This afternoon Ubisoft announced that over 6 million players logged into The Division Open Beta over the weekend. With those kind of numbers, it has certainly been a successful stress test / sampler for the upcoming online RPG shooter. While it was (mostly) the same content from the Closed Beta, there is still plenty to talk about from the latest test ahead of its release in two weeks’ time. You can read a general overview of the game’s mechanics and progressions systems by checking out our Closed Beta impressions article, as today we’re looking at The Division in a different way – as a group game.
I spent most the Closed Beta on my own, only using matchmaking a few times to team up with strangers for missions and the Dark Zone. While I ultimately enjoyed my experience then, I wanted to know how it played with a team that I knew. For this, I conscripted George, Dan and Jonny – who you may have seen in our GTA Online series – to figure out if The Division was a worthwhile investment for a group of friends. After all, when it comes to the Dark Zone you’ll want someone to watch your back as you hunt for (or steal) that sweet new upgrade.
What was interesting was watching my team go through the same reactions I did during my first hour of play. There was praise for the movement and combat mechanics, and comments on the visuals being impressive (the snowstorms in particular were an unexpected highlight.) However, there were a number of concerns. The first was purely cosmetic but still worth noting – the NPC chatter. While it should be noted that its frequency has been dialled down since the last test, it was still fairly inane and immersion-breaking. You would have thought a publisher of Ubisoft’s size could have sprung for better writing and/or performances, but with the game’s release imminent I doubt there’s time to fix it, which is disappointing.
Speaking of which, here’s a quick shout-out to Alex and Mitchell, who suffered greatly at the hands of players during the beta.
Anyway, back on topic. The team’s biggest complaint was the enemy AI, or lack thereof. During the Madison Hospital mission on normal difficulty, we were able to breeze through thanks to enemies standing still or charging directly at us. It was made even more trivial as we charged through and blocked the enemy spawn locations with a firing line. Any challenge was removed as a result, and the boss fight on the rooftop did little to change that.
Hoping to find something that would test our skills, we headed to Subway Morgue – the only new mission to be added for the Open Beta. While individual enemies still lacked any real threat, the sheer number of them, along with the range of the flame throwers, did at least make us stop taking the Rambo approach. For the first time during the session we were actually having some fun, and because we were now hitting level 6 we were starting to get more interesting and varied loot. Slowly, the tone of the group was becoming more positive.
We headed back to the Madison Hospital mission to try it again on hard, and the difference in challenge was suddenly noticeable. What the enemies lacked in smarts they made up for with larger health pools and frequent weapon use, and we even suffered a team-wipe in the diner because we charged in too quickly. We didn’t make the same mistake again, using flanking tactics and supporting each other all the way to the end of the level. It actually felt satisfying to complete this time around, and the loot made it all the more sweeter.
So, that was the PvE side of things, but what about the PvP of the Dark Zone? It should come as no surprise that was the highlight of the Open Beta for the team. Once everyone had got their heads around how extractions and the rogue agent systems worked, we kept going back for more and more loot. There were many anecdotes I could tell you – how George accidentally extended his Rogue agent timer & had to hide in a nearby subway entrance, or how a pair of players who had died to us repeatedly, charged at us during an extraction, losing some blue loot in the process – but what’s important is that the rivalries and extractions were exhilarating and rewarding as a team.
It never once felt unfair or one-sided, but even if we had felt unable to continue we knew that we could retreat to the safety outside the DZ to do missions instead for a while. It’s a level of choice that is appealing to a group such as ours, who have enjoyed playing a number of co-op and competitive online games for over half a decade. That’s not to say it can’t be played solo, but the saying “live together, die alone” certainly rings true in the DZ. Regardless, so long as the full release expands on the content that is already there (perhaps with even greater difficulty settings) it could well become our go-to online game.
But therein lies the problem – there is still so much we don’t know about The Division, and Ubisoft are remaining coy even at this late stage. We still haven’t seen the opening segment of the game, or the character customisation. We still haven’t a clue what kind of end-game group content will be there (other than it will be there in some capacity), or what kind of group / guild features will be available. The same can be said for the crafting systems that have been teased. That’s a lot of unknowns for a game that releases in two weeks’ time, regardless of how much fun the vertical slice in the beta was.
That said, I must commend Ubisoft’s server stability in the Open Beta, which was significantly better than last time. My client did crash once during a run of the Subway Morgue, but I was able to load back in and re-join the instance with no issues. So, while the beta did manage to win over the rest of the team, for me there has been no real change in opinion, because there was nothing particularly new shown. Yes, the Subway Morgue had menacing, flame-throwing enemies, but it would have been helpful to see or at least confirm the size of the game and its systems.
Either way, we’ll know for sure in the very near future. The potential for a great online game is clearly there with The Division – let’s just hope Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment have enough in place to match the hype generated when it finally goes live.
Tom Clancy’s The Division releases on March 8th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.