Hearing the crunch of snow underfoot as I make my way through the desolate streets of New York fills me with a sense of isolation. For a block or two I see only wrecked cars and trucks, a few crows, and occasionally a group of rats scurry by. Then slowly I start to come across survivors of the disease that ravaged the once great city. Some are frightened, imploring me not to harm them as they shrink in fear at the sight of my guns. Others are more self assured, going about their daily business in the fallen city. Every now and then, someone will come up and thank me for my efforts to restore the city. Other encounters include JTF officers, sometimes in need of assistance against a marauding band of armed thugs and other times simply trying to stave off boredom as the guard a checkpoint. I help out where I can, offering a candy bar here, a medkit there. The people are always grateful and even surprised that I would lend a hand in such a harsh environment. Some citizens yell from windows in the highrises. Some are a bit belligerent or rant incoherently. And some holler down words of encouragement, spurring me on to continue in my mission of helping to restore the city. In a place where death can be swift and violent from roaming gangs, kind words come as a pleasant surprise.
Such is the world of Tom Clancy’s The Division.
The Division, for those of you who don’t know, is an open world, third person cover based shooter with RPG and MMO elements. Completing missions gains you experience points, along with exploration and aiding survivors. The game is set at Christmas time in New York City, where a deadly disease has been let loose on Black Friday. Your goal is to aid the JTF in restoring the city, accomplished by completing tasks and rebuilding your command center. The story is told along three lines as you restore your medical wing, security, and city services. The main story mission in the beta has you retrieving a doctor from thugs inside Madison Square Garden. All of your actions end up influencing the game world. Finding the doctor unlocks the medical wing, and continuing to find medical supplies allows you to open up a clinic, and later a quarantine facility, and as you progress in the full game even more services, like counseling, will become available. After opening the clinic I returned to the medical wing. Where once there were empty gurneys and chairs not sat patients being tended to by medical personnel. The full game will allow you to take on other missions to aid in restoring the other wings, and it all works towards bringing the city back. There’s a great feeling of satisfaction as you note your influence on the game world, something that you don’t often find in a military shooter.
The game, while always online, can be played either solo or co-op, and its difficulty scales accordingly. Enemies will pose a tougher threat when playing with friends, while solo players will have an easier time of things. Make no mistake, though: Going solo will not make the game a cakewalk. Enemies still pose a challenge, and if you’re not careful you can find yourself flanked or stunned by grenades. Not paying attention can get yourself dead in a hurry, and it’s more advisable to play this as a tactical shooter rather than trying to run and gun through situations. Throughout most of the city, you will face off against AI opponents. But certain areas, called Dark Zones, you have a new threat to worry about, that of other players. The Dark Zones serve as the game’s multiplayer arenas, where you fight not only computer controlled enemies but must deal with human foes as well. You can co-op in the Dark Zones, and aid each other in finding the loot within. Claiming loot from the Dark Zone requires you to call a helicopter in and have them airlift out the loot for you to claim later. Problem is, calling in a chopper attracts attention. AI thugs will attack, and you and other players can work together to fend them off. But you need to be wary of others, for as soon as the AI threat is vanquished, they can turn on you. such agents are said to have gone rogue, and are denoted by having their user names appear in red above their heads (friendly players have their names in white). This adds a nice level of suspense to the zones, as you can never be sure as to what others will do. Then again, that loot is tempting to grab for yourself. The scenario adds a fresh dynamic to the PvPvE, one that really isn’t explored in other games, and it’s this dynamic that sets The Division apart from other shooters.
Visually, the game looks terrific (I’m playing on the Xbox One but others have remarked on the game’s visuals on the PS4 and PC), with plenty of details in the environments, along with a day/night cycle and changing weather where it’s sunny one moment and the next you’re walking through a snow squall. Having plenty of NPC characters to interact with and listen to makes the city feel more alive, even though vast sections are deserted. Not only do you encounter people but you’ll encounter wildlife as well, like dogs, rats, and crows. Occasionally you hear the roar of a jet engine overhead, and the sound of a chopper’s rotors echo off the buildings in the Dark Zones. The voice acting is all pretty good, and while you will hear a line repeated here or there, there’s enough variety to listen to that should keep you from getting bored. Also the game supports microphones, and you can listen to other players chatter. This can be especially useful in the Dark Zones, as listening in can tip you off as to whether you’ve found allies or foes. Or clever players can lure others in and give them a false sense of security. The choice is yours to betray of befriend. The not knowing offers a thrill and an adrenaline rush that other shooters fail to match.
In all, The Division is impressing me. I spent around 20 hours in the game with the alpha, and that convinced me to preorder. So far my time in the beta has only reinforced my decision to get this game. The game looks and sounds great, with smooth controls and, at least so far, a smooth framerate. There are no loading screens as you pass from one area to the next, allowing you to remain immersed in the game. There is plenty to see and do throughout the city, with main story missions, finding echoes, phone messages, survival handbook pages, and supplies, dealing with roving gangs, and then entering the Dark Zones. Ubisoft has given a brief outline on what is coming as DLC in the season pass, with the first pack granting access to the underground, the second testing your survival skills, and the third has been left a mystery for now. Free content will also be incoming, and it’s been reported that players will get free content prior to any paid DLC making an appearance. With its fun and varied gameplay and unique take on PvP, Ubisoft looks to have a winner on its hands. We’ll see if that holds true when the full game releases on March 8.
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