My Scrambled Thoughts: Tom Clancy’s The Division (PC) [Open Beta & Version 1.0.2]

Is Tom Clancy's The Division a good clear window or a fake mirror of a game?
Is Tom Clancy’s The Division a good clear window or a fake mirror of a game?

Update (23/03/16): I have decided to update my thoughts on Tom Clancy’s The Division. This is because I have had a U-turn on the game. Tom Clancy’s The Division has been out for about two weeks now and has had about three major patches that have changed the game a bit in some ways for better and worse. Read on for my updated Scrambled Thoughts on Tom Clancy’s The Division.

Tom Clancy’s The Division comes out in a few weeks but Ubisoft have being running closed and open betas for the game. The betas can be completed in a couple of hours but there is more content than the main story missions in the beta. If Batman: Arkham Asylum/City and Destiny had a bastard child it would be Tom Clancy’s The Division. These are My Scrambled Thoughts on Tom Clancy’s The Division.

(Click an image to see a larger version).

Background scenes can be interesting if stilted like watching puppet shows.
Background scenes can be interesting if stilted like watching puppet shows.

Tom Clancy’s The Division (The Division) takes place in Manhattan in New York city (Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island aren’t in the final game but will likely be in expansions) where a smallpox pandemic spreads on Black Friday (transmitted by a virus planted onto banknotes), which sweeps through cities across the Untied States, The United States Government collapses in five days; basic services fail and without access to food or water, the country quickly descends into chaos.

Your appearance actually shows up in cutscenes which is cool.
Your appearance actually shows up in cutscenes which is cool.

You play as part of the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD), also known as “The Division” a classified special force of self-contained tactical agents. This group is given direct authority by the President of the United States to do whatever it takes to prevent the fall of society (already failed) and piece the city back together. Also trying to maintain order are the remnants of the New York City Police, Fire, and Emergency Responders and the New York National Guard now known as the JTF (Joint Task Force) who are useless in the game. The main enemies are bandits known as Rioters, The Cleaners who are former New York City Sanitation workers who want to purge the disease, and there are a few others. The Rioters are the most common enemy so far and all wear hoodies, are male (unless a few female special named ones) and seem to be black. They also walk funny and seem to be based on gang culture. It feels somewhat wrong that after the world falls apart that black people seem to be the main early enemies in the game, they are just trying to survive like everyone else.

Enemy strongholds can be cleared for experience and a few loot boxes.
Enemy strongholds can be cleared for experience and a few loot boxes.
These scenes are good but not as much when you see them repeated in the same areas.
These scenes are good but not as much when you see them repeated in the same areas.

This is where the comparison to the modern Batman games comes in. The Rioters are very familiar to the escaped convicts from Arkham Asylum and even talk and act like they are from those games. This is good and bad as the game has audible and visible atmosphere such as hearing them talk garbage in the distance or seeing them mugging a civilian. This also means that you are very likely to hear and see the same scenarios over and over. In one particular street you can see the same two Rioters robbing a dead corpse over and over or see the same civilian getting mugged over and over with all the same dialogue too.

Batman would be proud.
Batman would be proud.

In a similar fashion to Batman sometimes you have to search areas for clues and there are places where you can view “Echos” that give some bask story and insight to the normal civilians in the crisis. These are some of the best bits in The Division as they are engaging and interesting to see.

Civilians in this game are pretty bad with only a few different ones.
Civilians in this game are pretty bad with only a few different ones.

The civilian population in the The Division is very odd. If you take away the fact the game seems oddly deserted in terms of people and vehicles, (most cars are parked neatly and all have their car alarms on) the few people you do see are mostly cold or ill-looking and wandering the streets aimlessly. Sometimes they come up to you and ask for help and this is where the extra items you can pick up such as water and food comes in (they are used as abnormality healers and buffs normally but are a pain to use in mid combat) as you can give them some and they will give you experience and some cosmetic clothing for some reason. They are also immune to bullets, explosions and sometimes just run away when you are in the vicinity of them. Creatures on the other hand can be shot, blown up and rifle butted. These range from rats, birds and to dogs. You will see more rats in The Division than you see in Dishonored’s Dunwall as the rat to person ratio is out of control. Most people assume that there is 1 or more rats per person in New York but in reality it’s probably 1 rat per 36 people. Well in The Division it’s about 10 rats per 2 people.

One of the first things I shot. I felt bad straight away afterwards.
One of the first things I shot. I felt bad straight away afterwards.

When I think of a pandemic scenario I think of complete chaos in that the authorities weren’t able to react in time and never if its big enough but in The Division the authorities have been able to somewhat maintain control with road blocks, quarantine areas and the like. While this makes creating the game easier, it means you are left with desertion on the streets when it would better if the game took place straight away when the outbreak started and not what seems like weeks afterwards.

Update (23/03/16): The open world part of The Division could have been more interesting if they made it a competitive zone like the Dark Zone or even added the ability to see other players or maybe just ghost ones like Dark Souls. Using the Dark Zone mechanic in the open world areas would add a lot of tension and interesting scenarios. It would of course also lead to a lot of problems too but would make the game stand out more from the crowd. Destiny allows you to see other players while on patrols which adds more to the experience.

It makes me think that they didn’t have a public open world areas because of some technical limitations.

Gun customisation is very similar to the one in Payday 2.
Gun customisation is very similar to the one in Payday 2.

The Division gameplay mechanics are very similar to other third-person-shooters and Destiny, in which player character can carry three weapons, explosives and gadgets. You can carry two primary weapons and a sidearm. So if you want and will, you can carry two M4s and a handgun. As the game is set now a days the weapons are what you expect to see such as several rifles, machine guns, shotguns, handguns etc to choose from. Now this is difficult because the game has a modern setting it needs to have these weapons but it is also trying to be a loot driven MMORPG where the pursuit of stronger and better looking loot is one of the things that carries you through the countless hours in the game.

However the loot in The Division is terrible. It’s not terrible in a way that loot is scarce like it was when Destiny first came out but means you can get a rubbish grey ranking M4, then a green M4, and if you are lucky a blue or a purple ranking M4 one. However all different ranking M4s look the same with only a difference in damage and maybe a talent. You can mod these weapons and adds scopes, silences, handles, bigger ammo magazines and even skins but it is still a M4. In real life a M4 is a M4, unless you are using weird ammo it’s always going to do the same amount damage but in The Division for what ever reason one M4 does more damage than another. It’s just very weird at least in Destiny or World of Warcraft it’s a fantasy game so if one same looking weapon is stronger than another it can be ignored as some sort of weird magic.

The Division is trying to be all realistic and therefore these traditional loot mechanics don’t work as well. Imagine playing DayZ where every axe had random damage, the community would be up in arms but in a MMORPG it is ok for some reason. That’s not to say seeing numbers get bigger is any less of a draw in The Division than in other games.

Update (23/03/16): Despite having the limitations of trying to be a realistic near future game, the loot while not varied is still enjoyable to collect and get. The gun customisation does enough to change how guns look and behave to add to the overall variety to the pool of guns. The other gear loot while not always noticeable also does change enough to make it also satisfying to get newer pieces. In the end it will come down to how much you enjoy getting higher numbers on items and enjoy feeling noticeably stronger as you upgrade your equipment.

People have said that the Tom Clancy name holds back the game but I don’t think it does. This is because whether they used the Tom Clancy name doesn’t matter because the developers from day one have set out to make a modern and realistic game so if it was just called The Division it doesn’t mean they would add zombies or aliens in the future. However it just means any possibility is out of the question.

 

If you like higher numbers but similar looking loot then The Division is for you.
If you like higher numbers but similar looking loot then The Division is for you.

With the loot in The Division being mostly boring the only way you are going to look different to other players is the cosmetic clothing in the Appearance tab. Here you can equip various hats, shirts, coats, trousers, scarves, and shoes you have found. These are what you expect being in context of the theme and setting so expect to find several types of baseball caps and jackets. There is quite a lot to choose from but once you got a coat and hat, that’s it, you aren’t going to look any better. In Destiny and World of Warcraft gear is visibly different so your character will look mostly different to other people with the even rarer stuff looking crazy with lighting and other special effects. In the Division everyone looks like a DayZ reject. Again it fits the theme but means after while you won’t bother changing the way you look as you can’t look any better. For example getting a Skull Cap, is like getting a Judgment Crown in World of Warcraft.

Update (23/03/16): Like I said before clothing is the main way to look different to other players. The main problem is that a lot of it looks pretty similar with army clothing, and emergency services clothing being either paid DLC or part of some sort of promotion. Some people have reported not receiving certain pieces and where you live determining what you receive from the Gold pack and Season Pass but I haven’t bought either so I haven’t been able to check myself. I don’t mind paying for DLC (I haven’t so far) but leaving the more interesting pieces for paid DLC is a kick in the balls for the amount the game costs already. More free variety would be a welcome addition.

Turrets are always fun in games and this one is no exception.
Turrets are always fun in games and this one is no exception.

As The Division is trying to be a MMORPG enemies and the player can cause various buffs and debuffs such as suppression and disorientation. These are clearly signalled when they happen and means the combat at least has some tactical variety and depth. While taking cover is encouraged you don’t have to especially if the enemies are weaker. The best things about the combat is that gadgets can be used (I love using the gun turret) and you can target weak spots on enemies and cause specific damage to certain ones. For example Cleaners have fuel tanks on their backs that can be shot and cause a big death-dealing explosion. These damage focus points means that even higher level named enemies can be killed quickly than they would normally take. Another example is early on there is a named enemy with a machine gun, I shot he’s ammo belt which caused the ammo go off and distract the enemy which allowed me to quickly finish him off. While higher level enemies take more shots the shot to death ratio hasn’t been too bad but the game still suffers from bullet sponge enemy symptoms.

Update (23/03/16): Generally the stronger you are the quicker you can kill enemies so bullet sponge isn’t always a problem. Having bullet sponge enemies in challenge mode and higher Dark Zone areas is ok as these are supposed to be harder content for well equipped players, groups or both. The combat is very enjoyable with tactics being very important and rewarding when done well and also when not.

It almost like someone place these here on purpose.
It almost like someone place these here on purpose.

Like in Gears of War you can take cover behind objects during a firefight to avoid taking damage from enemies, and can also be used to sneak past or towards enemies. This is mostly well done and allows you to move from one piece of cover to another by holding a button down. With the reliance on cover means that a lot of the areas look unnatural with crates arranged oddly and peculiar like someone was very bad at playing real life Tetris. Expect to be closing a lot of car doors when behind cars and not even be able to open them for more cover. Cover is indestructible even if it’s a fence but certain objects can be shot about like pot, cans, and small boxes. Also the usual gun decal and window smashing is well done.

The holy trilogy of Firearms, Stamina and Electronics.
The holy trilogy of Firearms, Stamina and Electronics.

Like in many MMOs and RPGs you can earn experience points and in-game currency. The game also features the ability to learn new talents and skills. However you have to complete missions to learn active talents such as the ability to deploy automated gun turrets (best one so far) or use a radar pulse, which can tag enemies. There are three main skill trees in The Division Firearms (damage output), Stamina (health) and Electronics (skill power). Perks and talents link to them too. While you can make a tank and healer in The Division they aren’t pure classes like in World of Warcraft you will still being throwing grenades and shooting as a healer. This is also a big problem in the Dark Zone as you can’t tell who is a healer, tank or damage dealer when the inevitable rogue moments happen. In World of Warcraft I can tell what a particular race or class is and what it likely to do clearly such as a healing Blood Elf Paladin but in this it is impossible to tell, even in Destiny you can tell the difference easily.

When I came out of my home base into this snow flurry was amazing.
When I came out of my home base into this snow flurry was amazing.
You can loot homes for a few things but most doors and furniture are non-interactive.
You can loot homes for a few things but most doors and furniture are non-interactive.

The game features a very impressive dynamic and time based weather system which has gameplay advantages and disadvantages and a day-night cycle. The visuals in the game are great and very scalable for people on older machines wich is nice. Snowstorms are amazing with it making harder to see and snow collecting on your clothes which slowly evaporate when you take shelter. It adds to the survival feeling of the game even if there is basically no survival components in the game. You can go in some homes and stores to loot their cupboards for canned food but these items are just the equivalent of eye drops in Final Fantasy and mostly used to give to civilians for bonus experience and clothes. You can also loot specific crafting materials from certain places but if you are expecting a game like DayZ or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. then this isn’t it. It’s a Destiny/Batman hybrid.

Do missions, and upgrade the base for more skills. There is no individuality to it.
Do missions, and upgrade the base for more skills. There is no individuality to it.

It’s important to note that you have a home base which you can do story missions to upgrade which is supposed to help combat the epidemic but it’s just a way to get more skills, perks and talents. You can do Side Missions and Encounters to get experience and resources to upgrade your home base too. Sad to say but this isn’t player housing and you can’t even invite your friends to your base, they just vanish into their own instanced base. You can also access your stash box, crafting table and vendors from your home base. The home base is rubbish and I avoid going there as there isn’t much to do there.

Update (23/03/16): Once you have fully upgraded your home base you will have access to various vendors, crafting tables, resource chests and more. However like I said before while you will come back at least once in a play session to collect all your resources every 1 hour and 12/24 hours, you wont be spending much time in your home base.

While it gets more cosy and populated the further it’s upgraded, this is mostly cosmetic and has no real gameplay purpose than being a fancy way to see how much intelligence you have gathered, do a bit of crafting, get new abilities, and skills.

The normal vendors in the game are worthless as they mostly sell stuff you can easily get better from drops and their is also no reason to sell stuff to them because credits are only used really for recalibrating gear.

I like the zone structure even if like the whole game is thematically confusing.
I like the zone structure even if like the whole game is thematically confusing.

The map is separated into level range zones such as in World of Warcraft but they are linear areas like in Destiny but unlike Destiny they are no loading times (like Destiny’s planets) between these zones and can be entered when ever if you like running around. Despite them being linear they have good verticality, you can often go on roofs or go down the various subway areas. You can also fast travel to certain areas of the map but it feels like it took longer sometimes than actually going there by foot.

Update (23/03/16): The load times to travel from one side of the map can sometimes seem longer than necessary but also shows how impressive it is to travel around in The Divisions’ open world. The open world has hidden loads so traveling around is seamless, even going into the Dark Zone which is basically a new mode has few loading.

The high points of The Division is the Dark Zone but also highlights the worse.
The high points of The Division is the Dark Zone but also highlights the worse.

While the game is mostly a single player or co-op game (player-verses-environment), the game’s “Dark Zone” is the player-versus-player mode. This is where supposedly the best equipment is available because this is where the military retreated from in the game. It is separated from the main campaign literally with walls and has its own progression system and requires entering through checkpoints and doors to enter. Items can be found inside Dark Zone but these items, known as “contaminated loot”, can be taken by other players in the zone, and will not be kept unless you extract them from the zone through a helicopter at an extraction zone. Players can be accompanied by several co-operative partners and other neutral, player-controlled agents. These people, however, can turn against the player at any moment, going rogue. Why go rogue? Going rogue allows you to attack and kill other players which allows you steal any contaminated loot they are carrying. You have to be careful about not getting killed in the Dark Zone as your players’ level, ranking and currency will drop if you die too often in the zone. The Dark Zone also has vendors that sell Dark Zone currency only items but these mostly don’t seem worth saving up for.

Update (23/03/16): The Dark Zone is probably where you will spend most of your time after completing the story mode. This is because despite not seeming so at the start is where the best loot is available. The further north you go in the Dark Zone the better loot and the harder the enemies. It also has its own ranking system which unlocks stuff you can buy so if your after making some sort of progress after reaching rank 30 then seeing your Dark Zone rank increase is very alluring.

The Dark Zone is also is where the biggest controversy and changes have been made. For a long time the Dark Zone was seen as one big co-op zone as hardly anyone was going rogue because the disadvantages greatly outweigh the advantages. If you die as a rogue you would easily lose thousand of Dark Zone experience and currency while surviving and killing earned you hardly anything. This led to a lot of cases where people would try to make other people go rogue by running into their line of fire which happened to me once which was a pain but seems to have died down now.

The recent patch has made being killed as a rouge or not a rogue less painful while rewarding better rewards for killing others and surviving as a rogue. However hardly anyone seems to go rogue still. I have no reason to go rogue as I am not a traitor and it doesn’t seem worth while but that seems to show that the system still needs a lot of work done to it. At the moment the Dark Zone is fun if played as an extended co-op area with better loot but with the threat of dying being omnipresent and more harsh.

Every time the helicopters comes past I just want to leave on it.
Every time the helicopters comes past I just want to leave on it.

The Dark Zone isn’t explained very clearly in the game but here’s the main points of progress:

  1. Kill NPC enemies in various landmark locations or other players for contaminated loot.
  2. You only drop your contaminated loot when you die in the Dark Zone so it’s not like DayZ you won’t lose anything you come in with.
  3. You can only carry six items at a time so when you want to cash in your items you need to go to an extraction zone.
  4. Call the helicopter or let someone else do it. Within a couple of minutes the helicopter will arrive.
  5. NPC enemies and other players are likely to turn up.
  6. You will likely work together to kill the NPC enemies but this is when you have to be careful for rogue players. You may decide to go rogue yourself.
  7. When the helicopter arrives you have about a half-minute to attach your loot to the dangling hook it drops. It can only takes four bags so a total of twenty-four items of contaminated loot (six per player, depends on amount in your bag), because of the limit this is why going rogue can be a good idea if there are more than four players at a helipad. You can always call the helicopter again though.
  8. Once the items are taking up by the helicopter they are transferred to your stash at your home base or apparently at a safe house.
  9. You are now free to leave the Dark Zone without the fear of losing items.
  10. Rinse and repeat to increase your Dark Zone rank, items and currency.
From my experience a lot of the loot isn't worth extracting in the first place.
From my experience a lot of the loot isn’t worth extracting in the first place.

The Dark Zone is the closest the game comes to becoming anything like a survival game with tension, backstabbing and unexpected friendship all taken place. Like in DayZ if you don’t have a microphone you will likely be at a disadvantage as people will think you are likely to be a traitor if you do not respond to them. It’s too bad the rest of the game doesn’t feature this sort of tension and atmosphere. Only in a few areas will you see other players, safe zones and in the Dark Zone. It is a pity that when you are running about you wont see other players unless you are in a group. It does mean that you don’t have to worry about people camping or waiting for enemies to respawn but makes the game feel empty in places. The Dark Zone however features spawn camping and all the common MMORPG problems related to killing NPCs.

Update (23/03/16): A big problem with the Dark Zone is that a lot of the time you can go running around with nothing to shoot at with no other players or even NPCs. The respawn times seem like in some places could easily be increased because a lot of the time there is no threat or anything to do.

Accidently becoming a rogue agent is major flaw in the Dark Zone.
Accidentally becoming a rogue agent is major flaw in the Dark Zone.

I could go on talking about The Division for ages but hopefully that gives you some impressions of what the game is like. Now is it worth playing when it comes out? For £39.99 on PC and consoles, I would say that is a lot for what you will get from the game and that’s not taken into account the season pass and the plague of micro-transactions and cosmetic DLC that will be added in the future.

Ambiguous loot chests.
Ambiguous loot chests.

The Division is a pretty strong base for a game but Ubisoft have missed so many opportunities to either make it a full on survival experience like DayZ or just a more engaging normal co-op game like Payday 2 or Left 4 Dead. If you look at it in terms of a co-op game it could be quite fun but even then it’s a very shallow experience. It’s definitely not a MMORPG in the traditional sense as you hardly see any other players except in safe zones (not your home base) and in the Dark Zone, and doesn’t feel like a massive world like World of Warcraft, while it is more immersive than Destiny it doesn’t have the same fun gameplay as Destiny or potential for interesting loot as that game.

If you are console gamer then The Division could be pretty tempting as there isn’t many games like this on consoles and if you are a PC gamer there is no Destiny so again it might be tempting to get.

This flower pot sums up the game.
This flower-pot sums up the game.

Overall at the moment The Division is a fake mirror of a game and isn’t worth buying. I would wait a few months to see how the game pans out. There is too much that makes the game above average at best such as an obnoxious UI that you have to mess with to make playable, a terrible map system, and more. High production values don’t make a game good and sorry to say The Division is a good example of this. If Ubisoft made character movement more tactical, (being able to crouch whenever), if they added more survival elements, (having to worry about heat, food, water, sleep) and finally if the game was more reasonably priced (i.e. free-to-play) I might recommend the game. However as it stands The Division is a game that is so rotten with possible micro-transactions and pointless DLC that it might as well be a free-to-play game. It will likely get 8/10 (I would give it a 6/10) from the gaming press and sell loads but don’t be one of those people who buy into hype. Wait a year and for Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.0 and it might worth playing a bit like Destiny.

Update (23/03/16): Overall I have changed my mind on The Division while if you were playing it by yourself it would still easily be a 5/10 or 6/10 if you are playing it with others or really enjoy this type game it would be a 7/10 (the press like I said have mostly giving it an 8/10). I guess it helped that I had no expectations for The Division so when I finally played it more, I enjoyed it more.

I have spent nearly 100 hours on The Division and sometimes I wonder if I am enjoying the game because it is fun, well made and engaging or whether it’s just that it’s a well designed slot machine game. It is probably a combination of both but seems above-board at the moment. However the end game needs a lot more content and with out constant additional updates the game could easily die out before reaching it’s full potential.

Also whether Ubisoft will decide to turn Tom Clancy’s The Division into a franchise like Assassin’s Creed is a worrying prospect. Making new separate games and calling them Tom Clancy’s The Division: London/Tokyo/Paris would be a mistake. If they are expansions then that would be ok but not as separate games with no continuous link between player progress.

Whether you will enjoy Tom Clancy’s The Division is determined by a few key aspects: Whether you have others to play with, the enjoyment you get from repeatedly replaying old missions and content for the possibilty of small increments in better gear, and whether you like loot driven games. The core game is enjoyable but if you don’t enjoy making your character stronger after the main story is over then Tom Clancy’s The Division can easily be ignored but if you do enjoy the things I mentioned above then you should play Tom Clancy’s The Division as it is a lot of fun.

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