Recently, I was able to take part in The Division's open beta on Xbox. I had already preordered the game a couple of weeks ago after watching some gameplay and finding out a bit about the story. At first, I wasn't going to participate, out of fear of spoiling too much of the story, but in the end the temptation to try the game got the best of me. That said, and this probably a bit of a good thing really, I did not get to spend near as much time with The Division as I would have liked, but that also means less of the overall gameplay experience would be spoiled allowing to still get that "release day buzz" feeling come March. Still, I feel pretty confident enough in what little time I had to be able to give my initial impressions of the game. I plan to cover gameplay, a wee bit on story (no true spoilers), and just my overall thoughts and experiences...
Before we begin, I should set a few things straight right from the start. First, my impressions here are from my little time in the BETA. Since it is a beta experience, things will definitely be a bit different upon the game's release. There are level caps in place, scenes and missions cut from the game to preserve the story, not all the in-game options and abilities are available, etc. Please, just keep that in mind while you read. I'm also going to reference a few other games in this review, BUT by no means does that mean The Division has ripped off any of the titles I mention. Rather, I'm referencing past games I've played (and probably one you'll be familiar with) simply so you can have an easier time relating to certain aspects of The Division, or have your own reference point to look back on. Really it boils down to making it easier to describe my own experiences more than anything, being able to point to another, relatable example from somewhere else. Also, I mostly spent my time in the PVE side, doing side missions, checking out weapons, getting used to the controls, etc. I only played a little bit in the Dark Zone PVP area where I imagine a lot of the action, and a lot of the draw for some players will reside. This post may be a little allover of the place, as it is pretty unscripted, and is mostly a bit of a rant about my views of the beta. Just bare that in mind as well...
Often times we boil down a game's concept to a simple sentence like: "this is a typical twitch shooter" or "this is like COD with Star Wars thrown in" (I.e. Star Wars Battlefront). I found myself describing the game to one of my buddies (who is also interested in buying The Division) over the Xbox chat, and I was describing it as a tactical, cover-based shooting game, with a lot of MMO elements added in. Think if Gears of War, Modern Warfare, and Destiny all had a baby together... The outcome, I imagine, would probably be something akin to this.
I won't dive too deeply into the story. One, because parts of the beta were left out to preserve the story, but also so I don't spoil anything either. The background is easy enough to hear/read about online if people want to know the setting. There is also a 30 minute short film on Amazon, that is also pretty cool. What I will say is this: Destiny just kind of plopped you into the game. You saw a brief clip at the start, but then you were tossed into a universe that you really never truly knew about. It wasn't all that immersive because of this. The Division does a much better job! I've heard there is a clip at the start that sets the scene, and while they do toss you straight into the action right away, The Division does a much better job of letting you develop your own personal story through building your safe house as a base of operations and recruiting people to your cause. I felt totally immersed and engrossed in the story that was in the beta. I can only imagine what the story in the full game will be like, but I'm looking forward to it! Heck, I'm enjoying the back story so much, I would love to read a novel series in this setting. (Wish Tom Clancy was still around to write it!)
A quick note on language: this game is full of potty-mouths! You will NOT want to play this game at all within earshot of a little one. F-bombs and everything in between abound and very frequently. This could be a turnoff for some, but if you've spent any time with people in the outside world, you will easily see how The Division's potty language would easily be the norm in a lawless environment.
|NOT my character...|
I'm going to have to break this one down a little bit further, going over the general gameplay and controls, graphics, weapons, and whatnot. First, let me touch on the graphics. Gameplay wise, the graphics look good! The environment looks very nice, the character models look great as well, and while cosmetic choices were limited to just a few random pre generated models, I imagine the full game will have a whole spectrum of options. The UI, color choices, etc all work really well together too. If there is one criticism, it is with the graphics I have seen in a couple of the beta cutscenes. Don't get me wrong, they are not too bad, and it won't ruin the game, but I have seen better. An example being the cinematic cutscenes in Halo 5, which are in my opinion, so seamless that you could almost forget that they are not live action! The Divisions' cutscenes in game, are not on that level, at least not in beta. It doesn't ruin the experience by any means, but it is just one avenue that could be improved, and seeing as it was just in beta, they could have already tweaked them, or there may be more cinematic cutscenes of higher quality that I had not seen. Cinematics aside, the graphics really are pretty nice!
Another interesting feature that kind of falls somewhere between graphics and gameplay, is in the enemy detection system. Unless you use the "scanning ability" (more on this later) you often cannot detect friend from foe until the bullets start flying! There is no big highlighted enemy glow, no real red vs blue style colors to go off of, honestly, the only indication is a small red triangle placed above an enemy's head, and even then, it is often only AFTER the bullets start flying. Sometimes, you have to sit behind cover and observe an NPC to determine what camp they fall in: skulking around, digging through garbage... Prolly harmless, digging through the pockets of a dead body in the street, prolly a bad guy. All of this serves to create tension within the game, that hesitation to shoot or not to shoot, and believe me, The Division does a great job of creating tension!
On a general note about gameplay, this more of tactical, cover-shooter than a twitch shooter or traditional FPS game. If you've played Gears of War or similar games, then it is a mechanic you may be somewhat familiar with. Cover is important! A good chunk of this game is moving from cover to cover, leaping over crates and jersey barriers, etc, in an attempt to flank the enemy. The shootouts I've had have been really fun, and really intense. The fights, even against the lowliest of thugs have been really cinematic, giving me the feeling that I'm in some action film, every gunfight feels really rewarding. I will say this though, at first I struggled with some of the controls, they felt a bit clunky, and a little foreign, BUT by the time I had finished my time in the beta I had a much better handle on the controls and was finally able to whip around cover as I wanted to do, leap barriers, etc with relative ease. So, if the controls feel strange at first, do not worry, you will adapt! In beta, I was unable to alter the button commands, forcing me to get used to the control set up they gave me. Not sure if I'll be able to change them to my liking in the full game or not. Another avenue I struggled with early on the the commands to launch grenades, and use medpacks. I had to get used to the "double-tap" left or right on the D-pad to activate an ability. Tapping once would do nothing, holding it down, brought up a strange little circular menu for selecting different items, but it wasn't easy to use, and trying to quickly swap between grenade types while in the middle of a firefight would prove extremely difficult, if not impossible. Again though, by the end of my time in beta I was able to freely (and intentionally) use my abilities, grenades, and medpacks, so as with the general controls, it must just be something you have to get used to. Another control I struggled with a bit was hitting Y once to swap weapons, double-tapping Y twice for pistol. I got the hang of it, but honestly, I never needed my pistol. (more on that later).
One complaint I did see online was that people were complaining that it took too long, or too many bullets to drop an enemy. To me, it felt fine. You average, run of the mill thug, typically dropped in one burst. Sure, that may have been 10-20 bullets it took, but those bullets all hit in the span of a second or two. This is not the kind of game where a single shot drops a guy, but I'm fine with that. I can speak from experience, being caught in the open, either in PVE or PVP will get you dropped fast! (Your med stuff can only go so far). Granted, the fact that The Division's "time to kill" doesn't bother me could be due to my Halo 5 background, where you have shields, lots of movement, and lots of way to survive a fight, and yet can still end up dropped in seconds. I could just be used to this tough yet fragile game type.
Another aspect of the game I really enjoyed was the weapons, upgrades, tech, and believability of it all. Let me start with the believability aspect. Yes, there is some futuristic tech in the game, but to me, these still feel in the realm of possibility overall. (At least the ones encountered in the beta anyway). Things like "scanning" and turrets are nothing new to shooter games, and I'm instantly reminded of my time playing Killzone... The difference is, again, the overall feeling. Killzone's scanning an turrets very much felt like "hard Sci-Fi" while in The Division these abilities feel at most, slightly "future soldier". So again, to me, this tech doesn't suspend the believability for me at all. These abilities also form some loose "classes" from medic, tech, and security, or healing, dps, and tank. The nice thing is, you can mix any of the abilities, and further progress the ones you do like. In my time, I liked the medic skills with the turret thrown in for a kind of mix of dps and healing. I knew going into the game, I wanted to focus on the medical side. That said, these abilities are all set on a timer, so don't expect to spam a ton of abilities throughout a fight.
|Bright yellow gun? NO, just NO!|
I also really enjoyed the guns. Everything I encountered in the game regarding the guns were all "real world" weapons, many of which of I've held and fired in real life. They all had different firing patterns, "abilities" for lack of a better term, I.e. Close range vs marksmen, full vs semi-auto bursts, etc. Again, all this added to the game's believability. I really enjoyed finding a new gun, and experimenting which its capabilities. I'm not sure what the full game will feature, but in beta, I started with an M4, what I think was an MP5 iirc, and a pistol. Throughout the game, I encountered a plethora of other guns as well. From a gun option standpoint, my only criticism was with the pistol... I really didn't see the point of it. Hopefully there are better sidearms in the game that will make carrying one more useful, but in beta I didn't see one. I only pulled my pistol once or twice to just to try it and see what it could do. It does have infinite ammo, but in beta, ammo was in plentiful supply. One criticism though about the guns are the inclusion of skins... I can't stand skins on gun! You always have the people rocking pink guns and such, or in the case of halo 5 and COD, the most atrocious, tackiest, print or splattering of color. The one thing that could potentially ruin the immersion for me: tacky gun skins. I did not encounter any skins in the game, but I did see the mod option in the game, and I have seen footage of people running around with said pink guns.
|Lots of upgrades...|
In addition to the guns, I really like the all the gear you could upgrade over time, different outfits, etc. they are all regular day-to-day clothing and gear, which as with all the other stuff I've mentioned, really do add to the believability. I found a coat that matched my coat in real life, same with the regular pants, shirt, hoodie... I even had a single-strap backpack when I was in college, like my character used. I'm really looking forward to, and hoping to be able to create a character that does resemble me in a lot of ways. This is also where one of big perks of the game comes into play, the customization and upgradability of the gear, is one of the biggest highlights of the game, similar to how it is done in Destiny and other MMO games. It's this aspect that will keep me playing the game, keep me repeating content, and keep me from getting bored. In Halo 5, While I still enjoy the game, I've gotten a bit bored because I do not truly have any goals to work towards, no point to playing the game other than just to play. I've got an armor set I like, a favorite emblem, so with no new shiny rewards I'm trying to get, what's my motivation to keep playing?
The PVE, and Dark Zone PVP seem to be integrated pretty well, and I can freely hop between the two, both with their own rewarding experiences. In a lot of games I usually favor either PVE or PVP, but at the time of writing this, I can't decide which one I prefer. Again, I think this is due to both of them being done so well, and both being such fun experiences. I've seen some complaints in regards to the Dark Zone PVP area being full of groups just going rogue and killing everyone they come across, BUT I did not come across a large amount of these player types, and honestly, the rogue players I did find pretty much always ended up dead rather quickly! Sure, things may be a little different in full game, where there will be more active players, but it still was really intense and really fun. Honestly, a lot of the people I met in the DZ were non-hostile for the most part, and were mostly only hunting rogue agents. I'm sure there may be some "jerk squads" that roam around killing people for no reason when the game fully launches and there are more players as a whole, but I think they can be dealt with. One thing I would like to point out is it is pretty easy to accidentally go rogue. At one point, I had my turret open fire on a non-hostile player, which flagged me as rogue for brief time. One thing I did notice was that there really did not seem to be a lot of NPCs in the DZ. I spent a few hours in there, and only managed to walk away with 6 pieces of ok gear. When there were no rogue agents to hunt, I kind of ended up running around for a bit. I'm hoping there will be more NPCs in that zone when the full game gets released. More NPCs means more gear to be dropped, more gear creates more temptation for players going rogue, and more rogue players create more tension and more action. On the PVE side, I also did not pass any other agents roaming around, so I'm wondering if the game is individually instanced. When doing larger missions, there was the option to find additional agents and set a difficulty, so I know you can find people and group up, I just didn't see anyone while I roamed around...
I really think that concludes my overall experience and thoughts in The Division beta. I really did enjoy my time in it, and I'm really hoping this game is a big hit, with lots of players! I'm really glad I preordered the game, and cannot wait until March 8th! Nothing is ever perfect, and I've mentioned just a handful of things that I felt could be improved. There was nothing I encountered that was a complete turn off, again I really had a blast playing, just a few things that could be tweaked a bit. I plan on playing this game extremely heavily when it comes out. I also still plan to go the medical route with my character, so if you have an Xbox and want a healer to roam around the Dark Zone with, hit me up! (GT: WuhSawBe). Again, I'm super excited for the game, as there is so much potential in it, and I'd love to see it progress even further past just a video game... Maybe with additional episodes on amazon like the Agent Origins, and it seems like such a cool setting, I'd happily read some Division novels too! If you liked Gears of War, Destiny, Battlefield, Modern Warfare, or just want to play a different kind of shooter with believability and MMO elements, I highly encourage you to give The Division a go!
I'll see in you in the Dark Zone!