Last weekend was largely taken up by the first (and last) open beta for The Division from Ubisoft. I actually had decided to leave well alone until launch but with a new mission and some new toys to play with the temptation was too much, alas - I spent all weekend in the crisis stricken New York City.
All characters were wiped from the closed beta so anyone wanting to play had to start a fresh with a new toon - it was disappointing to see that yet again character creation was limited to a few preset options but let us hope it's decent when it arrives. So how did the beta go and did Ubisoft finally shine any light on some of the burning questions players have regarding the game's core systems.
The most obvious addition for this open beta was the new mission which lets you fight one of the game's main factions - the Cleaners. Hell bent on 'cleaning' the disease from the city streets these maniacs come toting flamethrowers which are awesome to see in action. As the jets of fuel and flame lick the environment you can't help but be impressed. One fun way to dispatch these adversaries is too shoot the tanks on their backs, which results in them and any surrounding guys going up in an explosive fireball. The mission itself is small and also super light on story - which is a shame considering this was a good chance for Ubisoft show this game is more than just looks.
Players could also open a new wing in the head quarters that players will be able to use for all kinds of activities such as crafting and skill development. This essentially allowed us to unlock the mini turret skill, basically a sub machine gun on a self tracking stand. We has some great fun with this and it worked well in both PVP and PVE. Through plenty of mob killing (and a little rouge hunting) in the Dark Zone I also managed to get myself an orange gun from the safe house, in a way I already feel like the loot grind has started - which is disconcerting considering how tame the loot system seems so far. In games like Borderlands loot is exciting and acts as a motivator for players to play more - here loot is constrained by the realistic skin the game cannot shed for the sake of context. There are some great perks attached to some weapons and I do like the way cosmetic items have been separated out.
To do list
The Division has a lot to do, largely because there are many parts of the game still shrouded in mystery. If you take what we have seen so far and then scale it up you can't help asking the question 'is this it?' The Dark Zone has been amazing fun this weekend but many of these excellent moments have been player generated. In terms of structure - well if I'm frank there really isn't any that we can see. Groups of AI controlled gangs spawn in set locations which players can then go and kill. PVP only starts when one player decides to shoot another and in theory if you are in the zone with a bunch of pacifists there really isn't a great deal to do. I am really hoping Ubisoft have lots of events, activities types and things to keep players motivated for more than a few hours.
I also find it incredible that in a game of this type there are no player guilds or clans planned, some have theories that Ubisoft want to stay away from known MMO tropes in case it breeds unwanted expectations from the player base. I don't know, but even in my own circle of friends I think it's the most asked question regarding the game's structure.
The other big question is how the end game content will pan out, again it is all being kept very quiet which is worrying to say the least. If endgame encounters equate to shooting one 'boss' guy for ten minutes this will be so disappointing. It's tough because given the realistic setting the options the development team have to make group content engaging becomes limited - but not impossible with a bit of imagination. Many have compared this game to Destiny but even with heavy reliance on repetition, Destiny still seems to have far more in terms of variation. In short, I hope Ubisoft have some fairly big cards left to play because pretty streets and interesting PVP encounters are not going to cut the cheese.
As I was editing this preview a video of some later game content (level 27) has been released and so I shall link the video below. I'm sad to say it confirms for me my worries touched on above - in that boss encounters will invariably end up as men/woman who just take a lot more bullets to expire. I'm sorry to be so negative, I genuinely hope I am wrong and there are some far more interesting challenges waiting in the wings.
It would be unfair of me to end this summary without saying that to spite my concerns I had an absolute blast this weekend and the parts of the game we did see are very slick. Even lacking a clan system you can see friends on your map when they are online (and have been added as friends on U-play) and the grouping up works perfectly fine. Ubisoft have made themselves a name for bullshitting their fans with smoke and mirrors and I feel like if The Division does end up another lacklustre broken promise, this time it will really hurt them - because this weekend just gone over 6.4 million players tried the beta: that's a lot of fans to lose in one go.
I'll be playing and reviewing The Division on the 8th of March and I know a decent portion of my friends are also really looking forward to getting stuck in. So please check back for my review and thoughts around that time. If you don't already please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic, find me on YouTube under the same name and if you would like to contact me directly please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading guys, take care.