The Division: Beta Impressions

Tom Clancy's The Division™ Beta_20160127074319

This past weekend, many of us had the ability to jump into the beta test for Tom Clancy’s The Division ahead of it’s March 8th launch.  I was among those that got to test the game, and what follows are my thoughts and opinions on the state of the game, how it measured up against my expectations, and general musings on quality and entertainment.  Bear in mind that my experience may have wildly differed from yours, and that this is merely my opinion.

Gameplay

I feel the first thing we should touch on is how the game actually handles.  This game has many features, but chief among them are the third person perspective and dynamic cover system; obviously there are guns (and plenty of them), but we’ll get to that.  Let’s discuss traversal, first.

This game puts you in an “over the shoulder” third person perspective, and most of your combat will occur from behind the various objects in the game that you’ll use for cover.  Concrete traffic barriers, vehicles, walls, and pretty much anything else will serve as cover for you to hide behind, as you move to outwit and outflank your enemies.  Mentioning the cover system this early on is very important, because it is a core mechanic to the game.  If you attempt to fight enemies outside of cover, you’ll generally be mowed down in seconds.  The developers expect you to make use of the wide variety of cover objects in the game, and use them well.

Tom Clancy's The Division™ Beta_20160202002904

Moving into and between points of cover was done with ease of use in mind, and I didn’t really ever feel as though it was too difficult or unclear.  Visual prompts for the appropriate button appear flush with the surface you’re looking at, and the UI designers did an excellent job of translating your traversal options into a neat augmented-reality HUD that shows you exactly where you can move, and how to do so.

While in cover you’re able to “blind fire” your weapon at enemies, which severely reduces accuracy but also allows you to fight back when you’re pinned behind cover.  I was able to finish off a number of enemies in this way, and made my escape just in the nick of time.

Gunplay

I felt this was one of the strongest features of the game, which coincidentally enough is also very important.  Each class of weapon (Assault Rifle, SMG, etc) felt unique in it’s own right, and had definite advantages at each range.  The weapons sounded great, required control to fire accurately, and generally felt very well balanced.  Visiting the safe room available to us in the Dark Zone granted us the ability to purchase two High-End weapons, the Caduceus (Assault Rifle) and the Cassidy (Shotgun).  Each weapon featured unique weapon talents that complemented them very well.  Caduceus would heal on critical hits, and heal status effects on a kill, for instance.  This gave us a glimpse of what to expect from other High-End weapons.

Tom Clancy's The Division™ Beta_20160202002951

In addition to the weapons themselves, you’re able to fully customize the performance of your weapons by attaching mods.  These range from a variety of magazines, optics, foregrips, muzzle attachments, and even cosmetic skins.  When you combine these options with the varying talents already present on weapons, you have a very large stable of weapons to suit your playstyle.

Missions

We only had access to a few PvE missions in the game, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ones that I played.  We were able to retake the Madison Field Hospital in order to get our Medical Wing up and running, and we had access to a few other encounters and side missions.  I’m sure the final game will see many more missions and objectives outside of the Dark Zone, and what I was able to play gave me confidence in the structure and design of PvE encounters.

Tom Clancy's The Division™ Beta_20160202003027

By completing these various objectives, you’re able to secure supplies and personnel for your base of operations.  By recruiting people to your base, and by providing each of the three wings (Medical, Tech and Security) with supplies, you’ll gain access to a number of features, namely talents, perks and abilities.

Each wing will provide bonuses to their respective focus (Medical missions gave Medical perks, talents and skills, etc), and they strengthen your combat capabilities going forward into the game.

I really enjoyed that your efforts in the world affected your base’s capabilities, and while our selection in the beta was very limited, it did paint a picture of what we can expect.

Skills and Abilities

This was another feature that I feel made the game very fun, simply because you can customize how your Agent engages enemies on the fly.  You select abilities from one of three categories; the previously mentioned Medical, Tech, or Security.  Medical obviously focuses on support and healing, with skills ranging from a simple First Aid ability to heal teammates, to a scan pulse that marks enemies.  Security focuses on defensive skills, such as reinforcing cover, placing new cover, or using a portable ballistic shield.  Finally, Tech is all about damage and technology, with skills focusing on sticky grenades and turrets.

Each skill can be modded in one of four ways.  There are three basic mods, and one Master mod.  The Master mod is unlocked by gaining the other three mods in a category, so if you really enjoy an ability you’ll want to focus on that particular part of your base first.  Mods can drastically change the way an ability works; an example would be changing the Tech skill Turret into a flamethrowing turret instead of shooting the standard bullets.  Other skill mods provide more subtle improvements to how the skill already works; an example would be the Pulse skill, which can cause more damage against pulsed enemies, or locate loot boxes in the scan range.

Tom Clancy's The Division™ Beta_20160202003048

This variety of skills and subsequent skill mods will give players a great amount of choice about how they play the game.  Additionally, your Agent will have access to Perks and Talents.  These are also split up by their respective wing, and grant different bonuses.  Perks are passive effects that are pretty much always in effect; carrying more medpacks, gaining increased XP, or having more room in your Dark Zone inventory, for example.  Talents are abilities that are activated upon doing something specific; an example would be a Medical talent that heals nearby players when you use a medpack, or the Security talent that makes you a better shot while in cover.

The Dark Zone

Finally, we’re going to discuss the Dark Zone.  These areas of Manhattan were hit the hardest, and as such are still heavily contaminated.  SHD coverage doesn’t extend to within these zones, so they’re something of a lawless purgatory.  There are, however, excellent pieces of equipment to find if you can brave the streets.

To enter the Dark Zone, players must venture to the edge of the map and proceed through a checkpoint.  Entry to and exit from the DZ are regulated, and each checkpoint has a vendor that sells some really great items.  There’s also a restock box in the checkpoint, so you can resupply before you get going.  Items can be purchased with Dark Zone credits, which are gained by basically doing anything in the DZ.  You generally gain the most by opening chests and killing rogue agents.

Upon entering the Dark Zone, your Division comms no longer function, and you have only proximity coverage; meaning you’re cut off from the outside world and have to go it alone or with your teammates.

Additionally, enemy factions have also set up shop in the Dark Zone, as they’re essentially trapped there.  During my time in the beta I found Cleaners in the subway, as well as looters in various other places.  There are also landmarks within the Dark Zone, indicated by a light blue color on the map; here you’ll find some of the toughest enemies, Elites.  These are indicated by a yellow health bar, and they provided the best rewards I could find.  These enemies are also very tough and while it’s not impossible to take them down solo, it’s definitely much easier to do so with a team.

Scattered throughout the DZ are loot chests, some of which require Dark Zone keys to open.  These generally didn’t have the “best” loot in them, but that could change come release (they also dropped a significant amount of DZ credits). You find Dark Zone keys by defeating enemies, much in the same way that you gain currency.

Finally, you have a separate rank in the Dark Zone than you do out in the rest of the world.  While your PvE rank does determine what areas of the Dark Zone you can tackle, your DZ rank determines primarily what gear you have access to.

Going Rogue

Tom Clancy's The Division™ Beta_20160129222558
Friend, or Foe?  Both, honestly.

The largest feature of the Dark Zone would definitely be the Rogue system.  While in the Dark Zone, you’re free to attack unaffiliated players.  Should you choose to do so, you will be marked as Rogue, and a timer will appear over your head.  Continuing to attack players will increase this timer, all the way up to Rank 5.  At Rank 5, every player in the vicinity gets a Manhunt to bring you in.  Survive the timer, and you collect a bounty; however if a player takes you down, they get a significant amount of Dark Zone XP and DZ Credits.

Dying while in the Dark Zone presents a very mild penalty of a little XP lost (meaning yes, you can rank down), DZ credits, and a Dark Zone key or two.  Dying while Rogue, however, means a much more significant penalty.  So, choose wisely!

Closing Thoughts

There honestly isn’t much left to say.  I was very impressed by basically everything that I experienced, and my gripes were minor and far between.  The beta gave me the chance to test the game, give feedback and dismiss any doubts I had about the final release of the game.

If you’ve been on the fence about this game, and were unable to play in the beta: I would certainly recommend this game.  They did a great job realizing a mid-crisis New York City, and I can’t wait until I can play again.