The Division beta is an interesting beast. It shows off many of the game’s qualities, but also exposes some of its biggest problems. I can’t help but be a little reminded of other similar high-profile betas and demos that left people underwhelmed just in time for the game to actually hit shelves.
I’ve had fun with my time in the beta so far, but so far my enthusiasm has been marred by a pervasive feeling that while this might have been a fun single-player game, it may be a hard sell as a massively-multiplayer experience. And while I realize that this is simply the beta, and that lots more content will be available at release, I’m also fairly certain that what we’re getting here—just weeks out from launch—is a fair representation of the final product.
Here are five of the beta’s biggest issues.
1. “He just killed Alex!”
I have killed many men named Alex in post-apocalyptic New York City. I know this because one of the many inane and irritating things enemies chatter about during the game is that they need to get me because I just killed Alex. Both enemy and NPC chatter is simply awful in The Division. And this matters because chatter is supposed to enliven and enrich digital worlds, not make you press mute.
I’m not sure how many times women argued nearby about whether they should ask me for help. One creepy stranger told me that a mysterious “Mike” had said I was around. Good old Mike! A soldier thanked me for saving him and several other soldiers from some punks. “Without you we wouldn’t have made it!” he gushes. (Or something like that.) Like I’m Captain America or something. Cringe.
Add to this the fact that your own character is creepily silent himself…and the whole experience of listening to the world around you becomes really annoying really fast.
2. Killing looters is…weird.
In a game like Destiny—which, fairly or unfairly, is going to be compared with The Division a lot—you encounter all sorts of alien enemies. It’s kill or be killed, whether you’re up against the Hive or the Fallen. You never really think about the morality of it, or at least not at first. After a while I started to wonder why all these alien species were so hostile to us, or we to them.
In any case, such is not the case in The Division. Enemies are distinctly human. The first two I came upon were looters. Thugs. They wore hoodies under their winter jackets and looked to be picking over the body of someone they either killed or found dead. The moment they spotted me they started shooting, and naturally I shot back. Turns out, there’s lots and lots of looters running around the Big Apple just shooting at anyone who walks past.
Honestly, this rubs me the wrong way. With all the protests in Ferguson, with all the revelations of police brutality and cops shooting unarmed “thugs,” the game feels a bit…out of touch. And this is something we’re supposed to engage in not just through a campaign, but for as long as possible. Grinding loot by killing looters and thugs, escaped convicts, and so forth. I think to myself, a lot of these people are probably just trying to survive the calamity, and here we are just gunning them down with impunity.
If Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us were in this game, the fine members of The Division would almost certainly have to take them out, too. I feel like the Man, and I’m not sure I like it.
3. The setting is very pretty, but also pretty dismal.
I think The Division looks spectacular. Maybe not as striking as early promotional material had us believe, but still amazing nonetheless. The first time I was caught in a snow storm I couldn’t help but be impressed. Night and day cycles, dynamic weather events, a gorgeously detailed city. Blocks draped in Christmas lights that set the night aglow; other areas far more decrepit and dilapidated.
But for all its prettiness, I wonder how long I’ll want to spend here. It’s so bleak, and so…real. One of the fun things about fantasy or science fiction MMOs is that in so many the fictional setting allows you to be surprised, and allows developers to paint with an almost unlimited canvas when it comes to expanding their worlds. Sure, realism has its place in video games.
The fictional but realistic cities of a Grand Theft Auto game or Gotham in the Batman: Arkham franchise are both similarly limited, but neither of those titles is a persistent, online world. Again, the better comparison is to a game like Destiny. And even that game, with its several planets, feels too limited and repetitive for many gamers. How confined will we feel in The Division, by both its realism and its malaise?
4. It’s all sort of empty.
I think part of the bigger problem with the setting and with #5 below is simply that the game isn’t that well-stocked with enemies, and the enemies that you do encounter don’t have a ton of variety. So a lot of time is spent running around and not running into much, even in the dangerous Dark Zone.
Maybe this will change at launch, since it seems like a pretty easy thing to fix. Well, the emptiness part. The variety part…not so much.
5. Combat is only “okay.”
The Division’s third-person shooting is fine. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. It’s more fun to me than a lot of traditional fantasy MMOs where you just manage your hotbar and watch boring animations play out on the screen, but it’s no Destiny either. I guess it’s hard to make inspiring cover-shooter mechanics. Games like Uncharted are generally weakest when it comes time to start shooting things, and The Division simply suffers from the same type of middle-of-the-road combat that defines so many games in this genre. Maybe that’s partly a bias thing, but I always find third-person cover shooters far less fun than third-person action games. (To be fair, the opposite is true in first person. I find first-person shooters to be more fun than first-person action games.)
So I’m left killing looters who chatter annoying chatter while shooting in a fine, but unremarkable cover shooter. I guess it just leaves a lot to be desired even if I can’t pinpoint anything truly awful about the combat. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the excellent combat in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain recently, also—a game that isn’t exactly a cover-shooter but has a lot of the same basic elements in play. I wish The Division had some of that game’s stealth elements.
And I’m wishing there were monsters, mutants, demons, aliens, hover-boards…anything to give the combat encounters more variety.
All told, my mind is far from made up about The Division. The beta isn’t the game proper, and many more hours spent actually playing the campaign and seeing where it leads will be necessary before I can make a true and thorough judgment. I’ve encountered some weird bugs, too, but I’m not really including these in the list because bugs are expected in betas. Serious graphical tearing at the extraction point in the Dark Zone, my mouse not working at all, and other issues have cropped up. If they remain at launch we should be concerned, but for now I remain…neutral.
I’m actually left feeling much the same as I did going in: Uncertainty. I’m not at all certain this will be the game for me, or a “Destiny-killer” but I’m also not sure it won’t be. There’s a lot of cool stuff here, like the game’s pretty cool UI, and I definitely want to play more. It’s not at the top of my hype list, but it’s on my radar for sure.
Are you enjoying the beta so far?
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