelves.
I started my Beta adventure as one of the clones manufactured from the six presets. While the game has menus for appearances and facial configuration, they were locked for the sake of simplicity.
My character started in a derelict camp, pitched into the fray without explanation and tear-jerking drama. The survivors’ camp was populated by soldiers, government workers, and of course, like-minded Agents such as I. This place is a hub wherein other players can interact with each other. Once they get out, unless they are in a group, they are on their own.
I then proceeded to diligently visit each shop, looking at the weapons, most of which are unavailable due to my lack of in-game currency. After taking some reports and missions, I then proceeded to exit the camp, whereupon I was ambushed by NPCs wielding submachine guns and wooden baseball bats. While I did have my gun at the ready, it then wasn’t able to fire even with me clicking furiously on my mouse. This was then my first encounter with a bug.
After a quick restart, I then proceeded to join my friend, Pinoyscreencast, as we explored the snow-covered streets of New York. We chanced upon the one and only mission available in the beta and it involves rescuing a doctor held hostage at a hospital. Securing her would jumpstart a vaccine for the cure and introduce some features in the game’s base-building mechanic.
The mission was easy and the level was littered with lackluster covers and incredibly easy AI. We were then able to pick the boss off despite its lengthy armor bar and overpowered machine gun.
Fast-forward, we were then prompted to enter into the Dark Zone. Its barriers standing high above the streets, signifying that whatever was inside should be left inside. With no fear of the repercussions and the thrill of experiencing the game’s “true” atmosphere, we then headed over to the gates of hell.
Since then I felt that the Dark Zone is the place where the Division finds its soul and where, in my opinion, can be its boon or bane.
The Dark Zone is an enclosed area in devastated New York and is the hardest place hit by the virus. As there was no time for the government to extract their belongings, the place is rife with premium weapons and tools befitting an Agent. High-caliber sniper rifles, assault rifles in pristine condition, vests that are worth bucketloads of cash, you name it, the Dark Zone has it.
Better items lie in wait for those who have the dough, the Dark Zone dough.
The place is also noteworthy due to it being an open Player versus Player arena. It’s like Hollywood’s Wild West inside: only the fittest and the most cunning survive. Anyone can shoot anyone for loot or for fame but despite the chaos, rules are still found and enforced. Aside from the character level, the Dark Zone also features its own leveling system and currency. Experience gained from the Dark Zone are required to equip armaments that are sold within its walls.
So why go to the Dark Zone? Again, it is the place where premium loot can be gained. Several NPCs and containers inside can contain items that are of incredible value. Once a good item is gained, it has to be extracted for it to be usable. These items are ‘contaminated’, remember? To extract an item, the player must trek across several sites across the Dark Zone to call in helicopters to swoop in and take the quarry. The problem is that the choppers take time to arrive at the zone and calling in one prompts all players in the area of an oncoming extraction. This mechanic makes each call a tense situation as players know that someone is taking off with valuable loot, making extraction points a hot area for PvP. Not to mention that the game also spawns strong NPCs to deter the player/s. And as always, greed can be the end of all things.
Upon entering, Pinoyscreencast and I immediately encountered two players at a dead-end alley. The encounter then escalated into a Mexican stand-off– 2 versus 2. IOne guy talked to us and while going through the motions with his speech, his comrade threw a grenade between us, impairing both our visions and killing us both. Luckily, the checkpoint was just a few steps away and we were immediately revived to exact vengeance on these clowns.
After finding good weapons, PinoyScreencast and I made for the extraction point. We were then ambushed by two players trying to contest our hard-earned loot. Dying on our first attempt, we then tried to do it right the second time with a wait and bait strategy. The plan was that after the chopper arrives, I would draw their fire out and highlight their positions so he could prime a clean shot. The method worked and we were able to secure a new sniper rifle and some armor.
The feeling of thrill was ripe and come the next day, I then summed up enough courage to go through the Dark Zone by myself. Given that I was at the apex of the beta’s limited character levels, I thought of myself as a roaming Sentinel in the Dark Zone’s lawless roads. My mission, as I would like to think of myself, was to help players in their extractions and root out the bad ones by hunting them down. To my surprise, hunting down ‘rogue’ players can be fun and lucrative. See, downing players that have gone ‘rogue’ by attacking other players nets the hunter a boost in Dark Zone experience points and currency. The bounty raises as the rogue kills more agents. For squads of four players, whenever one goes on rogue, everyone in the team also goes rogue. If a player continues to kill with reckless abandon, a ‘Manhunt’ ensues, broadcasting his/her location for all players in the Dark Zone to hunt him down for the bounty.
Final Thoughts About the Beta’s Dark Zone
The Division’s player to player interaction lies on the Dark Zone and I can see it as a very unstable mechanic. For starters, if players don’t succumb to their greed, the Dark Zone becomes a typical dungeon where anyone can take valuable loot. Unexciting and not that much different from the other side of the walls. On the otherhand, going with the other extreme produces a very toxic environment and could be problematic to the player base. I did have several encounters wherein players were lying in wait at the entrance of the Dark Zone, gunning down low level players for the sake of fun.
I do hope that Ubisoft adds an escape mechanic for players that go rogue, seeing that they’re like trapped rats once their positions are broadcasted. Also, I would love to see players. My other gripe tackles the game’s rules of engagement. Players can shoot at your Agent before the rogue status appears, and if you return fire, chances are that you’ll be the one going rogue instead of them. It’s like if someone pointed a gun at you and you have to wait for him to shoot you in order for your actions to be justified. I’m just hopeful that Ubisoft can also find a work-around to this unfair order.
Amongst other things, I did appreciate the deserted nature of the Dark Zone. While it does feel poignant loitering the streets, it does give a post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Hope that Ubisoft can still improve this one for maximum effect.
Again, it’s not fair to judge The Division in its Beta state, but it did give me an idea of how the game would feel like once it gets out. Would I get it? I’m more inclined to based on what I experienced and it would certainly be fun if I have a full complement of mates to tackle the missions and the Dark Zone. I also did discover that the Division can still be played as a solo but with more difficult encounters.
The Division will be live and kicking come this 8th of March 2016. The game will be available on the PC, Sony PS4, and the Microsoft Xbox One.