The Division is one of the «big 3» AAA I’m waiting for eagerly this year. Having missed the boat of the closed beta because I pre-ordered and registered too late, I’m more than happy to give it a try in the public version.
Not much blah-blah in Ubisoft’s beta. The story of the game is barely hinted at and you have to fathom what’s really going on in Tom Clancy’s New York. A highly dangerous virus is decimating the population, and at the same time, armed men calling themselves the rioters started to act violently within the city.
Despite the scenario being vague, we do contemplate the fabulous atmosphere in this TPS/RPG. It’s Christmas time, it’s snowing, and yet an eerie silence looms on the Big Apple. The city’s last defenders (you) are preparing their counterattack in improvised HQ, there are decontamination facilities everywhere, you can see a memorial to the victims etc. The main musical theme adds the mysticism and your allies scream in the coms when the situation is really bad. The post-apocalyptic setting is fairly convincing.
Graphically speaking, downgrade or not, it’s absolutely impressive. New York looks as real as you could expect and animations during combat feel very natural. The lightning effects and the changing weather make wonders. It’s tremendously good to look at, but I expected no less after Watchdogs’s magnificent Chicago.
The command center is in shambles. Up to you to rebuild it by looking for key persons gone missing (medic, engineer), all this in order to reopen the various wings of the base (hospital, security and engineering). Once you’ve brought back the specialist, you’ll have to improve the department via its own exclusive ability points (for example, the hospital wing needs supplies points). Each time you do that, your character receives new abilities to be used on the field. Perfect transition to remind you that The Division is a true RPG, as you get experience points, level up and have to assign combat/support abilities to L and R.
Following the know-how from Watchdogs, The Division seems to already have the basics of a good open-world game. New York seems somewhat busy despite the tragic events, although stray dogs outnumber the panicked passers-by. But the most interesting point is that there’s already a big density of missions to be done. In addition the main story, several side missions are spread at nearly every corner : taking an enemy hideout, getting rid of a murderer, helping in skirmishes, freeing hostages, fixing a sabotaged antenna… Still, those missions feel more or less the same and aren’t as complex or interesting as Watchdogs’s so far. Funny thing : a sewer network has been modeled and you can move under the city.
Fighting has proved to be quite exhilarating. Everything’s down to your capacity to find the best cover and change it when needed. Every attempt to attack in the open is pure suicide given that your character has little resistance. You therefore have to be clever and move while in cover so as to flank the enemy, or be quick and precise in crossfire. It’s urban warfare like we seldom see in video games. But there’s a snag : X button is for cover, and circle is used for jumping over obstacles, with the result that the player is likely to make unwanted inputs. So I’d say the precision of the controls is not for the best as it is. The weapons physics are astonishingly realistic : the kick of the M4 is monstruous. You do have to learn to adjust your aim and fire small bursts.
But we are in an RPG and you’ll have to increasingly improve your gear. Like in Destiny, your character’s level needs to match the one of weapons and armor. The higher the level, the better the equipment is. And after that you can customize rifles with various accessories (suppressor, better scope, foregrip for better handling), which allows the player to personalize their loadout. Frankly, money looks hard to come by in this game and you can’t really rely on vendors. The best option is to loot enemies, method that gave me this little one. This is actually the Mosin-Nagant, a very old Russian sniper featured in the Metal Gear Solid series.
Very quickly, you do realize that the challenge in The Division is no joke. Mission 2 is nearly impossible to complete. You need to empty 1 or 2 magazines to take out one rioter, and those possess a fierce IA : they move constantly, aim extremely well and overuse their stun grenades. And given the tricky shooting due to the realistic weapon physics, it turns out that you’ll need help. And help is here, because you can join a cooperative session like in Call of Duty Black Ops III. That is if you do understand the kafkaesque machtmaking, but once you’re in a party, the game is very hooking and the servers seem solid.
I’m satisfied of this beta because The Division is turning out to be exactly as I had imagined it : a connected, cooperative experience which mixes the pleasure and intensity of gunfight with the incomparable flavor of an RPG progression system.