My beta experience with The Division, Ubisoft's third person RPG/shooter hybrid, is not off to a great start, and I've still not actually played any of it. Building my own character is what I was most looking forward to when I started the game and seeing the tabs greyed out is equal parts puzzling, disappointing and distressing.
Eventually, unable to generate even a remote facsimile of myself, I settle on a randomised, vaguely Asian woman; I'd just kept requesting a new face until I found one who looks like she's been through some shit.
But I'm still not allowed into the ravaged ruins of The Division's New York - there's a multi-minute video tutorial to watch, narrated by an Australian who sounds unable to decide if he's excited or not. I get brief instructions on using cover, special skills and grenades, which will shortly be explained by in-game prompts anyway, but am left to figure out how to sprint, shoot and climb obstacles on my own.
A brief cutscene ends with my character deposited in a safe zone; my HUD lights up with vendor and mission board locations, which I ignore.
I accidentally stumble out into the deserted, allegedly mean streets and make for the nearest non-main quest, a firefight between several heavily-armed soldiers and a trio of under-equipped rioters.
I manage to turn the tide of the battle in the military's favour, by single-handedly killing all three assailants and their two backup shooters.
This is the first of several fairly satisfying combat encounters; I am routinely outnumbered, but my use of cover, special skills and grenades suggests I paid much closer attention to that tutorial video than my AI opponents. It feels much more like an RPG than its obvious main rival Destiny, with damage numbers springing from bullet impacts, but it lacks the punchy satisfaction of Bungie's headshots.
After circling the block twice searching for a door, I enter a building and am tasked, via radio transmission, with activating a number of scanners; the building is uninhabited and filled with lootable containers, so at first I don't even notice the countdown timer. I find and activate the final objective with minutes to spare. I go to the roof to transmit the scan results and kill five more men.
Eventually I find myself at the objective for the primary mission, a besieged museum. Once again the military is being overwhelmed by an opposing force with inferior numbers, inferior training and inferior weapons; once again the deciding factor in the brief battle's outcome is my lone agent.
It strikes me that my equipment and weapons, at this point, are mostly what I've scavenged from fallen enemies. My tactical approach, too, has more in common with the rioters, given that I actually kill the people who shoot at me.
How do the soldiers know I'm not a bad guy?
I go into the museum, another safe zone; my HUD lights up with vendor and mission board locations, which I ignore.
I log out.