Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist came and went without making a major splash, and the most recent Clancy-Ubisoft release, Rainbow Six Siege, is an error-and-microtransaction-filled husk of what could (read: should) have been the greatest shooter of 2015. But just as Ubisoft's latest entries to their Tom Clancy lineup of flagship franchises falter, the brand's saving grace might be just around the corner.
Tom Clancy's The Division is Ubisoft's most ambitious game to date, developed by Sweden's Massive Entertainment (Ground Control, World in Conflict), and it just may be the "killer app" that puts the Tom Clancy name brand back in the spotlight.
The game's been earning quite a few headlines for its alpha release on Xbox One, followed up yesterday by the launch of The Division closed beta on Xbox One (now available as of today on PC and PS4). The beta serves as a demo, with the disclaimer right up front that it only includes a "small slice" of the game. And it's not a bad slice.
It Actually Works
Given Ubisoft's recent track record of online, connected experiences, namely Assassin's Creed Unity and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, it's easy to look at The Division and think "no way." Ubisoft can't do it. But to those critics, we can happily say you're wrong.
The closed beta actually works. It runs silky smooth on Xbox One, the least powerful from a tech standpoint of the three platforms The Division will be playable on, and the best part is - there are virtually no load screens. It's all one, big open-world, and while fast-travel options are available, players have the freedom to walk anywhere.
In my first 90 minutes of play time, the game froze and crashed twice, and in the five hours since, barely a hiccup. The only minor glitches we witnessed were a civilian NPC clipping back and forth through an environmental object for a second or two, and party members surfing around the screen without leg animations when loading into a particular area.
Gameplay Controls & AI Are The Concern
I didn't partake in The Division alpha test, but did go hands-on with the game in the summer at an Xbox media event. That experience was not a good one and I was nearly ready to write off the game from that playable demo. I'm thankful I didn't because the beta has me interested again, even if there are major issues.
The Division is a third-person action game and it's easy to see how it borrows elements from Watch Dogs in how it plays with tech and augmented reality in the HUD elements. The interface, while busy at first glance, is rather intuitive for the most part but requires too much clicking through menus. Grouping with friends, using the map, and managing inventory (from adding/removing weapon mods to marking items as junk) is quick and painless, but a few things feel lacking or downright missing.
For a game designed to be played with others, there are no ways to tag specific enemies or highlight things in the world for fellow players like you can in the most recent Tom Clancy release, Rainbow Six Siege. You'll have to use voice as the only way to communicate information, which is odd for a near-future, tech-themed title. There are loads unlockable abilities which may address some of this in the full game.
That's not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but the movement and shooter controls might be for some players because this is the single biggest area The Division shows a lack of polish. It's also where it differs the most from its main comparison in Bungie's Destiny. Where Destiny lets players freely move around the environment with silky smooth movement, animation and weapon play in a first-person perspective, The Division is more comparable to Gears of War and Watch Dogs in its third-person combat but... not as good.
Gears of War lets players use a single button to sprint, crash into cover, and vault over objects, and it works, but in The Division (and there's literally no way in the settings to customize this), all of these things are different button commands. The left stick is for sprinting, 'A' is to go into cover, and 'B' is to climb onto or over cover. It's an annoyance and while adequate, it can so easily be made better but instead is made worse by invisible barriers that seem to break flow of movement constantly. The shooting isn't much better. It's not precise, the crosshairs are huge and frequently blocked by damage numbers popping up on targets, and all enemies that pose any kind of threat are just unintelligent bullet sponges. And they're all indistinguishable. These issues combined may prevent The Division from being a great game, no matter how wonderful its story, world, progression, and loot systems could end up being.
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