What was it?
A 15-minute hands-on in the game’s ‘Dark Zone’, a mix of PvE and PvP where rival teams can help — or hinder — each other as they attempt to grab rare loot.
What did we learn?
— That it’s not quite the straight-up shooting game that some people may have thought.
— PvP focus is on gathering rare items and exfiltrating the area without dying (and thus losing your gear).
— Teamwork is highly encouraged, but getting a sense of your surroundings (and the cover they offer) is just as important.
— After all the hype, the engine delivers. Here, at least.
— People in online shooters can be dicks.
How was it?
After years of hype, bluster, and cautious drawing down of expectations from being exposed to too many AAA Ubisoft games, it was a relief to finally get to play The Division. It was also enjoyable: an interesting mix of PvP and PvE which demands teamwork and rewards using your brain as well as your gun.
The four players on my team were split into different classes, each with separate abilities, perks, and gear. I was the rifle(wo)man — the other three people were split into rough approximations of the medic, assault, etc — and I also had remote explosives to play with. These could be fired and then remotely detonated, which proved handy when I wanted to accidentally blow up my teammates.
Jumping into The Division’s seamless arenas (for want of a better word) revealed the scale of the destroyed New York: an impressive rendering both vertically and with regards to density of detail. The world is well realised, from the stage dressing of human detritus (broken down cars, destroyed barricades) to a physics engine that enables you to shoot wing mirrors off of cars. It’s not quite as impressive as that first demo, but it’s not far off and certainly captures the spirit of that early footage.
It’s also a game where being first on the trigger doesn’t guarantee victory. The Division seems like a shooter, but in actuality it’s more like an RPG with real-time combat. The screen is rammed with HUD — which can be annoying, and works against the superb environmental work — but it’s all there for a reason. This is a game of stats as well as shots, and players are encouraged to level before they pull the trigger.
Levelling is what the Dark Zones are for — infected areas of New York that house the best loot. Venturing into them is a calculated risk: extraction isn’t easy, and you’re not the only people there. But the rewards — rare guns and gear — are meant to be worth it, even if they can’t be used immediately due to the infection.
In fact, attacking other players to grab their gear is something to consider carefully. In our playthrough we were told that there’s no way of knowing who has what, and aggroing them — and dying — means you lose all your gear.
Losing gear, of course, is a bitch, as we found out in our playthrough. After successfully scavenging some good kit, we were about to extract when the other team attacked. After a four or five-minute skirmish we were waiting on our chopper to get us out (a rope is dropped and players have to climb it) when the other team boxed us in and killed us, losing all our stuff in the process. It was incredibly annoying, which is probably a good sign.
Most impressive, however, is just how well The Division’s pieces seemed to fit. Mechanically it’s solid: there’s a good sense of feedback to your weapons, and getting in and out of cover was intuitive and easy. It’s refreshingly un-Ubisoft, for now, at least. There wasn’t a hint of having to climb towers to advance. Instead, the looting and other RPG mechanics play well with the friend or foe mechanic of rival squads, reflecting (somewhat) the plight of the people you’re meant to be playing as. The uneasy truces that are called create the appropriate tension, where one stray bullet can ruin an entire squad’s work. Which is exactly what The Division should be going for.
Get a good medic.