Is there anyone out there?
Like countless others, I have recently dipped into the beta for the eagerly anticipated The Division. I remember a couple of years back seeing the early trailers and concept footage for the game and I was immediately intrigued to learn more. It appeared to be a grounded, gritty, military take on Destiny. And while Destiny did not pan out how most of us wished it would, it opened our minds to amazing possibilities for open-world, MMO-esque, RPG shooters; games where you could naturally play alone on missions or come across other players and seamlessly form a warband with them in order to conquer tougher missions or dungeons. Destiny tapped into something great, ideas that made total sense, but we as gamers never imagined them coming to fruition. It was a Prometheus of sorts; punished for not doing what it was supposed to do, but gave the shooter genre new life and ideas with which to hone and perfect.
The Division surfs in Destiny’s wake, desperately trying to avoid the pitfalls that its quasi-predecessor hit at full stride. To begin with, The Division is very much a “Tom Clancy” game. With the techno-thriller elements, realistic military style and terrorism-based plot, it follows suit with most of the other games in the Tom Clancy library. The Division has a fairly cohesive plot, though it’s somewhat nebulous, taking place as you explore the city and complete side missions, as opposed to designated “story missions.” The basic summary of what we know so far of the plot is that on Black Friday, a devastating bio-engineered virus is dropped in New York City, turning the city into an apocalyptic nightmare, where gangs rule and the military has been called in to help the city.
The missions revolve largely around enhancing your “base of operations,” which is essentially the sanctuary where you buy or sell guns, gear or mods and pick up missions. Each mission differs from the last, with some being hostage rescue scenarios, some are virus research missions and some are stronghold raiding missions, where you take out thugs and gang members who are harassing citizens and emergency response squads. The Base of Operations is also upgraded as you do various missions around the city. The upgrades are not only visual, with the base’s look and scenery changing, but as the wings of the base are improved, they grant perks and ability upgrades for the player to use in combat.
The gameplay and combat is unique, taking elements from a few different games to create their own flavor. I see elements of Gears of War with the cover-based focus on gunplay, and while I have not played Watch Dogs myself, I have heard from many people that The Division borrows heavily from that game. There are aspects of Borderlands present in this game as well, with the implementation of talent trees, skills, loot, leveling up via experience gathering, et cetera. The multiplayer facet of the game is done very well. Your character is in a shared universe with a set amount of other online players who can come across each other naturally, or easily group up in order to play together. There are a number of nice touches with the grouping up in The Division, one of them being that anyone in the party can teleport at will to the other(s) in his or her party. Another is that the loot that drops from downed enemies is individual to each party member, which prevents someone from stealing all of the dropped items.
I would be remiss to not mention the Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is the open world player-versus-player area of the map, being closed off by only a decontamination chamber, as it was ground zero for the figurative explosion of the virus in New York City. The small room keeping you from the amazing madness of the bloodthirsty other players holds a vendor who sells you exclusive Dark Zone gear. In my own experience, my anticipation for entering the Dark Zone the first time was palpable. It was quite intimidating to hear gunfire and explosions coming from just mere feet away, outside the chamber. The Dark Zone itself has some very cool ideas enacted. There is a risk/reward system in place, where as you get kills and points while in the Dark Zone, you move up “DZ” ranks and earn currency for use in that vendor previously mentioned, but if you die in the Dark Zone before you leave, you stand to lose part of what you have earned. Also, any guns or gear that you pick up in the Dark Zone have to be decontaminated before you can use them. This can be done by either leaving back through the decontamination chamber or by calling in an emergency evacuation to a helipad, where you have to hold out from any players trying to kill you and attach your contaminated goods to a rope to be evacuated for you. There is some sort of an automatic group maker while in the Dark Zone, that places you in affiliation with a few other players. I did not get to play an extensive amount of time in the Dark Zone, but I enjoyed what I had seen.
In summary, I am still just as intrigued with The Division as I was when I first heard of the game. I feel that there are some cool ideas present in the current build of the game, but I am still slightly skeptical that all of the innovations on the genre that are made in this game will be enough to save it from mediocrity. My initial impression of the game was not positive. I felt that the start is very slow, and that there are times in which the world is way too empty to be open. I ran entire lengths of streets without seeing one enemy. This embryonic impression of the game was slightly assuaged when I was got into a group with another player to take down a difficult mission, and we stayed together for several subsequent quests. This solidified my early beliefs that The Division could be a rather uneventful, dry experience if you choose to play it alone. I genuinely hope that there is more vibrancy and life in the game when it comes out, as I enjoy the setting, style and gameplay, and while I understand that it is a post-apocalyptic world, that does not validify the game feeling empty and devoid of life. I will be very curious to play it in its final form and compare it to the beta.