By Shelby Steiner (obviously)
The Division releases in a couple weeks and Ubisoft has followed in the footsteps of countless other companies this generation by offering players access to an open beta of their upcoming title. The great thing about these betas is that they allow players to gain a little insight into the nature of the full game. Remember Destiny’s beta? I sure do. I should’ve seen the writing on the wall for that one. Destiny’s beta included about a fourth of the base game after all, with a cliché and pretty boring story. So with the benefit of hindsight, we can (hopefully) look at The Division with a more critical eye.
WHERE TO BEGIN? THE BEGINNING?
The first thing that works in The Division’s favor is that it starts the player off with more limited options. I know this sounds really odd, but hear me out. Ubisoft Massive chose to limit the character customization options, giving only the basics of choosing a randomized face. Now to me, this leaves more of the game where it belongs; in the final product. It means that when I begin my new game around launch day it will be fresh to me. It leaves some of the game to my imagination and it makes me a little excited.
The developers also starts people off at level 4 and excised the introduction of the game as well. The beta doesn’t give anything away that we don’t already know. If you aren’t privy to the details, I’ll summarize:
Players assume the role of government sleeper agents that have been activated in the wake of a holiday season smallpox outbreak. Their role in the universe is to help restore order in the quarantined Manhattan by combatting the anarchy that has spread across the city. Division agents set up a base of operations and perform missions to expand the government’s influence in the city. New York City has areas called Dark Zones, which are sections of the city that have unsafe air quality and have a higher risk and reward for exploring there. The Dark Zones also serve as the player-vs-player mode for The Division.
HOW DOES IT PLAY?
The Division plays pretty much like Ghost Recon. It’s a cover based, third person shooter that heavily penalizes the gung ho, Rambo tactics. Standing out in the open is almost always suicide in a firefight. Enemies have classes that include the shooter tropes of standard infantry, grenadiers, and rushers and weapons follow the usual pattern.
Come to think of it, the gameplay itself isn’t terribly original, but at least it’s solid. It differentiates itself pretty well from Destiny, which is probably going to be the game’s biggest competition. What sets it apart from the current market of other games is the package as a whole. It may be a little early to tell but Ubisoft Massive seems to have a compelling story to tell in The Division.
The Dark Zones of New York provide the justification for The Division’s competitive multiplayer. In it, players are able to collect greater rewards by braving the dangers of elite enemies and rogue players. Interestingly, all loot collected from the area is deemed “contaminated” and has to be extracted or dropped before the player can leave the zone. This is what provides the competition. Any loot collected by the player can be stolen from their corpse upon death, and friendly fire is totally an option. Agents that target other agents are marked as rogue, much like the way Grand Theft Auto Online marks players with bounties on their heads.
This model for the multiplayer just works. It puts you on edge and makes encounters with others pretty uncomfortable. I know that sounds like a bad thing, but running into other players in the Dark Zones was more exciting than the multiplayer in most other games I’ve played. I can’t express how exciting it is to stumble into the middle of a three-way battle between two groups of players and the computer controlled enemies. How intense it is to be standing at an extraction zone while another person stares you down. To be forced to guess the intentions of another person.
Other games simply lack this dynamic. Most other games’ multiplayer is cut and dried; you fight the other team because they’re bad. The closest equivalent to The Division’s Dark Zones is GTAV’s online free roam mode, except every decision in Ubisoft’s game carries more weight. Do you want to be a predator or a defender? Cooperate or fight?
SO WHAT’S THE JIST OF IT?
The Division’s beta appears to do a good job of providing a cross section of what’s on offer. It looks promising, and that’s a great sign. You see, other betas in the past couple years haven’t done a great job of convincing. Destiny, Titanfall, Evolve, Rainbow Six Siege, Star Wars Battlefront, and the like all showed their hands before the full games released. Bungie showed most of their story. Titanfall, Evolve, Battlefront, and Rainbow Six all made it clear that multiplayer is all there is.
Things are looking bright for The Division, which is odd for a game with such a bleak atmosphere. I’m definitely looking forward to diving into this one on March 8th.