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A Day With The Division – Fully Updated

by Matt Miller on Jan 29, 2016 at 05:13 AM

Yesterday, the Xbox One beta for The Division got going, and today sees the launch of the PS4 and PC versions. I’m spending the day exploring Ubisoft’s new shooter, and I’ll be updating this story throughout the day with details.

What do you want to learn about? If you don’t have the chance to play the beta for myself today, what features can I explore and then detail here? Share your requests in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to share what I discover. 

Look for my first update soon! In the meantime, you can watch our earlier video Test Chamber of The Division, or check out my thoughts about how The Division compares to Destiny, the other big ongoing, open-world shooter competing for your game time. 

All times below are noted in Central time.

UPDATE 1: 12:30 pm

The opening minutes of The Division beta do a great job of establishing a sense of place and tone. As you're revived from a recent injury by your commanding officer while aboard a helicopter, a woman named Faye Lau, it's clear that you're entering the conflict at a dire moment. The feeling is one of hopelessness in which you are the one chance for bringing things back from the brink. 

In the screenshot above, you can see my created character. Ubisoft has promised more robust character creation tools in the final game, but it's worth noting that in this beta, all I could really do was select between a male and female avatar.

Environments are undoubtedly pretty, with lots of incredible details that helped to sell the ruined urban landscape as a plausible place. Trash is strewn around the ground. Cars are abandoned at odd angles in the street. Emergency services have set up wherever there's room to work. 

Almost immediately, I can assign my first skill -- the first indicator of the game's RPG focus. I go with a sticky bomb that will let me flush enemies out of cover, but it comes at the cost of a recon pulse that would almost certainly help to figure out enemy locations, or a ballistic shield for defense. However, one of my favorite features of the game is the ability to change that ability out on the fly. I have access to all three, but I can only map one of them at a time. Later, I can see that a second slot will open up. 

A tap of the touchpad (on the PS4, where I'm playing) brings up the augmented reality map, which is an excellent tool. Not only does it offer a clear sense of where you are in the world, but also an intriguing way to tease out nearby areas of interest. I'm also pleased by the simple onscreen line that indicates my objective or waypoint, making it clear where I'm about to head at any moment, even if it sometimes breaks the immersion of feeling like I'm in a run-down, tech-starved New York City. 

The first decent-sized fight is to retake your base of operations -- a post office across from Madison Square Garden. Once there, the initial objectives are all about retrieving important characters to restore medical, tech, and basic services. 

You asked about the feel of the game, and here's my take. It's still early, and everyone knows that in a progression-oriented game, the feeling of gunplay and action is going to change over time. With that said, I quite like the cover mechanics, which make it easy to move between hard points, and leap over obstacles without a problem. Gunplay is snappy and solid, but my initial gun offerings don't blow me away with their precision or power -- which is to be expected. 

Storytelling seems front and center throughout the opening minutes of the game, though the content of that story so far is pretty simplistic. Find survivors, rebuild a base, and then repeat. But it's entirely possible that the subsequent hours will prove to have more compelling fare. 

I'm in the middle of the first major mission as we speak, but in answer to the question about multiple paths through missions, I don't see too much of that. You have lots of choices in how you approach a given gunfight, in terms of the equipment and abilities you use, as well as how you tackle the enemy presence. But at least in these early missions, the flow seems to be pretty linear. In answer to another question, I've seen nothing so far that indicates stealth as a viable option. The focus is certainly on cover-based shooting.

Someone asked about aiming down sights. All weapons I've used allow you to hold L2 to aim. Some marksman focused weapons also allow for an additional zoom. Both options feel good, but I'm hungry to find a good precision weapon for distance shots. My current submachine gun and assault rifle aren't cutting it.

I've previously played some of the Dark Zone content, but I've yet to see that PvP-enabled zone in this beta build, so I'll hold off on responding to those questions for now. 

More details soon. Keep the questions coming. 

UPDATE 2: 1:35pm

I've finished up the first main story mission, and, as it turns out, the only main story mission available in the beta. The Madison Square Garden mission is the same one that's been shown several times in recent weeks, but it's a good one to illustrate the flow of combat in The Division. Several small skirmishes culminate in a boss fight at the top of the building, and each fight gets you familiar with the way enemies move and attack. 

In this early mission, I notice three distinct enemy attack patterns. There's always at least a few enemies that stay in the back and suppress you with consistent fire. A second group of enemies begins to flank with their guns drawn, actively seeking to gain a line of sight on your cover position. And finally, a third group of enthusiastic (and suicidal) enemies charge my location directly with melee weapons drawn, forcing me to deal with them while their buddies gain better positioning. 

Halfway through the mission, I save the doctor that is going to run my medical wing back at base, but I need to clear out the rooftop of a heavy gun so that the escort team can get her out. 

Details in the game world continue to fascinate me, often because of how strange and surprising they are. One that stuck with me is seeing an acoustic guitar laying out on the roof, left there by somebody who has more important things to worry about now. 

The boss battle at the end of the mission was a little odd, if only because of my current weapon loadout. I still haven't come across any good distance weaopns, but the fight at the end of the mission seems to demand better precision fire than what my assault rifle allows for. Besides that, the fight is appropriately challenging, with several waves of low-powered enemies, and a machine-gun wielding named enemy harrying my every move until I can bring him down. 

I saw a question about matchmaking. I've been playing solo today so far, but I like what I see of the matchmaking. Outside mission locations, there's an option to match up with a team, as well as select difficulty. You can also manually set up a group within your menu. Playing solo or in a group seems to be viable for any location in the game, although I suspect that solo play in the Dark Zone may turn out to be pretty dangerous. 

With the mission's completion, I open up my second ability slot, and I try out the ballistic shield. It gives me mobile cover, but I can only use my sidearm so long as I'm carrying the shield. 

Departing the mission location, I return to the base to learn more about my medical wing. After a brief cinematic sequence with my new lead doctor, I'm able to check out the medical wing's upgrade structure. Each wing (tech, security, and medical) has ten upgrades to pursue. To complete any given upgrade, I need to find supplies specific to that wing. In order to get those supplies, I need to complete encounters and missions tied to that discipline. As such, it's clear right from the outset about how a player could specialize their character down one wing or another during the early hours of play. 

Upon adding the clinic upgrade to the medical wing, I'm immediately rewarded with both a new ability (a short range heal for me and my team) as well as a passive perk that increases my med kit carrying capacity, although it's worth noting that perks don't appear to be active in the beta. I like the way that your base upgrades tie directly to upgrading your character, while simultaneously having the aesthetic effect of seeing your base slowly improve. 

I'm all out of story missions, but the beta alerts me that  the city is open to exploration, and the dark zone can now be entered. I'm off to those next. 

Keep bringing the questions if you have them. 

Next Page: I explore the city, and enter the dreaded Dark Zone

UPDATE 3: 3:20pm

My trip to the Dark Zone has been delayed, as I've been exploring the random events that pop up around New York City. 

Encounter points show up on my augmented reality map, and it's easy enough to select one at random to get a waypoint, and then head into the fray. There's a little more wandering through empty streets than I might prefer, especially if I'm unlucky and I'm forced to respawn back at base. But it's certainly no more painful that you'd expect out of any MMO, a genre with which The Division shares a number of traits.

In the course of the last hour, I've seen several different encounters and set pieces. My first battle is a hostage rescue, in which I take out a squad of baddies who have captured some civilians. After finishing them off, I have to go grab a nearby key, then find the door behind which the prisoners have been locked. Upon completion, I get XP and credits, but I also get new supplies for my medical wing for the next time I head back to base. 

Other encounters have a similar level of complexity. I assault a fortified gang stronghold, and upon killing the enemy leader, I get another reward pack, this time with the inclusion of security wing supplies, which I'm not able to use in the beta. 

The most unusual mission I encounter is a virus research opportunity. I have to enter a large multi-floor house and activate several electronic scanners hidden throughout its rooms. A timer keeps me on task, even as I loot various containers in the house to get some fun new gear and appearance-altering clothes. After activating all three sensors, my next objective takes me to the roof of a nearby building, where I need to upload the scanned info before time runs out. Of course, blocking my way to the terminal is a nest of masked vigilantes that need to be taught a lesson. 

Throughout my exploration of the nearby blocks to my base, I come across lots of opportunities to level up. Coming into close proximity with a piece of intel marks it on my minimap, and picking those up provides a blast of XP. Random looters and other bad guys each pop up XP upon death. And I even get XP when I come across new neighborhoods of zones. 

I'm halfway to level 7 at this point, so I'm hoping my Division fighter is up to the task of some Dark Zone investigation. That's my next stop. 

UPDATE 4: 6:05pm

The Division has spent many months touting the unique nature of the its Dark Zone gameplay zone, where high level loot waits to be recovered and extracted by clever players. PvP is enabled within this area, allowing players to steal loot from one another. 

I've had an opportunity prior to this beta to explore a little bit of the Dark Zone, but under tightly controlled circumstances without the presence of other public players. I had some concerns going into the beta about how much I might enjoy the potential griefing that could come along with the concept. 

After spending a couple of hours exploring the higher difficulty zone, some of my concerns have been confirmed. While there's a limited population of players in the the beta, the majority of the activity in the dark zone that I witnessed was larger groups of three or four players who had joined up to attack and loot smaller groups of players, or solo players like myself. 

There are some controls in place that attempt to balance things out between players who are hoping to work together, and those that prefer to go rogue and attack fellow players. While inside, as I killed enemies and visited new locations, I acquired a distinct dark zone level, separate from my normal level. Along with dark zone credits (also acquired inside) I could work up towards purchasing some excellent gear from the dark zone vendor (pictured above). Players that go rogue actually deplete their own dark zone level. In addition, they are marked for other players to see, and you get points for bringing those players down. 

It's a clever way to try and balance the experience, but at least during my time in the area, it didn't work very well. Rogue players would often attack at inopportune moments, like when I was fighting a group of AI enemies, and I would quickly die. If other non-rogue players were nearby, we could attack the rogue players, but they often would immediately flee as soon as a few players turned in their direction, and the wild goose chase to catch up to them could take a long time. At other times, players who were previously marked as rogue would appear back in the game world (presumably after a respawn) once again showing up as allied non-hostile targets. If I attacked them, I would be marked as rogue. So instead, I would be forced to wait until they make the first move. At one point, I noticed three rogue players simply waiting outside one of the respawn entrances to the dark zone, picking folks off as they came back in. 

In many ways, the dark zone gameplay reminded me of some old school PvP-enabled MMOs, where players were free to take advantage of weaker players, encouraging, in turn, those players to improve and fight back. It's a style of play that that may delight many players, but it could be a big turn off for others. 

My hope is that as the game continues to bring in new players, Ubisoft will continue to investigate ways to keep PvP-oriented players balanced against players who are more eager to work together. However, that ideal balance wasn't my experience today. And while most of The Division's beta proved itself to be a lot of fun when played solo, I'm not sold on the idea that players could have much fun playing solo in the dark zone. Perhaps more time with the game will prove me wrong. 

Despite some frustrations, the Dark Zone content does have an interesting concept. Everything inside the zone is contaminated, so after acquiring an item, you need to extract it by helicopter before you can use it. Your extracted items are then returned to your stash back at base for you to pick up at your leisure. This leads to a tense push-your-luck dynamic, where the longer you explore and gather items without an extraction, the more you risk losing your hard-earned rewards. 

For my part, I managed to gain several Dark Zone levels while I wandered through the dangerous locale, and even managed to pull a few choice piece of loot out. By the time I returned to base, I had enough credits to snag a marksman rifle for subsequent encounters at long range. 

The Division beta is limited in the content that Ubisoft is willing to share. Without additional story missions and areas to explore, it's hard to answer some of the biggest questions that I have about the game, including the scope of the adventure, as well as in what ways players can engage with the end game. Nonetheless, this small taste today leaves me intrigued. I'm eager to return to the Dark Zone with a larger group at my side, and see how the experience changes. And the allure of leveling up my character and home base is a powerful draw. 

I'm closing out my day with The Division for now, but I'm curious about your thoughts. I've noticed already in the comments below, some of you have been offering up your own impressions of the beta. Let us know what you think as you continue to play. And maybe we'll meet up in-game when The Division finally arrives in full on March 8.