In something of a surprise, even to myself, I found that I was playing The Division briefly on the weekend. I was surprised, because I truly didn’t expect that I would be playing any, or many, of the AAA releases of the past week or so until the autumn at the earliest. But I spied The Division on Steam, and I just couldn’t help myself. I had to get a taste of what this possible Destiny beater was all about and squeezed in about an hour with the game, and took in the sights and sounds of Brooklyn.
I would have played more, and I wanted to do…but there was football on, and I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to watch my beloved Man United fail to reach their usual heights (once again). Generally though, my adventures through Brooklyn went well. I had some trouble when first loading The Division with black screens at first, and then a game that was stuck in windowed mode for a while. But once I was in, I created my Agent by staring into the window of a cop car and was slightly disappointed by the lack of customisation. But I had to accept that this is a game set in something passing for the real world, so no aliens were allowed. And being set in New York during the winter, there isn’t really much need for full body tattoos and other nonsense…you’re going to spend most of the game putting more clothes on (as armour, and aesthetically) than anything!
Once my character was ready and I took part in some basic shooting practice, I set off exploring Brooklyn and learning the basics of this game. While the setting is cliched (I’m sure New Yorkers must be fed up of constantly being under attack, why doesn’t anyone ever choose Buffalo for a key location?), Ubisoft and the associated development teams, have done a grand job of setting the scene and making you feel like you are in a city where all hell has broken loose. I got a much stronger sense of atmosphere in the first five minutes of The Division than I have in countless hours of Destiny.
The UI, while a bit funky to get used to, certainly fits in with the feel of the game. Your a member of a secret organisation that launches into action when events like those in The Division take place, and we all know secret organisations have the best tech. So a fancy floating UI works in general, though my early feelings are that it is designed all around playing with a controller. Navigating some of the inventory menus with mouse and keyboard was frustrating, and I can imagine that I will only find it more frustrating once I establish my Base of Operations in Manhattan. I’ll probably consider picking up a control pad next time I play, just to see how things work.
On the whole though, picking up my first few side missions was a doddle. I explored the snowy landscape and marveled at how gorgeous the game looks. I’ve got the settings on High, and haven’t had any performance issues so far (Core i5-2500, 8GB RAM and a GTX960), and it really does look nice. If I had a beefier rig, I would push things to the max, but as it is, this is a really pretty game. The snow probably plays a large part in that, but the day-night cycle also seems to work well. I don’t know whether that cycle has any bearing on how the game plays, but I’m sure that I’ll figure that out soon. I completed the side missions without any hassle, killing a few perps, throwing a few grenades and unlocking the Pulse skill from the Medical skill category. If you use your imagination a little, you can see how Medical, Tech and Survival skill traits would parse with traditional MMO-fare.
It was when I started the final mission in Brooklyn that I started to wonder whether this was going to be a game I would come back to once I reach the level cap/end of the story. My first concern was that when trying to matchmake, I didn’t get any results. Maybe that’s just a by-product of the tutorial area being separated from the main game, but it makes me think that it can be pretty easy to slip behind the curve of more dedicated players, and struggle to matchmake to ensure a good game for all.
That’s an initial fear that is borne out of my experience with playing the final Brooklyn mission solo. I don’t mind the fact that normal enemies can be bullet sponges, it all fits in with the RPG dynamic The Division has going on. What concerned me was the boss at the end of the level. He wasn’t easy to take down in solo play when still getting to grips with the different game mechanics, and that really is something that might be put me off long-term play. I know that I can pick up Destiny and blast through the normal missions by myself and have fun, but my initial impressions are that The Division isn’t quite so welcoming to solo players. Maybe a slight tweaking of bosses for solo play would help? I’m just musing here of course.
So there are some concerns, but they largely come down to my natural inclination to play things by myself rather than in co-op. For now, I’m willing to put those worries to the side and start exploring Manhattan and finding out what The Division is really all about. I’m sure that soon enough my comparisons with Destiny will fade away, and I’ll appreciate The Division for what it is.