The Division 2 Hands-on Preview – The End Is Just The Beginning

Whilst I enjoyed my time with The Division, it lacked the endgame content to keep me around. It was super atmospheric, it’s abandoned, crime-ridden vision of New York post-epidemic proved a really cool setting to go galavanting around with your mates, mopping up baddies. But once the initial series of missions were completed, I wasn’t compelled to keep playing. Still, I’m really excited to see what the Massive Entertainment helmed sequel has in store, and based on what I recently saw as part of an early look at their Beta, I think I’m right to be excited.

The Division 2 builds upon the formula and lore established by its predecessor but offers so much more. It includes everything that was added through numerous content drops in the original and promises more through free added content after launch. A generous amount of objectives quickly populate the map, each of varying difficulty. I didn’t experience much variance in gameplay, with each task seemed to involve you sweeping through a place clearing it of enemies, but it more than makes up for it in its environmental design.

Washington DC is a very smart setting for The Division 2, one carefully crafted through “dozens of trips” and “thousands and thousands of photographs”. It’s a smart setting not just because it plays into the lore – given that America is grappling with a national-wide crisis, it makes sense to travel to the capital – but because it offers much more diversity in terrain than the urban setting of New York ever could. DC is more spread out and nature plays a bigger role. You transition from rooftops to subways, from city streets to open parkland very quickly.

As David Kennedy, the Game Director at Ubisoft Annecy (one of the eight studios collaborating on the project), noted, “Washington DC has a lot of varied environments,” environments they aim to make feel alive with animals skitting about and NPCs venturing out in search of supplies.

“So they have residential in Georgetown or near the Mall, you have the monuments, some of the government architecture – the really Brutalist architecture of the government – you have commercial areas. You have a lot of variety. There’s natural areas as well, that are really cool.”

This invites much more strategic play than I remember in the first, which make for great cooperative play. Kennedy added, that it gives you some real opportunities to play with space and distances a little more.” Snipers are much more effective in these spaces, and my squad often juggled between weapons mid-firefight, flicking between shotguns for close-range and then the rifles for the distance. The carefully structured levels opened up multiple pathways, encouraging us to flank whilst others held down defensible positions. The enemies AI was impressive though, they quickly adjust to our maneuvers and came at us much in the same way. If I wasn’t careful, I very quickly surrounded.

One particularly memorable mission took place in the Air and Space Museum. Moving from exhibit to exhibit, from the planetarium to the Mars rover room, made for some really cool set pieces. You almost got too distracted by the environment to remember your target. Spaces like these made helped separate the missions, making each on unique and – I’d imagine – more easily replayable.

Of course, it is inevitable that there will be a bit of retracing steps and repeating missions areas. Such is the nature of the grind in games such as this. Although, given the opportunity to same some of the game’s early moment, then the endgame, the degree to which the challenge escalates is quite dramatic, which I imagine will compliment the variety in the map to make for more enjoyable replay then we’ve previously experienced.

The endgame sees a new, more challenging threat invade the map and repopulate regions liberated through the course of the main game. This opens up three different specialisations available at launch, each with “a new skill-tree where you can level up… gain[ing] new mods for your skills for your grenades… [and] a signature weapon.” Again, this varies play and excites me about actually completing the main story missions and getting stuck into the endgame, building up each class unlocking some sweet loot. And that’s before we even get stuck into the “super hard, eight-player Raids” that Kennedy was reluctant to talk about too much.

Much like we’ve seen in other games, the different specialisations “are not class locked.” Kennedy says, “if you choose to do the Sharpshooter, you can max that out and then you go back to do the Demolitionist or the Survivalist.” This allows you to swap between them to complement your squad if you go back to lend a buddy a hand in missions you might have already played.

All this comes after what Kennedy suggests is “40 hours” of main game content and before the additional content drops promised down the line. It looks and feels great, and includes almost too much content to cover in this preview. I’m sure we’ll have a lot to do once we have the game in our hands come March 15, and I can’t wait to get my squad amongst it.

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