Tom Clancy’s The Division finally fills that gap for me, and it does so in a post/still occurring-disaster setting filled with high-tech gear and knee-high cover. The city itself is not totally re-created, with only a portion of midtown being playable (for now), but the map is quite detailed and filled with enough “stuff” to make it feel quite real. Set during the holidays after some nefarious bunch laced some cash with smallpox and spread it around the country during the Black Friday sales rush. The government collapsed in just a few days, and as such most of society went crazy. I guess that’s not too unbelievable, if you pay attention to what Black Fridays are actually like. Yikes. Anyhow, The players are part of a NGO task force set on retaking the city from the scum and villainy that has run things in the short time since the disaster.
The closed beta in January allowed a few areas of the map to be explored, introducing the players to the game much like I would anticipate the full game to do. Everything from movement, combat mechanics, and the upgrade system are (lightly) teased, and the games ominous PvP area, “The Dark Zone” was open to all players to investigate. Combat itself plays much like any other cover-shooter, albeit with enemy health a little more buffed. If you enjoy that type of shooter, you’ll feel pretty comfortable here, especially considering the plethora of weapons at your disposable. In this sense, a blend of MMO and RPG elements are inserted to balance game-play out, and I really enjoyed what it offered. Weapons, gear, and abilities are highly customize-able and can be augmented with what will no doubt be plentiful amounts of loot of varying value, ranging from gun scopes and stocks to high-tech grenades and gadgets to utilize. The more you play, the more you will level-up, allowing you to equip better gear and use better skills (there’s no magic, just some really advanced abilities that are tech-enabled). The Dark Zone will no doubt be the place to find the best loot, but it’s not a requirement, as the game itself has a PvE offering to guide the players along. I played with a couple of friends as companions and we enjoyed both offerings well enough.
The controls were crisp and satisfying, which should not be a surprise to anyone who has played Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy games before. I felt myself longing for more stealth aspects to player movement and combat, found in the Splinter Cell franchise, but I suppose this is supposed to be its own beast, so I’ll live. You can still sneak up on NPC enemies and take them down silently, but the AI seemed to sniff that out no matter how careful I was. Hopefully that’s just a Beta issue.
As I played, my mind kept going back to how well the city was realized. I guess it helped that I never once encountered a loading screen after the initial game’s launch, as well as the game’s UI largely consisting of augmented reality menus and was quick to hide itself when not needed. I felt immersed right away, even in the limited scope of the beta. There was a lot of NPC chatter about the fictional events surrounding the city and it’s people, and even a considerable amount of collectibles (in the beta!) that also had stories to tell. One specific type of collectible was clearly inspired by the Arkham series’ investigation mini-missions, showcasing an augmented reality re-creation of something that had happened in the past and telling the story to the player as you moved about the holographic scene.
All in all, I was very encouraged by what I experienced in the beta, and am excited to see what else Ubisoft is going to do to keep players invested. I’m not worried about the variety of loot and other items in the game, but mission variety will need to be a focus if they want to fill NYC with stuff that doesn’t feel cut-and-pasted just to justify the large gameplay area. Fans of Assassin’s Creed or Watch Dogs may have a better idea of my concern here, as they tend to have large worlds to explore, but a stark lack of variety of mission types. These games instead have a frustrating amount of collectibles strewn about to justify every corner of the map even being there, and with a place like New York, this should not be a tactic used. hopefully, Ubisoft realizes that the MMO-nature of the game will be an aspect that can offer the most variety to players coming back months, if not years, after launch. There’s also the distinct possibility that Ubisoft will add more areas into the game later on as well, such as Brooklyn or the areas surrounding Central Park, giving the environment a nice shot of adrenaline in the variety department.
If you’re interested, the game has an open beta scheduled to begin on February 18th, 2016 on Xbox One, and on the 19th for other platforms.
Tom Clancy’s The Division will be released fully on March 8th, 2016.