Ah The Division. The title 33 months in the making is finally ready to be dropped into the real world – being postponed for what feels like at least 32 of those months – making its début on March 8. We recently attended a preview event to get hands-on time with the game ahead of the big day, to see if it’s still as interesting as it seemed when we first clapped eyes on it way back at E3 2013.
We got some time with The Division on Xbox One, but it’s worth pointing out that the game will likely differ on Playstation 4 and PC copies.
So, what’s it all about then? It’s been such a long time since any story stuff has been mentioned, that people have pretty much forgotten what’s going on at this point. The Division is apparently partly based on a real government study into exactly what would happen if a major U.S. city were to come under a bio-hazard threat. Apparently, we’re pretty much all screwed.
That’s where the agents from The Division step in. Highly trained and almost indistinguishable from your average Joe, these guys and gals have been put in place to restore order when the other services fail. This involves putting down rioters, getting the ‘leccy back on, and filling just about everybody with enough bullets to bring down a bull elephant.
You can either play alone or with a group of mates to complete the various quests, level up, and occasionally change your beanie hat. It is Winter after all. During the session, we played through some early game content – dropping through a couple of story missions – as well as trying out a later game situation.
As a group of three, we wandered through the snow-covered streets of New York attempting to find three key characters and establish a base of operations from where normality can be restored, but more on that later.
There have been some murmurings that the graphics have been downgraded from the original gameplay reveal trailer (which should always be taken with a grain of salt) and that’s pretty evident when comparing it with the almost finished product – textures are a bit smudgier and there’s the occasional pop-in, but that’s kind of understandable on a game that has vast, open-world areas with minimal load times.
As beautiful as the game is, we did encounter a few glitches and bugs where NPCs would glide across the battlefield and clip through objects, and during one mission in the Lincoln Tunnel, my game would regularly freeze up and crash. According to chatter from the techy types patrolling, this was a common bug on the level and was something they’re working to fix come release day.
During the long periods of time that the game was working, we managed to get a grip on the gameplay, and it’s absolutely solid. Enemies absorb bullets while spewing out numbers that indicate how much damage you’re doing, and there’s a marked similarity to Destiny with the fast and furious gunplay.
What separates it from its interstellar cousin, is the third person, cover-based tactics that come into play whether you’re alone or with friends. Flanking enemies will almost always give you an advantage, and there’s definitely a hint of Last of Us flitting around in the modern decay of New York.
Firefights are spiced up with a number of equipable abilities. Some are extremely handy – like popping up a turret or reigning down a squad heal – while others are kind of useless – for example the sticky grenade is woefully underpowered. These special abilities are meant to give players a sense of purpose within a group, as there’s a lack of tangible classes to pick from, and if used correctly can make a real difference in any battle.
One downside is that the baddies are kind of dopey. There’s a nice mix of enemy types – though nowhere near as many as other MMOs – with snipers, grenadiers, melee guys and the terrifying flamethrower chaps (not their actual names) but they never offer up much of a tactical challenge. This was apparent in both early and later game content.
On more than one occasion, the enemies came running towards us before stopping, turning around and sprinting back to where they came from. A whole batch of enemies running in circles and bumping into each other. It only happened a couple of times but it still made the fight feel very scripted.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, The Division does include a small degree of base building. You’ve got to set up a command centre from where you can restore humanity to NYC, and where NPCs can wander safely without fear of getting murderised. There are three main rooms that you need to upgrade, which are basically health, tech and security. Pouring resources into these will give you access to a few different perks as well as making the place look a bit more homely.
You can pick up missions at your base and at safehouses scattered around the city. If you’re feeling lonely or need a hand on a quest, you can recruit other people in these. Unless that is, you’re planning on heading to the Dark Zone.
‘The Dark Zone’ is The Division‘s PvP area, where high-end loot can be found for those willing to venture in. The NPC enemies in here are much higher levels than the groups you’ll find outside, and anybody can jack your gear and take it as their own. You can either enter with a group or alone, but to be perfectly honest, going alone is pretty much suicide. Once you’re happy with your swag, you can call for an evac, but everybody else will be alerted to this, and can swarm your location, killing you and taking the evac – and your gear – as their own. It’s high risk, high reward and is a genuine thrill.
Having played the Dark Zone at EGX last year, I wasn’t sure how it would fit alongside the main game, but it slots in perfectly. The overall impression left by The Division is a genuinely positive one, and one that I can see myself sinking many hours into over the course of the year. The bare bones are solid, and there’s plenty of meat to get into, minus a few cracks in the surface here and there. I’m confident these can, and will, be addressed before release day, especially with closed and possibly open betas still to come.
Ubisoft have just announced that the game’s closed beta will be dropping later this month – you can check out the details here.