I have never watched a game so much as I have The Division.
I remember watching the first announcement at E3 whilst chilling with friends in University and I almost know I wanted the game then. However this game has been plagued with delays pushing it back nearly two full years since the announcement date to its hopefully final date of 8th March.
The beta is being used not only to tease about the game, but to stress test the servers. You lucky XBO users got your Microsoft exclusive one day extra in the beta, whereas the rest of us mortals have got the beta for just the weekend. At the moment however I wish to do nothing else with my time than just play this beta. It’s not a new concept, which I will discuss later, but it is such a beautiful reimagining of its concept that just draws you into this dark world and leaves lovers of it like me salivating for desperate for more game.
So the story is nothing new. What we know so far is that a smallpox pandemic has gripped the continental United States transmitted over banknotes on Black Friday. You play as a member of The Division, a tactical group above all others that is built to operate with no command force and tasked with reclaiming New York. The beta gives the player access to two of the early missions in the game as well as a number of side missions covering the various other aspects of the gameplay.
The first thing you will notice when the game drops you in is how utterly gorgeous this game looks. Nearly all humans in touch with modern culture have seen Manhattan Island in multiple states of destruction from a variety of viruses or invasions. Ubisoft has blended the essence of destruction with the winter backdrop, really pushing the Snowdrop engine to make the game feel realistic, even offering an option to have the snow fall with wind physics.
The beta gives a small portion of Manhattan Island for the player to explore. While Ubisoft has said that area which have been previously shown will not be available in the main game (Brooklyn, Long Island and Staten Island; pray these aren’t ploys for DLC) you get a decent section of the island to explore starting at Chelsea Pier. Progression in the beta sadly will not transfer to the final game, yet Ubisoft has hinted at a special Beta reward for these players.
In honesty, the summary of the main gameplay in The Division is a real-world Borderlands. You gear slowly increases in quality and strength as you traverse higher-level areas in this constant cycle of incremental improvement. While I’m not Borderland’s biggest fan, the gameplay and style has been refined here and has a lot more game direction which I found was a severe flaw of the Borderlands games. However The Division, even with a few options locked off due to its beta status is teeming with customisability which may swamp the more casual player. Character customisation; gun customisation and skill customisation ignoring all of the base management work which is somewhat glossed over in the beta means a large portion of this game will be pausing to manage and equip better items or skills.
And my gods customisations in this game go deep. A large portion is blocked off for the beta but skill trees, weapon tiers, weapon mods, base mods, clothing mods, armour mods; the list is somewhat endless. Nothing spectacularly new exists but the implementation is spotless.
For the best equipment however you must travel to the Dark Zone, an area of Manhattan that was so bad that it was simply walled up. This also doubles as the PvP section of the game. The system is somewhat double-sided however and rightly so. You all work for the same agency so shooting each other is penalised as ‘going rogue,’ making your position known to other players and giving them a bonus for killing you. However the benefits of the dark zone somewhat outweigh their risks with better items and much better vendors. Currency is also split, with ‘DZ funds’ being your PvP currency and items requiring extraction and collection later for use in the standard game experience.
So the verdict so far? I love it. The problem I had with Borderlands was that the game had a serious lack of direction. It felt like there was a story but it was all up to you to discover and find because we just don’t care. The Division is at heart the same game yet the story feels much more compelling and far more directed than Borderlands ever did. It just compels me to continue forward, making objectives easy to see and find with a good waypoint system.
Performance-wise PS4 and XBO seem both optimised at the moment. The PC has a much more broad range of options and we’ve pushed it to 1440p 75fps on a GTX 970 using the high settings so credit for Ubisoft for doing what it should always do and make the PC port playable.
At the moment there are no obvious problems in the game. The beta has a few bugs which need polishing out, such as becoming a rogue agent for attacking rogue agents, and a few of the PC graphics options seem to be memory intensive and are drawing out sometimes up to 10fps. So far however this is an incredibly smooth-running beta.
So while this game is not anything new, at all, it presents itself in such a new way that you can be easily drawn back into the experience. It’s hard to pin what genre this game is as it blends 3rd person shooting with co-op and RPG elements in such a perfect way that it just works. It seems like my long wait for this game will be damn well worth it. I rarely recommend a game being bought at launch, as I rarely do it, but this is definitely a game you want to be first off the mark on.