We have to admit we got a little caught up in the buzz for Tom Clancy’s The Division since its awesome premiere trailer at E3 2013, so much so that we’ve put the game on our list of the most anticipated games of 2016. After playing a few hours of the closed beta for the game on Xbox One yesterday, my anticipation hasn’t gone away, but it has dulled a bit.
That’s not to say there weren’t things I liked. The beta shows off the same sort of detailed environmental design as those first trailers, depicting a disease-ravaged and fallen world where hauntingly beautiful signs of a crumbling civilization are everywhere you look. I also like the game’s augmented reality-style interface, which neatly overlays paths and information over the “real world,” including map projections that make it easy to figure out where you are and which way to go. The mix of high-end, near-future technology and crumbling urban infrastructure is certainly visually striking.
The integration of online parties also seems pretty solid so far. While you can see an entire server full of players running around and buying items in central ‘safe zones’, individual missions are broken down into smaller team-based instances. It’s relatively easy to join friends or strangers to take on those missions in small groups and coordinate your goals on a shared map. The only downside is that voice communication seems to be the only reliable means of communication; there are no in-game tools to quickly mark nearby points of interest or send quick commands and information to your team (if there are any, I haven’t found them).
Aside from those superficial niceties, however, the gameplay on offer The division beta is uninspiring to say the least. The shooting action seems to take direct inspiration from the Weapons of war series, particularly in the way you can snap behind cover and move between safe points with the press of a button. That’s a great idea in theory. In execution, though, the controls are a lot clunkier than Epic’s power shooters.
Value Weapons of war games thrive on fluid animations and transitions that keep the action moving smoothly and quickly The division beta I noticed that the protagonist moved much more clumsily. Getting out of cover, climbing onto a high surface and rolling out of the way of bullets all felt sluggish and awkward, with animations focusing too long on the hero just standing there without much purpose. Even something as simple as sprinting down an empty street felt awkward, as even the slightest side step to the left or right seems to interrupt the sprint.
However, the controls are only a minor flaw compared to the enemy AI seen in the beta. In just a few hours of play, I ran out of fingers and toes to count the number of bat-wielding enemies who just ran straight at me at full speed, seemingly eager to be shot. Armed enemies were obviously more common, but they often paused while dodging between areas of cover to get out in the open and shoot back at me relatively defenseless.
One particularly stupid ‘boss’ encounter, at the end of a side mission line, saw the opponent simply bounce back and forth like a ping pong ball over the edge of a nearby roof, placing herself out in the open with predictable frequency. put on your watch. Of course, these should be the earliest and easiest missions in the game, and encounters can get more difficult as you go along. But it’s not a strong start.
Even after a few hours, the shooting action starts to feel incredibly repetitive. Every mission so far has boiled down to “go to this point, clear the area of waves of enemies, then move on to another point,” without the twists or action-packed set pieces that keep better shooters interesting. There’s little variety in the enemies, almost all of whom seem to be villainous, frowning black men in ragged hoodies who get little motivation from a number of forgettable, over-explanatory story scenes and voiceovers. A few “named” enemies would stand out for their intelligence and toughness, but in practice they turn out to be just sponges that absorb more bullets before going down.
The game’s RPG-like leveling and skill structure haven’t impressed me yet either. You can round up downed enemies for items, weapons, accessories and armor, and even use scrap materials to build up a central base. So far, though, all of these features feel very transactional and perfunctory, with little of the personality that makes customization fun in shooters like Fallout or even Borderlands.
The special skills offered in the beta so far are also rather boring. There’s a reusable sticky explosive that can be fired quite easily with pinpoint accuracy, but the blast hardly surprises even normal snarling enemies. A riot shield ability is fun to move between cover, but it limits you to a gun when hiding behind it and was a pain to put away in the middle of a firefight. The abilities that send out radar pings to highlight nearby enemies and heal nearby party members are useful, if not particularly new, to say the least. The menu system hints at a slew of additional skills, talents, perks, and upgrades that can be unlocked during gameplay, but none of them are available in the beta.
Those locked-in bits of content and the hints of a much bigger world beyond the center of town give me hope for that The division may get a little more interesting beyond this short, limited beta test. However, after nearly three years of anticipation, I’m a lot less excited about the game’s imminent March 8 release.