(Editor’s note: as the title implies, this is a 1st impression of the game from a few hours of gameplay. This is not a full review.)
**played on Xbox One**
Let’s clear this up right now. This impression is geared to a set audience. If you have played the beta and you are already made up your mind on the game, this isn’t for you. If however, you have been on the fence about this game and need to hear from someone else who was this is for you.
The biggest target I want to reach out to are the gamers, who like myself are 35 years and over, married or at least with some serious responsibilities going on at home, who may not have time to game daily like some of our younger counterparts and looking for a game that, if we play online we can get in, get out and feel like we have accomplished something. I think we have found it in The Division.
Yes, I am going to be that guy to say it. The Division for me does what Star Wars Battlefront and Destiny couldn’t do. I will even go as far as saying that if Star Wars Battlefront had anywhere near as good of a single player experience as The Division right now, I may not have picked this game up in the first place. Now, mind you, The Division’s story isn’t great but the single player experience is good thus far for this to be an online shooter.
The story is simple and yet scary. A mystery group of people tainted some money with a super virus and unleashed it on New York on Black Friday. The virus shut down the city and much of the US as a whole in less than a month. New York becomes an every human for themselves environment and it’s up to you and your clandestine group known as The Division to not only restore order but to find out who is behind the virus and fight 3 rival factions looking to take over. That’s good enough to get you into the game and the insane part is the feeling that something like this could happen. The game’s story mode does an excellent job keeping you updated on the situation as well as directing you areas where help is needed. Whether you are freeing hostages, salvaging medical supplies or bringing in a bounty hunter, you always feel like whatever you are doing progresses the game.
Some of you have gotten this far and may be wondering what makes this a great single player game beyond what Destiny has to offer. For me, it’s the idea that with the exception of a few hubs you hit that you may share with other players, your player world during the campaign is instanced. Once you decide to take on a mission in the PVE environment, it’s you vs the mean streets of NYC and it’s not to be taken lightly. You will not have other players in your game taking you out of the immersion that it’s you alone or with your fire team. As far as game settings, you can opt to have a completely closed affair giving it a solo experience, somewhat open to allow only your friends to enter or totally opened to allow anyone to drop in and drop out of your game. The best part is that the game will ramp your difficulty up or down depending on who is playing and their skill level. One thing that I have noticed so far is that while there are some areas that you may or may not get through without a little extra help from a companion, thus far the missions haven’t proved to be overwhelming like Destiny. One of the issues I had with Destiny is that early on, no matter how well-leveled you were, there were some missions especially main missions, that you just weren’t going to complete unless you had 2 or more people to help and again, if you are of my targeted reading audience, sometimes our friends aren’t always on to play and some of us aren’t crazy about having random strangers to drop in. So far, I may have run two missions where I may have gotten in over my head but I wasn’t frustrated but hopeful. Eventually when one of my friends jumped in, we managed to tackle two such side missions with little problem and a lot of fun. So far, every main objective played at my level so that I didn’t feel frustrated in making multiple attempts to complete it.
One of the aspects that makes co-op play with a friend optimal is that as long as you have a working headset, it’s much easier to coordinate your attacks. Even early on, the enemy AI isn’t just going to roll over and die for you. They will flank you, the will rush you, they will use hit and fade tactics that makes players have a need for patience in taking them down. Sorry Call of Duty players, this is not a run and gun game. This is a game where you need to watch what your enemy is plotting and attack accordingly as well as pay attention to your surroundings. My friend and I had several instances where we finished a side mission or was just exploring and we walked right into hot spots and after the second or third time, we knew not to take completed areas for granted. One thing that makes this game a little more realistic is that unlike Destiny, enemies are not readily marked off. Unless you have the early perk allowing you to do so, when you see a crowd of NPCs, it’s best to ping that area to pick out enemy AI.
Graphically speaking, the game so far is beautiful. I would really love to call in some of my friends from New York to see how accurately some of the areas stack up in this game with its real life counterpart. One of the most impressive portions about the graphics is the dynamic light as the game does have a day/night cycle and dynamic weather. I have been treated to missions where it’s been bright as day and as the day wore on it would get gray and then a fog set in. One of those times that happened, I got into a bit of a long range gun fight which took a little bit longer due to the fog.
Did I mention anything about the loot? If anything that compares to Destiny it’s the fact that in the course of playing, there is always the chance of finding items to use, sell or mod. With any game of this type, the dangling carrot is the idea that the more you play, the more stuff you may find and as you pick up new gear, you can increase your health, find better weapons and so on. Better yet, once you establish a base of operations, you can really do some serious modding of items as long as you meet the prerequisites first. I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about the loot system suffice to say, its similar to any other game that you have played; certain colored loot gives better abilities and so on.
As far as the controls are concerned, so far on the Xbox One, they feel ok for a standard third person shooter. My only concern right now is the cover system which feels like it’s from the early Gears of Wars games. Sometimes, it can act a bit funky getting in and out of cover as there are times I came out of cover when I didn’t want to and occasionally got stuck to walls as well. The cover shooting mechanics work well enough and players will learn early enough don’t stay in one place too long. In fact, sometimes shooting and moving works best as occasionally the AI will lose track and head to the least place you were. Another aspect in shooting is that you can suppress an enemy and which they are hiding, take advantage of cover to flank them and finish them.
So, are there any bad points to this game? So far a few and it’s mostly been on the server side. First of all, anyone getting this game has to remember that it’s an online only game. If the server goes down, you are not playing, plain and simple. I do have to give kudos in the fact in the long line of online games that released on day one, The Division by far, had the fewest issues of being able to pick up and play without crowded servers or any other hassles that have plagued the likes of Diablo III, Star Wars Battlefront, Evolve or another other online game on day one release. The only other hiccup I have had happen have been a few times, the games have frozen mid-fight and when it unfreezes, the enemies have reappeared in another location and you are taking damage. Also, my friend and I did have an issue when he dropped into my game we had to work out the party chat issue so we could hear each other.
Another nitpick I have is that the environments aren’t more destructible. I think it would mean so much more if I chucked a grenade at someone who is behind a car and have the satisfaction of seeing the car blow up along with my enemy. Another issue is that there are no one shot, one kills in this game. I could understand enemies being bullet sponges in Destiny, but in some ways on a game like this, it’s a bit disconcerting but…it’s an RPG after all and this game plays stronger to the side of Mass Effect than it does to conventional shooters. You do get credits for headshots but it’s disappointing getting one and seeing your enemy returning fire.
All in all, The Division may be the game that some of us busy guys looking for a good online single player experience want. It’s easy to get into and can be just as fun alone or with friends when they have time as well. I have yet to try the Dark Zone, because I WAS BUSY! But I think I look a lot more forward to playing this again. There are still places where it can improve for a first day release, I was impressed.
So far it gets a 3.5 guns out of 5