The last Division beta was fun. Let's be clear on that. Whether exploring the frozen metropolis of the main New York City map, or white-knuckling through every second of the unerringly tense PvP Dark Zone, it was rather a hoot, especially with a small crew of co-op buddies assembled. But it wasn't perfect. Not that it should be. Improving things is what a beta is for, after all.
So with a new, open beta starting up just next week, there are a few things we'd like tweaked up, based on our little GR squad's experience. We know that the already infamous invisibility/invincibility glitch is being fixed, so that's the majority of our worries out of the way, There are, however, a few more smaller issues that would make the whole test - and by association, the whole of the final game - more fun for everyone. Let's start with...
Those PvE checkpoints
The opening of The Division is great for soaking up the atmosphere, grim detail, and sparkling visual fidelity of Ubi’s new world. What it’s not great for is fun and a sense of meaningful progress. That initial trek through the base on the way to your first mission? It’s certainly atmospheric, if a tad long and uneventful. The epic hike through the city that follows, however, is all the fun of venturing out into town on Christmas Day, in an aimless search of the one shop that might be open (somewhere, anywhere) because you ran out of milk.
And then you get shot in the head.
Endless, empty, frozen streets. Barely a soul to be seen. No real sense of where you’re going, except that you’re getting further from home with every step and are becoming increasingly less certain you don’t like black coffee after all. The game livens things up a bit by spamming you with multitudinous sidequest icons, though they’ll all be miles away as well. And if you dare investigate one, there’s every chance you’ll die, because you’re not yet versed in the taking down of The Division’s initially very bullet-spongey enemies. And then you’ll find that the last checkpoint is at the start of the game.
Seriously, The Division. You’re open-world, and you feature no vehicular transport. Quietly updating geographical checkpoints are just good manners.
Greater transparency of other players' loot in PvP
The Dark Zone PvP area is great. A quietly seething microcosm of paranoia and ever-impending violence, it’s pretty much The Hunger Games, if made as a ‘70s political thriller and loaded up with sticky-bomb launchers. Anyone can be friend or foe, and it’s impossible to predict who – yourself included – might turn in a moment, brain frenzied full-Gollum by the promise of sweet, sweet plunderable loot.
What’s slightly niggling is that it’s currently a bit of a crap-shoot. With no way to scan players’ load-outs, a la Destiny, and no visual indictator as to the unequipped and very, very stealable Dark Zone gear they might be carrying, it’s nigh impossible to know when it’s worth risking a pop, and when you should leave well alone. Of course, air-lift zones are always a focal point of team-on-team violence, given the near guarantee that someone is trying to get some good stuff to safety, but relying on such does rather funnel the action into a predictable set of rhythms and locations. There’d be more interesting drama if we could get at least a vague indication of how valuable any given player’s load was - or at least whether they're packing those oh-so-valuable DZ keys - at any given time.
The clarity of rogue player states
‘Rogue agent! Get him! Hurrah! Got him! Oh shit, I’m rogue now and everyone’s trying to kill me because the game lied about the other guy, or at least got confused, or just flat-out hates me, and oh God there goes my loot’
Yeah, the first Division beta was not always spot-on when it came to accurately relating which players in the Dark Zone are goodies and which ones are baddies. It’s tense enough already, trying to separate friend from potential foe during each and every encounter with a stranger. Every chance meeting is a Mexican stand-off in the making. But when the game is falsely flagging innocent players as legitimate, very guilty targets, and vice versa, you’ve got a whole extra headache. On a related note, we could really do with better detection of unsolicited aggression too. Having a grenade thrown at your squad is sometimes apparently fine, but retaliate with gunfire, and suddenly you’re the bad guy. Cheers, Division beta. You’re the inattentive, judgmental parent we never knew we wanted.
More consistent player counts
Sometimes The Division is a warzone. Sometimes The Division is a tense, vibrant, kill-or-be-killed melting pot of heroes, villains, opportunists and mercenaries, quiet enough to make that distant gunshot a terrifying harbinger of potential doom, but busy enough that you could stumble into total carnage around any corner.
At other times though, The Division is a desolate, empty place where you just walk around endlessly, waiting to bump into another human being, A human being who will never, ever show. You’ll cry tears of loneliness, and they will freeze upon your face, creating a permanent monument to your isolation.
The Division beta's server loading seemed rather inconsistent last time, is what I’m saying. The increased player count of the open beta will surely help with that, but making sure that the population is spread around equally will really boost the fun.
Greater explanation overall
Did you know that your character’s Tech statistic affects his or her baseline damage output? Heck, did you even know what your character’s Tech, Security, and Medical ratings are? No, most people don’t, going in. But they’re actually pretty important.
Working somewhat like Destiny’s passive armour bonuses (which affect the cooldown of your various abilities, The Division’s magic numbers – similarly changed by your gear selection - modify things like your fire-rate, speed of weapon-change, defence, and use of skills. Alas, the game explains none of this (possibly because the beta skips the first few XP levels, and the tutorials that would presumably have come with them), leading many players to ignore the fine-tuning and customisation side of things for much of their play-time.
That’s rather a shame, as there do look to be some really interesting RPG systems at play in The Division. It could really do with better introducing them in the beta, lest too many walk away with the impression that it’s simply an open-world shooter with copious loot.