Preview: Tom Clancy’s The Division hands-on

Bring out your dead!

The Dark Zone rises

The area I was most excited to experience was the Dark Zone — a tense multiplayer area where players can be hostile towards other players. While we weren’t recommended to enter the Dark Zone until level 10 (since AI enemies in there are a higher level), we did so anyways, as did every other group. What the Dark Zone delivers is everything that it promised. It is tense, you can’t tell friend from foe, and I want to spend all of my time in there.

The Dark Zone has its own currency that you earn there, as well as loot that can only be found in the Dark Zone and brought out of it once you successfully evac it. The thing is, everyone can see that you have contaminated gear on you by the very visible yellow back on your backpack. So possible hostile players could gun for you and try to take it by taking you out.

We encountered groups of other players in there. Sometimes we were already engaged in a firefight with NPCs, and non-hostile players would help take them out. Then we’d emote to each other to be careful, and back away from each other cautiously. And then a group of three hostile players (known by the red hostile symbol and a countdown showing how much longer they’re hostile for) came and killed us. For no freakin’ reason. So we respawned, grouped up, and decided to hunt them down when they were attempting to evac contaminated gear. We got the jump on them and took them out, picked up their contaminated gear, and then evaced it ourselves. How’s that for karma?

That’s honestly what I love about the Dark Zone. It’s that you don’t know who will help you and who will stab you in the back. And I was assured that it won’t just be a bunch of a-holes running around ruining it for other people. You drop more when you die while hostile. And if you’re hostile long enough, non-hostile players will get bounties for the hostile ones. In my experience, non-hostile players would group up and help each other survive the dangerous area.

It’s a harder knock life for us

the division

The last thing I got to do in my hands-on time with The Division is take over my operative at level 20, decked out with every skill (and you can change which are active at any time) and fully purple gear and mods. It was here we were able to see the perks that purple weapons have and how much more powerful they are. I also got my first taste of the final abilities for each tree, which are activated with LB and RB at the same time. From what I saw, they were group buffs (damage or defense) or a group heal.

We also got to play around with the ability mods. Each ability has different modifications you can choose from that will change the way the ability functions. So a team of four players can all have the same ability, and that same ability can do something different for each player potentially. I played around with the seeker ball that explodes when it finds an enemy, and then assigned a mod that has smaller balls explode from that, leaving fire in that area. Some people just wanna watch the world burn. I am one of those people.

The mission we played was very hard. Not only did enemies take a lot more damage, but they were smarter too, attempting to flank up, getting up close to use with powerful close-range weapons, and showing more intelligence overall. A couple of timely heals and revives really saved us a few times. It was paramount that we work together with our skills and utilize the cover we had. I was told the harder missions will last from 30 to 60 minutes, and I found the length perfect. I was on the edge of my seat a few times, and we were even yelling and pointing out enemies to each other, all coming together in a triumphant exclamation when we’d defeat a tough group of enemies.

March comes in like a lion and should stay a lion

the division

I loved my time with Tom Clancy’s The Division. It had a few graphical hiccups here and there, but they didn’t even matter with how smooth everything else was. It really alleviated any worries I had about this game being two months away from release after a what seems like a development process that took forever. The thing that wows me is that I had a blast with what I played, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t see end-game, or experience a fraction of what there is. I didn’t mess around with crafting. And everything that awaits me excites the heck out of me.

I went in cautious with low expectations and came away exuberant. I can compare it to Destiny in the sense that you and other players you’ll meet in the world will come together to tackle missions, level up, and get better loot. And unlike the feeling I got with Destiny early on, The Division seems to deliver. There’s already more life to this game than there was in all the Grimoire cards and Dinklebot’s dead voice.

The Division is everything I wished Destiny would have been. And so far, the wait for the game seems worth it. So with the March 8th release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, I wait eagerly to find you in the Dark Zone, maybe to help you, maybe to pass you by, or maybe to take a liking to that yellow pack you have on your back.

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 division

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

the division 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

the division hands on

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.