So over the last few days we’ve been pumping hours into Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division beta, and to be honest with you, we’ve got some mixed feelings regarding gameplay.

Tom Clancy’s The Division is set in a fictional New York City amid a harmful chemical outbreak. The unfortunate infection was spread during the Black Friday sales – the lengths some people will go to get their hands on a cheap LED television. The city is on full lockdown. This is where you come in. You play as a character that’s part of a civilian sleeper cell that’s tasked with bringing unity back to the American city.

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You enter the beta as a level four operative, with an objective of getting a base of operation back online. There are three key people who you need to rescue in order for your base to be back to an operational standard. Each of these key NPCs work in three wings connected to your base: a security wing, tech wing and medical wing. Once you’ve rescued these three key workers in what felt like tutorial missions, the whole map opens up to you. During the beta, we could only rescue a medical officer from a nearby hospital.

The great thing about it is that everything unlocks at once, although some missions will be too high a level for you to take on. The three wings are important as these make up the RPG element of the game.

From what we saw in the beta, you are able to equip two skills at a time. These skills at the moment represent the framework of all RPG games: a tank, a healer and a damage dealer. Corresponding skills match these types. For example, a healer skill lets you distribute medical attention to your squad, or if you want to be a tank you can set up a temporary shield to hide behind on the field of combat.

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There are more RPG elements to the game such as Perks and Talents, but these weren’t available in the beta for us to comment on yet. You’ll have to wait for the review. An exciting thing for me was the rarity tree for equipment and weapons. There’s nothing more satisfying than stumbling across a rare bit of loot. Weapon modifications such as silencers and optical sights make this a game full of customisations to match your play style.

Loot can be obtained in a number of ways. There are vendors scattered around the map for you to purchase goods and sell your unwanted junk. You will also find useful items on the bodies of your victims. A beam of light shoots into the sky to highlight they’ve dropped something of interest, which is a nice touch.

The game I must admit is beautiful. This is Manhattan at its finest, even if it is during a crisis. Weather changes look absolutely fantastic. Snow storms in particular put you in a state of array and can disorientate you as you make your way through the abandonned streets.

The HUD works extremely well as you can see in our images. Not once did I find it to be intrusive, and the important sections such as health seem to have been strategically placed so you don’t have to take your eyes off of the action.

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One huge thing with The Division is, wait for it… NO LOADING SCREENS! Okay, that’s a lie. There is one long loading screen when you first launch the game, but after that, you’re free! It’s one things that Massive has able to bring to the game. IT makes the game flow so much better than other RPGs or MMOs on the market and gives you a heightened immersion into the map. Even going between sections of the city doesn’t stutter to load the next area. Bear in mind I am playing the beta on a fully specced PC. I can’t give an accurate account on console experiences.

The biggest let down for me was the linear story mission. I really hope it wasn’t a representation of what’s to come, otherwise that would be dissapointing. The mission felt very corridor based, following the bread crumbs until I finished a full circuit of the building. Yeah the path did brach off into different rooms of the hospital, but the only things I found in these rooms were healh packs and energy bars, which you can give to the struggling citizens of New York. I would have liked to have seen a little more variety, but saying that, I only played one mission in a beta test. Let’s hope that the further you go into the game, the more intruging the story missions become.

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What made up for this was the Dark Zone. This in an area of Manhattan that has no restrictions. Inside the Dark Zone is a free-for-all, PVP-style arena. Don’t venture too lightly, you’re bound to get a shotgun shell to the back in no time, which is what happened to me; over and over again. This is where The Division’s squad play gets really interesting. You and a maximum of three friends can play as a squad at any one time. Inside the Dark Zone you need to work together to obtain loot in the form of yellowish bags. Once you’ve found some loot, you have to work together to defend the area until extraction arrives. It’s tense, violent, and very frustrating if you die at the last-minute, only to see your loot being stolen by somebody else.

My overall experience with Tom Clancy’s The Division beta was great. It looks absolutely stunning, was a very solid game, and more over, there are no loading screens. The game debuts on our shelves in March. I only hope that there are surprises in store for us as good or better than what they’ve shown us so far.

You can find more information on the offical The Division website. The beta we’ve read will continue until Tuesday 2nd February.

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Stef Murphy

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