My time with Tom Clancy’s The Division began on West 24th Street in New York City’s historic Chelsea neighborhood. As a light snow fell, I passed rows of bundled Christmas trees ready to be sold to holiday revelers, a decorative mechanical Santa Clause ringing a bell, festive lights snaking around lamp posts, and two armed thugs looting a corpse in the middle of the street.
For anyone who’s been following Ubisoft’s upcoming online, open-world role-playing game, that latter element will come as little surprise. The Division’s scary-real narrative unfolds shortly after a viral pandemic brings the city to its knees on the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday. While my preview’s earliest moments wouldn’t look out of place plastered on a holiday greeting card, the pair of looters quickly reminded me that Christmas is canceled in The Division.
I was no tourist in town to see the big tree in Rockefeller Center, though – but rather, a sleeper agent that had been activated to help bring the city back from the brink. Regardless, the rich imagery and attention to detail on display immediately impresses. The authenticity of both the city and the season made me feel like I was in a living, breathing environment rather than a large-but-lifeless open world.
With my sightseeing out of the way, I took cover from the looters behind a nearby car. Shouldering an assault rifle from the game’s immersive third-person perspective, I scored head shots on both targets, and earned 80 experience points for my efforts. The XP boost prompted me to pause the action and check my agent’s various stats, skills, and abilities. In addition to the assault rifle, she was armed with a sidearm, shotgun, and grenades. She also had two empty ability slots in her tech and security trees, which I quickly filled with sticky bombs and a ballistic shield, respectively.
With the new tactical combat goodies equipped, I cautiously continued down the snow-covered street, pausing only to watch a large rat scurry past my feet. My ultimate destination was the city’s main post office – where I was to establish a base of operations – but getting there was no walk in Central Park. Thankfully, two more agents joined me; The Division is best enjoyed as a co-op experience, after all, so the extra firepower was much appreciated.
Following a few moments of quiet, we came to another cluster of rioters and looters. The Division’s low-level threats aren’t especially tactical – but what they lack in military training, they make up for in firepower. Rather than running-and-gunning, I took full advantage of the game’s cover-based mechanics to exploit their weaknesses. Utilizing the vault and cover inputs, I navigated a graveyard of abandoned vehicles to sneak up on them and deliver devastating melee blows with the butt of my shotgun. Of course, I can’t take all the credit, as my two teammates’ suppressing fire allowed me to get the jump on the goons.
Our next and final encounter was complicated by the The Division‘s dynamic weather system; as the snowfall significantly picked up, my visibility noticeably diminished. On top of that, we were being assaulted from all sides by a hostile group led by an “elite enemy.” These named threats (ours went by “Poole”) are, according to the in-game description that popped on my HUD, “The most dangerous enemies. They have even better gear and weapons, but can also drop some of the best loot.”
With the inclement weather making precise shots difficult to land, I decided to test out those sticky bombs I’d equipped earlier. While my fellow agents worked together to whittle away Poole’s shield and health meters, I used the explosives to thin the lesser threats. The sticky bombs, which are tossed into a targeted area before being detonated, are limited only by a cooldown timer. Stripping large chunks of health from multiple enemies simultaneously with the ability is a literal blast.
Our strategy mostly worked; after consuming several med-kits, we eliminated Poole and his men, clearing a safe path to the post office. With our trigger fingers still tingling, we entered the base with a fresh 690 experience, 34 credits, and 60 security wing supplies ready to be invested in our agents, weapons, and gear.
While the demo offered a taste of The Division‘s cover-based combat, co-op play, RPG-style customization, and snow-blanketed Big Apple, it only hinted at what’s to come. We can’t wait to continue taking back the city when the game’s closed beta launches for Xbox One tomorrow, January 28.