The Division Beta Preview – Ubisoft’s Destiny (PS4)
The Division is a game that I covered back in 2013 at E3, then again in 2014…and yet again in 2015. Despite being initially excited for it during the first two showings, my time with it at E3 this last year soured my opinion a bit, mostly due to only seeing a sliver without understanding the much larger pie. It’s like handing someone the controller to play 15 minutes of endgame Elder Scrolls Online (or any other complex MMORPG) content with little to no explanation or time to even grasp the fundamental concepts, which takes far longer than those 15 minutes would allow. It’s had a long development road since its initial — and admittedly ambitious — announcement, but the PS4 beta allowed us to get some hands on time with the game outside of the quick gameplay stints that we got at the last three E3 demonstrations.
It’s a fascinating marriage between two popular — though usually separate — genres. Employing cover based third-person shooter mechanics while filling the game with loot tables, DPS calculations, and other complexities usually not found in a military shooter. There’s a bit of give and take on both sides, and though players will have to learn to compromise on what they think they already know about the genres, it strikes a fine harmony between the two that becomes fascinating the deeper you dig.
Opening the beta with character creation, our silent protagonist is tasked with setting up a base of operations to combat the spread of the virus that has called for the quarantine of much of Manhattan. Upon getting to the base and clearing the outside of thugs, I was tasked with rescuing a doctor from the nearby makeshift medical center to get my own medical facilities up and running. Completing this mission unlocked a couple of upgrades to the base, and gave me a new perk and skill to work with. The beta closed off much of what we’ll get in the final game, but the small glimpse into base development, which subsequently allows for additional missions, skills, and perks to unlock is tantalizing.
That mission to rescue the doctor? It’s not a one time thing. It’s repeatable, and difficulty can be increased to offer a higher challenge, and greater reward. It’s a structure that’s eerily similar to another divisive MMO. What Destiny did with the solar system, The Division is packing into midtown Manhattan, and it does so without load times. Server matchmaking is all done in the background as you transition to different areas and it makes the scope and scale of the game feel enormous.
In fact, in most open world games, the scale of the world feels off. Something just doesn’t feel right, like everything was crunched into too tight of a space. The Division’s take on Manhattan is a one to one recreation, meaning that the scale is the same if you were to walk through it in real life. City blocks, buildings, and streets weren’t cut to cram it into a smaller space. This is the real deal, and I was awed over the subtle, yet readily apparent way in which it felt different from many other open world games.
Its awe inspiring scope transitions nicely over to the “Dark Zone,” a quarantined area where anarchy reigns, and The Division’s take on PvP (player vs player). The Dark Zone houses the best loot, more powerful enemies, and a way to keep on playing beyond the story missions and random encounters in the city. There are multiple ways to play. Honest folk can go in searching for loot, extracting anything they find, and leaving others alone. Opportunists can wait for other players to go rogue and play as a kind of bounty hunter, tracking them down and eliminating them. And of course, you can always go rogue yourself, killing other players to steal their loot and drawing a big target on your back while you’re at it.
The Dark Zone, while a unique concept, can also use some work in the balancing department. It was far too easy to miss a few shots in a hectic firefight and end up unintentionally going rogue, and the risk reward for going rogue and stealing loot versus playing the opportunist role didn’t seem to balance out either. I have a feeling that the Dark Zone portion of the game is going to draw the most disruptive lines, and the developers will have their work cut out for them to keep it balanced, fair, and fun.
The Division is coming along at a time when it feels like it will steal many of what used to be Destiny’s audience. It has the same kind of appeal, taking a typical console game genre and building it into an MMORPG. The structure is familiar to those who have played Bungie’s online shooter MMO extensively. While the beta bodes well for a lot about The Division, there are still some things that we felt like needed improving which we compiled into a a video of our top five things we think need to change. There’s also the question of long term support, and if The Division will have the kind of tail that other MMOs have, giving players a continued reason to come back and stick their neck out in a disease ridden New York time and time again.
The Division releases on March 8 for PS4, PC, and Xbox One.