Monday, February 22, 2016

The Division, part three.

The Division

It's because I'm not American, I decide. That's what's missing from The Division.

This is my second foray into the ruins of Madison Square Garden, now with backup. Having someone to talk to has changed the experience, and I'm not sure it's for the better. It just gives me someone to complain to.

It's when we shoot our way through the repurposed stadium that I decide that The Division's problem is my own lack of knowledge of, or fondness for, the New York landmarks it uses. This could be any hastily-assembled field hospital we're spraying with lead and blood; I have no appreciation of the original location.

The second thing I accept is the unforgiving shooting. Another member has joined our squad, and we repeat the power station mission I completed yesterday. My carbine has come back into fashion against the flamethrowers, but there's no slack to help land headshots. I wish my controller was as precise as the fictional scope on my rifle; another shot passes a pixel to the left of its intended target without aim assist to pull it back on course.

We accept a bounty mission that tasks us with eliminating a murderer who, disappointingly, turns out to be just a gang member with a larger health bar and better drops. The target is, I'm told, a woman, which very well might be the first female enemy I've seen. I don't get close enough to see a difference with her character model.

Later, The Division makes a strong statement in the Dark Zone, where every figure in the distance must be regarded with suspicion. Compared to the desolate streets outside its walls, the Dark Zone is densely populated and thick with danger.

We get greedy with our looting and pay for it when the underground car park we've just cleared is invaded. I lose half my haul to the hooligans but accept it as a necessary lesson.

Extracting the remaining items from the Zone proves to be a tense affair; as we wait for the helicopter to collect our packages, several other players approach the extraction point. There is no way to tell, for anyone, whether the intentions of any other player at the table are nefarious.

My automatic turret is deployed in the final seconds before the helicopter arrives, one of several insurance policies intended to avenge their owners should someone get greedy.

The extraction goes smoothly in the end, my anxiety unfounded and my turrent unnecessary.

Afterwards, we go on the offensive: attempting to murder a player who assisted in fending off a spontaneous attack from NPCs. The plan backfires and we are quickly gunned down by the rest of the district. I lose nearly everything I collected, legitimately, before our ill-advised assassination attempt.

I notice I'm making a lot of comparisons between The Division and Destiny, none of which are yet going in Ubisoft's favour. With more forgiving and satisfying gunplay, Bungie's online shooter/RPG hybrid is more immediately fun. Its loot notifications celebrate each piece of gear you collect in a way that The Division's augmented reality-inspired labels don't - several times I pick up loot without being able to clearly see what the label says, or even before I can identify the icon telling me what kind of armour it is.

I carried no more love for the Cosmodrome into Destiny's early days than I do for New York in this beta, but the grandeur of the Mothyard's bright, wide spaces contrast against the dark claustrophobia of Lunar Complex in a way that the various streets of Manhattan cannot, weather system or not (although a shootout against rogue agents in a Dark Zone blizzard is thrilling in a way no Destiny fight has ever been).

The grid system of the streets constantly keeps me separated from events happening just a few yards away and gives me the overpowering sense that I'm running down corridors, being kept from seeing the landmarks that would reduce my reliance on the map.

It's hardly fair given the hundred hours I've dedicated to my Guardian, but there's a sense of ownership of the character, her weapons and her armour that I don't even feel the roots of with The Division. Maybe it's because I couldn't customise her, because this character is only temporary. Maybe it's because the real-world loot is so drab and samey; I've collected a dozen jackets and can't see any major differences between them. Destiny combined the functional and aesthetic elements of equipment, making the choice of boots a balancing act between being slightly more powerful and looking awesome. The Division lets me change my character's jumper, but I can barely see it and it makes no difference anyway.

I die for the last time, in flames, while exploring a contaminated checkpoint. I decide to return to my base, using fast travel from outside the Dark Zone, but don't make it through the door. The beta is ending soon; I will not benefit from any more upgrades. I don't even bother checking the stats on the equipment I salvaged from the Dark Zone.

I log out.

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