You can’t see my face, but my eyes are both blurry and extra droopy today, and that’s because I put about four hours straight into Tom Clancy’s The Division last night, only stopping once to grab a glass of water. Specifically, it’s free, open beta thingy, happening from February 18 through the weekend. Xbox One owners got to get in a day early, which is better for me, since I’ll be traveling and visiting family over the weekend. Either way, this is actually my first experience with a beta/early access kind of game, and I’m coming away from it with a better understanding of what The Division is about, and maybe what it might become down the line. All in all, I think I’m in.
Story details are not the focus of the open beta, but here’s what I know so far about The Division. A smallpox pandemic, transmitted by a virus planted onto banknotes, spreads on Black Friday, throwing the United States into mayhem and panic. The U.S. government swiftly collapses in five days, and basic services follow after that. Without access to food or water, the country quickly descends into chaos. You play as an agent of the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD), or “The Division” for short, which is a classified stay-behind force of self-supported tactical agents under direct orders from POTUS to prevent the fall of society.
The Division‘s core mechanics are similar to other action-based third person-shooters of the last generation or so, like Gears of War and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, in which the player character can carry multiple firearms, grenades, and equippable skills that create effects on the playing field, like dropping a mini turret or pinging the area to highlight enemies from allies. Players can take cover behind objects during firefights, like cars and barriers, to avoid taking damage from enemies and provide a tactical advantage when attacking. Or you can do what I do often, which is forget to hide behind cover and stand right in the lines of enemy fire, taking shot after shot to the chest and wondering why I’m bleeding out so fast.
There’s also loot, which is where this begins to be more of an RPG like Diablo than a straightforward corridor crawl of just shooting fleshbags and moving on without a care to their corpse. First, there’s customizeable gear for your person, like new coats, shoes, breathing masks, and such, which are cosmetic only. Then there’s actually new pieces of armor and backpacks, as well as different types of weapons. You can carry two larger weapons, as well as a pistol-sized gun, switching between them with the press of a button. Naturally, there’s also a ton of mods to loot or purchase, which provide new grips, scopes, and muzzles. I’ve been focusing on using the pistol and Ballistic Shield ability, hanging back to heal myself and others via the First Aid ability.
Lastly, let me talk about the Dark Zone, since there were only two story-based missions in The Division‘s open beta, one of which was a surprising amount of fun, but they are over rather quickly. Basically, the Dark Zone, besides being the name of my forthcoming new wave death-metal band, is a player-versus-player competitive multiplayer mode, where a lot of high-end weapons are left behind when the military retreats in the game. It is separate from the main campaign and even has its own progression system, represented as a purple experience bar that fills up as you do stuff. Basically, players can discover contaminated loot inside a Dark Zone area, and these valuable items can be stolen by other players in the zone; the only way to permanently add this gear to your inventory is to extract them via a helicopter, which arrives after a timer countdowns. Other players can join you in hopes of extracting their loot, but both A.I.-controlled enemies and agents gone rogue will attack in hopes of performing a successful robbery. This means that every new non-lethal agent that pops up in the area has the potential to be a threat, which raises the tension of extracting higher.
Visually, The Division is extremely sharp, with dynamic weather effects and time of day changing somewhat unnoticeable…until you notice it is dark out. I’ve only been in NYC a few times, but the recognizable areas are there, and the map seems to correlate directly to real life, which is both cool and staggering. I played with a buddy of mine, and that definitely made for a more enjoyable–and learned–experience as he taught me some of the systems and lead the way. I do worry that if I can’t team up with people that The Division will be less fun to grind through solo, and even more tough to survive out in the Dark Zone.
Either way, I’m looking forward to playing a bit more during the open beta, and then we’ll see if I’m committed or not to The Division next month when it actually releases to all. This could be addicting, or it could be like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls was for me, addicting for sure, but only for a little bit.