Tom Clancy’s the Division is an upcoming game from Ubisoft focusing on a New York facing the aftermath of a deadly virus that devastated the city on Black Friday. You play the role of an agent from a secret government agency called the Division. Ubisoft purposefully left the intro and core story elements out of the Beta to maintain some secrecy on the plot, but presumably you and your fellow division agents are there to restore order to a dying city. I took The Division for an extended playthrough during the Closed and Open Betas and found a game that is incredibly intriguing despite being slightly by the book gameplay wise.
As mentioned The Division takes place in a New York City that is reeling from a major outbreak of a virus that broke loose on Black Friday. Much of the city is abandoned, and various areas are contaminated and lost to the general public. Cars are abandoned; garbage is piled in heaps all around buildings, and the city still has Christmas decorations and lights all around adding a bright but false cheerfulness to the environment. The first thing I noticed about The Division is how amazing everything looks. New York is detailed, densely populated with signage cars, buses, refuse, and the bodies of the fallen. The game features a Day/Night cycle, and I stopped many times just to admire the sights of this fallen city.
With the fall of New York’s infrastructure and government, gangs and predators have taken hold in the city causing mayhem and destruction. This lawlessness feeds into the games design as it has three main mission types from what I experienced in the Beta. First are the main missions that are essential to pursuing the storyline and establishing order the city; in the Beta this had me rescuing a Doctor to start a clinic and look into the virus and restoring power with an Engineer to establish a powered base of operations.
Next there are optional encounters you can stumble upon or seek from the map, these range from clearing out gangs to rescuing soldiers or agents from perilous situations. These were interesting in their own way as there is a large variety of these side missions that have you travelling all over New York exploring the city. Through this exploration you stumble on the many collectibles like recordings from agents or other data points.
Finally there is the Dark Zone areas which are walled off sections of New York, and these zones comprise the Multiplayer component of The Division. When you enter a Dark Zone it is either to complete some optional missions or retrieve items, because these areas are generally where the damage was at its worst thy are often hospitals or military checkpoints which equals great gear. The only catch is that items found in the Dark Zone have to be evac’d by helicopter as they need to be cleansed of the virus before they are usable. This adds a time based element as you need to head to an evac point and strap the items to a cable in order for them to be extracted and used later, when you are waiting for this evac you could be vulnerable to other players. As the Dark Zone is a PVP realm any other player can kill you, but if they do they can take your loot but are labelled ‘Rogue’ and marked on everyone’s map as a rogue agent which is a neat twist. This adds a risk/reward feel to the multiplayer in this game which is as refreshing as it is frustrating at times.
Even with all of these options available The Beta was very light in content but it gave a good enough feel for the combat, exploration and levelling in the game to come up with some thoughts:
- The atmosphere of the game is pitch perfect. The environments are brilliant, the outfits, building, winter weather and desperation all feel eerily real
- There are plenty of loot items giving The Division a Diablo/Destiny vibe that is very cool. Not only are there tons of weapon/armor/gear options, but they can all be customized and come in rarity levels
- Combat is very serviceable; there is a great cover system that seems ripped from Splinter Cell and the variety of weapons and skills adds a lot of options to fights
- Even though there were only two story missions I could tell there is a lot of mission variety possible due to plenty of side missions. Some featured scanning for viruses; others were sabotage missions or rescue operations.
- There is more to the environments then it initially appears. It is not fully explored in the Beta but there are accesses to the subway or sewer tunnels, plenty of open buildings and access to rooftops. New York is a big place and The Division gives you a healthy slice of it for a playground
- Voice work and scenario is top notch. To add to the immersiveness the characters are very well voiced and the scenarios pull you into this world
- Always Online even in single player, this led to some weird hit detection lag as it seems all actions are logged to servers. I think this is so any loot/completed missions are saved.
- No way to pause, this actually REALLY bugged me during the Beta; I have a life and kids and sometimes I need to stop playing for a few minutes. The Division doesn’t care you will simply be killed or need to exit.
- Apparently no way to save progress mid-mission. Some of the story missions seem to be multi-phased and this may be only applicable to the Beta but when I exited out mid mission, even if it referenced a checkpoint, I had to start from the beginning when I logged back in.
- Fast Travel is seemingly locked to bases which means you have to hoof it across large stretches of New York. Again this may be limited in the Beta but I found it annoying, a la early Warcraft, to have to run across the city to engage a mission. As there is no ground transportation options (city is too littered with bodies/cars) a better and more spread put fast travel system is needed.
Despite the fact that some aspects of The Division bother me I can’t stop thinking about the game and, after the last Beta, concluded I pre-ordered the game as I can’t wait to experience the full product. Even though on paper everything about the game appeals to my gaming preferences, I needed to try it before I bought as Ubisoft has burned me in the past with Watch Dogs. The Division will probably be far from perfect but I have a feeling I will have a blast exploring this beautiful but devastated New York when the full game is released March 8th.