I have spent the past weekend playing The Division beta, which proved to hold a decent amount of content. Labeled by the gaming community as a Destiny–killer, the game does follow a lot of the same archetypes as its counterpart; a “shared-world”, RPG elements, and loot-based combat. While neither of these games are true MMORPGs, they capture a similar feeling. Comparisons can be made between the two, but The Division is very much its own game. Fundamentally it is very different and much of that stems from its approach to combat.
It has been a while since I have played an online third-person shooter, and it feels very refreshing. Combat is largely tactical and cover-based so there are different strategies you and your teammates can use to take down enemies. There are two story missions to complete in The Division beta, which demonstrate mission structure and overall gameplay. They give a good idea of how the combat feels, which can be very challenging at times. If you are not in cover, you won’t last long. The game warns you of this immediately and it proves to be true. The actual narrative aspect of the story has been removed for The Division beta, so no plot details are revealed.
I completed the story missions in about an hour, which is a good amount of time for a beta. They can also be completed at higher difficulties for increased loot. There are a lot of various things to do to occupy your time. I found the cover system to be a bit clunky and at times the camera angle would throw me off of my intended target. Sometimes I felt like my character was “stuck” on certain cover and found it hard to transition into other cover. This became frustrating when I died and had to replay through waves of enemies. I just felt like I did not have total control of my character.
The Division is heavily based in team tactics, and it should be played with companions. Playing solo was manageable, but the game became much more fun with a couple of reliable teammates. For those who do not have readily available companions, there is a matchmaking system built in for different tasks. Running and gunning will get you killed quickly, so improvising a plan of attack with teammates will prove to be very beneficial. The AI enemies utilize cover in an intelligent way, though they may try to charge or flank you. There are multiple things to be aware of when engaged in a firefight, so it is a necessity to play smart and cover each other.
After completing the story missions, you are free to explore the world, upgrade your equipment, and complete “encounters.” These are simple missions which revolve around extracting hostages, eliminating targets and disabling enemy hardware. There are a number of these offered in The Division beta and they are a good way to grind out gear and gain some quick experience. To be perfectly honest, most of the time encounters felt like chores to me. It doesn’t seem like players will be spending a ton of time completing them, but they are small scenarios worth finishing in the early levels. They also add some detail to the world.
When completing encounters and side quests, I came across some cool environmental storytelling and “ECHO” sequences. Your player’s smartwatch utilizes available data to create 3D holograms of past moments in the area. Now you can see exactly how a conversation played out or where said persons were standing. It makes for interesting storytelling and they are used to add context to the world or to spark a new objective.
I quickly grew tired of repeating missions and encounters in The Division beta. I found them to be pretty dry and unexciting, but some of that may be improved in the full game. Once you have completed a lot of the basic missions and side quests, you’ll want to move onto the best part of The Division: the Dark Zone. This is a closed-off area where PVP is enabled and the AI enemies are stronger and more efficient. What makes this most fascinating is the dynamic between players. Loot is far better in the Dark Zone, but it is a dangerous place to be. You’ll want to work with other players to take down the AI enemies, as they can be overwhelming to deal with on your own. All gear obtained in the Dark Zone is contaminated and unusable until it is “extracted”.
There are designated extraction zones throughout the Dark Zone, but actually getting your gear safely on the helicopter will take some coordination. Extraction zones are populated by players looking to decontaminate their loot as well as those who are looking to steal loot. Killing another player will result in a “rogue” status which marks a bounty on your head. This bounty will disappear once a timer runs out, but will increase with every kill. With that being said, solo players will not survive long in the Dark Zone. Even those who help you fight off enemies may later betray you. Nobody’s intentions are crystal clear, making the Dark Zone the most intriguing aspect of the game.
If you go in with a team that you absolutely trust, you will have the best chance of stepping out of the Dark Zone with good gear. It is very important to have people watching out for you and covering your back. Great strategy can be applied here as it is hard to tell who is working together and who is rogue. Using this anonymity to your advantage will help create confusion, making surprise attacks easier to execute. As of the beta, combat within the Dark Zone is a bit of a free-for-all; nobody quite knows what they are doing. With evolution from The Division beta, the Dark Zone community will grow and there will be legitimate threats to look out for. It will be very interesting to see what strategies will be implemented and how teams work together.
As of right now in The Division beta, many players are trying a “hit-and-run” strategy. A player attacks to get rogue status, then runs away to create a chase. These chases can go on for a long time since it is very difficult to keep up while aiming and shooting. Whether you are in pursuit or the one trying to escape, it’s a very thrilling ordeal.
It is unclear how long until the loot pool dries up and players become bored with Dark Zone combat. There are rumors of a raid in the final version of the game. That would definitely something to look forward to. Overall I enjoyed The Division beta, but a lot of it felt very empty to me. I didn’t find the combat to be fantastic, but I liked the idea of the game. Like Destiny, I believe The Division will be a work in progress. I found the world of The Division to be pretty uninteresting, but there is some real depth and promise to the Dark Zone.
The Division beta did not grab my attention and left me unsatisfied, but I anticipate the full game to have far more diverse content. The game will need to receive regular updates in order to stay fresh and relevant. My prediction is that a lot of the Destiny community will go over to try The Division, but it will not last. Destiny will outlive it. The Division launches March 8 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.