I will start out by saying I was very excited about this game when I heard about it 2 years ago. Having played every single Tom Clancy game over the years I was ecstatic at the possibility of an open world Tom Clancy MMO style 3rd person shooter. I was unable to make it into the alpha testing phase due to prior commitments so this beta was my first experience. I want to give you an accurate perspective on what this game is and precisely what it is not, as we called it in the military, actionable intel. Then you will be able to make an educated and informed decision on whether to jump into this latest entry into the military driven world of The Division. This impressions piece was written by Sean Gearhart.
First, let’s kill the hype before we get further in. Hype almost always leaves dissapointment. Hype is fun, it’s attractive and it sells games. Hype doesn’t keep you playing after the initial couple hours though. To keep playing a game you need a real, tangible and accessible game system that brings new possibilities for replay. One that creates memories and one that rewards players for their dedication to the game. I personally believe this game will give this to you if you dedicate some time to it.
Tom Clancy’s The Division starts out with you creating your SHD (Strategic Homeland Defense) Agent and drops you right into the desolate and destroyed beauty of New York City. Character customization is disabled in the beta so I can only imagine what options we will see but we do know that it will at least feature facial customization and your choice to play a male or female agent. After selecting your agent you are tasked with locating and eliminating groups of hostiles near your main operating base. Once you navigate to this base and eliminate these hostiles you unlock your main base of operations where you will conduct all further missions.
The main base is broken down into three different sections. A medical wing, security wing and technical wing. Each has 10 upgrades which will unlock new and valuable skills and possibilities for your game. In this beta we only get to see two upgrades from the medical wing. You can see the chart below for a breakdown of the medical wing upgrades.
As this is an RPG these upgrades, skills, talents and perks serve as your direct line to character progression. They allow you to fully customize your agent to coincide with your play style. Your abilities are broken down into Skills, Talents and Perks. Skills are equipped by the player to a slot which the player will activate at the time of their choosing. Skills have a recharge time. My personal beta favorite was a scanner that revealed enemy locations within a 30m radius and granted me extra critical damage during the time it was active. Talents are more passive in nature and can be taken advantage of by the player doing certain things in and out of combat. These are not available during the beta. An example I ran across in my research revealed a talent called Precision which provides a 25% increase in headshot damage for 10 seconds when you headshot an enemy who is at full health. Perks are not available in the beta. Perks are passive and have immediate impact on your game play. These are known to include things like increased inventory size and gaining more crafting materials from looting containers. These are active as soon as they are equipped by the player.
What we have accessible to us in the beta is a rather generous space to navigate and explore. In this beta we have access to one main mission. Main missions are replayable at any time after initial completion and on increasing difficulty if you so choose. Higher rewards are given for higher difficulty. Main missions can be accomplished in solo or with a squad of 3 other players. The matchmaking mechanic worked just fine for me as I teamed up with a squad and we played through the first mission of the beta. I had no connection issues. I chose not to chat with the other players which I found really was not needed as the game does a good job of making objectives clear and when one player was downed it was very easy to locate the downed player and revive them.
After main missions we have the side missions which are assigned by a specific NPC. In the beta, side missions are not replayable. Whether they will be replayable in the full release is not clear at this time. Within specific safe zones, like your main base there will be situation boards which, when activated will reveal areas on the maps where there will be encounters. These encounters are often tasks like hostage rescue and hazmat clearing. In the beta these are also only playable once. There are also completely randomly generated pockets of hostiles all over the city which will always populate so there will always be the potential for combat even once you have cleaned out a city section. This was a nice touch for me as many games have a tendency to not populate enemies after you have cleared out an area leaving things feeling very dull and leaving replay value.
Within city sections there are many collectibles to find. These are echo fragments, phone recordings, incident reports, survival guides and missing agents to track down. These all grant a nice XP bonus and give you a great glimpse into the collapse of New York. There are also dozens of hidden weapon crates, ammo crates, clothing items, weapon parts, electronic parts, tools and weapon blueprints. All of which will allow you to further customize your weapons and character. This system seems extremely robust upon initial inspection. Weapon crafting through blueprints is disabled in the beta so unfortunately I can not report on it. Weapon customization is wonderful and deep. Addons like suppressors, optics, grips, magazines and laser aiming devices are all available. There are even collectible paint schemes for your weapons. Again, as this is an RPG there are multiple tiers of each weapon getting progressively more deadly with each rank you acquire. Gear functions the same way. The higher your rank the better its statistics get. Gear, weapon and mod vendors provide a constant stream of ways to outfit your agent to your liking.
The Division allows your agent to carry a primary, secondary and sidearm. Primary and secondary are not limited to a mandatory rifle and shotgun. If you want two rifles or two shotguns you can do this. A shotgun and SMG, go ahead. You get the idea. The only restriction is that your sidearm is always equipped to your 3rd weapon slot and has to stay there. Personally I used a sniper rifle as my primary and light machine gun as my secondary. Weapons are also very authentic, adding a nice layer of realism to the game. The final significant area we will look at is the Dark Zone (DZ). This serves as the games MMO area. Outside the DZ, The Division is largely a single player affair unless you have a specific squad of friends but you will not run into other squads outside the DZ.
The DZ is where the game really ramps up its difficulty. Not only will you contend with other players but also a very deadly AI that throws a great deal of firepower at you. The DZ is where you will find the games best gear. Getting the best gear really requires being in a squad that can watch your back. This is where the game draws a great deal of its Destiny comparisons. Unlike Destiny however, there is no RNG system that requires an insane upgrade path to acquire top level gear. If you acquire a top level weapon then it is ready to use and customize straight away. No having to acquire materials to upgrade the weapon to a higher level. In my time playing in the DZ I ran completely solo and ended up coming away with some awesome gear for my effort. The one massive flaw in this game is the rogue system. I say it’s a flaw because it allows people to be complete jerks and spoil other people’s hard work. I ran into several other players who were running rogue across the DZ just killing other human players for no reason and taking their hard earned gear.
Within The Devision’s DZ any gear you acquire must be extracted before it can be used. If you are killed that gear is dropped and can be picked up by any other player. This makes it a challenge. I found it fun but others might find it aggravating. In my experience if I respected other players I got that respect back. I think most players in the DZ will want to just work in their squads against the AI to acquire the best gear and will choose to leave other people alone. However, there will most certainly be those groups who just relish killing other players and taking their hard earned gear. This rogue system is only as good as the people playing the game.
One complaint I have read in numerous places is how higher level enemies tend to absorb a great deal of damage. This can be true of bosses but they are designed to be attacked as a team and not solo. As well, they are designed to be attacked at or near similar level. Your level versus your enemy’s level is very important in this game. Taking on enemies 2-3 levels above yours often results in a very quick death. I will say that enemies that were several levels above mine I had zero problem dispatching with several well placed headshots with my scoped sniper rifle, though my close up engagements at this level disparity resulted in my quick demise. Distance is your friend at times!
All in all, during my beta play time I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. There are massive amounts of places to explore, things to find and tasks to accomplish. During my 15 hours with the beta I didn’t feel like I was grinding for gear but rather exploring and uncovering meaningful gear, weapons and experience. In my opinion, this is a game that has a massive amount of potential and I think it really delivers on what it has purported itself to be. It’s a robust game that looks gorgeous, has some awesome real time weather effects, runs smoothly and was a relatively glitch free experience in the time I played it. It’s hard to ask for much more.
[Words by Sean Gearhart, Olalaaa]