The Division is expected to be one of the top selling games of 2016. So thankfully, after much hassle and pleading, I was able to gain access to the closed beta on PS4. I believe I first heard about The Division at E3 2014, but I was not interested in the game until seeing the footage from E3 2015. Upon seeing this footage, I was sold on the game and if it had not been for all the crap Bungie pulled with Destiny, making that the last game I will ever preorder, I may very well have preordered this game. But if we’re being honest, Ubisoft doesn’t have a strong track record for managing games in a fairly priced manner. Look no further than the announcement that there will be at least three paid “expansions” released in the first year alone.

The fact is that we no longer have any excuse to get tricked by developers and make the same mistakes that we have for the last two to five years. We’ve seen countless cons like Mortal Kombat X Komplete Edition, Destiny: The Taken King Special Edition, Star Wars: Battlefront, and so on. We now know exactly what developers are doing or would like to get away with so we should be prepared at all times for all games. We must now make purchasing decisions with the highest level of scrutiny and sadly, distrust for all AAA developers including even Nintendo. So when I played this beta, I went in looking at it from the perspective of someone who is not yet sold on the game. For me this was a long demo and a chance to scrutinize The Division in hopes of both finding out if it was something worth buying in the distant (GOTY Edition) future and to be able to give feedback to Ubisoft in order to give them an opportunity to fix any serious design flaws before release. That was why I wanted to play the beta and that is why I wanted to write this article as well.

 

no excuses

 

First off, I’d like to just quickly address all the basic game review points for those of you who didn’t get to play the beta, or at the very least, watch HD footage of it. The graphics are good. They didn’t wow me like I wanted them to, but I was not unhappy. You’re not getting The Last of Us HD Remake as far as quality, but at the same time you are getting much more detail, moving parts, objects, and it’s an MMO. It definitely looks like a next gen game and it doesn’t have any visual issues, so as far as graphics are concerned, it’s fine.

Sound is great. One friend of mine commented on the fact that headset play is extremely well done, specifically because the game handles the sound point of origin very well. This makes for a much more realistic and also stressful experience. The writing was merely ok in the beta. Obviously, not much plot based content was given but what I did get wasn’t bad. I’d rate it at the level of Infamous or Prototype. It’s an open world game focused on gameplay, but there is a plot there to satisfy people like me who actually still care about that sort of thing. It was good enough to make me not feel like I was being cheated, but not so good that I can’t wait to buy the game to see what happens next.

Now that we’ve covered all that stuff, let’s talk about actually playing the game, which is the most important thing with a beta. All the other issues can be improved, but if the game isn’t good at a core level then it’s not worth giving The Division any more attention.

 

division map

 

At its core, The Division is a well-made third person shooter. Some aspects about it that I really liked were the basic controls, other than the grenades. The shooting and special techniques as well as basic movement and cover to cover all work extremely well. The guns are very shaky, but I read that it is a means to make character development more interesting. I assume that once you get better guns and mods for them, the shaking will all but disappear as is the case in many similar games. So if that does happen, I have no serious complaints about the core mechanics. Although picking up gear was a little wonky and inconsistent, but nothing to not buy a game over. I’ll also say that I had a lot of different instances of damage lag when shooting enemies, but I assume that was because the beta was incomplete and overcrowded on the server. In general, I haven’t really had any serious lag issues with multiplayer games by Ubisoft on my PS3 or my PS4.

I will mention again though, I didn’t like the way grenades worked as far as aiming and throwing them, but even then I won’t say it was done badly, just not the best I’ve seen. I really liked the special techniques that were available in the beta. I especially liked that they could be modified to suit your specific needs in real time. In fact, the general ability to modify your load-out in all ways at any time, no matter what the situation, made the game far superior to many other shooters I’ve played. It was also nice to see that there were a lot more special techniques that will be included in the full game. Fingers crossed that they will all be included in the base game and won’t require microtransactions to gain access to. The Division also probably has the best map system I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s modern, convenient, easy to read/navigate, quick to pull up and put away, and can be called up at any time.

One of the best compliments I can honestly give about the game and in my opinion, one of the biggest positives a game of this genre can have today, is that it plays well as a single player game. I spent the bulk of my time playing alone and I was able to do that effectively. The fear is always that your experience will be contingent on other players and that’s absolutely not true for this game, or at least the parts of it I experienced. The available story mission, encounters, and the Dark Zone (DZ) gameplay were all very fun by myself and were only enhanced by the inclusion of other players. I had just as much fun playing it alone and at no time felt that other players were necessary to enjoy the game, though they did of course make certain parts of it much easier.

That being said, your carrying capacity was way too low. Thirty three spots is nothing when mods and little useless things like gloves count for space. This is especially true considering how inconvenient travelling is in the game. I’ll touch on travelling more specifically later. You definitely should have a maximum load, but it shouldn’t be based on number of pieces. It should either be weight like in Skyrim or separated into sections like Alien: Isolation. You should be able to carry a certain number of mods, guns, armor, and so forth. Thirty three general pieces doesn’t fly unless there are way more drop spots scattered throughout the map. I was also really unhappy with the fact that the stash has a limited amount of space as well. Certainly realistic, but really inconvenient for the type of game this is. I would be ok with multiple stash boxes each having their own separate inventory and you having to keep track of your gear like in a safe house scenario. But just generally having a maximum amount of storage space, unless that amount is more than 100 spots, is just not ok.

 

abilities

 

Along with storage space, I had a number of issues with the economy in this game. Prices are way too high for the amount you get for selling stuff. Just buying something like gloves costs hundreds of credits, but selling gloves was netting less than 20 credits back. The economy balance is way off and at this point I’m not sure if there will be trading, so this needs to be fixed. I understood, but also didn’t like the two separate economies. The DZ has its own money and shops with much better gear. Money is no easier to acquire, but the prices are just as high as, or even higher than the normal shops. Money in the game really needs to be normalized. But since it is Ubisoft, I won’t be surprised if this was done intentionally as a means to insert microtransactions into the game allowing you to literally buy your way to better gear.

I genuinely did not like the character progression system. Firstly, leveling up your character was flawed in the fact that you had two separate leveling systems. You had your basic level, which in the beta at least wasn’t too hard to raise the first six levels. But you had to hit a minimum of eight to be able to have access to DZ matchmaking. I didn’t agree with that choice because I think it creates an unnecessary divide between players, but I can accept it. I can also accept the fact that getting to levels seven and eight was much more time consuming because the enemies in the beta were limited to lower level stuff outside of the DZ, which meant very small amounts of exp. I assume that won’t be a serious issue in the full game. But what was/is a serious issue is the fact that you have an entirely separate leveling system in the DZ that has no connection to your normal level. You can be a level 50, assuming the cap goes that high, but when you first enter the DZ you will be DZ level one. The DZ level can only be raised while in the DZ. It’s only real purpose is to limit the kinds of item drops you can access. What this means is that even if you are an expert level player with hundreds of hours on your belt in the normal game, you will still not be able to open any of the good drops in the DZ upon first entry. This was extremely annoying when I first ventured in by myself because I stealthed my way to the far end and found some high level boxes that I wasn’t able to open. Essentially, I was punished for being too awesome too early. That was my first problem, but the DZ level is actually really easy to raise. You can jump from a one to a six in less than an hour if you work with a team and don’t act stupid, so it’s not a huge issue, but it did irritate me as a solo player.

 

This level 23 can't pick up anything good in the DZ.

This level 23 can’t pick up anything good in the DZ.

The much bigger issue I had was the fact that experience gained in the DZ doesn’t affect regular level experience. For some reason Ubisoft decided that say, 20 rogue kills and 10 extractions shouldn’t affect your basic stats. It gains you DZ experience which has no effect on performance. And it gives you DZ credits which can be used to buy DZ gear, but your general level will not budge. This is not ok. This is one of the most arbitrary and unfair ways to prolong gameplay. It’s one thing when it’s in Assassin’s Creed where single player campaign is in no way connected to the PVP, but in The Division the two are inseparably linked with one being contingent on the other. So separating the experience out like that is just foul play.

Another big issue I had with character development was how troublesome and confusing the gear was. You find tons of weapons, mods, and armor, but it’s so unclear about how useful it is. You have three overt stats to look at as well as tons of minor stats to compare. The big three are DPS (“damage per second” I assume), health, and power. The problem is these numbers never all seem to move in one direction no matter how much better the gear you find is. At best, you can hope to find something that will raise one of the three main stats without lowering one of the other ones. And things lower and rise in such odd ways. Why would a gun that raises your DPS also lower your health? What do those two things have to do with each other? It would be one thing if it said that a certain gun required you to change to a certain type of armor for control purposes, and that new armor had less protection thus lowering your health. But in the beta, you are just told that certain guns arbitrarily lower your health. The same happens far too often when trying to raise your other stats. And your stats never seem to rise organically, even when you get to the next tier of items. They are separated into I believe, five color based classes. The lowest being gray/white and the highest being yellow. In the beta I found tons of green (level 2) and some blue (level 3). But even when I finally found blue items, most of them, especially the guns, didn’t raise my stats. Often blue guns would lower my DPS.

 

The-Division_gear

 

Now of course, the guns aren’t being compared properly because the system is comparing all of your guns to the one you have currently equipped. This can mean a shotgun and a battle rifle are held to the same standard, despite the fact that one shotgun shell could possibly accomplish what might require several full clips from the battle rifle. The problem is that when looking at the stats the way the current system is set up, you tend not to think that way. The game should just have damage in general as the stat and let players decide if they like the way the gun feels or not, like in every other shooter. Even on forums I’ve seen a number of players say that they were completely ignoring DPS and just focused on “damage per shot” like you would in Destiny or COD. I’ll agree that even though I wasn’t thinking that way during the beta, it is the right way to look at things in this game. Ultimately though, the items should just only affect one stat each based on the type of equipment it is, allowing players to constantly be moving upward like in every other good game. Even Destiny, as bad as it is, allows players to move upward at all times unless you go out of your way to weaken yourself (for some sadistic pleasure) by putting on a lower level armor or weapons.

There was also a lot of extra stuff you saw in the beta that you didn’t have access to. Some examples include crafting, the other two wings of the base, and a number of other districts in the city. At face value I’m taking this to mean that there is a lot more to do in this game than the beta exposed, and I’m hoping that means the base game will be a long and diverse experience with little to no hard repetition. I liked the fact that there was technically always something to do other than the Dark Zone, even after you finished the one actual story mission available. New encounters and side missions kept popping up every so often. But at the same time, a lot of that stuff was very repetitive.

I hope there will be a lot more variation in the types of side missions and encounters you find in the full game. I also hope that the story is long enough to where I could play through it without doing any side stuff and still feel like I got my $60 worth of content, without having to go into the DZ. What I don’t is want another Destiny scenario where the bulk of the game is just farming and doing the same thing over and over again because I’ve already finished the 10-15 hours of actual plot but want better weapons for PVP. That’s not gonna work for me a second time.

So at this point, what I will say is that I saw a fair amount of quality content but not enough for the full game to not offer me anything else. There are also three separate branches of the plot, which makes me happy. But that’s in a minimum 20 hours per a branch scenario. If each branch is only five hours pre-paid DLC, then we’re gonna have a problem.

 

story

 

This is supposed to be an MMO, or at least a shared world experience, but I actually had a lot of problems with the multiplayer mechanics in this beta. At this point, I’m not yet talking about the DZ multiplayer gameplay. There was matchmaking and it was actually very effective for pairing up with other players. It worked fairly fast and allowed me to team up with randoms in order to get the type of gameplay I wanted when I wanted it. But at the same time, it was riddled with flaws.

The first thing I noticed about it was that when you join a team, you are not transported to the team. Instead you’re just shown where on the map the team is. Now I get that part of the reason for this could be that you might be in the middle of something when you join a team, and Ubisoft didn’t want you to lose that progress. There was also probably the thinking that if the other team was in the middle of a firefight that dropping you into it might be problematic and unfair for everyone involved. But at the same time, it was just really inconvenient. You don’t really move quickly in that game and even the beta map was pretty big for on foot travel. The first group I joined took me forever to find because they were in a building on the other side of the map which I couldn’t find the entrance to. I wasted 15 minutes just trying to meet up with them.

Later on in the beta I did discover that you can “fast travel” to the group leader, but that is contingent on where they currently are and what they’re doing. For instance, you can fast travel to them if they’re standing still outside and not currently fighting someone. But if they’re in the DZ on the other side of the map, then you have to run there. Again, fair on paper, but really inconvenient for players trying to team up with randoms. There at the very least needs to be the ability to fast travel to within X number of meters, or right outside the building to the team member of your choice at all times. I’d say no more than 50 m is acceptable.

The entire fast travel system was pretty bad in the beta. You could only fast travel to the home base and the coastal base. Everywhere else on the map required a trek. And sometimes you had to go quite a ways. Even if you wanted to go to the DZ entrance you couldn’t fast travel there. I hope that the full game is a lot more loose with fast travel points because I was not happy with having to waste so much time just running to where I needed to be. Especially with such a low carrying capacity.

 

fast-travel

 

Another big issue I had with the multiplayer/shared world component was that I didn’t hear a single person. I had my headset connected most of the time and not once did I get to talk to any players that I wasn’t in an external PSN chat party with. None of the randoms I teamed up with and none of the nearby players ever made a sound. And I actively tried to communicate with everyone I came into contact with. Although the settings menu appears to allow team chat as well as the ability to hear nearby players. I will say that those two options are 100% necessary things for this game. It’s quite possible that every single player I interacted with was playing without a mic or had the chat settings off, but just to make sure it’s known, that all needs to work flawlessly. Anyone in your team, regardless of where they’re located, should be able to hear and talk to you at all times if they have a headset. And any nearby players with headsets should be able to hear you and be heard as well. Technically, you should still be able to hear players even if you don’t have a headset because chat audio can go through the TV.

As much as I liked the chat footage from E3, I took real issue with the fact that the game allowed the players to have a full conversation about betraying the randoms they worked with without having to worry about being heard. That’s not a realistic scenario and it takes away from the game. In a scenario where there’s no accountability, everyone will go rogue just because you have no chance of getting caught. It’s a much different situation if you have to communicate with your teammates about betraying someone who just helped you when they can hear you. That’s not to say that there aren’t a number of easy ways around that, such as using an external chat function like a private PSN party or Skype. For the purposes of the game however,  you shouldn’t be able to just say whatever you want without other people being able to hear you in a scenario like the one created in The Division.

Now, obviously some people will say that they don’t want to be able to hear randoms they aren’t teamed up with because many people will say offensive things and be annoying, but those are not factors that should be taken into account as far as gameplay is concerned. Those are external, private issues which have nothing to do with the purpose of the game. You should definitely be able to shut such functions off and mute/block players you don’t want to hear, but in general, you should be able to hear nearby players just as you would be able to in real life.

 

communication

 

Dark Zone gameplay is very interesting, but I had a number of issues with some of the general mechanics outside of the aforementioned character development problems. The system at large is basically what you saw in that E3 footage last year at heart, but not in practice. Players can move around in teams, or alone, or in unofficial teams with the goal of finding gear which must then be extracted to be usable. I was never able to verify if you can walk out of the DZ with pickups and just manually extract them, but considering the way games are made today, I’ll bet you probably can’t. That sucks, but it’s fine that way.

There are three ways to find items in the DZ. You can locate boxes, kill NPCs, or kill other players. Drops are first come first serve, meaning that if you and a teammate both work together to kill a tough enemy, only one of you can pick up the dropped swag. At this point though, I don’t think you can hand/send items to people, but you can drop items. Whether or not other players can pick them up is something I never got a chance to verify. The easiest way to get something your teammate has is to murder them. Of course, by “easy” I mean in the practical sense, because actually getting away with it can be quite hard. Killing any agent that has not gone rogue will result in you being disavowed and a large bounty will be put on your head for about two minutes. Once this time has passed, you lose your rogue status and go back to being a normal agent. At face value, I loved the DZ, loved the concept, and for the most part, loved the gameplay. But it has a ton of flaws.

The first and biggest problem with the DZ is that when you are on a team, you are responsible for their actions. Now in the scenario shown in the E3 footage, where three people actively agreed to betray the two randoms who helped them, that’s fine. They all decided to kill those players and they all did so knowing that they would be thrust into rogue status, but that’s not the experience I had. As I said before, I had no chats for whatever reason while playing the beta. But on numerous occasions the randoms I was teamed up with decided either alone, or as pairs to go rogue. Now I don’t have a problem with any player(s) deciding to go rogue. That’s kind of the point of the DZ. I’ll say that I never intentionally went rogue and I still had a blast in there as a law abiding citizen, but I don’t fault anyone for deciding to get their hands dirty.

That being said, the game needs to allow players to disavow rogue teammates. You can kill fellow teammates which means there’s really no reason that a whole team should have to go down for one’s actions unless they want to. If my teammate decides he wants to kill a player for his stuff, that’s his choice. But I should have the ability to say I don’t condone those actions at that time and not be labeled a rogue as well. Just a quick button press option with a one to three second countdown is all it would take to fix this issue. It’s especially a big problem when your teammate is in a completely different part of the map while you’re about to get an extraction surrounded by other good agents, also just trying to get an extraction. You have no shot at surviving and you can’t blame any of them for taking you out because everyone wants that experience, credits, and swag.

 

 

As far as extractions go, the concept works but it has two major problems. First is the fact that so few people can extract at one time. Only like five players can get their load on the chopper at the same time. Taking into account the fact that your load can be anything from a slew of guns and armor, to one green level mod, all loads should not take up the same amount of minimum chopper/rope room. The realistic argument here is that a helicopter could only carry so much weight at a time and I agree with that. But just as with your maximum carrying capacity, weight is not being taken into account here as much as number of items is, regardless of what those items are, and that’s not fair. It’s really irritating to start an extraction and then get muscled out by 6 other players ultimately not getting to extract anything, even though you were the one that called it in.

Another thing I really didn’t like about extractions was the fact that it releases your name to the public. I had no problem with the public being informed that an extraction is taking place, but there is no justifiable reason to flash the players name in big letters. This essentially paints a target on their back for the whole world to see for 90 straight seconds before the chopper even arrives. That’s rogue bait because the assumption is that if you called in an extraction, then you probably have something worth stealing.

I also really didn’t like the fact that items found in the DZ, and sometimes other places, were considered contaminated. You couldn’t break them down for parts, but it wasn’t clearly indicated that an item was contaminated until after you broke them down, so I ended up wasting a lot of gear. I personally would like a clean items function but even just having a clear notification that an object is contaminated, and still being able to sell it for a fair price, is an ample fix to that issue.

 

dark-zone-vendor

 

Lastly, there are some major clarity/status issues with how the DZ worked. In normal play, all agents are marked in white, non-threatening NPCs are marked in green, and enemies are marked in red. The life bars of NPC enemies varied in color based on their class, but they were still red on your crosshair. In the DZ, all good agents are marked in white and rogues in red . . . except when that wasn’t the case. I don’t know if it was done intentionally to create havoc in the DZ, or if it was just a design error, but for some reason the life bars of non-rogue agents would just change to red at random, often making me and plenty of other players think that they had been declared rogue. This was especially true when a rogue was nearby. In the firefight everyone is trying to kill the rogue agents for the bounty, but in scenarios where everyone turns red, it’s extremely difficult to tell who is who. So much so that you often end up accidentally attacking and even killing a good agent, and then you get declared rogue.

Now, there probably should be a system in place to take accidents into account, but it’s so much easier from a programming standpoint to just throw all accidents under the bus and declare those players rogue too. And that’s fine, or at least it would be if the life bars of good agents weren’t randomly turning the same color as enemies all the time. All good agents should always be one clearly defined color that never changes unless they have gone rogue, and all rogue agents’ life bars should be the same color of enemies at all times until they have exited rogue status. There should be no question about who I should and should not be killing. Just like in real life, having a gun is a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously and that you should be held accountable for. But you must also be given enough true and clear information in order to use said gun effectively in both real life and this in-game scenario.

All that being said,  I’ve only really focused on the negatives here because again, I played the beta to decide whether or not this game will be worth buying in its current form in hopes that Ubisoft will take my and other people’s critiques seriously and ultimately release an excellent, fairly priced, and well managed game. Based on my beta experience, I will say that I’m still very interested in buying it. I of course will be waiting to see what changes were made after the beta feedback as well as a final hour count on the length of the campaign, among other things. Also, I’ll be waiting for the full edition so I can get all the expansions for a fair total price. But at the end of the day, I am pro The Division at this point in time. I greatly enjoyed a number of things about it and I would like to get the full experience, but leaving the beta, I was much more in the wait and see category then the shut up and take my money club.

How did you feel about The Division beta? Is this a pre-order, buy at some point, wait it out, or pass for you? What if anything would you like to see changed? Please answer in the comments.

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