*Beta was played on the Xbox One
Open world games have always been an anomaly for me. There’s always a sense of a disconnect between what the developers want to do versus what is accomplished as a final result. Each game attempts to build a living breathing world through various ways; the open, expansive maps, various collectibles and random NPCs that have dialogue to remind players of how they’ve been affected by the events happening in the game. At the same time there are events meant to be randomized that become cyclical in pattern. These events are no longer random and become derivative and take players out of the immersive experience. It’s a dichotomy that seems to happen to many open-world, sandbox games, even the best ones.
Watch Dogs was a fine example of this disconnect between concept and product. A lot of the events that occurred never had that feeling of being random and organically occurring. While they were optional and could be avoided, a lot of them felt like they were just placed in for content. NPCs eventually started to feel the same in tone, depth, and personality. Overall the game felt very flat and lacked any sense of immersion.
Watch Dogs felt like it had no heart to the story and only beat to the drums of being a game.
Tom Clancy’s The Division, a game I’ve been looking forward to since it’s announcement, had an open-beta this weekend to showcase what it’s post-apocalyptic New York could look and feel like. After having played six hours, completed two story missions, countless side missions and briefly explored the Dark Zone, I can say this:
There’s a lot to love about Tom Clancy’s The Division, but some things to worry about.
New York is a dying, breathing beast
Tom Clancy’s The Division looks gorgeous and brings out the best and worst of New York in a post apocalyptic world. The buildings all have varying levels of decay: from homes that look like they’re still lived in to buildings with broken doors, windows and boarded up areas, everything feels like it has a purpose. In the world of Tom Clancy’s The Division, New York is obviously dying, as shown by the dead bodies littered on the floor, trash bags piling up in front of doors and streetside, and the abandoned cars. Winter as a environmental setting provides a beautiful contrast to the dirtiness. The snow provides a feeling of a new beginning in the midst of death and adds a wonderful balance that doesn’t cater to either side.
New York also feels like it has a lot to explore and discover in game. I loved the feeling of finding apartments or buildings that I could get into and find supplies, mods or weapons that I needed. There were several moments I found myself wanting to explore abandoned subways, manholes or apartments rather than continue on with the missions.
NPCs littered around the streets of New York provide a feeling of immersion thanks to the different languages that is used in the game. From Mandarin, to Spanish, to French, that tiny little detail really nailed home the overall feeling of this version of New York feeling real and alive. The different languages felt like they had a purpose and weren’t just tacked into the game. . Also being able to scan them and seeing how they’re doing really helped create a feeling of the world having gone to hell. From NPCs fighting on the streets for food to hobbling ones that need a medkit, it’s hard to avoid acknowledging that this is a world currently in peril. All NPCs helped to fill the empty spaces between each mission.
There’s a lot to be said about just how slick the HUD system looks in the game. While it takes a similar vein to that of Watch Dogs and Dead Space, it feels like they improved upon the system through subtle tweaks and additions. One thing I really enjoyed was how the map and pause menu felt like they blended in perfectly with the style of the world; instead of a static menu, the Agent looks down into their watch while it expands out in front of them. When it comes to the map, the map projects itself around the agent in relation to the agent’s location. The difference between a static map and integrated HUD system makes the experience even more immersive.
Tom Clancy’s The Division also does a great job of creating a different atmosphere for major prominent areas. While I wish I would have had more time to explore the Dark Zone, the environment felt completely different from the streets of New York. Because it became known as “No Man’s Land” due to being the ground zero site for the virus that created this world, the Dark Zone feels aggressive, intense, but interesting to explore. In the hour I explored the Dark Zone, I certainly felt myself more aware and concentrated than when roaming the streets of New York.
While the beta only shows a small taste of what’s to come, I hope the game captures the diversity of New York’s architecture a little better. Wall Street certainly has a unique look to it in comparison to Times Square.
Otherwise, the look of Tom Clancy’s the Division looks amazing.
Gunplay is fun…but falls into Open-World Trappings
I had a lot of fun with Tom Clancy’s The Division and enjoyed almost every mission thrown at me during the beta. The cover based system that’s heavily relied on feels fluid, natural for both gameplay and movement. Enemies feel relentless and create a challenge that requires players to determine what cover to use and when. Some enemies carry weapons that cover a long range, and some allow you to encroach them and take them down close range. While gun fights can eventually get predictable and mechanical, for the most part they provide enough variation to not get too boring.
Another huge component to the game that feels executed well is the RPG system; the stats for each item feels like they make a difference in whether or not the agent survives any situation. Most of the time, I feel like a lot of games that try to blend a Third-Person Shooter perspective with an RPG experience fail to create a feeling that the stats attached to items made a difference. Even as the games progressed with stronger, difficult enemies, the items never felt like they’d make a difference between a 22+ Armor versus a 32+ armor. In Tom Clancy’s The Division, I definitely felt the difference and feel like I survived because of that difference.
I also really enjoy the new gameplay mechanic ECHO stream, which feels very similar to Batman: Arkham franchise’s Detective Mode. Surrounding you in a blue hue is a projection of an event that had occurred in the area. These ECHO streams can lead to a new sidequest or let players know what they might expect in the surrounding area.
While it provided a small taste of what to expect in game, I did enjoy a lot of the various mission types that were given for the beta. Hostage situations were often times big gun skirmishes before finding a key to release them. Others involved a horde mode like gameplay defending a post. However my personal favorite involved finding a missing person that was important to one of the important side characters in game. The reason? Because it was selfish in motivation and desire, and took away resources from the bigger picture.
It felt human.
Unfortunately, if the beta was any indication, I’m afraid that Tom Clancy’s The Division is going to fall into the trappings of a typical open-world sandbox games. A lot the events no longer felt randomized and immersive, instead relegating back to the derivative and cyclical in pattern. Almost every path between missions felt like they had 3-4 mini skirmishes and 2 major gun fights that either dealt with hostages or fixing something. While the environment itself had me feeling immersed and intrigued, the gameplay almost took me out of the experience. I’m worried that with a full product I could be taken out of it completely.
Like many shooters, Tom Clancy’s The Division felt like the enemy variation started to lack over time. Early into the beta, I definitely felt like I was seeing new types of enemies with new sidequests or missions. However, once I got into the groove of the game, the enemy variation seemed to stop altogether. Even more disconcerting was the feeling that the two bosses I had to face didn’t feel any different from the minions I had to fight first; the only difference was how much health they had.
Lastly, the loot-based system felt too close to Borderlands and Destiny in design. As a game that’s largely touted to be the “Destiny” killer, it sure seemed to wear it’s influence on its sleeve. That said, it’s a very minor quip that didn’t take away from the overall experience.
A Satisfying Experience Overall
Most betas I’ve played have often left me more worried than wanting more, such as was the case with Star Wars: Battlefront and EA’s UFC 2 (which I’ll write about later in the next couple weeks). However, Tom Clancy’s The Division open beta left me wanting more of the game. New York feels very ripe for exploration and offers plenty to be curious about. I love the contrast between the symbolism of the snow to the decaying look of a dying beast. Hearing the different languages in game was a small but smart move on Ubisoft’s part to create a much more realistic world.
While I feel like Third Person Shooter RPGs don’t do so well blending together quite often, I feel like the marriage works well for Tom Clancy’s The Division. Upgrading armor, weapons, and mods have a sense of purpose and feel necessary as the game’s difficulty increases. This may be one of the stronger points of the game in my opinion.
Gameplay felt solid and exciting for the most part, but leaves a little bit of a worry that it’s going to become standard, derivative and stale over time. I also hope that enemies will be more varied when the full product comes out.
Overall though, I’m still as excited for Tom Clancy’s The Division as I was first announced years ago. I’m definitely looking at this being a Day One purchase and look forward to the reviewing it for Last Token Gaming! Tom Clancy’s The Division Beta Impressions