PREVIEW: Tom Clancy’s The Division [PC,PS4,XB1]

Usually after participating in an open beta for an upcoming game I want to at least tweet up a storm about it, if not write up my thoughts in slightly longer form.

The Division? Yeah, not so much. Not because I didn’t have fun, or had any bug or performance issues, it’s just kind of a thing I played for a whole a bunch of hours and didn’t feel like burbling on about. But I have a job to do, dangit, so let’s do this!

It is a beautiful game, for a plague-ridden version of Manhattan. Maybe not quite as pretty as the version we were first shown way back at E3 2013, but you’d have to be a real nitpicker to spot the differences. Steam rises from vents and chimneys and drifts away on the wind, light filters through dense fog, snowstorms reduce visibility even in gunfights, it’s gorgeous.

The soundstage is impressive, with good positional audio allowing you to track down gunshots in the distance with unerring accuracy. You can also track down stray dogs and make them stop pooping everywhere. Permanently. They’re digital dogs so it’s okay, right?

The main questing and storyline structure, from what was in the beta, definitely exemplifies the “Ubisoft: The Game” philosophy. Complete this mission to collect some resources to upgrade your base/character, complete the next mission to unlock a new piece of kit which lets you complete this other mission to progress the story and open the next mission. Repeat until you run out of content, return when the DLC drops.

Probably the biggest surprise for me was the open player-versus-player area called the Dark Zone. In spite of my initial misgivings there’s been a great deal of thought put into incentivising loose cooperation among players and discouraging the outright bastardry that usually occurs. Players can go “Rogue”, murdering other players and stealing any of the loot they might have found. But you can’t take equipped items from people and everyone gets notified when you go Rogue, you show up on the radar frequently and everyone else can kill you without penalty. Even if you go Rogue by accidentally shooting another agent, you’re pretty much doomed.

This has the knock-on effect of making player-versus-NPC battles in the Dark Zone more tense and strategic affairs. The enemies you face are a lot tougher and you’ve got to check your lines of fire a lot more carefully. A stray burst of fire or a misthrown grenade and suddenly you’re taking fire from every other player in the vicinity because you’re a filthy, filthy Rogue.

Tom Clancy's The Division

Tom Clancy’s The Division

Equipment-wise the beta was missing quite a few of the gadgets you’ll get to play with in the full game. But there’s a cool little auto turret that serves as a great distraction in combat, or you can throw out a healing gadget to help your friends or even a ballistic riot shield to block enemy fire. I think, honestly I only used the turret in the beta because it can shoot things so I don’t have to.

Weaponry was fairly diverse, with assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles and heavy machine guns all available as primary weapons. You can carry two of those, both the same if you want but it makes sense to carry one of each so you have a backup if your preferred gun runs out of ammo. If you manage to run out of ammunition for both guns (something I did once in a boss fight) you do have a sidearm, which seems to either be a semiautomatic or revolver, that has unlimited ammo. I’m not sure where all the extra bullets are coming from. Video games!

Cosmetic-wise there’s a good selection of outfits available, lots of cold weather gear primarily. Nothing seemed too outlandish but maybe they were saving the pink skinsuits for the final release?

Overall… yeah, The Division is great fun and will likely consume a bunch of my time when it’s released next week. And I guess I did have a few things to say after all, huh?

Are you picking up the game? Can I trust you not to murder me? If so, maybe I’ll see you in Manhattan.

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