The Division: Beta Impressions

If there’s one thing everyone from New York has experienced, it’s inaccuracies in the way the city is portrayed. You mostly see it in TV and movies where Toronto, Vancouver, or, at times, Chicago or Pittsburgh is used as a stand-in for Manhattan or Brooklyn. These are easy things to spot since a city’s architecture is its thumbprint. This carries over into video games as well.

I’ve played pretty much every modern game on console and PC that has New York as its setting. None of them get it right. Major landmarks, sure, but the general look of the city is always wrong. So imagine my surprise when I played through Tom Clancy’s The Division and saw a Midtown Manhattan that almost feels like walking through a 1:1 recreation. It doesn’t happen ever, especially when there’s massive calamity to eat up a great deal of real estate. Yet, Ubisoft has pulled it off somehow, recreating a piece of lived-in real estate that stand up to the real thing in the middle of a disaster, wrapped in blinding snow. The setting and presentation are top notch, making the game a place you wouldn’t mind losing hours wandering around in. But you’re not going to have much reason to.

After a good few hours in the open beta, desperately searching every corner for something to shoot, I found that I’m struggling for anything to do. I understand that this is a beta–a slice of the to-be-delivered product–but I’m seeing the impressions of the full title and it’s clear that there won’t be much on offer at release for players like me.

As far as the campaign goes, I doubt there will be much of one. This is an MMO after all, and the actual slices of story we get are told mostly through radio as you move about Manhattan and thirty-second cutscenes that transition you through missions. The general premise is interesting enough: in the near future, you’re a sleeper agent for a covert branch of the US government known as The Division, living among the general population, waiting to be activated when Executive Directive 51 is initiated, so you can carry out directives from military and intelligence commanders with your skills and high tech. Though the premise appeals, it doesn’t play out as interestingly.

The Division - 2

Your character, really isn’t. It’s an avatar with no consequence attached to it. As it stands, your Division agent is there to restore power to a base and conduct investigations to uncover the originator of a virus that has claimed most people. You do this through sparsely populated streets and empty buildings where you loot for better weapons and gear you probably won’t need to mow down more enemies to do the same.

But none of that matters if you get The Division for what it’s intended–multiplayer. In the Dark Zone, the game’s MP map, you’ll fight tougher enemies for better loot and have the opportunity to turn on other players to kill them for their loot and potentially collect even more loot if you survive. The only snippets of the world (beside the amazing scenery) are pirate radio broadcasts and found cellphones that detail the pandemic in its early stages.

Needless to say I found the game tedious rather quickly, but that was expected to be the case since I’m not someone who’s particularly fond of MMOs. The blame could be directed at Ubisoft themselves, who, until recently, have marketed this game heavily as an RPG, indicating some degree of consideration for narrative, when its really an MMO, meaning there’s little more than a thin framing set up to support a grindfest. We’ll have to wait for the full game to determine which The Division winds up being.

In the meantime, check out the latest cinematic trailer to get a feel for life as a Division Agent before and after the virus is unleashed.

The Division releases March 8, 2016.

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Written by Daniel Rodriguez
Daniel Rodriguez is a freelance writer and author from New York City.

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