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i’ve played 7 hours of the beta for ubi’s new clancy IP, and i’ve come away impressed in a lot of ways. i’ve mostly maxed out what the beta allows with a few minor gear exceptions, and all that’s keeping me from getting those is not wanting to spend a few hours grinding cash for a better gun in a beta that only lasts the weekend. why bother eh? so i want to use this space to talk about what the division is, what works, what i’m less a fan of, and so on.

tl;dr: if i weren’t trying to buy a house right now, this game might be worth the $60 price tag, and i never buy big titles at full price. (will probably make exceptions for mass effect andromeda and no man’s sky.)  i enjoy playing it, the world is engrossing, there’s a lot to do, and i have friends i could play it with. i want the game. i can’t afford it right now. so it goes, and when i can, this is one i’ll be picking up.

the division is a third-person cover-based lootyshooty set a couple decades in the future in an open-world NYC, after some sort of virus decimates the population literally on black friday. a metaphor with all the subtlety of a brick. you play as a sort of elite soldier agent thing, it seems extremely customizable but in the beta your only options are “Male” or “Female” and you can cycle between preset faces. it’s sorta like the borderlands series in that, yes, you are using guns to shoot enemies, but describing the game as a “shooter” is doing both it and the person you’re talking to a disservice. it’s an RPG. as such your enemies have to be dps’d down. a headshot isn’t an instagib, and it takes sometimes a couple of clips worth to bring a heavily body armored baddie down. damage numbers appear, you can crit, headshots are worth double damage or more, all in all, these are RPG mechanics. you just use a gun instead of a sword or a mace or a staff.

it’s based in a wonderful open-world NYC, beautifully rendered, complete with day/night cycles and changing weather. (you probably should exercise extra caution in the dark zone on a snowy night because your visibility will be awful.) seriously. the setting is fantastic.

you can make a group of your friends and go a-questin, or you can do everything solo if you like (i did). the story missions are not very hard on the default difficulty (you can increase it, which i have not done) and typically involve following waypoints from one bit of cover to the next and taking down your uh problematic enemies methodically. it’s not a fast-paced game at all. very tactical.

problematic enemies?

yeah here’s the thing. i assume there is some sort of story going on as to why you’re just casually murdering scores of what look like bloods. and maybe i skipped through it by mistake, since when i opened the beta for the first time it defaulted into a way-high resolution trying to use both my monitors to make it work and not everything was on the screen and i was trying to figure out how to fix that rather than paying attention. but you really just face like 3 or 4 kinds of enemies. red ones, yellow ones, purple ones, and blue ones. it’s just cosmetic differences and they basically look like gang stereotypes. you can’t see their faces but it’s weird that all the NPC enemies seem, you know, slightly racist. or at least extremely hood-rat-stereotyped.

anyway, you’re given a base/hub area, except it’s not complete, and the purpose of the missions at least initially is to expand the medical, security, and tech wings of the base. completing missions to do so will unlock skills, talents, and perks. skills are active abilities, like an aoe heal, an in-place turret, a sticky bomb, a bulletproof riot shield, and a bunch of other stuff not available in beta. talents and perks were also locked but perks were still applied when you earned them. (for example the first med wing upgrade gives you a +1 medkit capacity perk, which it locks behind the betawall, and then grants you anyway.) perks i’m assuming are basically like very specific bonuses, like that one, and talents are probably passives, like shotgun damage, or fire resistance.

the campaign is all done alone, or alone with your friends. after you join the world you won’t see anybody else unless you specifically queue with them. until you enter, dun dun dunn,

the dark zone

the dark zone (DZ) is what sets the division apart. here, your enemies are no longer pushovers in small groups at most, you’re no longer in your own world, and the loot you drop is no longer just casually yours. this is “the area of new york that the virus hit hardest,” and so it’s still “contaminated,” which means it’s the wild west out there.

take on groups of baddies at your own risk. you can take them down, but it’s quite dangerous. you’re better off having some help from your party, or even better, from the random who’s a level higher than you who just sprinted by. the AI is pretty good at sticking to cover, so it’s extremely helpful to work as a unit and cover lots of angles to bring them all down. and yes they are frustratingly bullet-spongy if you forget this is an RPG, not a 3PS.

the gear you get from this area is “contaminated.” you have to have it extracted via helicopter, so it can be decontaminated and returned to your base, where you can pick it up later. the DZ has the best loot and it’s not close. but it also has its own XP and its own currency, which is all its vendors accept as payment, and some loot stashes are locked behind your DZ rank. (i found ones locked behind levels 5, 8, and 10. i’m DZ6 now but haven’t found a 5 chest since.) when you call in an extraction, it alerts every player in the area. which is great, because

  • NPCs are going to attack you and you could use the help.
  • you can piggyback your gear onto someone else’s extraction.
  • if you’re a filthy filthy rogue you can murder whoever is calling for extraction and take their shit.

yep, friendly fire is turned on in the dark zone. to keep this balanced the DZ is partitioned by main-game ranks, in the beta it’s levels 1-7 and then all level 8s (since that seems to be the max). my first experience in the DZ went like this:

i should go to this extraction point it just announced. it’s only a couple blocks. oh! players. shit. they look just as confused as me. i’ll just go a different way and then go on. that was awkward. so what did i just pick up–AHH WHY

they made sure i was alone, then they followed me and they slayed me. i’ve only died a couple of times to other players, for the most part people work together to farm DZXP and extract gear, but it’s always been very sudden and surprising.

if you kill another player you get their DZ loot and some other stuff specific to the dark zone. you also get flagged as a rogue agent, meaning if you die the penalties for death will be more harsh, until the countdown above your head ends. if you kill a bunch of people the game puts out a hit on you to all nearby players and they get a nice reward for bringing your traitor ass down.

this system makes extraction an incredibly tense experience. if you choose to piggyback someone else’s extraction, you’re trusting them not only not to turn on you. you’re trusting that they trust your intentions and don’t shoot at you on sight. you’re also trusting that some random rogue isn’t going to pop out of the sewer (there are steam tunnels beneath the streets) and gib all of you with a grenade and a turret and some sniping while you run. most importantly it gives you a lot of different ways to play the division.

variety

my style, personally, is the ranged dpslord. i like to chill in cover with my “marksman rifle” (why ubi ever chose such a clunky ass name for that weapon class i’ll never understand) with the 12x scope and the suppressor and play wack-a-mole. if you get close to me i’ll swap to the SMG and spray, but that isn’t ideal.

maybe your style instead is to play aggressively, flush enemies, control the pace of the fight that way. there’s assault rifles and shotguns for you.

maybe your style is to lay down long-range cover fire and support your team. you can spec more into ability power, load up a light machine gun, and let loose.

with just a couple of different weapon classes all with the ability to mod your guns and buff them with your gear/stats, you can play this game a lot of ways. you can stealth it up or you can pick em off or you can yolo (within reason, cover really is important). you can climb up on cars or up fire escapes for a vantage point. and it’s all without a set class system. it’s just however you spec yourself. it’s the loadout you choose at a given moment. you can mix and match with your friends and make the most complete squad possible.

want to farm the dark zone? you can. want to be a scumbag noob-killer who just finds people and takes their shit? you can. want to hunt down said scum and collect the bounty? you can do that too. you can play this game however you want and that’s so cool.

gripes

i have a feeling that between perks and talents there’s going to be too much going on. there’s also a crafting system that you aren’t allowed to touch in beta but you do get crafting materials from like, old computer stores and fabric stores and etc around the city. i like the scavenging idea but i would really like to have been able to build a couple of limited items just to  check it out. and there’s side missions and intel to collect and clothing and consumable buff items and sometimes “needy civilians” to give them to and just…

there are so many little, unrelated mechanics that i kind of think the game will suffer from a lack of simplicity at times, is what i’m getting at here.

while NYC feels freaking great and looks amazing and the draw distance was awesome with only some limited textural pop-in and you can locate yourself at any time by the streets you’re on…. that’s just setting and back drop to a story that i don’t expect to be impressed by. the characters are forgettable so far, their voice acting bland, their motivations shallow, it’s just kind of weakly written through some 5 story missions. and those missions are pretty linear for an open world. if you’re planning to just play the story this game might not be for you. it would be tough to justify $60 on the division without the dark zone.

the currency isn’t called dollars. THIS IS NEW YORK CITY. THIS IS AMERICA DAMMIT.

the DZ having its own currency and experience is weird. your DZ loot still has overall level requirements and when you sell it you get normal currency. your DZ time isn’t going to get you XP, just DZXP. your overall level controls what DZ server you’ll be connecting to, to place you in a fair arena. not your DZXP. DZXP just locks chests as far as i can tell. it’s an odd system and i’m not sure i like it much. it definitely will force you to play the main game… but i’m not really convinced that it should.

i didn’t expect to write 2000 words on this beta but here we are, and if you’ve made it this far i’m kind of confused honestly. the tl;dr above still stands. i want to keep playing more than my 7 hours but there’s not much of a point without the full game. which, yeah, recommended.

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