Playing The Division beta has certainly been an eye-opener. The potential scope, the graphics (which still hold up really well) and the sheer believability of it all – everything on offer has the making of an impressive title. But, after playing The Division’s highly enjoyable alpha build, despite some small improvements, the beta has coaxed the game’s full release in uncertainty by bringing its shortcomings to the fore.
If you happened to play the The Division Alpha, the improvements made here are clear to see. Ubisoft and the associated developers have tweaked the lighting and weather effects, which make for a more lively and picturesque setting. Seeing the bright lights of lamp-posts against the night sky, with thousands of snowflakes descending to street level was one of the visual highlights.
Several new underground areas, including subway stations, were also made accessible for the beta. While most added to the overall sense of exploration – dark ominous corridors with contaminated areas and lootable objects – others were completely devoid of activity. These spaces were quite large, too, which made it all the more frustrating when trekking back up to the outside world.
Despite the beta covering virtually the exact same area available in the alpha, it was here The Division’s main problem presented itself.
The open world seemed all the more dismal this time around and I really got a sense of how under-populated this fictitious depiction of New York was. Sometimes I travelled from point-to-point on foot for three blocks with next to zero noteworthy AI activity. The lack of enterable buildings on the streets was one of the more underwhelming factors, considering how dependent The Division is on impromptu exploration.
It highlighted how much improvement certain areas require. I was looking for more quests with nearby NPCs – whether it be fetch quests, helping out relatives, or something as simple as escort missions. The amount of enemies and number of skirmishes is lacking and slightly jarring at the same time, as you’re a good guy murdering people people trying to survive. It’s a bit more mind-boggling that there’s no room for verbal negotiation.
Which leads to me to my next point: Your playable character is completely mute. While some people might say it helps with immersion, it does the complete opposite for me. Despite the persistent online nature of The Division, its apocalyptic aesthetic carries an expectation that your character would, in fact, have a voice. It may work for a little bit but listening to the whole world around you for an entire game becomes really old really quickly; it doesn’t make for compelling viewing. This is clearly evident in the beta/alpha’s opening sequence, where you’re flying in via helicopter into a secure landing zone. With no backstory as to how the event occurred or how long the city’s been out of action, players are literally being thrown into the deep end by their wounded Lieutenant with no opportunity to respond.
If the story failed to pique your interest, than thank goodness for the Dark Zone. As well as the usual AI suspects, here, I also had to contend with other players online – making for a really cool PvPvE dynamic. Going into the Dark Zone, a massive contaminated area long left behind by the military, is daunting and going in there alone is even more so. From experience, unless you’re very good at making friends, going in solo pretty much guarantees death. The quest for rare, higher damage weaponry is always present and the only thing more tense than hunting Rogue Agents or fighting off other players when you’ve gone ‘rogue’ is waiting for a chopper to extract your precious loot.
There have been numerous improvements made to the Dark Zone in The Division’s beta build. Through general exploration, ‘Landmarks’ will appear on your in-game map and are hotspots for AI activity – often leading to PvP action, too. In addition, there were far more loot drops in the Dark Zone, encouraging me to think even more carefully about what contaminated loot to put in my six-slot Dark Zone bag.
However, to securely acquire your Dark Zone weapons and attachments they must be cleared by the Joint Task Force. It’s here that the all-important Extraction phase takes place, where players show their true colours while waiting for in-bound chopper. I was backstabbed and had loot taken from me at the last second on a few occasions – that was when I tried out the area by myself, though. In a group, the vulnerability factor is significantly reduced and is by far the safer option.
It was in the Dark Zone where I realised several stealth mechanics were missing. Triggered by constant re-checking of the area and general paranoia, I was left wanting a dedicated crouch or prone mechanic (the former being when you’re out of cover) for this offering of The Division. It is, after all, a cover-based, stealth-centric shooter where remaining hidden is one of your greatest strengths. The absence of a silent takedown from behind enemies is strange, as the only thing remotely close to that mechanic is an everyday melee attack – summing up The Division’s basic hand-to-hand combat.
But the four-player co-op system offers so many angles of attack. The ever-useful Pulse ability scans the area for enemies and the addition of smoke and tear gas grenades are perfect alternatives for providing cover if things go wrong. Being able to ‘go prone’ and manually crouch in these situations is a no-brainer when trying to remain undetected on the streets and stealthily manoeuvre through Landmarks and rooftops; it’s strange it hasn’t already been implemented. I’d much prefer being able to stealthily bypass hostile contact by crouching rather than trigger a firefight by scurrying across the streets for all to see.
I’ll admit that my burst of enthusiasm after playing The Division’s alpha build was ultimately taken down a couple of notches due to the beta. While there’s quite a lot of stuff that has been done right, there’s mountains of content and tweaks to be made so this game can become what I want it to be. There’s some very fun stuff going on in The Division thus far, like the high-tech abilities, depth of objectives in the Base of Operations, gun customisation and variation of missions; I’m sure it’s a game I’ll be interested in. But, after seeing how many gaps are yet to be filled with the time that remains until full release, my uncompromising enthusiasm has turned into tentative positivity. It’ll be very interesting to see what three years of build-up is worth.
Did you play The Division beta? What do you think of the game itself? Let us know in the comments section!