The Division Beta hero image

5 Things We’ve Learned from the Beta for The Division

Tom Clancy’s The Division is a game that’s been a long time coming – and it’s almost here. In preparation for the March 8 release, Ubisoft has staged an Xbox One beta test for this hybrid shooter/role-playing game. Here are five things that we’ve discovered during our time with it.

New York City is beautiful in winter.

OK, sure – you’re not exactly seeing the city at its best. The Division takes place in the immediate aftermath of a devastating biological attack so, you know, it’s not exactly tourist season. Still, the snow-covered streets, twinkling Christmas lights, and dynamic weather and time-of-day systems make it easy to overlook the quarantined buildings, abandoned vehicles, and roving bands of well-armed thugs. For a special treat, go for a walk in a heavy blizzard: The snow piles up all around, visibility drops to almost nothing, and everything gets eerily quiet.

The Dark Zone is a scary, scary place.

Beautiful though the city as a whole may be, there’s little time to appreciate it in the game’s Dark Zone. In this harsh proving ground, the military has abandoned any effort to maintain order, resulting in a lawless wasteland where death can lurk around any corner. It’s here that players can fight against other players… which means you’re never quite sure whether a new face is friend, foe, or something in between. It’s not just populated by players, either: A.I. enemies have staked out territory of their own, and these guys aren’t the usual punks that you run into in the rest of the city. Of course, if you manage to take them down, chances are good that you’ll pick up some sweet new loot.

Supply extractions are fascinating psychological experiments.

There’s just one problem with that sweet new loot: It’s contaminated. In order to actually keep it, you have to call in an extraction chopper and hand the loot off for cleaning – and everyone in the Zone will get a notification that the chopper is coming in. So here you have a central location, marked on everyone’s HUDs, where you know with absolute certainty that anyone waiting for the helicopter is packing some loot worth extracting. This leads to some rather interesting developments. Sometimes, extractions are all-out firefights, Battles Royale where the last op standing gets the loot. Sometimes, they’re tense standoffs, with everyone thinking about everyone else’s loot, but no one willing to make the first move. Sometimes, one opportunist tries to make a move and gets mercilessly slaughtered by everyone else. Every extraction is different, but each one is packed with tension.

The RPG elements are surprisingly deep…

There’s a reason why extractions are so important: The Division truly is an RPG. Leveling up your character and scoring new, more powerful gear (or crafting it – yes, crafting!) is absolutely crucial. The game even has a traditional RPG-style skill upgrade tree; it’s more streamlined than in your standard RPG, perhaps… but it’s also quite elegant. See, part of the goal of the game is to establish and outfit a base of operations for you and your compatriots. Your base has three major components: medical, technological, and security. In the course of completing missions, you’ll get supplies that match up with one of those three components. Next time you’re at HQ, you can use those supplies to upgrade those areas of your base – and doing so gets you new skills to use out in the field. It’s a nifty system that results in gradual visual upgrades to your base, which makes leveling up feel even more satisfying.

…but so is the shooting!

The thing is, The Division isn’t just an RPG. It’s also a supremely entertaining (and rather challenging), honest-to-goodness third-person shooter. If you had concerns that RPG-style stats would be all that matters when it comes to combat, put those concerns aside. The statistics of your weapons and gear matter, of course – but so does raw shooting skill. Being able to aim well, manage weapon recoil, and take advantage of the deep cover system makes all the difference in any firefight. Plus, enemies are surprisingly smart: You’ll see them try to flank you, work together, and make good use of cover. The game manages to straddle the line between RPG and shooter pretty much perfectly, so it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of either of those genres.

The closed beta for Tom Clancy’s The Division is on now on Xbox One, and runs through this weekend. But if you miss out, don’t worry – the full game releases barely a month later, on March 8.