The Division Beta

Bond. Game Bond.

IF we forget about the introduction video, that unskippable tutorial that is presented in a way that’ll have you only take in the passage of time, there’s so much to love about the closed beta for The Division. It starts you off in the middle of a scene with Faye Lau, who’s as close to a leader for the agency as the game presents.

You were injured, she saves your life, and you all become the very best of friends. It throws you right into the turmoil of The Division’s world, and presents you, the empty bag, the white canvas, the nonce, the blank slate.

Your character is someone that had always been a part of it. You’re still your own character, an Agent working for some sort of agency in a world gone wrong, a world on the edge of a knife, a world that just won’t let up.

The approach to player integration with The Division presents an interesting shift to the bigger Ubisoft titles over the past few years.

WATCH_DOGS had a character that was difficult for many players to relate to (other issues with the game aside). Assassin’s Creed has had a tough time of creating that bond between player and character, with a whole lot of missteps between Ezio and Evie. The tip to take from that? Assassin’s need a four-letter name starting with E if they want wide appeal. Bring in the Far Cry series, and again, characters that lack the identifiability that is needed to personalise the game experience into something more.

The Division doesn’t leave any of that to chance – you’re you (or the Agency-aligned avatar that represents you) and your personality is left entirely to obsequious fanfiction. There are other characters in the world that’ll provide the sounding board, and with this approach, they don’t need to be likeable. They just need to feel genuinely like people. We need that buy-in to the world so that we accept it – and that’s especially true of an open world.

Comfortable Contours

If you’ve played an Ubisoft shooter before, the beta will be a very comfortable fit. There’s no steep learning curves or crazy control scheme to contend with, but something that’ll play to your instincts – so long as your instincts aren’t to jump every time you hit the ground. That means there’s only two bits of something new with how you have to play, and that’s all about the cover system.

It may vary here on which buttons seem like the right ones to press, but other over-the-shoulder cover shooters could have taught you how these work.

For those that haven’t done it before, one button will get you to cover, sticking to whatever wall, fence, outcropping or car is nearby. You can use it again to move around, running for other bits of cover, and moving will also let you wrap around whatever your shield-based orbit is. Another button will take care of most of your vertical – be it vaulting over a ledge, or escalating a rope. Objects in the world can also be interaced with via a button, but it’s not about the basics.

Where it really goes right is that you’re not struggling with the controls. It’s all really fluid, and acts exactly as you expect it to. The weapons have a great feel to them – they’re probably better than Far Cry 4 in terms of satisfaction, and they all fire clean. This could be the standard for other tactical shooters, but if that’s the case, it works great in The Division too. The only rough bit with the controls are the social emotes, but that’s forgiveable (for now).

Pervasion

Some of the mechanics at play with The Division might seem like they’re retreads, but there’s also a few cases where the game defies the conventions and thereby exceeds expectations. One of the cooler interactions available in the game is with the environmental objects called Echoes.

An Echo is similar to things we’ve encountered before – loose diary entries, video recordings, audiologs and other kinds of bits that have become a quick path to character building and exposition. The way these Echoes are presented are not entirely unique, but they’re stylised such that they fit the slightly-near-future dystopia where orange tones replace the current trend of corporate blue (and believe me, it’s coming. Why else have we gone with such glorious amber for CGP?)

Where it defies expectations is by the way players can interact with parts of the scene, not merely to learn more, but to investigate and build intel around events that have happened. The closest comparison to this facet of The Division is with the fantasy detective work of Geralt in Witcher 3. It’s not quite majestic beards and card games, but is an implementation that feels very natural to The Division.

Check out the E3 2015 Trailer for The Division

A Cast of Rogues

The Dark Zone is an area of The Division’s take on New York City that has become a wee-bit contaminated. It’s not the sort of place most people head to, and it’s infested with horrible people that will try to kill you. Yes, The Division’s got a very interesting approach to its player-versus-player.

For the most part, you go in, look for enemies, get some loot, then call in an evac to get your contaminated loot out safely. We don’t want to bring back an awful new plague, after all. The enemies will be all around, including in the abandoned subways beneath the city, in empty parking lots, and really, anywhere that the map shows you’re going to have breathing problems in.

You’re not the only Agent in the Dark Zone. You could be there with friends or other players you’ve run across while doing a mission. If you are, that’s good. Even if you’re on your own, there’s a very good chance you will encounter other players. Some of them will approach you and be all kinds of friendly.

Don’t believe their lies.

In the Dark Zone, if you get killed before you can evac your contaminated loot, all that loot stays with your body. Get a nice cap? A new gun? A- well don’t worry because it’s gone. Your fellow agents will have taken it all, with few exceptions. Hanging at an evac waiting for the timer to get to where you can save all your contaminated loot? Too bad, the other agents at the evac point are going to kill you and steal your stuff. Met a few people while doing a mission and got a great bond with them?

TOO BAD ALL THAT SWEET VIRUS-STAINED LOOT IS GONE.

Innately Instinctual

The controls seem built for muscle memory, and it’s one of the more satisfying schemes since recently.

Tangible Fantasy

The near-future New York grounds us in the world. It’s a believable future that’s laid out by The Division

Worst of Humanity

The Dark Zone is exciting and different. Brilliant potential for those bizarre social experiment games we always hear about.

Well?

Yeah.

There’s a lot that’s not available in The Division’s closed beta – we don’t see the crafting system, much of the skills, perks or other bits of customisation, or really what the overall story might be, but from a few experience point? This is an easy sell. If you’ve got the need for a new game that’ll keep you engaged for a long while, this might be the one.

Even in the beta, there were a bunch of random missions around that’ll be great for those players that only have a short bit of time to work with.

The Dark Zone is also surprisingly enticing, and while the PvP side of shooters is usually the last thing on my want list, this was something different. If you do get in on it, you’ll want to get a gang of friends around because unless you know a person has to look you in the eye, you won’t find any loyalty in the dark.

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