The Division, Ubisoft’s cover-based shooter, instilled with RPG elements is due to release on March 8th, 2016. Myself and a bunch of other people, however, played the beta over the weekend, from 29th January to the 1st of February.

My primary concern revolved around whether The Division would prove to still capture my interest, despite being announced three years ago at E3 2013. With titles incorporating a similar system of loot-collecting, weapon upgrading, and leveling up, such as Destiny and Borderlands 2, the gaming community was, and is, curious to know what the latest Tom Clancy title will bring. How is this game any different from others? Why should you fork out a small portion (or large, I don’t judge) of your income?

An in-depth analysis might be asking for a bit much from just the beta test, but after playing it, I have a slightly clearer view of what awaits myself and you, fellow reader, in the blizzard and the cold, of the destroyed environments in the city of New York. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Good

User interface

The User Interface is the first thing that comes to mind (and the screen obviously) when you jump into the streets of Manhattan. It looks pretty neat:

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I don’t recall any game that’s had a display like this before, and its definitely very intuitive and creative. Your health bar/ammo indicator is permanently attached to your character, and also (later on) displays buffs, skill cooldowns, and different grenades. You also see floaty orange lines, as well as pop-ups, directing you to your destinations and informing you about your whereabouts. Your XP is displayed in the top right corner, and the mini-map in the top left.

You can also open up the map; a slick overlay of the city covering the ground:

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And lets not forget the menus:

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These were easy enough to navigate through, and the smooth transition from menu to menu felt somewhat satisfying. Your inventory contained your weapons and armor, your abilities contained whatever you’d expect playing an RPG.

Loot system

The Division took a page out of Destiny’s weapon and armor upgrading, where you dismantled armor you didn’t need and replaced it with higher level equipment. But there’s good news many people may take for granted. The armor you equip doesn’t affect the way your character looks! In fact, there’s a separate tab for character customisation labelled “Appearance”, mainly changing the way he/she dresses, without affecting your stats. No more wearing ugly armor simply because it provides higher stats! (*cough* Destiny *cough*)

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You can also modify your weapons, attaching grips, scopes, mags, and skins (not available in the beta) to make your supreme weapon.

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Notice anything familiar, Destiny players?

The Division may or may not have adopted the colour scheme used for indicating the rarity of your weapons, armor, and now, mods. In destiny, green equipment was denoted ‘Uncommon’, blue was ‘Rare’, purple was ‘Legendary’ and yellow was ‘Exotic’. Here, green, blue, purple and orange represent ‘standard’, ‘specialised’, ‘superior’ and ‘high-end’ respectively.

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Next up, your Primary and Secondary DPS represents your damage per second (duh), your health represents how many bullets you can sponge up, and your skill power determines the effectiveness of your abilities (more on that in a bit.)

You’ll also notice the ‘character’ and ‘pouches’ tabs’, but they weren’t really available in the beta, but it shows how much potential the system of leveling up and upgrading might possess in the final endgame.

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Abilities

Skill trees! Perks! Mods for abilities!

You’re provided with three main skills, of which you can choose two (two was the limit in the beta): the medical skill, the tech skill and the security skill. These skills are branched into choosing a specific subskill for your skill, which is even further branched into choosing a perk for your subskill for your skill. Eh?

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For the beta however, only one subskill per skill was available for use, but I read through the others, and there is a surprising amount of potential. To level up said skills, you have to complete missions known as encounters, which are denoted by three colours: green for the medical wing, blue for the security wing and yellow/orange for the tech wing. The beta only granted access to medical and security wing encounters.

Dark zones

This was by far, the centrepiece attraction and the highlight of my experience playing The Division’s beta. A dark zone is essentially PvPvE, and any loot you find has to be extracted at extraction points, but here’s the catch: You die, you lose your loot, a chunk of DZ XP and DZ funds. How do you die? Players. NPC’s too, but mainly players.

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When encountering a player or group of players in the Dark zone, you are faced with an unspoken question. Do you kill whoever is standing in front of you and steal their loot? Or do you form a temporary alliance with them and help each other secure what loot you’ve obtained?

Here I am demonstrating my intent not to harm either of the two players I ran into:

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Okay I basically surrendered, but it worked!

Now you might think, why don’t they just shoot me,steal my loot, and get it over with? They clearly have the advantage in numbers don’t they?

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Wrong.

Shooting a non-hostile player results in you, and your fireteam into going rogue. This is usually signified by a skull next to their names, highlighted in red, with a countdown beside that skull. Going rogue alerts non-rogue players within a 200 metre radius of your whereabouts, making you a target for the dark zone.

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You can faintly make out the highlighted names above, and the skulls with timers - rogue players. Shooting a rogue player DOES NOT make you go rogue, so everyone within the area may gang up rogue players for the XP or their loot. If you hide or run long enough for your rogue timer to reach zero, you survive your period of going rogue and earn cash and XP depending on how high your timer was. Three hundred seconds is maximum.

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You might be wondering, ‘what if I want to play alone? Maybe my friends aren’t interested in buying the game.’ Well, this happens:

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Phooey. 4 rogues vs 1 me wasn’t the best idea.

However, I tried looking for a solution to people who prefer to play alone. I did get somewhat close. I bought myself a sniper and searched for high ground near an extraction point, somewhere I couldn’t be identified immediately, and easily caught if I went rogue.

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Eventually I found a spot high up, with the extraction area in front of me, and a blizzard conveniently showing up. I waited for my victims to call in an extraction, and soon enough, a few people showed up. I fired a few shots when they were least expecting it and managed to kill one of the players. The other however, found me thanks to the massive highlighted red text above my head.

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He uh, killed me.

BUT

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I raced back to where I died and spotted the pest trying to surrender himself once he saw me taking aim. Not today!

Other than that experience, I admit, I had an even more fun time playing with friends than playing alone. Going rogue together, stealing loot and surviving near death experiences had us giggling and laughing and hooting, grinding our DZ XP to as much as we could (Level 12 in the beta). Exhilarating moments like those made my weekend all the more worthwhile, and sold me on buying the game.

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Wait, you’re thinking something else aren’t you? ‘Can’t players grind to a high level and pick on lower level players?’ Nope. When me and a couple friends tried entering the dark zone together, I, being a level 7 at the time, was separated from my friends who were level 8, which is the level cap for XP outside the dark zone (in the beta). It was then we noticed the player brackets ‘1-7' and ‘8-8'. In the beta, players who were levels 1 to 7 entered a separate dark zone from players who were level 8. So we grinded a bit more until all of us had reached the level cap, and countlessly went going four-man rogue.

Dark zones were a breath of fresh air - tense, but fresh, and have the potential to wade off competition and surpass benchmark expectations of recent games.

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But as we all know, nothing’s perfect, and with the good, comes -

The Bad

Story missions and side quests

I won’t go into too much detail about this, since this was a beta test, and you can’t judge the story of an entire game by one mission. You start off in a hospital, killing waves of enemies, hiding behind cover, firing rounds of bullets and grabbing loot. There was a boss at the end, who aimlessly went back and forth predictably until you killed him. Story mission done.

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Now, its only the first mission, and I assume the bosses and waves of enemies will become harder, more intelligent, flank from the sides and close you down properly. You may even have harder boss battles, with more unpredictability. But the mission shown off in the beta test was nothing new, and I imagine could grow repetitive.

The side missions were more or less the same thing, but I did come across one that had something cool:

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Known as ‘echoes’, these are audio recordings of an incident that may have taken place years ago, or a while back.

Finishing side missions caused them to disappear, leaving the streets unbelievably lonely and empty, and found myself wandering aimlessly from street to street, and while that should have added to the experience of solitude in the cold, it made me aware of how little there was to do outside the dark zone and how dismal the streets felt.

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Enemy spawn frequency

Not alleviating the feeling of loneliness, whatever NPCs you encountered and killed, ended up disappearing for while a long time, and I would wait long times before they showed up again. They’re also infrequently scattered throughout the map, and offer very little XP, so grinding becomes a problem. Then again, this was a beta test, so an issue like this might not be much of a problem in the endgame. More enemies may spawn, and in larger groups too.

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It gets kinda lonely if you play without friends

Again, there may be more content in the endgame product, but as mentioned before, wandering the streets got lonely, and I constantly found myself looking for encounters or other side missions, but on completion, they all disappeared, so I tried exploring the areas, and I found myself in a sewer and I guess:

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ITS SO LONELY - and kinda eerie too.

Combat

The combat wasn’t anything new, and shooting the same rounds at the same waves of enemies felt like an endless cycle of forcing yourself to grind for XP. Weapon types vary, but mainly between shotguns, submachine guns/assault rifles and snipers. I saw a few enemies wielding flamethrowers, so I was kinda hopeful I could find one. None in the beta though.

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If you equip the tech skill, you get a grenade with a cooldown, kinda like Destiny’s grenades. If you equip the medical skill, you get a healing grenade. The security skill offers a riot shield, but you’re only allowed a pistol behind it.

Meh.

We’re finally down to -

The Ugly

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This was actually pretty cool though. Not being over-analytical or anything, but I’m guessing the skulls represent the plague/virus in the city, buildings were denoted by the hair and -

Okay I’ll stop.

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I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD SHOOT DOGS IT WAS AN ACCIDENT AND IT KINDA BENT AT A WEIRD ANGLE AND I’M SO SORRY.


Thank you for reading! This was my first attempt at a review/first impressions and I’m planning to blog weekly now, mainly because I enjoy writing, and I enjoyed writing this! I’m open to any opinions and/or criticism.

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- The barelyfanatical blog