Interview: The Division 2 Does Away with Divisive Game-Design
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 10:13pm 05/07/18 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to not only get hands-on with The Division 2, but to also grill game director Mathias Karlson on what learnings from the first game they've brought into The Division 2, and also to deep-dive in how they're handling real-time rewards to players trying to save the world, post-epidemic...
Hindsight’s a helluva thing, innit? If the devs for The Division had that, at launch, they’d have had a pearler of a game, but the funny thing about hindsight is you need all the good and the bad to play out first, otherwise what you learn in that hindsight moment isn’t really anything. Well, that’s a roundabout way of dickishly pointing out the obvious: The Division, while fundamentally ambitious and solid in goal, just didn’t nail the right aspects out of the gate. It took some time to balance the game correctly for one, its end-game content wasn’t even remotely at a stage of ‘completion’ in the way end-game content should be. And it sort of didn’t know what it wanted be: action cover-shooter; RPG; action-RPG co-op “all of the above”; nothing seemed to settle in those early days, weeks and months. But the bright side of this preamble is that Ubisoft didn’t stop listening to the core users, and The Division bounced back and found its feet, and then some.
It’s also important to consider the journey the devs -- and players -- took with the base game, because every experience that manifested in that journey has affected the design and principle goals of the game’s forthcoming sequel, The Division 2. There’s nothing quite like deep-ending, trial-by-firing and then ashes-phoenixing (or pit-Lazarusing, while we’re at it).
“I think it's been... it's fantastic fun; a fantastic learning experience,” enthuses The Division 2 game director Mathias Karlson. “Launching Division 1, keeping it healthy; growing... this one [The Division 2] was [in development for] more than two years, so there’s been a wealth of learning from that. [So we’ve focused on] everything: making sure there's enough [content] for people to engage with given their type of... what type of player they are, how they like to play and engage the game; everything from solo up through to groups. And also how much time they put in.”
The Division 2 is in a unique position in the gaming landscape in that we’re essentially *living* through a state of decay, or at least the beginnings of a national fallout. In other words, The Division 2 isn’t post-apocalyptic, it’s essentially contemporarily-apocalyptic -- the world hasn’t completely fallen yet, and we’re playing through the second act before that final stage which, in the grand scheme of things, could see the story finishing on a more hopeful note than on one of despair. Other games tend to start off in the post, but The Division 2 wants to explore the catastrophe as it happens and plays out, which is an ambitious concept given the persistent online nature of the game. Like, how do you show dynamic and systemic change one way or another based on player-input in the world? Can agency be truly reflective?
“I think the two things I really want to highlight about what we're doing in The Division 2, because we've done so many things, so many improvements over [the first game] but of course also adding new things,” Karlson explains. “So the open-world is very important for us. And in The Division 2 we're making it much more alive. It's running dynamic simulations of not just enemy factions but also civilians in the city. Out and about acting on needs and goals which generates not just movement in life around you but also activities in the space for [you to engage] . So for me as a gamer playing through the game, it's super exciting -- what's going to come around the next corner, you know, because it's always changing.
“And then, as you saw in the presentation we said day one, end-game and transition into end-game is going to be excellent,” he continues. “So we want to make sure that this world I've talked about; it changes and evolves. The more you play The Division 2 in many, many ways the more there is to do. Because, you're building up yourself with all the activities in the world. So the world is going to react and change. [And] we're saving a little twist, a little surprise.”
The specifics of the game’s setting are also telling on where Ubisoft wants the game to go. It’s mostly set in Washington D.C., the country is enduring a heatwave, nature has started to reclaim the city and the space in which we play, is effectively lawless. However, NPCs will play a larger role and you, as the player, will be tasked with helping them, especially around restoring infrastructure, which leans into that concept of hopeful third-act gaming. Though this isn’t confirmed. But we’re happy to imply it based on both our time with the game, and in our discussions with Ubisoft over The Division 2’s overall tonal direction.
“I think a solid end-game for us is a mix of experiencing new things for the first time, [then] experiencing things you experienced before but in a new way,” he continues with equal enthusiasm. “So it's not just about re-playing, it's about re-playing with a twist, especially in the areas where we do re-play. And also what specialisations give us -- it's not just that extra content that sits on top, because we're adding to what we call the tool box. Skills, all the skill mods, your weapons... this [is the] ticking heart of the game. Which is the gear game, it's in the specialisation on top of that as your weapons upgrade and activities change… it gives you new opportunities to often play together. And super-important for us with the specialisations, is we have an overall design philosophy in The Division that you're growing your opportunity for “how to play”, not narrowing yourself. So you're not locking yourself into a class forever, it's not a class choice you're making. You're getting specialised track, when you're in that you get to play with those things. But then you can progress to other ones as well.”
Problematic and systematic of shared-world games is the lack of definitive reflection for player actions. In World of Warcraft, the impending doom remains impending because it never really comes. Your growth as a character; the gear you gain and your in-game real-world friendships are largely the only major reflections you can see on your actions in the game-world. But Ubisoft is confident that this is an area they’ll be able to cast in-game progress and feedback to the player, which they intend to do through the aforementioned NPC community and the help you’re offering them during this catastrophic event. In large part, Mathias and his team believe this is a tangible way of showing effect from player-action and decision.
“So The Division has always had a seamless connection between playing alone and transitioning in and out of multiplayer in different ways,” the game director tells us. “Just like Division 1, Division 2 is going to respect all progress you make, no matter how you play. If you play alone or if you play with a friend -- all the progress is always there for you. And now in Division 2 you're going to see a lot of [the]impact of your actions on the civilian side of the world; the people and these communities. You're going to see a very direct impact of your actions both out in the world, in the living world system and in these [how] communities [function]. Which in turn is going to benefit you.
“All the actions that you do in the game and in the open-world -- you'll see a direct relationship between that and civilian life in the city,” he continues. “Where they live, the betterment of their life, the betterment of their equipment, and in the living world their ability to hold territory [and] get the resources they need. And then them also helping you back.”
The game-world itself is roughly the same size as New York’s Midtown, from the first game, but we can expect at least a 20-percent increase in content and intricacies. And a lot of the Washington D.C. area has been recreated 1:1 from the real-world space. It is still difficult to imagine how they truly intend to showcase a changing landscape, but with planned content dropping in every three months post-release, they might be able to pull off an ever-changing game-world brimming with hope, despite a persistent danger. And, as we all know in these types of fictional worlds, it’s the humans who are the real monsters -- a fun segue to my final question about both co-op play versus the single-player option, and how they’ll handle PvP this time around.
“Absolutely not, it's really a core principal for us that there is no right or wrong way to play The Division,” Mathias asserts when we ask if the game is more centred around having to play with friends. “You can play through the entire story campaign into end-game and [then the] end-game [content], alone. [But] you can also do the same content [in] two, three, or four player co-op. Or eight player co-op, two full groups in the raid if you opt into the challenge that we're adding. So it's very important for us that you get to pick. Personally I'm a co-op player, I think the added synergies and the fact that you're playing together with other people makes it a richer experience. But many people at the office are, like, ‘that's cool, I like it in certain activities. But I want to have the bulk of the experience alone when I'm out exploring’. So there's no right or wrong.
“[And] we are super-committed to having strong PVP in relation to The Division 2,” Mathias concludes. “Just like in the first game: we are going to get you a revamped dark-zone experience, I can say that much. Really building on what we talked about before: the learnings of running it live and that very unique atmosphere, and essence of what the dark-zone is. But transferred into gameplay.”