Tom Clancy’s The Division beta Impressions
Tom Clancy’s games (and stories for that matter) are always detail oriented and rooted in realistic technology that is in development. I’ve managed to play only a handful of the different games that have been released primarily in the Ghost Recon series. While Splinter Cell was the third person stealth and Rainbow Six was FPS, Ghost Recon seemed to always be that happy medium between the two as a cover based action shooter. The Division, which recently held its first closed beta a little while ago, seems to be rooted in the spirit of Ghost Recon and that is right up my alley.
Now, the little bit I knew about this game was from gameplay vids and brief discussion at E3 2015. My resulting interest was in that it looked to be an online coop centric shooter-RPG hybrid complete with loot (which is a magical word in video games today). As I watched gameplay and saw the damage numbers pop up as the enemies were shot, my mind quickly thought Borderlands though I knew that comparison was premature. Even still, as I began to watch early gameplay previews and articles file in from a closed event in January, critics were throwing the name ‘Destiny’ into the comparison bucket. Considering I’m not much of a ‘Destiny’ fan, I was quite scared and my interest piqued. Now I HAD to play this game in beta to see what it REALLY was like!
After an overnight download of roughly 26 gigs, I proceeded to air drop my lightly customized ‘merc’ into the digital realm of The Division. Thankfully, a quick vid ran telling me the controls and how to navigate the rest of the UI for the game. Then, I was off and running around through a digital recreation of downtown Manhattan with very respectable detail. Honestly, I was pleased at how beautiful the game looked from the masses of body bags, biohazard warnings, and completely vehicle-less streets of NYC. There’s even a generic Madison Square Garden complete with fake basketball team promotions and so forth. A smattering of civilians were wandering around in some canned animations that gave a remote feeling of the ‘severity’ of the calamity that had befallen the Big Apple, but in truth the background graphics beautifully set the scene. Occasionally I would see a few players roaming around as I explored the map but not so many that it felt crowded.
As I wandered from map guided encounter to encounter, the action experienced was a carbon copy of what I remembered from Ghost Recon. Everything from the dodge roll to the obstacle vaulting movement, to the crouching sprint from one cover location to the next came flooding back in mind as I battled with raiders with ball caps and hoodies on. While my merc didn’t have the tech level of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (yet, I’m thinking), I was able to see some psuedo futuristic tech that would scan the area. The inventory screens hinted that there were other types of tech I could utilize in the full build of the game including aerial and pod mounted drones (which I saw in another gameplay vid) and probably some others.
Every enemy had an experience level highlighted in their health bar which also showed if they had armor on and was color coded in some way towards difficulty level. I quickly found regularly finding and upgrading gear was essential as the term ‘bullet sponge’ became the phrase of the day. A few enemies would sprint at me screaming with bats or pipes as I wielded a shotgun at close range. At times it would take 3 or more close range blasts to take them down (even if they didn’t have ‘armor’ on). This eventually led me to being a bit overconfident after getting or buying a new weapon thinking the baddies I’d encounter would go down easier. Of course, many times I’d forget that I had wandered into another ‘area’ that had higher level enemies. This realization would often come as I was flanked and killed by other enemies I wasn’t aware of in my attempts to take one or two ‘sponges’ down. These moments quickly made me realize that this game was intended to be played coop as they would ‘countdown’ until you bled out with the intent for your squad mate to revive you. Unlike Halo 5, The Division doesn’t set you up with AI squadmates. You either take their advice and squad up or you will die repeatedly!
While I didn’t race to play with a stranger online for the first few hours of gameplay, I soon welcomed the experience. With another target for the enemies to shoot at, the difficulty curve was quickly overcome assuming my squadmate remembered to revive me when I went down.
In between missions I’d make a point to go to a makeshift home base that the game intends to have grow as your character grows. The concept is that as your experience level goes up, acquired ‘parts’ from missions would allow you to upgrade 3 different areas of the base that correspond with 3 different skill trees for your character. Those areas are Medical, Tech, and Security. The Medical skills do as you would expect by healing you and your squadmates. There is also a radar-like pulse. The Tech skills give you options to help you do more damage. Selections for a turret, a mine, and a bomb exist there. The Security tree basically improves your ability to protect yourself and your squad with a shield and/or resistance buffs. Each of these skills are upgradable as the base is upgraded. Of course, in the beta, only a couple of ‘skill points’ were allowed to be allocated.
After I completed all of the missions on the map, I did notice that there was an option to play one of the ‘bigger’ missions in a hospital over again only with a higher difficulty. There was even an option to drop into a lobby to search for other players doing the same thing. I had the advantage of one other friend already in my party so we figured the two of us could relatively easily overcome whatever The Division could throw at us. Boy were we wrong! The harder difficulty felt like such a big leap in difficulty that we found ourselves questioning whether we should hunt for loot a bit more as we died upwards of a dozen times! The enemies were not only armored bullet sponges, but they would mercilessly advance from all angles all while tossing infinite flame grenades at us! My friend an I were instantly remembered of a similar difficulty jump while playing the coop missions of Ghost Recon back in the day. We would spend almost an hour plus replaying just one mission as the AI would regularly mock our pitiful attempts at strategy and loadout changes. Still, we rarely ever got to ‘rage quit’ status which is an amazing sense of balance on the developers part.
Another aspect of Ghost Recon that manifested was in the customization of the guns. In the last Ghost Recon game there was an exhaustive Gunsmith mode that allowed you to break apart any gun and change out various parts to alter the gun’s performance. In The Division, this was stripped down to a few choice locations on each gun as some of the loot found were gun attachments. Muzzles, grips, scopes, and magazines were able to become pieces of loot as the stat crunching began. Percentange boosts in range, recoil, threat detection, and more all affected the gun and even affected the skills I had equipped. (*loot lover drooling*)
After about 4 or so hours of cooperative play against AI, I felt I was ready to delve into a ‘highly infected’ zone named the Dark Zone. Here The Division’s anxiety level spikes as this is the player vs player online zone of the game. The intent is for the more rare and powerful loot to be found. The catch is that when you find the loot, you can’t use it quite yet. Since it is infected, the loot must be ‘extracted’. This requires the tense scenario played out at the end of the E3 trailer where a team called for a chopper only to have a ‘rogue’ agent take the team down and steal their loot. Needless to say, as I played in the Dark Zone, I once quickly again realized my mistake in trying to explore this area alone. Other powerfully equipped squads of 3 and 4 players would routinely ambush players trying to extract their loot by waiting until the chopper arrived, shooting the unsuspecting players, and then stealing their equipment. The repetition of this scene became HIGHLY frustrating until I gave in and used the in-game matchmaker to find my own squad to adventure with. After a few botched extractions, we finally found our stride and began extracting some decent armor and weapons for us to use. We would quickly race back to safe houses in between the Dark Zone and the PvE (Player vs. Environment or Enemy) zone so that we could sift through the new gear and equip or sell what was recently found.
Truthfully, getting to the point where I could relax and enjoy the latest spoils of exploring was exhilarating since I knew that no ONE player could dominate the PvP area. In truth, no one team could either as long as those on the same server had the foresight to squad up and time their attacks strategically. With access to rooftops and other interesting hiding spots, there were countless ways to surprise or ambush other crews (especially if they had just attacked another group).
A part of me wished that they opened up how you could play the game with your friends via a tablet as shown in earlier gameplay vids. Having someone man a drone and call out enemies as well as support you in various ways seems to be a GREAT ally to have (especially in the Dark Zone). I would have loved to see how that dynamic worked in the game.
All in all, the Dark Zone experience made for the biggest impression on my gaming session. While I did enjoy taking on PvE enemies and exploring the little bit of story, I think loot farming in the Danger Zone…um… sorry…Dark Zone provides an excellent edge to the experience that may just have the right amount of staying power for my gaming library!
For a quick peak at some of my Dark Zone gameplay, click HERE!