Arguably one of the biggest hits of last year’s E3, Tom Clancy’s The Division has incredibly high expectations. After what they’ve shown, there’s no reason not to expect the world and beyond from this upcoming game. But there’s still a lot we don’t know. We got clarification on some of our questions last night when we attended a private showing of The Division at the Uplay Lounge. It wasn’t hands-on, but we were able to see how character classes grow, learn about the open-world New York City you play in, and how the same area will be different depending on the time of day (yes, we realize it will be darker because the sun goes down…).
Let’s start with your concrete jungle to play in, New York City. The virus outbreak starts on Black Friday, which is the worst day of the year. Right off the bat, the atmosphere is presented with your standard holiday songs, a light snowfall, and Christmas decorations scattered about the city. It’s a stark contrast to the devastation that’s happened, and it’s quite horrifying to think about the realities of an actual event like this.
Since New York is a very vertical city, verticality is a natural part of the game – from underground subways to the city streets to sky rises. The Division is all about player choice; players choose where they want to go and what they want to do next using the mega map and setting waypoints. The mega map also shows information about the district of New York you are in: Security Level, Contagion Level and Morality. Taking out enemies and completing objectives will raise the security level and progress toward unlocking the base of operations for that district, which you can later upgrade to give you and your group bonuses.
The area of the game we were shown were the same missions shown during the Ubisoft press conference. We got to see the player walk through the subway and use Echo – a data gathering tool that when triggered by the players shows them a three-dimensional scene that is frozen in time so players can learn about the past. And it gives XP. Who doesn’t love XP?
I will say this… there was some stuttering with the video as the player moved from cover to cover. It wasn’t dramatic and it didn’t last long, but it was there. Outside of that, the environment and visuals were top-notch, and more time in development will help polish everything.
Eventually, the player comes to a group of enemies. One of the enemies is an elite, which is the main threat of the group. The dev doing the presentation walked us through some of the details of what’s happening during the fight. At one point, the player uses a drone that seeks out the enemy target and blinds them with a strobe light. At another point in the fight, an ally goes down, and you can see the medic come to help him. To do so, she draws the enemies’ attention away with a diversion drone that sprays fire at them, allowing her to revive the downed ally. Upon beating the elite, the base of operations is unlocked – one step closer to restoring New York City.
Once that was done, were were shown the same area (around the base of operations) at night, earlier on in the game. A second player is introduced, controlling the drone on a tablet. What’s really awesome is that the drone has a top-down view of what’s happening in real-time synced with the game. Likewise, player 1 can see what the drone is doing and where it is in his game. The world and its weather are dynamic. Besides being dark out, there's a light snowfall, and the glow of lights in the winter night look gorgeous. The developer points out a dead police officer lying near his squad car and tells us that the environment is full of detail and visual stories. It adds history to the world around you so you can put together what happened and what’s going on.
At this point, we dive into player classes, and there is no player class choice. Player classes are something you’ll morph into with an open skill system, so you can build your character how you want. In this instance, Player 1 is using a shotgun, and begins to show us some of the abilities/skills that are available to him. One ability is a seeker mine that seeks (duh) out the enemies behind cover and attacks them. Every skill has layers of progression, like a talent tree, so you can spec how you want and evolve a skill to suit the purpose you need it to. In co-op, this will allow players to make builds that complement one another.
The players move forward and we get near an area that has a high contamination rating. To progress forward, you’ll need the proper gear/items. Luckily, Player one has a mask so we can move on… otherwise the demo would be over, and that would be quite disappointing. We come across The Cleaners, a faction that you might have noticed in the Ubisoft press conference video. This faction sets bodies, people and objects on fire to get rid of the virus at all costs. Yeah, they’re the guys with the flame throwers. During this fight, we see how Player 2, using the Drone, comes to the aid of the other players. At one point, the Drone applies tear gas to an area to draw the enemy out from behind cover. Against a more heavily armored enemy, the drone applies an armor break and distracts them for a few seconds. When all the Cleaners are dead, we see some loot drop – a blue backpack that adds armor and more ammo capacity.
It was a really promising presentation, and it did help build my excitement for a game that’s still quite far from releasing. After the presentation, I wanted some clarification on the open-world mechanics. We know that we were playing in a certain district and that you can go around that district as you please. But I received confirmation from a developer that there are “a number of districts,” but they’re not willing to say how many. Also, you will be able to go into whichever district you please at any time, and each district has a base of operations. It was relieving to learn that there won’t be linear progression through districts, as that would kind of ruin the open-world setting of the game.
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