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The Division (Open) Beta Review- (XBONE)

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This week I was able to delve into The Division Open Beta and sink my teeth into a taste of what is to come.

The Division is based in a post-apocalyptic New York City. Having been struck by a deadly virus the gross population is gone and a majority of those left are considered to be infected. Only a small minority are left, and you are one of these.

You are entered into this world having been resuscitated by a shot of what can be presumed as adrenaline, delirious and seated across from Faye Lau in a helicopter. She’s looking very beaten up herself and tells you about the atrocities witnessed. You are here introduced to your role as an agent for JTF, an agency fighting to control the chaos around them and keep the peace in the city. You land at Camp Hudson and you are instructed to head toward the Base of Operations and extinguish the threat present at that time. And it is here you begin.



The city is looking decrepit and dilapidated, and it’s clear that it is still an active warzone in many ways. Desperation has set in and many people have turned to theft and killing to stay alive. A strong military presence is felt, but the struggle to keep things in order is evident. The streets are lined with abandoned houses and cars, many trucks have been left still in the middle of an intersection. The street lights are still lit but many of them are blinking, signalling that the power will only last so long. And a somber tune unobstructively echoes around the streets, bringing all this reality to bear with you.

It’s winter and the city is covered in snow and sleet. Every step you take leaves a grey and muddy footprint behind. You are ever aware that around the very next corner you may find yourself face to face with a new enemy.

You are lead through the streets by a waypoint and the method used to direct you there is a very effective one. An orange line sits above you directing your steps through the streets. It’s difficult, though not impossible, to get lost. Your HUD always shows you distance to your objective and precisely what is required of you, keeping you on track at all times. And your radar will alert you to any enemies upcoming, pinpointing where they are by using sectors that narrow and illuminate more brightly red as the distance between you decreases.

Holed up inside an old building, JTF have set up a Base of Operations. The base certainly does feel hidden away as you walk through the hallways and see all the rooms and areas you can unlock. The halls are ridden with armoured officers guarding from any imminent danger and it creates a real feeling of safety.
 
The character detail is very good and a lot of time has been taken in bringing the people of the city to life. The theme of loss and abandonment is delivered in smooth and rich voice casting, and you begin to develop a connection to these people, you sense their struggles but among the JTF forces there is also a measure of hope that things will change for the better, that life can and will go on.

You are given your first mission to clear out the nearby hospital and rescue the doctor there, and should you succeed she will have the means to set up a clinic within your base. Although this mission presents a challenge, it felt that there was a gradual introduction into what was required of you before slowly turning up the heat. At times I felt fairly well suppressed and it was a struggle to gain the upper hand again, but for most of the game it is a very steady upward curve for difficulty and knowledge attainment.

As you step back outside you have a chance to check out your map. The city is presented is a holographic, 3D style which allows both a side on and top down view of the streets around you. You can zoom in and out quite far which is great for pinpointing objectives. 

At this point you are also able to check out the matchmaking mode and this has been laid out in an easy to learn way, as are most of the menus. You can find anyone you are friends with and easily join them or invite them, and the transition from single player to cooperative is seamless. All activities can be done via cooperative play or as a single player campaign. (Though I think it’s far more enjoyable to share this world with someone else.)

You are given abilities which will aid you in the fight and these are broken down into three categories: Medical, Technology and Security. Each class has four abilities to unlock but you can only equip two at a time across all three categories…this makes for careful planning. You unlock more of these abilities by upgrading each of your areas at the Base of Operations. New perks and mods will be offered as you progress and upskill your departments. During the Beta most of the skills, perks, etc were still locked down.

Weapons are also able to be customized. From within your menu you can fit mods to most weapons including cartridge upgrades, scopes and grips. This can make all the difference between a good gun and a great gun- something you want when an area boss is hot on your heels. 

Aiming your weapons for an accurate shot can be a little challenging to start as you are not always able to see very well. But the crosshairs will always light up red if you have a viable shot. The HUD is also great at giving you an always present count of your loaded and unloaded ammunition as well as any grenades and abilities available to you. Hurling a grenade is quick and easy and barely interferes with target acquisition at all. I was able to quickly lob a grenade into a crowd of enemies and follow it up with a round of bullets with no issue at all.

And while you have so many customizable items available to you, it should also be said character changes are there for you to enjoy too. As you move through the city and collect loot from backpacks, cupboards, loot boxes and more, you will collect weapons, ammunition, medikits and even clothing. This clothing is not useless as you might think but allows you just that extra bit of fun with altering how you look. This can be anything from the height to the depths of fashion sense and plays no part on your ability to survive in a freezing climate- so its great to experiment with.

It's at this point I’d like to focus a little more on the cooperative side of the game in two areas: 1) coop in mission modes, and 2) the Dark Zone.

As you play through missions in a coop mode it’s a great opportunity to figure out how you can play your joint skills to your benefit. In the Beta there were 5 abilities open to unlock. These included a pulse which would highlight enemies within a certain radius, a medic ability which you could use to heal yourself and/or your teammates without needing a medikit, a sticky bomb which is self-explanatory, a mini turret to hurl at your enemies and obliterate them, and a shield to give you that extra security from upfront attack. 

By having multiple people on your team you are able to have each person equip complimentary abilities making the task of each mission faster and more efficient. While player one highlights enemies and uses a mini turret, player two can use sticky bombs and replenish the team’s health. This is such a clever idea and one that I think works so well and encourages team play, and is also great for…

The Dark Zone. This is an area which you are made aware of about 3 hours into the game. The Dark Zone is a walled off section of the city that is said to be the worst infected area. It can only be accessed via a safety checkpoint. As you set foot into the area your comms will go dark for a moment before reinitializing, and this creates a great feeling of being alone…and if you aren’t with a team you absolutely are. 

The Dark Zone is an element of The Division reminiscent of a PVP mode. During the Beta it was set up as an 8 player arena against AI enemies where, were you playing solo, the other 7 people on your team would be players designated as Non-Hostile Agents. You are given the option to work with these agents or go it on your own.

Here AI’s are loaded with loot much like in the safer section of the city. But items collected in the Dark Zone are of a higher calibre, and so more desirable. The Dark Zone has an independent XP levelling system which works toward your DZ rank, this in turn allowing you to open special crates whose access is DZ level based. DZ money is also able to be acquired here and will be needed should you wish to purchase from the DZ vendor at each checkpoint. 

Largely this area is independent of the safe zone, but what you get in here you can send out to the un-walled city, and enjoy its extra level of devastation. It should also be said that if you die in the Dark Zone you drop your loot and it is able to be picked up by anyone. Thankfully you are also able to recollect your things, if you get there quick enough.

You have to be careful who you shoot at in the Dark Zone. Shooting one of your team mates brings on a new mechanic where you become a Rogue Agent, and this means you’re a free for all target and survival is that much harder. But should you die, you will respawn within the team and lose your rogue status. Going Rogue can also be seen as a daredevil tactic- should you choose to go it alone the danger is multiplied, but so are the gains. Being able to loot your ex-team mates can prove to be highly rewarding if you’re up to the task.

The Dark Zone throws one catch at you however as anything you collect in this area is seen as contaminated and cannot be brought back through the checkpoint. The only way to retrieve your prize is to head to the extraction area, call for a helicopter and wait in what could potentially be a very vulnerable and dire scenario for the helicopter to land. The loot is the able to be strapped in a cartridge to the drop rope and is flown away. When you return to the non-contaminated city you can retrieve these items via your stash, which is essentially a locker storage area for weapons, armour and more, and can be found at the JTF Base of Operations, or at Camp Hudson.

There is a lot to be said about The Division, and much more that I just cannot cover- partly because there is so much but also because I wouldn’t want to take that discovery experience away. But I truly enjoyed my time in this world, both pursuing peace and creating havoc, and I will be getting my hands on the final release and sinking my teeth back in as soon as I can. I encourage you to do the same. 

Head for JTF. I’ll meet you there…

Deb (Remutha)

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