The Division Beta Wrap-Up Thoughts

The DivisionToday’s the last day of the beta for The Division after Ubisoft extended it 24 hours. I played a bit more since I last wrote about the beta, including a relatively extended stay in the Dark Zone, as well as playing the story mission on hard difficulty with my buddy. So since we’ve got about a full month before the launch of the game, I thought I’d wrap up my impressions on the beta.

The big question that I’ve been seeing over and over since the beta launched has to be “will The Division kill Destiny?” That question was really never a viable question – it was always going to be no. Games just don’t work that way – one game can’t “kill” another. Sure player bases might shift a bit, but that doesn’t mean a game is killed. The reason that has been coming up is twofold. First, it’s really easy to title a YouTube video with a crazy thumbnail and then do just what I’m doing here for a few minutes. Secondly, it’s the easy comparison to make right now. Both games are RPG’s with shooter trappings. But the execution of those mechanics are very different and really don’t put the games in the same place. The Division is an RPG first, Destiny is an FPS first, and that’s really all you need to know. A better comparison for The Division I think is Mass Effect, but we’ll talk a bit more about that when the game actually launches.

Let’s focus a bit more on what we got over the weekend. My biggest question going in to the beta was always one that was never going to get answered – end-game content. What the beta did was show that there might be a little hurdle to get over to even reach that end-game content. Leveling was a little slow, but that could be from the lack of beta content. The biggest thing to me though was that pretty much everything I did was all really, really similar. I worry that there might not be enough variety in the missions and side-quest content to keep the bulk of the player base invested to the end-game. That worry is compounded for me by the Dark Zone’s inherent wonkiness. Already in the beta people found a number of exploits, both on console and PC. PC players are going to need some kind of anti-cheat put into the game to combat some of what I was reading was going on. Aimbots, invisible players, infinite ammo and levels – all that in the beta. On consoles, people figured out that if you went Rogue and then reached the boundaries of the map, it would warp you to the safe rooms, where you could just wait your timer out. I really don’t see that making it to launch, but still, it’s a little worrisome.

The Division Beta

What I did really like was pretty much everything else in the beta. The guns all felt like I would expect in a third-person cover shooter RPG; the abilities we got each had their uses, both in solo play and in team play; and the playspace had a pretty unique feel to it. My personal favorite parts though were the real little details – the weather system is amazing, in particular the snow storms; the snow actually will accumulate on your player character if you stand out in it. The enemy A.I. is surprising good, not content to just sit in cover and wait for you to move to shoot them, they’ll suppress you while rushers push up to whack you with bats. The inventory, weapons and stats all felt very much at home in a min/max style RPG. Trying to figure out gear to max out your stats in the right mix to get weapon talents is definitely something that I think gives the combat some depth. There’s a lot of really good gameplay headed our way in The Division, to me the questions more surround the story and end-game level stuff. There’s still a month before launch, plenty of time to iron out some of the beta wackiness and hopefully enough time to address some of the Dark Zone inconsistencies.

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The Division Beta Impressions

The DivisionYesterday marked the launch of the beta for The Division, and I dove in headfirst. It’s a game that I’ve been pretty excited about for a while now and as Ubisoft starts to share some of the nitty gritty details of the game, I do find myself getting more interested in it. So I was pretty excited to see just how the game is shaping up.

Let’s get the elephant out of the way first – the big comparison that has been thrown around all over the place is with Destiny. Both are co-op, shared world games, with RPG mechanics and a strong loot emphasis. Here’s the thing though, the games really couldn’t be more different. Destiny is first and foremost a shooter – the FPS mechanics are arguably the best out there now. The Division is first and foremost an RPG – everything is determined by the stats and numbers under the hood. In that way it’s a lot more like Borderlands than Destiny. Add in that it’s a third person cover based shooter and that’s really where I think the best comparison shows up. While it is easy to point at Destiny and Borderlands from the loot side of things, I really think the best game to compare with is Mass Effect. In particular the first game in the series, which I think had the strongest RPG elements.

And in that capacity, everything that The Division does works really well. Much like Mass Effect, combat from cover works perfectly fine. Blind-firing is a possibility, just a poor one. Moving from cover to cover is the best way to go about engagements, which is pretty easy with the constant tooltip for the controls (which I know can be turned off, but I think actually adds a little character to the game). The weapons all function much better when you’re in cover. The third person camera gives you a great overview of the entire action, and using the pulse ability to highlight enemies pairs really well with the third person action. In general the action actually feels really solid – once you get your head around that it’s an RPG and not a shooter, the combat makes a lot more sense. The movement and everything like that all feels really solid too. In truth, the biggest issues I have with the beta aren’t actually about gameplay. I’ve found a couple little graphical bugs that popped up, but really nothing terrible. My biggest complaint is that the player character isn’t voiced. In 2016, one of the biggest early releases of the year, will feature a silent protagonist. That boggles my mind. Since The Division clearly takes a lot of inspiration from Mass Effect, why not follow suit with the protagonist – give him/her a name, voice that name and let the player give him/her a first name. That way the story, which doesn’t seem too bad, has a little more immersion and impact.

All things considered, I think that the biggest problem I have with the beta is just that it’s really short. There are two actual missions, both of which are really short. The side missions and side encounters are also pretty short, which means hitting the level cap of 8 can be a bit grindy, honestly not that huge a deal. I think it’s designed to be a beta that people play for just a couple hours, get a good idea of how the full game will behave, and move on. Since the beta is only live until Sunday I think that’s probably a smart move. Sure you can go venture into the Dark Zone and get the best loot in the beta, and find out just how primal other people get when loot is on the line. But I do think that maybe a few other PvE activities would have been warranted. That said, it’s a fun beta – if you’re in it, load it up and play it for a bit. We do have to wait until March for the full game, which I hope means that they’ll fix a couple of the little things I’ve noticed pop up.