When the original Tom Clancy’s The Division released back in 2016, it created a lofty new chapter for Ubisoft, one in which players could interact across Manhattan following virus fallout that literally tore the country apart.
However, like its title suggests, Divisionleft people somewhat…divided. Its “Games As a Service” model served several gamers that didn’t mind earning their keep alongside their crew. But its design also annoyed several, to the point that they left just as things were beginning to pick up in game.
Overall, there was a lot to like, but also quite a bit that could have been done without. And it sounds like the developers at Massive Entertainment may have learned from their mistakes, based upon our hands-on time with The Division 2. With the beta literally just hours away from happening, we wanted to talk about what we experienced in the game thus far- as well as what lies ahead if you do manage to take the country back.
The game takes place in Washington D.C. this time around, just seven months after the events that occurred in New York in the original game. You portray a Division operative that decides to change locale upon receiving a distress call. And your first stop is rather ironic, to say the least; you’re asked to go to the White House, where a group known as the Black Tusks, with their own ideals, have seemingly set up shop.
After cleaning house and getting accustomed with The Division 2’s combat controls (more on that in a second), you begin to reclaim control from these rival factions, beginning with a stop at a local stronghold, where a faction leader’s daughter has been taken. Working alongside a team of fellow operatives, it’s your job to slowly work your way through the enemy regime, working as a team to stay in one piece as you come to the main objective, where a fierce baddie and his armada of soldiers await.
Before we get to the missions, though, let’s talk about the base of operations. After taking care of the enemies residing by the White House, you’ll see a number of perk options available to you within the base, and watch as they open up by completing missions within the area. As you make progress, so does your settlement, and more things open up to you, including new supplementary weapons and other things to help your soldier improve.
Along with completing main missions within the game, you can also trek around Washington and take on roaming factions or prepare to take down a stronghold if you’re cunning enough. Before you do, however, you’ll need to keep a couple of things in mind.
First, enemies are a lot more organic in terms of behavior in The Division 2. They won’t stand around and wait to be bullet sponges. They’ll find cover and take aim at you; don’t be surprised if they call in back up.
That brings us back to the team dynamic. They will help you to your fullest in The Division 2, and you can also call for assistance when needed. In the midst of taking over a stronghold, this is the best thing you can do. The reason for this is because the enemies are tough in these places. If you try to roam in and just take over a base, you’ll likely meet your fate very quickly.
We learned this the hard way after attempting to take over a stronghold. After we thought we had cleared out a majority of the enemies in the base, five more showed up, guns blazing, to remind us just how fierce they really are. So, yeah, plan ahead, rookie.
That brings us back to the combat within the game, which I feel is a slight improvement over what the original The Division offered. The cover system seems to work a little more smoothly here, even though there are times that your scramble will turn more into a roll as you attempt to avoid gunfire. All the same, you’ll find it easier to “find a shady spot,” as it were, and fire back at enemies that are trying to destroy you.
What’s more, the variance of guns within the game is pretty nice, and you can always unlock new ones to help you turn the tide. Secondary tools, like drones and auto-turrets that fire within a certain range, are helpful as well. And it never hurts to take control with a manual turret when you get the chance, which you’ll want to take advantage of when it comes to larger enemies such as a heavy gunner that’s going to take a whole lot of ammunition to bring down.
You can also choose how you want your arsenal to play out, with a number of specializations to choose from. The survivalist, sharpshooter and demolitionist eventually become available (it takes a little bit of leveling up, but they’re worth it), each with special loadouts that can help turn the tide with the right team on hand.
The game is no easy run-and-gun affair. As I mentioned, the AI is a little more balanced here and won’t be waiting to go down easily. Fortunately, communication with the team went smoothly during our hands-on session, so it’s good to plan ahead, find a way to charge forward, and eventually take back control. Don’t rush- sometimes the right strategy can come from something on the fly, instead of simply running in and hoping for the best. This is no time to, er, divide.
As for the way the story plays out, the early hours seem to follow a pretty solid blueprint, as you help others that are devoted to your cause. It’s not exactly over-the-top storytelling, but it fits the Division motif, and it’ll get you prepared accordingly for the battles that lie ahead. I would’ve liked to have seen more personality from your Division member in the early going, but things will likely pick up as you meet more potential members that can help you out in a time of need.
One real noticeable change I noticed between the original game and The Division 2is its setting. Whereas the first Division was dark and gloomy, making it hard to get around sometimes, The Division 2 paints a much brighter picture.
Don’t get me wrong; things are still bleak in this timeline, and roaming soldiers won’t hesitate to ruin your day, but Massive Entertainment has done its homework, presenting a much brighter sequel that makes it somewhat easier to get around. The open world is a lot more visible this time around, so you can actually see landmarks that stand out, such as the National Air and Space Museum, where one of the missions takes place.
And it’s not just the open world that impresses, either. The Division 2 also has a wow factor when it comes to its interior settings. There was one battle inside a planetarium that was nothing short of fantastic, as you basically had to use the environment to your advantage to overcome enemies. The White House also looks great, joining other locations that have been surprisingly well converted into planning areas for your next move.
And all this is done with very little loading within the game itself. There’s the start-up, of course; when you start a new mission, it can take a few seconds. However, I was surprised how much better the game seems to run compared to the first. Again, that’s Massive Entertainment, doing its fair share of homework to present a better experience (at least, based on what we’ve seen thus far.)
There’s also sharp animation on the characters themselves. The human soldiers look great; I was surprised how fun these automated threats can come across. For instance, one stage has you facing off against what appears to be large robot dogs, walking around and firing away at anything that moves. They actually take quite a bit to bring down, so proceed with caution. Oh, and watch out for drones too. They’re terrible, especially when they ram into cover and jar you out into the open.
There are some things that might annoy players when it comes to The Division 2. For instance, factions appearing through doorways in groups that can pose a real hassle when your squad is exhausted from the last battle. This is especially true with the game’s Endgame mode, as they just keep on coming. We’ll discuss that in more detail in a follow-up piece.
But there’s something that feels pretty good about how The Division 2 has content to spare this time around- and it’ll come at zero cost. The developers at Massive have put together a fun little model in which the first year of downloadable content for the game will be free. We’re not sure what’s going to happen after that, or if it’ll convert to a “games-as-a-service” model following that point, but this is an excellent start that will keep players on the same page, rather than having someone fall behind because they don’t have expansion A or add-on B.
Again, the variety of content you’ll find within the open world is staggering thus far. Whether it’s taking down roaming factions, helping fellow Division members take back a crucial point on the map, or overtaking a stronghold loaded to the hilt with enemy soldiers, you’ll find a lot to do here.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to test out the online matchmaking with the game, since most of our team-ups were arranged with private servers in the event space. I’m sure this weekend’s forthcoming beta will provide such a test, and get Ubisoft ready for the wave of players that will be entering the game come mid-March. If they can have it running up to speed like the original game did, we’re golden.
As for that future content, well, we know about some future content that’s coming our way. That includes the return of Dark Zones, which will pose a challenge for certain players, as well as eight player Raids, which will tie in with the overall Endgame. Again, we’ll tackle that in more detail shortly, because, boy, are you going to have your hands full with it.
We enjoyed our time with The Division 2 (thanks to Ubisoft for flying me down to check it out), and chances are a lot of other players will be on board once they jump in for themselves over the next few days. It’ll be easy to notice what changes were made to make it more of a draw over the original, whether it’s within the visual design or the better range of missions or the smoother flow of combat. Don’t forget about the team dynamics, as well as how things will open up within your base and settlement as you complete more of the required content by their leaders. Take the time and you’ll see your investment come back in spades.
You can check out The Division 2beta from February 7-11 if you’ve pre-ordered the game; it’ll open up in the U.S. around 4 AM EDT on the 7th and conclude around 11 AM EDT on the 11th. That should give you more than enough time to see what it’s about, between its main content and its Endgame, if you manage to get to that point.
As for other players that didn’t pre-order the game or are waiting to see what it’s about, well, you’re going to miss out. I know some have mixed feelings about how the original Tom Clancy’s The Division underwhelmed you, but with the sequel, it really does feel like Massive Entertainment is trying to make right. It’s trying to abide by the rules that worked so well in the first game but also opening things up so players can have more fun. There are likely to be those that still hold judgment in some spots, but we assure you that the team is going for the gold this time around.
If you can’t get into the beta, you can check out Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 when it launches on March 15 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.
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