‘The Division’ Closed Beta – The Good, The Bad & The Memorable

Before January 28, 2016, we knew very little about what The Division actually was. Clearly it was a shooter, but how much of an RPG was it? How did multiplayer or the shared world experience work? Should we be as excited for it as we are? On January 28, Ubisoft opened up The Division for one weekend and we sort of got to find out more about the mysterious title.

A handful of excited AA editors were lucky enough to gain access to the closed beta for The Division. They’ve had about a week to reminisce, and these are their thoughts.

The Good

Devon McCarty: Prior to The Division, it had been quite a while since I sat down and played a cover based shooter. Games like Battlefield: HardlineDestiny, and Star Wars: Battlefront each were built around the idea that you would just stand behind something and pop out here and there to fire. With The Division, I found the cover based shooting mechanics to work, for the most part, very well.

I could lean or crouch against almost anything, and trigger an action button to pop over that object. The cover system made entering into huge firefights less daunting and more strategic, given that the A.I. would constantly throw smoke grenades and try to move around your location to get a better shot at you. In the moments where I teamed up with a friend, there was a very authentic feel to covering behind a counter while I reloaded and my partner laid cover fire. Those huge 2 vs 12 firefights were some of the most fun moments I had in the beta.

I also loved how organic the world felt. Certain blocks of Manhattan were completely used as a landfill. Trash bags were stacked against the third and sometimes fourth floor of a building. You could see the large 12 foot dumpster in the middle of the street as if they tried to keep it clean in the beginning and just gave up because it was too much and regular sanitation companies weren’t going to come back online any time soon. The same was true for entering apartment buildings. Some were full with stuff as if they had been into looting earlier in the outbreak but then just lost interest. Other apartments were almost unscathed as if the residents left, died, and no one bothered to check it out. Those moments helped anchor the lore of The Division.

Eric Pepper: The Dark Zone is easily The Division‘s strongest asset, at least from what we saw in the beta. Constantly being unsure of who may attack you and who may simply pass you by in the name of exploration added a level of intrigue which the remainder of the beta didn’t come close to offering. It wasn’t a feature which had me hooked on the beta, but it was the most appealing component. Considering how little content there was to be found in the tiny preview, this literally separate area of the city was the glimmer of hope.

Jamie Briggs: My favourite aspect of The Division beta was probably one of the sections with the least amount of content included – your main base of operations. During the beta I was able to briefly upgrade my medical facilities and gain access to a new health related perk, but exploring enough allowed me to upgrade the facility once more.

I loved the idea of your own home base, one that will evolve alongside you as you make your way through this ravaged version of Manhattan. I thought the entire concept of this one location being a key aspect of your characters journey as a Division agent to be quite intriguing. Every game these days has a levelling system and most tend to paint by the numbers, but The Division aims to make your own base of operations an integral part of this growing process; and I for one am looking forward to see my home base thrive.

Nathan Manning: The Division wants to be a role-playing game and a shooter, and it’s not skimping out on either aspect. Whereas Destiny has RPG elements such as damage per second, bullet sponge enemies and some stats that you can play around with to mold a character, it’s pretty basic when you break it down. The Division wants to be a fully-fledged RPG. Just go into the character tab in the menu and you see heaps of statistics which can be altered by equipping armour  pieces with different statistics. There’s statistics on how much damage you are resisting, how much health you recover from enemies, critical hit damage, skill cooldown and much more.

Even in the limited scope of the beta, which capped experience gain at level 8 and a small area of the map, I found myself stressing over which way to build my character. Do I want this piece of gear that gives me extra health to be able to take a lot of damage; or should I use this other gear that prioritises armour, which increases damage resistance, and weapon damage? I can already see myself spending hours in the inventory system trying to find the perfect combination of gear for my agent.

The Bad

Devon McCarty: As with any Beta, there were a handful of issues with connectivity and matchmaking. There was a point where, while bringing up the Map, I found Jamie Briggs running around a few blocks near me. There was an option to join his match and fast travel to his position and while it did that task, there was a four to five minute lag time between me connecting, and then my game syncing up to his. The colors, sound, frame rate, were all off and took a while to match up. There might be an issue with international players, since Jamie lives in Australia and I live in America, but I can’t be too hard on a Beta server acting up.

When I joined a team with a friend of mine from the same region, we could find one another simple enough until we tried to enter the Dark Zone. It is entirely possible that The Division wants you to go through Dark Zone by yourself, but that was the point where I needed/wanted someone I could trust the most. Player versus Players is fully active there, and while I get shot at all the time by A.I. in regular gameplay, I found it frustrating to not be able to bring my team mate with me, even though we had joined a party together.

Ubisoft definitely needs to fully reward exploration. I spent a lot of time in empty apartments and would find a bag here or there. At one point in the game, I spent 10-15 minutes exploring a sewer system in its entirety. Every nook, cranny and ledge was vacant. No crates, backpacks, secrets or anything else were there. Again, it is possible the Beta didn’t fully populate all of those items and they might work on a timed base system much like the Loot Crates in Destiny, but I left that session frustrated that I had wasted so much time looking and came up empty.

Also, there is a danger to the repetition of helping random NPC’s in the game. I can’t tell you how many bottles of water/soda I gave to people that walked up to me injured. It felt a little like playing as Spider-Man and getting a balloon for a little girl.

Eric Pepper: Personally, I found the majority of the beta to be incredibly underwhelming. The shooting mechanics felt clunkier than they should have been, and considering that you are supposedly controlling a highly trained agent, the amount of recoil from shooting even the smallest firearm is absolutely absurd. The sheer amount of empty space was also an aspect which left much to be desired about the beta. The world being filled with more interactive components is something we can only hope will happen, and just as Devon did, I thoroughly explored the depths of the sewer system and found nothing save for tunnels completely devoid of content. I highly doubt there will be an entire sewer system left empty upon the game’s release, but since the area was included in the beta, there could have at least been a handful of items or interactive set pieces.

Jamie Briggs: Now I understand The Division beta is simply a vertical slice of the content that will appear upon release, and of course Ubisoft do not want to show all their cards; but I can’t help but feel sceptical about the amount of content throughout the open world environment. Exploring this post-epidemic Manhattan looks amazing, but I couldn’t help but feel bored about my travels after only a handful of hours. There is just simply not enough content to keep players entertained. The streets are mostly empty aside from a handful of enemies, side activities mostly involve the same basic principles, and the one side mission available was merely a point-to-point quest.

Now I understand The Division beta is simply a vertical slice of the content that will appear upon release, and of course Ubisoft do not want to show all their cards; but I can’t help but feel sceptical about the amount of content throughout the open world environment. Exploring this post-epidemic Manhattan looks amazing, but I couldn’t help but feel bored about my travels after only a handful of hours. There is just simply not enough content to keep players entertained. The streets are mostly empty aside from a handful of enemies, side activities mostly involve the same basic principles, and the one side mission available was merely a point-to-point quest.

Nathan Manning: To avoid feeling like an echo, I’ll choose to criticise a different aspect of the beta (although I agree with my colleagues): the cover mechanics. I played the beta for about 12 hours, and by the end I still didn’t feel satisfied with the cover system. Snapping into cover is fine, provided you’re not near multiple objects that can be hid behind. Because almost any flat surface can be used as cover in The Division, I sometimes found myself sticking to pieces of cover that I didn’t want to. Trying to stand up from cover then felt a bit slow, which is an issue when you’ve got a group of enemies raining bullets at you while you’re exposed. I also didn’t like how long it took to walk around corners from in cover. If you’ve got a four sided object, you can walk all the way around it while still in cover, but at each corner you have to hold the left stick/ movement key down for a couple of seconds before your agent moves. I’m not sure if there was an option in the settings to change this, but I’d just prefer a faster method.

The Memorable

Devon McCarty: While playing with a team mate, the A.I.’s difficulty spikes exponentially. I had levelled up, gotten better gear and weapons and could hold my own very well on my own. The second my friend joined me and we went on a mission to rescue a doctor from Madison Square garden, I was struck at how much better the A.I. had gotten from the hour before I did that mission on my own to the time I was playing with a friend. Moments like that really encourage exploration to find better gear, levelling up, and using abilities because the A.I. is strategic and overwhelming. Which isn’t at all a bad thing.

I only hope that when the game launches, having multiple players on a team makes the A.I. that much more difficult. And let me end by saying walking through a desolate Madison Square Garden was an amazing experience. Ubisoft is known for their architecture throughout their franchises, and that is front and present in the representation of Manhattan as well as the Garden. I look forward to the release next month.

Eric Pepper: Walking into the Dark Zone for the first time and stumbling across a shootout in an abandoned basketball court was the defining moment of my beta playthrough. As I had not entered the quarantined area until after completing every possible mission, I can honestly say that the scene which was unfolding in front of me presented more of a threat and resulted in a much stronger emotional reaction than anything else I had experienced in the beta. I suddenly became concerned that I had been spotted and would instantly become an extra target, but after hiding behind a van and establishing I was still unseen, my mind turned to involving myself.

Now, having absolutely no idea what had caused this shootout, I felt it was only fair to arbitrarily take sides and help end the conflict. I stood up from behind the van’s hood, took aim at the nearest of the two individuals, and proceeded to empty my magazine into him. After he fell down, I left cover, walked onto the basketball court, walked past the other player who had been involved in the gunfight, and continued on my way. The other player could have easily shot me in the back, but they didn’t, and this uncertainty is precisely why the Dark Zone is so memorable.

Jamie Briggs: During my time with The Division beta my most memorable moments were when I teamed up with a single player, only to find my band of Division agents continue to grow until we have an entire squad. I loved the ease of joining other players and the comradery that I experienced as we made our dangerous trek to the Dark Zone; which is the main multiplayer mode in The Division.

I found it hard to completely understand the purpose of the Dark Zone, but standing side by side with my new team mates as we held off opposing players looking to steal our loot was an incredible feeling. Though I found my love of the Dark Zone quickly wavered, these memorable moments that were created alongside players I had only just met were wonderful.

Nathan Manning: My most memorable moment from the closed beta was also the Dark Zone and how suspenseful it is when other players can attack you at any time. This was clearly evidenced when a group of about 10 players all somehow ran into each other in the Dark Zone. Rather than chaos ensuing, we all just started running around New York together, probably because it looked really cool to see 10 people in the one place. However, the mood quickly changed when my friend threw a flashbang into the middle of the group, alerting everyone to the threat of attack. No one took any damage, so it did not turn either of us rogue (which happens when you do a certain amount of damage to other human players in The Division), but it immediately made everyone in the group on edge. Every player stopped walking, and started looking at every other player in the group, suddenly suspicious as to who the culprit could be. In a matter of seconds we went from a happy group of players, to an untrusting group of potential enemies. So untrusting that all of the different squads went their own way from there.

The Dark Zone has the same feel as survival games like H1Z1 and Rust, wherein it’s a test to society and how you interact with other players given the opportunity to be allies or enemies. Proximity chat wasn’t working very well for me in the beta, so the experience will probably be amplified once that gets fixed up in the final release. Despite the lack of content in the beta, I was thoroughly entertained by the Dark Zone and its mind games for many hours.