The open beta for Tom Clancy’s The Division concluded this past weekend and the consensus has been much more positive than the closed beta. According to Ubisoft, more than 6.4 million players spent an average five hours in the open world and two hours in the Dark Zone. Even though a beta does not represent the finished product, The Division launches on March 8 and it becomes doubtful major changes can be made when the game has faced two years of delays.
The open beta began same as the closed beta did; your character wakes up in a helicopter by another Division agent, Faye Lau, after escaping a heated battle or explosion. The beta skips the introduction to the game, and replaces it with a video tutorial led by one of the developers. The cause of this apocalyptic scenario, explained by the developer, was a weaponized virus that released during the Black Friday sales in New York and it is up to the government agency “The Division” to “take this city back.”
It was not clear in the beta who these agents were taking it back from, but inferring from fashion choices deemed it a war between the hoods and the hoodless. Only two major story missions were available for the open beta, and only served to explain the mechanics of your home base and the abilities tied to each wing in the base.
A small section of New York was playable during the beta and was fascinated to see the city was filled with garbage. Bags of garbage littered every street and stacked up at least a story high against some buildings. A whole block was exclusively used for trash because all the buildings were covered in quarantine tents. It made the city feel lived in and there was some action taken against the epidemic before everything went to hell.
Though the map may seem compact, running through the streets can take time and some buildings can be entered or used as shortcuts. Like past Ubisoft games, the map is littered with various icons such as missions, crafting material spots, Dark Zone checkpoints, and more. Zooming into the map was necessary to set the correct waypoint or select fast travel when too many icons were clustered together.
Almost every piece of clothing on your character can be upgraded or customized. This is a loot game after all. There are six pieces of gear that can be upgraded with stat bonuses and configured with mods, of which the latter was not available in the beta. Your character can equip two main weapons and a pistol, and those can be outfitted with various mods, scopes, and cosmetic skins.
There are skills, perks, and talents that define your agent even further, though only a few were available in the beta. The amount of customization between character, weapons, and gear looks like it can adapt to anyone’s playstyle, but it makes the user interface busy with multiple menus and number stats everywhere.
There was so much gear that it was hard to stick with a piece of gear for too long before finding something better, but that feeling plateaued a few hours in when scavenging in the Dark Zone. The Dark Zone has been painted as a harsh, unforgiving place where other players exist to ambush and jack you of all the items you found. This was not the case, at least during the beta.
There are no missions in the Dark Zone, but there are AI enemies that occasionally spawn that drop gear when killed. One great change from the closed beta was that enemies spawned more frequently, but the Dark Zone still feels aimless without missions. The only purpose of this area is to collect loot, extract it via helicopter, and repeat.
The tension of this routine is supposed to come when waiting for extraction because other players nearby are notified and can come extract their loot or steal your loot by killing you. The “should we kill them before they kill us” moment only works between two small groups because nobody makes a move when there are too many people. There have been many situations when up to 15 people are spamming salute and jumping jack emotes patiently waiting for the helicopter.
Hopefully, the Dark Zone is not meant to be where players are expected to spend their time in the endgame farming for gear. Most loot found was sold for money and found myself buying more gear than finding it. The best weapons I found during the beta could only be bought from the safe room vendor in the Dark Zone. There is little motivation to steal from other players when there is a slim chance of gear that is worth the risk of going Rouge and fending off more players just to keep it.
The Division has been compared to Destiny because both are high profile action RPGs centered around collecting loot and increasing the damage numbers that fly off enemies. Destiny was able to capture that great feeling at launch with satisfying gunplay, but faltered when the missions ended and grinding for specific gear became required to level up further. The Division offers matchmaking and a hard mode to earn better rewards for the main missions, but that might not be enough if the missions are repetitive.
That feeling of hoping there was more to the game I experienced during the Destiny beta came back during The Division open beta. Destiny did not have $60 worth of content at launch, unless the competitive multiplayer Conclave mode held players over (which it did not for me), and seeing that The Division already has a detailed season pass bumping that cost up to $100 seems unfortunate. Hopefully, The Division does not follow in the shadow of Destiny by becoming a game that is worth the price tag a year later.