When The Division 2 was announced at E3 it was clear that Ubisoft Massive had a potent secondary outbreak planned. Even the disenchanted veterans in my old crew questioned whether we'd stay immune from this new strain. Personally, I went into my 3 hour hands-on skeptical. Now, as I make my way back from Ubisoft Massive's Swedish campus, I'm sneezing up a storm.
Unsurprisingly, The Division 2 promises to shift the timeline and setting a bit -- the sequel whisks us from the rotting, post-pandemic Big Apple ahead three months and over into Washington D.C. These two cities aren't exclusively virus-ridden, either, as the “Dollar Virus” has been deposited far and wide. (I tried to find out how Australia fared in Ubi's universe -- the general vibe: yeah, we're also screwed.) It's so nice to be included.
Once more, it'll be your job – as a super-secret agent with a weird beanie obsession – to shore up a collapsing metropolitan area. To reopen the mother of all U.S. government shutdowns. To drain the (literal) swamp of opportunistic looters who are just one sweet Mohawk and a flamethrower guitar away from becoming George Miller-esque psychos. Fortunately, you're not alone in all this. Respite and logistical support can be found from law-abiding citizens who have banded together in makeshift forts. And yes, they're still try to price gouge you, their saviour, on parts and ammo. Screw you, game logic.
“When thinking about the Division,” says Julian Gerighty, Creative Director, “the thing that I was most proud of was what I call the hybrid game. You could play The Division by yourself as a story-focused campaign. Co-op-minded players could tackle all of that content with a four-person fire-team, too. We also offered PvP and atypical PvP in the Dark Zone area. With this sequel we're taking all of our learnings across three years and are applying it to a new buffet of activities.”
"Though the numbers show that the uber-intense Dark Zone was long-tail content folks loved returning to, Ubisoft Massive insists that they're dedicated to delivering a quality, lengthy campaign, too..."
Though additions are in order, Gerighty insists he and his team are determined not to subtract from the three key pillars that they feel make up a Division title. Delivering a similar sandbox is important because this is a contiguous open-world – you can go anywhere and do anything (though if you and your mates go into a zone marked above your level you'd best hold onto your butts).
Though the numbers show that the uber-intense Dark Zone was long-tail content folks loved returning to, Ubisoft Massive insists that they're dedicated to delivering a quality, lengthy campaign, too. The Division's narrative lasted 40 hours and, surprisingly, Gerighty notes that more players finished it than any other story-based Ubisoft title. Knowing this, it's a pretty safe bet to say that our quest to save D.C. -- nay, the very soul of America -- will have had some serious thought and effort put into it. And hey, no matter what Massive's writers come up with, it probably won't be more far-fetched than the actual WTF dysfunction unfolding in the U.S. right now.
Dive-rolling back to the DZ for a second, I was lucky enough to get a good 3 hours with this sequel's iteration on it. For the uninitiated, this fairly unique content can be described as PvEvP – you try to burn through mobs of AI while watching your back against cutthroat players out to speedhole your pancreas and tax your Exotic-tier loot. The DZ delivered many a controller-biting moment for me in 2016 but was also the source of some incredible victory anecdotes. Thankfully, all that magic and masochism of the DZ remains in this sequel, plus there are some cool new twists on the formula.
While engaged in a feud with some self-serious European critics, team Australia and I learned the intricacies of the new Rogue system. Admittedly, the basic repercussions haven't changed much if you ignore all that altruistic agent crap and go put a bullet someone's thinkin' machine. As before, you'll light up as a free meal on your server until a short timer runs down.
That said, become a mass murderer in The Division 2 and you go into Gold manhunt status and the longer this is prolonged (by triggering checkpoints about the DZ) the higher the risk-reward goes. Lastly, there's now a petty thief indicator called Grey rogue. Should you swipe a downed player's gear and locate some terminals, you can triangulate a secret merchant who'll buy and sell sweet gear (providing you don't get your head blown off in the process).
Other things of note: VOIP chatter has been removed in an effort to reduce rando toxicity, damage normalisation is being implemented and friendly fire is now a button toggle. There will be no accidental fights anymore, just intentional dickishness
"Dedicated PvP is all well and good, but a more important box needs to be ticked in my mind: PvE longevity..."
Furthermore, there are now three separate DZ locations to chew through (Union Station, Fisherman's Wharf and Georgetown). Each of these areas will come with unique architecture and geographical challenges. One might favour long sight-lines, another may have town squares that make for exploitable killzones. In one area, my team and I learned to take tactical advantage of the blinding effects caused by a chemical fog and light piercing through overgrown vegetation. Anybody vectoring in Eastward to us would cop a natural flashbang effect. Nifty stuff.
Lastly, I'm told about (but not shown) Occupied Dark Zones that will spawn in the world on a “cadenced rhythm.” The frequency of these events haven't been locked down, though the timeframe mentioned is “maybe weekly.” In these particular hell holes, friendly fire is always on, and zero normalisation will make your build choices crucial. The upside: an ODZ will be home of the best lootin' in the game.
“During the operations of The Division, we noticed something else fascinating,” mentions Gerighty while we're on the topic of player-on-player violence. “Groups of agents were creating their own fight clubs. They were designating locations, making sure they had squads available, all for the purposes of facing off. Seeing that, we brought in PvP with update 1.6 and it was so well received we're including it on day-one of The Division 2.”
Dedicated PvP is all well and good, but a more important box needs to be ticked in my mind: PvE longevity. Destiny 2 and the original Division faced problems in this area; folks like myself, voracious consumers of raids and DLC content, ran out of stuff to do way too fast. Gerighty insists he and his team “has focus on the end-game activities” with a scheduled year of free updates in the pipeline. It's described as a “very robust post-launch plan”. That's a nice bulletpoint, but I've been burned before. Only time will tell on this.
On the topic of promises, I hear the correct collection of words that'll guarantee my day one attendance. What drove me away from The Division, after roughly a year of OCD grinding, was the presence of experience-destroying hackers in the Dark Zone. “We've reworked the client server architecture,” assures Gerighty. “[The Division 2] puts much more on the server side of things -- and the server count will be increasing, too. We're also including anti-cheat capabilities with an internal and external system.”
Everything seems to be in place, then. The new mechanics and tweaks in The Division 2 feel like sensible ways to build upon an already solid foundation. Finally, being out of the goddamn snow for once is appreciated, too, plus I'd simply forgotten how on-point the gunplay is. Honestly, this sequel feels like pulling on an old favourite beanie again with a few extra pom-poms added. When the Feb 7th beta rolls around, and my S.H.D. wristwatch lights up orange again, I really don't think I'll be able to resist the call.