The Division Beta Impressions
After getting hands on with the final Beta for Ubisoft’s great white hope The Division it’s clear the extra resources and development time has been very kind. Although not perfect we have a game that is as ready for release as we’re likely to get. My overall impression was largely very positive but with a few concerns but after spending several hours with the Beta i’m certainly going to be picking it up hopefully as a day 1 purchase.
One of my main concerns was the game not having any real identity and being a bit bland and generic when comparing it to the dozens of open world shooters on the market. This is one area that I think they have nailed in the latest build with a wonderfully realised New York City seemingly filled to the brim with things to do and experience. By using key locations as mission start points you stay in the game with your buddies moving through the streets going from combat zone to mission zone and it’s brilliant. Most games are simple get from A to B and do something both Destiny and The Division successfully avoid falling into that trap. The missions so far have involved fighting through waves of enemies to reach or secure an objective or person of interest in a hospital or Underground Subway. Rewards are high for completion of these objectives in the form of new gear and upgrades to your skills.
It’s in the RPG elements that the longevity will be found especially by those that love to grind for loot and XP. Missions can be repeated and areas cleared for weapons and upgrades as many times as a player wants. The skills fall into 3 categories, Medical for health and support, Security for damage resistance and shields with Tech being for Turrets and mines. Unlike many RPG games you’re not tied to one skill tree the game encourages you to mix up what you have to create a more custom character specific to your playing style. Skills can also be changed to create a better balanced squad when forming a team with friends for that ultimate balance.
Games like The Division live or die on replayability and this is a key area that we weren’t really able to accurately gauge through the limited Beta. The Taken King got it absolutely spot on and injected that magic Bungie Formula that made you just do one more mission or repeatedly go back through the same strike over and over again. Sure they were fun and challenging but it was the loot and upgrades that made you keep going back hoping for an exotic engram to drop or an awesome piece of armour. I’m not sure The Division is aiming for that level of grinding that games like Destiny and Diablo build themselves upon but by having such an open narrative
Perhaps the biggest negative so far surrounds the enemies and their tendencies to be a bit spongey when soaking up damage. Part of it is due to the RPG elements dictating how damage is dealt etc but in the Beta at least they tended to simply rush in, soak up all the bullets and fall over. Not once did I need to watch my flanks, or seek to retreat to better cover as the AI simply wasn’t capable of pressing it’s numerical advantage. It was a little disappointing to see such poor AI in a AAA shooter especially one that was so long in development but hopefully it can be worked on in the weeks leading up to it’s release.
Another issue was the overly complex menu system that seemed to favour throwing a billion options at you in favour of a clutter free UI. There is so much information there I found myself hunting through menu after menu to find the brightness settings or sound settings. This permeates the home base as well which resembles a jumble sale with it’s wall to wall vendors, crafting stations and various technical areas. The actual UI is pretty busy as well with a distracting amount of information being tossed around from waypoints, to stats and damage counters making it difficult to focus on one particular thing. The controls aren’t great either especially the use of the gadget wheel especially when trying to select a grenade whilst under fire. Again nothing that can’t be smoothed out in time for launch but it does grate slightly and tarnishes experience slightly.
So small concerns aside The Division is shaping up to be a solid start to this promising new Ubisoft IP. After being so badly burnt with Destiny i’m far more cautious this time around but Bungie have shown that almost any shortcomings can be resolved with great post launch support. Ubisoft have clearly been heavily influenced by Bungies masterful shooter which no doubt played a large part in the overhaul The Division has gone through. The Destiny influences are clearly evident through The Division from the levelling, to the combat and the narrative delivery. It all bodes well for the future in spite of the minor reservations that the beta has left me with.
It’s not perfect but there is something about The Division that gives me hope.