The messaging for Ubisoft’s new Tom Clancy title, The Division, has been murky at best. The third-person tactical, massively online, role-playing shooter (is that everything?) launches in three weeks. Even after spending seven hours with the open beta that ran this past weekend, I’m still unsure of what I think of the game.
It played like the illegitimate love child of The Last of Us, with its tone and some ways it conveyed the narrative, and Borderlands, with its RPG facets. A love child raised by the care of other Tom Clancy shooters, such as Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon. Assuredly, it scratched the Borderlands itch with satisfactory looting meta-game. It also added to it with a decent weapon mod system the Borderlands series could benefit from borrowing.
Gameplay is satisfying, after getting used to it. The cover-based shooting is standard; but as I played, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be better suited as a first-person shooter. An odd thought for me since I prefer third-person experiences. The walking was a bit loose, which may have been due to menu/controller options that would alter it not being available in the beta. The guns felt the same across type, one assault rifle wasn’t much better than another, sans level based damage bonuses. The fun of the gunplay was in the aforementioned weapon mods. Adding stability to a stock, or a scope to improve accuracy was sometimes the highlight of my playthrough. Like I said, the loot is fantastic and seems deeply customizable — gear, like armor and clothing, included.
The Dark Zone or as I refer to it, the Danger Zone (that song is stuck in my head), is The Division’s team-based or Person v Person (PVP) multiplayer. To access it, the player has to reach a highly contaminated area of the map. Once inside, you are introduced to a different level up system, exclusive to the DZ. As far as I could tell, XP gained in the zone only goes to zone leveling, not the regular leveling system outside it. Kind of a bummer, but it makes sense… I suppose. This new level up mode also includes currency exclusive to the Dark Zone. The great thing about the DZ is the loot. You find loot, in boxes or on other players you’ve killed, and they have to be extracted by helicopter to be decontaminated. The items are later placed in your “stash” that can be accessed in safe areas/camps throughout the map. This turns into a game of “protect the area and your goodies” while waiting for the helicopter to land and depart. Great idea, right? Wrong! There’s this aspect of the DZ called “rogue;” essentially, if you kill another player who isn’t a rogue you become one. It becomes visible, by the red tag above your head, that you’re a thieving and conniving jerk with no morals. If you get killed as a rogue, you lose Dark Zone XP, money, and whatever loot from the DZ you have on you. Here’s the annoying bit: if you die as a good person, with morals, in the zone, you still lose your honest and hard-earned goodies. Why? Respawning in the zone takes place at the nearest checkpoint of your choosing, so it isn’t an issue of “contamination.” I guess the lesson is don’t get killed by the thieving and conniving moral-less jerks.
When all is said and done, Ubisoft’s latest could be boiled down to a typical third-person tactical shooter equipped with bullet sponge enemies. It could be… but that doesn’t mean it should; the gameplay structures are far too deep. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to Bungie’s Destiny. The skill based level up system and the game’s, relatively, open-world structure certainly resembles Destiny; unfortunately, as mentioned above, so too does its perplexing messaging. How significant is the single player experience, both in the story campaign and the multiplayer aspect? How long will the game be supported after launch, and especially if and when a sequel is announced? Does going solo diminish the overall experience? These are questions that not every consumer will take into consideration when purchasing the game. It isn’t surprising though, considering the examples set by sports titles, Call of Duty, and, until this year, Assassin’s Creed.
I realize this may not be the game for me, though I really want it to. As I played it, all I envisioned was realistic third-person Borderlands. That particular series has no PVP multiplayer, so many of the questions listed above are rendered mute, but when you purchase a Borderlands title you know what to expect. Single player or co-op/multiplayer experience is largely the same, it just depends are your preferred way to play — lone wolf or in a party. Quality content after release that is typically as good as, or better than, what the main game offered at launch. This is not to say Tom Clancy’s The Division won’t deliver in terms of quality, only that even after a stellar open beta, that netted the game 6.4 million players, uncertainty is not the best feeling to have going in.
[Photo Source: Ubisoft.com]