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The Division beta: the good, the bad and the ugly

After sampling the beta, Team VG247 weighs in on Ubisoft's massively multiplayer shooter.


After all the talk we finally got a chance to play Ubisoft's massively multiplayer online shooter The Division this weekend. The beta was stable and polished, and allowed us all to sample a game that's going to be getting a lot of attention in the first half of this year.

It has the same ambitions as Bungie's Destiny - to become a place where players meet daily for skirmishes across a large map with friends, slowly building up a character with an enviable set of gear and weapons to boast about. Three of VG247's finest got to grips with the game, playing solo and in groups across the small campaign and larger Dark Zone.

Here's what Matt, Brenna and Pat think of The Division so far.



"Playing The Division took me back to the glory days of Call of Duty and made me realise I missed all that scrappy fighting."

I really enjoyed my time in the beta. What I didn't do was rush to level up and grind to get the best gear. That's what ruined Destiny for me. The constant farming, exploits and learning attack patterns by rote. It sucked all the fun out of the exploration and great gunplay.

I haven't played enough of The Division to know if the same thing is going to happen here, but I want to approach it with fun in mind rather than the grind.

I prefer the real-world setting of The Division. Chugging machine guns are more attractive to me than green lasers with daft names. Once I had a decent selection of weapons I found myself cycling through them for different situations and swapping mods around for better combinations, but it never felt fiddly or forced. Enemies are bullet sponges, which didn't bother me too much, but I would like to see more of them in bigger engagements; running street battles rather than small skirmishes. Encounters felt like they were just getting started but then would end abruptly. The AI isn't HAL 9000 but it gave me a run for my money, flanking my position and forcing me to move, switch weapons and tactics.


The biggest problem I have right now is sprinting across a big map with little to do in between. If there's more instances of getting caught in a crossfire, of citizens and soldiers that need help, or random encounters, then I'll be a lot happier. I enjoyed what little campaign content there was, played it on hard and I'm ready to go boots-first into it on a veteran setting.

I can see there are problems with the Dark Zone and the way it's structured, but again, I geared up and dived in. I found strangers willing to save me as a bled out on the floor, and bullies who ganged up on my solo character to slaughter me even when I wasn't carrying any loot. But then I sniped a few people myself, tossed a grenade at a group attaching loot to a winch, acted like a bit of an asshole. I also teamed up with randoms and got into the groove of taking down enemies, snatching the loot back to an extraction point and defending against waves of enemies.

I know everyone is comparing The Division to Destiny, which is completely understandable. But for me it also felt like a third-person Call of Duty of old. The running and gunning, flipping grenades, climbing to better positions to outflank and get the drop on enemies. That's a series I've fallen out of love with this generation, after spending hundreds of hours with it on Xbox 360. Playing The Division kind of took me back to those days and made me realise I missed all that scrappy fighting. If the job of the beta was to get me pumped for the release in March, then it worked.



"In its present state The Division looks a lot like another RNG-based loot merry-go-round. I really don’t want to get back on that ride."

If you were expecting Destiny wearing a Tom Clancy skin, you’ll be surprised. The Division is more like Assassin’s Creed or Watch Dogs, complete with all the usual Ubisoft open world suspects like collectibles, repetitive missions and a resource-based progression system best tackled by methodically working through checklists.

This disappointed me; I’m just not that stoked for another Ubisoft open world game. I suppose there are two differentiators here. One is that the world can be constantly updated with new content; an Ubisoft game that never ends is probably a dream come true for some people, but for me the satisfaction comes in getting it done, so I don’t see the appeal. The other difference is that the setting is an incredibly detailed and gloriously beautiful recreation of New York. Personally, I’m really more of a sci-fi and fantasy type. Your mileage will vary.

The really interesting bit of The Division is the Dark Zone, which has the same sense of real, unpredictable danger as playing Dark Souls while open to invasions. If you’re not into that thrill, you’re going to find it really tiresome in there.

I really want to know whether we’re going to see proper formal PvP modes in the Dark Zone. The AI I’ve encountered so far, even on hard, is not especially bright, but you can see the potential for really interesting player versus player combat. Will we always have to risk losing resources in the Dark Zone (and spoiling other people’s fun) to enjoy playing against other humans?


The Dark Zone implementation feels like a compromise, like Ubisoft couldn’t commit to enabling invasions all over the map. It’s Ubisoft saying “we know this isn’t for everyone so we’ve locked it up in this one place” – but it looks like you’ll have to go in whether you like it or not, because that’s where all the good loot is.

The Dark Zone loot cycle is the biggest stumbling block for me at this stage. We don’t yet know enough about what other kinds of content will be available in endgame to make a full judgment, but in its present state The Division looks a lot like another RNG-based loot merry-go-round. I really don’t want to get back on that ride.

So: I’m not into the single-player open-world game. I’m not into the setting. I’m not into the PvP, as interestingly new and different as it is. The only thing that’s going to save this for me, to make me want to work through Ubisoft’s checklists of copy paste content and suffer the indignities of RNG and player threat, is really crunchy moment-to-moment gameplay.

Unfortunately, it didn’t do it for me. I never got on with games like Gears of Wars and I don’t find the gunplay in The Division especially compelling. I’m sort of interested in the RPG player customisation, and I can see the possibilities of playing in a team, but as one of nature’s solos that’s not a massive draw for me. Also, trudging around the city is such a chore! I’ve been really spoiled by the new fashion for agile movement, and I don’t want to run three blocks in a straight line to get to a marker a few metres from me on the other side of a wall of buildings.

I just didn’t get any joy out of the experience of playing the beta – but I can see how others might. If you love Ubisoft’s open world games, loot cycles, third-person shooters, near-future real world settings, tactical RPG co-op and high risk-reward PvP threats, it’s a super package. And it does look beautiful.



"I wasn’t driven by the gear. That really is a problem, because owning armour sets and specific weapons in Destiny is a huge reason players lock into countless hours of grinding."

I’m not convinced. The core’s there, good news in that the second-to-second combat works on both a solo and team level, but it feels to me that there’s a real level of polish missing that’ll turn many players off unless there’s rapid improvement after The Division launches.

Yes, I know it’s only a beta, but there were far too many times when I was left questioning how much fun I was having. We trudged over the map from checkpoint to checkpoint to pick up tiny amounts of resources and almost nothing happened en route. We scoured the Dark Zone for something, anything, to kill. We got ganked. We shot some dogs. I followed a yellow line around the map a lot. I didn’t play it at all outside of work.

As I said, the biggest positive is that I enjoyed the shooting, although that too often dissolved into little more than hiding behind a chair and unloading full clips into slowly advancing enemies before taking cover again or rolling away from a grenade before taking cover again and then retreating before taking cover again. When playing the mission finale on hard, we sensibly split into two roles. Matt aimed at the yellow boss with his sniper rifle and I looked after the rushing grunts, purples with baseball bats. When I used a shotgun this was fine. When I used a light machine gun, like, a giant fully automatic weapon with enormous belts of thumbsized bullets, I couldn’t kill them. The gun was green, hence the problem, but it was just annoying. I don’t really have time to be annoyed.

I think this is the real issue. The real-world Clancy setting means any break from reality just looks daft. I hate to compare The Division to Destiny, but that’s all that anyone’s going to do seeing as it’s essentially the same core concept, but the Bungie shooter can get away with conceptual murder because it’s space monsters on the Moon, whereas this is real people in a mawkish save America scenario so shooting someone in the face with a large gun means they should die. And sometimes they don’t. It just feels odd.


A lot of my Destiny buddies were planning on trying The Division this weekend, and the pre-concern was always the same: do I want to spend a lot of time in the Clancy universe? So much of Destiny’s appeal is the pure escapism of silly-but-awesome enemies in a ridiculous future scenario of immortal space-heroes on speeder bikes. There’s nothing serious about it. This, though, is humourless, unless you call doing star-jumps funny.

And I wasn’t driven by the gear. That really is a problem, because owning armour sets and specific weapons in Destiny is a huge reason players lock into countless hours of grinding. I doubt I’m ever going to feel the same way about “my shotgun which one I dunno” as I do about my Harrowed Defiance of Yasmin.

The full game will probably delete some of these problems. We ran out of things to do very quickly (obviously), and I definitely was up for more PvE. The Dark Zone? Well, there was no doubt it was thrilling on the first trip in, but in subsequent sessions I was pretty happy to kind of stop playing. Shoot some dudes, extract the loot. Sometimes die extracting the loot find more loot if you can be bothered. It didn't really add up to much.

We’ll see. My thumb is horizontal.

Remember, if you're looking for a group to play The Division, our partners at The100.io have the perfect LFG solution.

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