Preview: Tom Clancy's The Division hands-on
Bring out your dead!
2013 feels like so long ago. It was at that year’s E3 that Ubisoft revealed Tom Clancy’s The Division, a title that has players taking up the role of a tactical agent working to restore New York City after a pandemic sends the city into chaos on Black Friday. It looks promising, with amazing visuals, compelling gameplay, and very ambitious features. Now, here we are almost three years later, and The Division is almost two months from releasing.
I recently attended a press event hosted by Ubisoft in what was a cold and rainy Los Angeles. There, I went hands-on for a few hours with The Division on Xbox One. Teamed up with another gaming journalist and a Ubisoft developer, we tackled missions and content as a trio as we played the game and had our questions answered. I experienced quite a bit -- early story missions at level 5, establishing our base of operations, assaulting Madison Square Garden, braving the Dark Zone, and then experiencing a hard mission at level 20 in full purple gear.
It’s the holiday season…
The first thing that struck me with The Division is the atmosphere. There’s something mildly disturbing about seeing the city that never sleeps, all aglow with Christmas lights, but with the backdrop of a virus that has left the streets littered with corpses. While you hear Christmas music playing in the distance, the air is also filled with despair and the echo of occasional gunshots. It’s a wonderful effect that the atmosphere has on you, and the dynamic weather adds to the whole package.
That said, as I was playing on Xbox One, I noticed a few things graphically. Now keep in mind, the game I was playing was not finished, so I expect glitches like an item in a cutscene disappearing and reappearing. And at no point in time did the game lag or suffer any gameplay issues. But when it comes to visuals, this is quite a ways away from the game we were shown in 2013. There was a lot of texture popping, especially noticeable on posters. While the city and decorations look impressive, as do the character models, I didn’t see the amazing lighting and graphics that we were shown at the game’s E3 reveal. And that’s to be expected. The game still looks great, but more importantly is how it handles.
Luckily, The Division has great controls, and I loved the combat. While the movement from cover to cover takes a little getting used to, the aiming, handling and gameplay were exactly what I was hoping for. Skills and shots fire off effortlessly, and you get a real sense of accomplishment from putting you and your squad in a position to come out victorious. Bumpers are for your skills, left and right on the d-pad are different grenades and items, and the rest -- sprinting, shooting, aiming, melee -- are exactly what you think they are. A large part of my enjoyment with The Division came from how great it played.
Ace of Base of Operations
There are hub zones scattered around New York City where you will see other operatives (up to 24 in a particular instance). Once you’re out of those and out and about the shell of city, you’re on your own unless you are grouped up. And even when you’re with a group, each of you have your own Base of Operations. The Base of Operations is probably the most important game aspect of The Division, as it’s where everything will run out of. You’ll craft and mod weapons there, get missions to run, and you’ll upgrade different areas of your base too. For instance, take the medical. Do medical missions and you’ll acquire the things you need to upgrade the medical wing. Upgrading a specific area will give your operative upgrades as well.
So this customizable base is vital to the improvement of your character. What’s great is that if you want to focus on unlocking things in a certain tree, you can focus on farming missions for the materials you need to upgrade that area of your base. Missions are replayable with different difficulty levels, so you have a lot of control over how you want your character to progress. I only touched what’s possible with the Base of Operations, but I liked what I saw. Also, did I mention you can fast travel around NYC with safe houses and your Base of Operations? Because you can.
The place where Porzingod plays
A mission we ran that I found impressive was an assault on Madison Square Garden -- home of the New York Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis aka Three 6 Latvia. While the Knicks rookie isn’t in The Division, one of the world’s most famous sports arenas is. Our mission was to free some hostages, and it was vital to do so because it meant building up our Base of Operations. While the mission was fun and awesome and required teamwork and strategy, the atmosphere and setting was just another detail that Ubisoft has absolutely nailed in this game. The detail in New York City -- and in this instance, Madison Square Garden -- is awesome. To go along with the detail in the city is the detail in the 3D map that will help you navigate it. But enough of that, back to Porzingod’s dwelling.
While you can follow waypoints as you navigate from room to room, taking out bad guys with your arsenal of weapons, it pays to explore a bit, as you can find chests containing loot. From loot you’ll find weapons, armor, gear and cosmetic items, all with a color assigned that designates the rarity of your loot. After playing a game like Destiny where it’s common to find the same pieces of loot over and over and over that you can’t use, it was nice to see such a nice variety of stuff my operative could use. The mission ended with a shootout on the roof, with us trying to hold off adds while we focus fire on an elite boss.
Even on our way to the mission we had random encounters with enemies on the street, adding to the feeling that New York is dangerous and anything can happen. It was relieving to see that you can still shoot windows out and shoot tires, though probably not to the extent that was shown in the 2013 E3 teaser. I'm not sure entirely, because I was more busy shooting enemies than vehicles.