The Division: 4 Things I Learned From The Beta

It’s not often that I’m smitten by a game. Ok, that’s not necessarily true. Last year, I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Batman Arkham Knight and Halo 5: Guardians. The Division Beta release was the first time I’ve found myself enamored with an online role-playing game in a very, very long time.

The Division feels like both a next-generation urban war simulation. Your character, called an Agent, is one of the many members of the Strategic Homeland Division charged with protecting and rebuilding the city of New York. The federal government has fallen. Body bags are a frequent sight. Abandoned cars litter the landscape.

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I didn’t go into last weekend’s The Division Beta release thinking I’d learn much of anything or feel compelled to place a pre-order. Role-playing games require so much investment in time, that I’ve found myself staying away from them unless the story is absolutely enthralling. That’s how I ended up avoiding the genre for so long.

Read: The Division – Which Edition Should You Pre-Order

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I’m not saying I learned everything there is to know about The Division, but I do think there were some takeaways that tell us a lot about the final version of the game’s mechanics and feel.

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It’s Cover the Adds The Realism

The problem with most first-person shooters – and the reason people love them so much – is that they make you feel like a super hero. No average man would run at a multiple targets out in the open and think that they’d survive the gun fire.

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The Division obviously can’t put you in a scenario where just one hit would end your character’s life. That being said, the game does a great job of rewarding cover exchanges. Going from cover point to cover point is seamless, and when you’re really feeling amazing, you can try climbing over vehicles and going around an enemy that’s hold up in a hard to reach place.

A lot has been said about the game’s engine and graphics adding to its realistic feel, but I think it’s the cover mechanics that deserves the credit. You feel like you’re fighting an insurgency, where walking out in the open with no cover nearby will be the last mistake you ever make.

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Proximity Voice Chat

I wasn’t exactly sold on the idea of always-on voice chat. With a lot of other games, I simply turn the feature off, opting to not ruin everyone’s experience by forgetting it’s on. Grand Theft Auto Online handles chat horribly in this way.

Proximity voice chat didn’t leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. I’d look around the landscape to see if I was near someone that could hear me. If I was, I moved away from them to answer a question from a friend. It’s a lot better than diving into the Xbox One’s guide and shutting chat off.

Spontaneous Firefights Are Going to Be Fun, I Think

There are a lot of parts to making the living, breathing world feel come alive that Ubisoft is hoping for. The dynamic weather system, The Division’s way of making you reassess your approach to any battle, is a part of this. The spontaneous street battles that you end up fighting in downtown New York are a big part of this too. Mostly, I think they’re going to be a lot of fun when the final version of the game arrives. I do have some concerns.

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Walking around New York in The Division Beta release looking for trouble was great. A few times that trouble found me through a radio call. Seeking to help out other agents, I found myself pinned down walking into gun battles with the game’s enemies. They make for great opportunities to test new gear in bite size chunks of play. They’re perfect for spending an hour or so just trying out a new skill or weapon.

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On the other hand, enemies felt like they were just moving around and firing random shots instead of seriously trying to take on the other agents and I.

If there’s one thing that’s stopping me from placing a pre-order now, it’s that enemy AI. The battles are fine, but something feels very off about them. That and the fact that a lot of the enemies I encountered were apparently gang members with their pistols tilted to the side for added effect, gave me pause.

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Getting Mugged in The Dark Zone Won’t Mean Completely Starting Over

I’ve always preferred person on person combat and not focusing on fighting other players. I’ve never thought about why that is long enough to address it, but it’s the way I am. Because of this, The Dark Zone, a place in The Division where you go to get the best add-ons and weapons for your character, had me worried.

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A complete No Man’s Land, it’s your job to get the great gear left in the region out of there. Encounter another Agent who’s more concerned with having everything to themselves and things could get nasty. I pictured myself spending sessions collecting cool items and being betrayed by some jerk at the point of extraction.

That absolutely can, and probably will happen. That being said, Ubisoft is at least protecting the gear you go into The Dark Zone with. All of the good stuff you’ve collected inside the region may be gone, but what you walk into the area with is still yours. I’m a little more inclined to try the feature out knowing at least the stuff I’m carrying is protected.

I do think I’ll have to fiddle around with the controls with the final version of the game arrives, probably by using the Xbox One’s built-in accessories utility to remap the buttons for climbing over something, versus maintaining cover. But there was nothing in the beta release that made me not want to pick up the game and explore the deteriorating city more.

The Division arrives on store shelves March 8th.