The Division Beta – Dan’s Impressions

So this weekend has passed us by and with it, comes the close of The Division Beta. Whilst this of course was only a glimpse of the overall game, I figured, following my 5+ hours of gameplay, I would share my thoughts with you in regards to what I experienced.

The streets of New York

The Division has done a good job of making being out on the streets feel immersive. The interactions from civilians and JTF personnel for the most part feels and sounds real. There were the odd occasions when I wondered why as the ‘good guy’ some of the civilians seemed to be worried that I need to ‘calm down’ as I ran by and posed an apparent threat to them.

The environment is not fully destructible which, although understandable, considering the density of items in the streets, was slightly disappointing. Cars, rather than turning into burning wrecks, were able to withstand the blast from my sticky bomb with just some blackened paint and flat tyres. I understand why you would not want to destroy all the cover in a cover shooter, but a wooden chest of drawers being as bullet proof as a concrete block means that there is a lowered sense of risk in the cover you choose, especially if you know it is never going boom.

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Something I did try, for testing purposes only, was whether the civilians were immune to damage from players. I had come across a couple of situations with rioters and civilians mixed together, so had attempted to rectify the situation with as little risk to the civilians as possible. Turns out I needn’t have bothered, those civilians are tough! If I was running The Division, I would just recruit the citizens of New York. Neither bullets nor explosives could put them down.

Whilst glad that this game does not run the risk of players going GTA on the population, I do have to wonder why the animals in this game were not given the same protection. When attempting to scare a dog away from the bad guys he was wandering towards, my bullet, which was aimed at least a foot to the side, went rouge and clipped Fido, sending him to the great dog park in the sky. I can only assume that something in the game means that there is the potential for dogs to be hostile towards you, so defending yourself is an option, but beyond barking, I saw nothing aggressive from the many dogs I passed. If not, perhaps the dogs could be given the same protection as humans in order to avoid some gamers from committing canine genocide. I’m very much the opinion that it should be a case of all or nothing when it comes to what the player can shoot in terms of non-hostile NPCs.

The looks

Graphically the game looks as good as anything else I have seen on PS4, although I’m withholding my final verdict for the full game. Sure a higher spec PC could bring out the absolute best in this game, but for the ‘underpowered’ consoles, I think it’s doing alright. There is a lot of attention given to the little details in the Beta and because of that work, I think The Division comes across so well.

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As The Division is set in the winter, which, I’m sure any New Yorker could tell you, means things can get very snowy. The Division shows this off brilliantly with a dynamic weather system, which alters the density of the snowfall. On more than one occasion, I found myself navigating while not being able to see more than the length of my gun in front of me. Thankfully I did not have to experience this in combat, but I can imagine how tense it would be, or how stressful navigating the Dark Zone might be in such conditions.

Personally I did not experience any Just Cause 3 level of frame rate issue, in fact I don’t remember any point in which the game lagged or noticeably slowed down. Whether or not the full game will be the same, I cannot say, but the Beta certainly seems to suggest that The Division will be on the right side of the fence for this one.

The sounds

I think this is a game where I will be wearing headphones for the majority of the game. Normally I play games with the sound through my TV and I did for a bit of this game too, but I also used headphones and it made a huge difference to the experience. You really get a sense of directionality from this game. I was able to track down some rioters purely using my ears to guide me.

I even heard a civilian taking photos out of their apartment window three stories up, which I don’t think would have registered through the TV in the same way. Needless to say I was almost as surprised that something like this was added to the game, as the civilian was when I aimed my weapon up at them to centralise my camera. The little things, like the clunk of nudging a car door closed, or the clanging of knocking over something metal in an empty street and hearing it echo, giving away your position, just helped make this game feel more complete.

The combat

The Division is a cover based shooter, so if you expect to be able to run and gun your way through, you will be in for a shock. Playing without friends as backup, I found it easy enough to deal with the lower level enemies, though having someone to watch your flank would have eliminated those careless deaths early on, while still learning the game.

The weapons all have decent feel and solid sound to them, with none feeling like you’re waving a stick around and shouting ‘pew-pew’. Each class of weapon has its own pros and cons, such as the shotgun dealing out a hell of a lot of damage, but being useless over long range and having a slow fire rate, or marksman rifles having great range and decent damage, but you carry far fewer rounds than other weapon types. The fact that you can choose to carry at least one of each type of weapon means you have no excuse for running out of ammo. It also means you can create the right loadout for your situation in just a few moments, rather than committing yourself to just a couple of weapons types for an undefined period of time away from your base of operations.

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The ability to switch shoulders at the click of the left stick while in cover was a very useful option, eliminating the chance of accidently popping out of cover when shifting your character. The aiming for the game uses the standard hip fire, aim-down-sights and click in on the right stick to use the optics on your weapon. It’s nothing to shout about, but it all transitions smoothly from one to the other which is what you want.

All weapons can be modified by gear you collect in the world, which helps make you even more effective. These mods can be swapped from one weapon to the other, so you don’t have to worry about locking a decent level scope to a low level weapon. Be warned though, if you sell a weapon with mods still added, you’ll also be selling the mods.

The loot

I took every opportunity I could to loot, even though my inventory was pretty much always full. What I really liked was that even furniture that had been abandoned in the middle of the street could yield some loot, as long as you paid attention to what parts of the environment you could interact with. This was a nice touch, although I can’t help but think that in the real world, those places would have been the first to be picked clean by people scavenging for supplies.

Whilst you cannot go into every building, the ones you can are always an opportunity to explore going into several apartments and raiding the fridge for that last bottle of water. Consumables can be used by players to provide limited boosts, or traded to civilians in need, who will reward you for your kindness by dropping some gear. (During the beta it was all clothing, so I will assume at this point that will be the same for the full game)

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In a couple of the apartment buildings that were accessible, there were a couple of doors that required lock picks to open, something I didn’t not find in the Beta, but forums online suggested they were out there, so I know I left some loot behind. As soon as the game comes out, I know where I’m going back to. I need to know what prize was behind door number 1!

I would have liked it if there was a little bit more risk to entering these apartments. In the Beta, they were all empty. When opening the door to a closed room or apartment, it would have been fun to add in the chance of either breaking into an apartment being looted by raiders or occupied by civilians. In the Beta, apart from military buildings, everywhere you entered felt very empty and safe even. I personally would like it if entering an apartment building was just as risky as walking along the streets.

The Dark Zone

I’ll admit, I did not spend a lot of time in the Dark zone. My first encounter with other players started off ok, we ran past each other, started off on our separate ways, but before I knew it, I was running for my life bullets peppering my back. Running into a parking structure, I realised I had managed to successfully wedge myself between a rock and a hard place as I was confronted by AI rioters. Needless to say, I died in a hail of gunfire. I think the only way I’ll return to the Dark Zone will be with backup, unless the game requires me to head there.

Verdict

As this is just my impressions of the Beta and not a review of the full game, I’m not going to give The Division Beta a score, but I can tell you that what I experience in my 5 hours or so of gameplay has me very excited to play the full version of this game. I did not see anything which made me feel that this game drastically needed more work, so fingers crossed that we still see this game in early March.