Preview | Tom Clancy's The Division Beta
I spent a good eight hours exploring through Ubisoft’s closed beta of their upcoming action RPG shooter MMO, Tom Clancy’s The Division. I really didn’t know a lot about this game going into the beta, but I now have a really good idea of what the game is going to be and that I definitely want to play it.
The Division is an MMO, cover based, third person, action RPG shooter. The game appears to focus a lot more heavily on the multiplayer experience than on the single player one however, after playing the beta, it seems that the single player experience will still be a fun one that can be enhanced when playing with others. You can play together in squads of up to 4 people (3 friends plus you).
I want to breakdown as much of the game as possible without really giving you a play by play. There is a lot to talk about too. First off, the MMO portion of the game really reminds me of Destiny - loot based, fighting against AI and other players, and the ability to play with others or go it solo. You can join other players in the hub, join friends in game in both the single player areas and in the Multiplayer area called the Dark Zone. And it’s really seamless…no waiting in lobbies...just a quick load screen to get you to where they are or vice versa. You can see your friends on your map when you play solo so you can opt to join them or continue playing solo. You will not see their avatar in your game though, unless you are both in the Dark Zone. I’ll talk more about the Dark Zone a little later.
Tom Clancy games tend to rely more on cover based combat, unlike the Call of Duty franchise. The game plays and controls a lot like the Gears of War series although I feel like it’s quite a bit smoother (or at least as smooth as the later games of the GOW series). If you want to survive, you’re gonna need to get used to taking cover and moving in cover. You can sprint endlessly - there is no stamina element (yet) and you can run in a zig zag formation seamlessly (because a moving target is harder to hit?). Since the city is in shambles, there is plenty of debris to navigate in the form of cars, roadblocks, concrete dividers, and, oh yah, DEBRIS. While sprinting, you can easily hop over things like you are Ezio without all the parkour embellishments.
As for the RPG elements, when the beta begins, you choose your character’s gender and a random generator for your race and features. You will be able to do some character customizations in the retail version of the game, but how much is not shown as it is locked in the beta. I hit random until I was satisfied with my character - an Asian woman and short hair - not a ton of choices but they had White, Asian, and Black playable for both genders. There aren’t really any specific classes in the game but there is an Abilities structure featuring emphasis on Medical, Tech, and Security. You get to make the choice whether you want to focus on one specific ability or if you want to focus on a few, or if you just want to shotgun it and be a Jack of all trades. If you plan on playing with others in a squad, you may want to discuss with your teammates which route you plan to go so they can plan accordingly. While it’s nice to have a team filled with Medics, you’re gonna need someone who can pick a lock or be a tank. I decided to go the Medical route and chose to first equip Pulse, a skill that will show you nearby threats when used. Skills have a cool down period and range, so keep that in mind when using them. Skills can also be modified. When I was able to modify a skill, I chose to modify Pulse so that it had an increased range and located nearby loot containers.
Your abilities include Skills, Talents, and Perks. Talents and Perks were not available in the beta and only a few Skills were available to give you a little taste. Only one skill is available when you begin the beta but when you level up to 5 (you begin at level 4), you can add a second one. I continued down the Medical route, since it's the only thing that advances in this beta, and chose one that would heal me and my nearby squad mates.
You will also spend a good amount of time and resources upgrading your base of operations which will require you to gather loot like tools and electronic parts, as well as rewards like Medical and Tech supplies awarded when completing quests. Everything you do earns you XP which you will need to level up your character. You can gain XP by completing quests, killing enemies, and helping civilians in need by giving them items like Medkits, water, or other food items. In addition to giving you XP, civilians may drop loot as a thank you.
That brings us to the Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is the multiplayer portion of the game however, you can still venture in as a single player. It works seamlessly with the game with entrances hidden in multiple parts of the city. Some are entered via doors and other are entered simply by jumping over a fence. No lobbies. No waiting. Awesome. Once you are in the Dark Zone, you will start to see other player’s avatars around you. Since this was a beta, there wasn’t like a million people around so it seemed pretty empty. I assume that may change but we will see. The goal inside the Dark Zone is to simply get loot. But there is a trick to the loot - it’s all contaminated and cannot be brought back into the non-Dark Zone portion of the game. The loot must be extracted out of the Dark Zone and this is where things get really interesting. First off, all characters enter the Dark Zone neutral - character names are shown in white. You will encounter AI enemies who are trying to kill you, who will appear in red. However, the trick here is that the game does not decide what will happen, the players do. You can opt to work solo or together with other players (or friends) but at any time, they can opt to kill you and steal your loot. Players that have done so already are considered to have gone rogue and probably should not be trusted. Their names will appear in red. To extract your loot, you must go to an extraction point, light a flare, and wait for a helicopter to arrive. Players are notified when an extraction is in progress so if you are waiting for one, be ready for a fight because the AI and other players are heading your way. Once the helicopter appears, you must attach your loot to a rope and hope that you don’t die before you get it attached. You will get a notification that your loot was successfully extracted and you can retrieve it from your stash box in the hub or base in the non-Dark Zone. I ran around the Dark Zone for about an hour total the first time. I had no clue what I was supposed to do. I had found an item but didn’t know contaminated items had to be extracted. I saw extraction points and warnings but didn’t know what it was for, and I saw neutral players, AI, and rogue characters. I got killed by a few AI and rogues but mostly just ran around the place trying to figure it out. Once I knew what I needed to do, I couldn’t find any loot to extract so I was just running around looking for loot and avoiding enemies and other players. Since I couldn’t team up with anyone, I exited the Dark Zone and just continued on with the “single player”.
I can’t end this beta preview without mentioning the map. It’s fantastic. Similar to the 3D mapping Ubisoft has been using in the more recent Assassin’s Creed games, you see a 3D wireframe map of your environment and you can choose to see it in 3D or 2D just by navigating with your L and R sticks. You can also zoom out for a nice bird’s eye view or zoom in super close. I love the map. You can set waypoints on any icon or anywhere on the map. It also features a GPS system or a trail that shows you the best way to travel to your waypoint. When you exit the map, the trail is visible in game and the icon is shown so you know what direction it is and also if it is street level, above, or below you. The map also shows you a trail of where you have traveled indicated by a thin white line…this is one of the coolest features on the map along with the mapping of the under ground subway areas with thin yellow lines. I tend to get super lost in games or can’t remember what areas I have explored already. I enjoy exploring and finding things and there is going to be a lot of exposing to do in this game.
A few concerns regarding the game is that MMOs and RPGs need something to keep gamers interested. We want to explore and find new places and, while there is a lot to find and a lot to explore, the locale is, so far, just a small portion of Manhattan. Yes, you can enter some buildings, traverse fire escapes up to the roofs, explore the subways underground, and explore the Dark Zone but will the war torn, ravished city be interesting enough for people to soak hundreds (thousands?) of hours into this game? Weather will play a role as well, but we are in November/December so it’s snowy and dark. Looks like there will be variations in weather as I loaded in one time and there was a really heavy fog that really limited visibility. Also, the quests are pretty simple - encounters, hostage rescues, loot raids. And right now, the AI isn’t super smart. Sure there are different enemy types but they are, overall, quite easy to kill. I never once died in the single player portion of the game. On the other hand, there isn’t a lot of this game that isn’t all that different to other RPGs we are used to playing like the Skyrims and the Fallouts other than some more engaging storyline quests, a larger world with different weather and terrain, and maybe a deeper character development system. Instead of swords and armor, you use guns and tactical gear. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Ubisoft has mentioned that there will be plenty of DLC and microtransactions with a Season Pass and even some free content that will be available to all players that will introduce new gear and new gameplay options to keep players engaged. Season Pass owners will get monthly perks as well. There was enough featured in the beta for me to get to level 8 and spend over seven hours playing with only about an hour or so spent in the Dark Zone and I even though I think I finished all the quests available, I haven’t found all the collectable items yet.
Overall, Tom Clancy’s The Division looks promising and, most of all, looks like it will be a fun time, whether you wanna go through the game solo or with a group of friends.
I had no issues with lag and didn’t encounter any game breaking glitches during the beta. This beta was played on the Xbox One.
Tom Clancy’s The Division drops on March 8, 2016 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.