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PREVIEW | The Division gets deadlier after dark

Jonathan Lester
Action Games, Games previews, Gamescom 2014, PC games, PS4 games, RPG, Shooter, Ubisoft, Xbox One Games

PREVIEW | The Division gets deadlier after dark

The last time we left our heroes, they'd emerged from a vicious street fight and secured a new base of operations. The Division's first gameplay trailer gave us a look at how players will cooperate to take back New York from the deranged survivors of a chemical attack; using both gunplay, strategy and RPG-esque skills to outmanoeuvre and outsmart their foes.

It's all right here in this E3 video. Watch it, else nothing that follows will seem wondrous. Or make any sense.

Ubisoft brought the next chapter to Gamescom 2014, or perhaps more accurately, the prequel. After showing us the daytime section again, running on Xbox One and iPad, they whisked us off to a new section of the game set during the previous night. Manhattan feels like a totally different place after sundown, an eerie and haunting environment that feels preternaturally wrong as you carefully pick your way through the ruined streets. A once bustling city now silent and deserted, save for the packs of hard-edged operators stalking through the rubble.

However, the day/night cycle is more than just a stylistic choice. New threats come out to play once the sun sets, and you'll need to work together in order to survive until dawn.

PREVIEW | The Division gets deadlier after dark

Players will navigate their way around Manhattan using the Megamap, a cheeky reimagining of the traditional minimap. Once activated, an enormous holographic projection of the city springs to live around you, showing both landmarks, points of interest and areas of human activity -- whether friendly or otherwise. Our guide used the megamap to locate the nearest pocket of civilization, towards which the players stealthily embarked.

On the way, they encountered some looters in a ruined warehouse and decided to engage, helping to raise the region's Security Score (hence relative safety) in the process. The Division is set to be a full-blooded shooter in terms of cover and AI; ensuring that player skill is always important. You'll need to flank, suppress and take down priority targets in order to press on, though a range of RPG-inspired skills and equipment is on hand to tip the advantage. Rather than front-load players with a 'class,' your role will instead be dictated by your weapon of choice and your abilities, the latter of which can be mixed, matched and upgraded using four rotating wheels.

PREVIEW | The Division gets deadlier after dark

Acting much like a cylindrical tumbler lock, you can rotate your skill wheels to select four skills that compliment your preferred combat role or the situation at hand. Favouring a shotgun, one demonstrator therefore selected a deployable hovering drone equipped with a strobe light to disorient and distract enemies, alongside a sonar pulse that highlighted hostiles for the rest of the team. The second player dropped into a support role, using an upgraded healing skill accompanied by a deadly automatic turret. Ensuring that you stay ahead of the curve by earning experience and skill points, investing wisely, then choosing the right combination for the job at hand will be key -- and more to the point, convenient and accessible by the looks of things.

The cell therefore tore through the looters with ease, using the sonar pulse to keep track of enemies and maintain good cover, helped by a third player as the recon drone. iPad owners can synchronously join game sessions as an eye in the sky with more than just a passive role; here deploying tear gas to flush looters out of cover into shotgun range. It's a nice idea, but I'm not convinced that it will be more than a gimmick in the long run, seeing as most players will want to enjoy the full console experience at home and won't have speedy enough internet while out and about.

PREVIEW | The Division gets deadlier after dark

After finishing off the stragglers, the team subsequently began the happy task of looting the bodies. Gear and equipment is a key part of any RPG, and another important facet of The Division. Our demonstrator happened across a backpack with improved storage capacity alongside an advanced gas mask, which are key to unlocking more of the city. As much of New York is still infected by the biological agent that devastated the population, you'll need to continually beef up your protective gear in order to access new areas. A passive turret buff was also up for grabs, useful for beefing up a particular playstyle.

Donning their new gear, our demonstrators made their way to their objective, which they approached with caution. Apparently there were people in the vicinity, but what manner of person was entirely unknown. They therefore opted to conduct some stealthy reconnaissance, which paid off in spades, because it turns out that they were facing a large squad of Cleaners.

PREVIEW | The Division gets deadlier after dark

They're an odd bunch. Half insane murderous gang ripped straight out of The Warriors, half death cult and all volunteer janitors, The Cleaners are obsessed with eradicating the virus with extreme prejudice. A laudable mission statement that ought to make them key allies, except that their sterilisation methods involve burning everything to the ground, innocent civilians, buildings and all. Well-equipped with protective Hazmat gear and incendiary weapons, they're a force to be reckoned with, especially at night.

This being an open world game, leaving them alone and quietly running in the opposite direction is absolutely an option. Which would have made for a rather boring demonstration, let's face it. Instead the team switched up their skills to better fit the situation, such as modifying a seeker mine skill that would have contained an explosive charge (not so useful against tooled-up pyromaniacs!) with a stunning effect. Rather than engaging the durable hostiles directly, the players kept the Cleaners confused and disoriented long enough to take them out without suffering ruinous damage in the process.

PREVIEW | The Division gets deadlier after dark

Eventually they cleaned out the post office, which turned out to be the self-same post office from the original video. The Security Level increased, and the team reckoned that it might make for a decent base of operations... if only the Security Level was high enough. Bringing our story up to date.

Ubisoft are still keeping The Division under wraps as much as possible, dribbling out information on an irregular basis. Partly to keep the hype train rolling without overshadowing the likes of Assassin's Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4, but also presumably so that unrealistic expectations based on unrepresentative early builds don't eventually backfire on the finished product (see also: Watch Dogs). The fact that it was running on Xbox One was encouraging, as was the hybrid gameplay we saw, so hopefully The Division will do the business once it releases next year.

Probably. If not 2016.

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