Review in Progress One - Streets of New York
After two years of delays it’s finally here. I’ve missed out on seeing The Division at trade shows but I participated in the second to last beta event so I had a pretty good understanding of what I was in for at release. Needless to say there haven’t been too many surprises. Also since I’m not all together new to this whole MMO launch concept I didn’t bother to stay up and try to log in at release. I left that duty to the real diehards (and fools like our own Bill Murphy).
I rolled out of bed at 3 AM CST on Tuesday morning to try and get my fill of the new pseudo MMO shooter RPG affectionately referred to as The Division. I was greeted with a kick to the teeth also known as a 20GB patch. That I did not expect after my 32g preload the day before. So I went back to waiting. About 45 minutes later I was good, or so I thought, to go. I fired up UPlay and the Division which greeted me with welcoming music and a black screen. Bugs being bugs and Ubisoft being no stranger to them I made my way to the nearest search engine to find if someone had already found a fix. There was one listed on Reddit. Armed with this new knowledge I fired up The Division again only this time it loaded and I didn’t have to do anything. Apparently my computer was cognizant of the fact that I know possessed the knowledge to fix it so it just decided to work on its own.
Two things struck me about the game right away. First, it is going to take me a while getting used to not hitting the space bar to jump. Second, the buildings make me feel like I’m on the lot of some old movie. It feels like 90% of the buildings are just props used for scenery. You can’t open up the doors and go in. This really kills the mood of the game for me in a big way. It’s hard to have an immersive experience when you can’t actually immerse yourself in the game world.
While I don’t expect my agent to be a ninja I’m also surprised by the lack of parkour moves. After having just spent the past few days playing Black Desert Online where you can scale small buildings in a single bound, and this being a Ubisoft game (hello Assassins Creed), the lack of wall climbing abilities really struck me as odd. Last I checked military and paramilitary alike spent some time on obstacle courses. Why can’t I climb a fence? Little kids can climb fences. Sure some fences can be climbed, some walls have props to help scale them, but why can’t I climb all the fences? If it isn’t armed with razor wire I should be able to go up and over. I find this to be another little annoying barrier that serves to box me in and remind me just how open this game is not.
I can dispel a myth that was going around in beta. Head shots are in fact worth more than regular body blows. It won’t land you an instant kill like it could in main stream shooters but a head shot in The Division will do extra damage to your target and earn you a little bit of bonus experience. You’ll get an UI indicator on the right of your screen (by default) that notifies you that you scored a headshot and that you received +x points of experience. You’ll also notice your damage numbers on the enemy are red for that hit instead of white.
I killed 3 people with one well timed grenade. I’m a Division ninja. At that moment I felt like I loved this game. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration it truly was an amazing moment and is driving me to find a way to top it.
The biggest difference between beta and release in the beginning is you start the game off as a level one character. You’ll also play though an introductory experience that was not available in beta. Before I explain throughout the Review in Progress all the reasons I feel the Division is an RPG, I’ll go ahead and say that I buy into the Division as a modern roleplaying game. However, compared to most RPGs the character creator is horrible. The characters look bad and are not the face of anyone I would want saving me in the apocalypse. Septum piercings and giant American flags tattooed to your neck and face don’t scream out special ops to me. Beyond that the character faces just look bad. They are awkward and misshapen. My character looks like his parents intentionally dropped him on his head one too many times as a baby.
I logged back into a black screen on Wednesday. I did the ALT+Enter trick to force my screen into windows mode to try and clear it up. This crashed the game but when I fired it back up I could actually see the game. On an interesting side note. While I couldn’t see the game in the client window, I could see it in Xsplit which was getting its input through a direct feed. Strange. I made it through the intro mission on day 1 only to see my evac helicopter blow up on the start of my second day. This put me right where I had started in the beta. Manhattan feels more open at this point than the early part of the city but I still wish you could actually go into buildings. There are invisible walls everywhere. We do have access to certain sewers now so that does add to the sense of verticality. I’ve found more spots to climb but not everything that would seem intuitive to scale is in fact climbable. The city isn’t just one giant flat map with obstacles in the way though. And I’m not asking to be able to climb the Empire State building like King Kong. I just want what common sense would dictate is climbable to be climbable.
Another difference between the beta and release is the abundance of side missions. I have forgone completing the first story mission to see what kind of diversions the Division has to throw at us in the way of side quests. Marion Hamplestein mans the first situation board that will provide you will side missions. As you open more Safe Houses spread across NYC, you'll unlock more side missions. She’ll also call you over the radio to provide you updates on action going down in your area. The first side quest I had was to chase done a murderous woman. I’m glad to see the Divisions is equal opportunity with its gangbangers. When I went to the spot on the map to find her I ran into her two lieutenants. They were relatively simple to kill. Standard thugs just with more HP. Once I killed them my target turned out to be bugged. She was standing on the roof of a building looking at me but never fired. I walked up underneath her and proceeded to shoot her until she was dead. She never even flinched. She did drop me a high quality vest though.
I also found my first few pieces of Intel. I never discovered these in beta. Intel pieces add flavor and lore to the game. Also once you complete a set you will earn a cosmetic piece. I’ve also learned some new jive that tween girls are apparently talking. Look at that mom, I did learn something useful from a video game after all. Some of these Intel pieces appear as small blue squares and will point you in the direction of other blue scares. Sometimes these spots are so close together you can see the other piece without the aid of the indicator. I’m hopeful these get more difficult as the game goes on.
There was also what I want to refer to as the bubble guppy moment in the game Tuesday night. That or we can call it Queue-turday. The game has collision detection so you cannot walk through people. Early in the starting area of the game you are required to register at a computer in a public space. That meant everyone that was trying to log into the game for the first time was being forced to interact with one quest item. Since no one could actually use the computer when everyone tried to mob it people decided to queue up and wait in line. This one simple act of civility in an online game has partially restored my faith in the human race. Like Mr. Grouper says, “Everybody line up here we go.” This, however, will probably only last until the next time I see a person on TV take a toy from a kid while Black Friday shopping. Wait a second... isn't that how the plague in this game started?