Tom Clancy’s The Division Preview

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Tom Clancy’s The Division
Developer
: Ubisoft Massive
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows (Previewed)
Release Date: 8 March 2016

This weekend saw the first major closed beta for Ubisoft Massive’s third person shooter RPG Tom Clancy’s The Division. The beta opened up a small section of New York City to gamers on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows. With a level cap of 8, gamers were able to check out both the PVE and PVP content this past weekend.

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Tom Clancy’s The Division is an interesting beast. It feels like Borderlands, Gears of War, Diablo, and Tom Clancy’s modern combat settings got together and had a baby. Players wander around a shrunk down version of New York City in the middle of winter. On Black Friday (the big shopping day after Thanksgiving for us international folks), an unknown virus struck the city and spread quickly. New York City was crippled and the government fell to the chaos that plagues the city. The government has now activated the fictional Strategic Homeland Division to bring order, stability, and good governance to the city. In groups of up to four, players wander around New York City completing a variety of missions and events that pop up.

The core of the game is a third person cover shooter. Agents are particularly squishy and enemies can soak up quite a few bullets before dropping. To survive, players hop from cover to cover and poking their head out to fire whenever possible. I like how the cover mechanic feels right now. A small shadow appears in the world when the crosshair lands on viable cover and a small line shows the route the agent will take to run to that bit of cover. Moving from cover to cover feels very intuitive and the entire world is littered with plenty of places to hide. Shooting from cover feels pretty good, though I wish players were given a little more control on where they want to pop out and shoot from.

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The actual gunplay sits somewhere near the middle of the realism spectrum. The recoil is pretty severe, encouraging players to choose their shots and fire in bursts. On the other hand, enemies can soak almost the same amount of damage as players, which drags out firefights. The loot system in randomly generated and will be familiar to RPG fans. There are a variety of guns, equipment, and mods of varying rarity to be found in New York City. Rarer gear will have better bonuses that will affect character or weapon stats, allowing players to build characters that compliments their playstyle.

Complimenting the gunfire is a variety of grenades, med packs, and player skills. The talent tree, perks, and crafting were unavailable during the beta and the player skills made available were quite limited. There are three main trees based on how developed the medical, security, and engineering wing is in the player base. Since players are pretty evenly matched against enemies in terms of health and damage output, the grenades and skills are the real game changers that tilt combat to the player’s favour. Each player can equip up to three skills, two regular skills and one signature. The signature skill was not available during this beta. The regular skills are pretty varied and players should have no problem finding a skill to compliment their style. Some are active weapons, like the sticky bomb, while others are passive buffs.

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The map is run as a series of instances. The uncontaminated zones of New York City seem to be only populated by NPCs and party members. These zones are where most of the missions will occur. The intensity gets ratcheted up in the PVP-enabled Dark Zones as players will bump into other agents in the Dark Zones. Ubisoft Massive has struck a pretty good balance in the Dark Zones. Agents are considered non-hostile for the most part, but friendly-fire is enabled on all agents not in the party. Damaging another player will flag the shooter with a red skull, allowing other agents to open fire on them without any consequence. Depending on the amount of damage done, the red skull will flag the player for a set amount of time. The loot that drops in the Dark Zone cannot be carried out; it must be extracted by helicopter for decontamination and dying in the Dark Zone will result in the player dropping their loot. Players can only carry six contaminated items at a time, forcing them to call in extractions often. Helicopters can be called in with a flare gun, alerting the entire area that an extraction is coming. Since each helicopter can only extract four bundles of gear at a time, they become a natural hot zone for PVP combat. A coordinated group of four can ambush unsuspecting agents, loot the corpses, extract their ill-gotten gains, and flee in only a few minutes. With the addition of proximity based voice chat, Dark Zone becomes a tense adrenaline pumping affair that inevitably leads to memorable stories that players will recount for days to come.

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It was quite obvious that the main focus of the closed beta was the Dark Zone PVP areas. Ubisoft Massive did include on dungeon and a small handful of missions. Players were able to see the first story mission that sent players into the Madison Square Gardens to rescue a doctor that will set up a medical win in the player’s base. The arena is a dungeon instance, complete with an end boss. Like an MMO dungeon, enemy spawns are predetermined; however, they are an excellent test of team coordination, especially at higher difficulties.

On the audio/visual side, Tom Clancy’s The Division is living up to expectations as a AAA title. The sound effects, voice acting, and sound track are all solid. The graphics are absolutely stunning. New York City in the middle of a winter hell has been captured so well. The lighting and snow effects are a sight to behold. Of course, the game wouldn’t be an RPG without extensive character customization options. Although players were limited to a set of predetermined faces for the beta, there were plenty of clothing and weapon paint options to keep people happy.

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Tom Clancy’s The Division is shaping up to be a spectacular game. Ubisoft Massive has combined the right set of mechanics from several different game genres to create a tense and wonderful experience that is complimented by a stunning audio/visual presentation. As this small taste test winds down, I just couldn’t help but think that Ubisoft might have a  hit on their hands.

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