Ubisoft’s The Division had a rocky time. An online co-op RPG shooter in the vein of Destiny, early bugginess and cheating issues tripped it up out of the gate, and overall uninspired gameplay left a lot of players (including DT’s Phil Hornshaw) feeling cold.
Never one to go down without a fight, however, Ubisoft is taking another crack at the concept with a sequel. The Division 2, set to launch next March, brings the game to a new city and a new state of de facto apocalyptic ruin. The first game was set in a wintry Manhattan just after a devastating chemical attack brought American society to its knees.
Jumping ahead seven months, the sequel turns its gaze south to Washington D.C.. The hot summer and lack of infrastructure caused by the society crushing disaster have turned our nation’s capital into a swamp. As a member of the eponymous Division, a clandestine unit of sleeper cells set to activate when America is in crisis, your goal is to help restore order, even as another clandestine group seeks to use capitol as a means to nefarious ends.
In a short demo at E3 2018, we took several cracks one of the game’s many co-op, open world activities. A persistent online game like this will live or die by its systems, progression, and community, so it’s difficult to get a sense now of how the larger experience will shake out. The moment-to-moment gameplay felt solid, if familiar, and seems like it will likely appeal to fans of The Division, but won’t necessarily break out into wider audiences.
Get off my plane!
As part of a squad of four players, we were tasked with clearing out a “control point,” which was being held by some local ruffians. The mission was broadly divided into three encounters. First, we came upon a group executing civilians in an indoor plaza. We snuck up from the balcony above, and that high ground advantage allowed us to quickly and easily mop up the fight.
Next, we moved outdoors into a much more open area than we generally ever saw in the cramped, Manhattan streets of the first game. With the Capital building looming in the background, we made our way across a field littered with debris toward the control point we sought to liberate, the crashed hull of Air Force One.
A persistent online game like this will live or die by its systems, progression, and community.
Although the landscape was open, the encounter itself was very straight forward. Swarms of baddies milled around the plane, and we had to make our approach carefully, relying on the surplus of chest-high walls everywhere to take everyone down from cover. The open environment meant that we were particularly at risk of being flanked If we weren’t careful, so coordinating as a squad to cover each other’s backs was crucial.
We were also able to call in the help of a local faction. When available, you have the option to summon AI-controlled allies, who would make their way to our position and pull fire from the enemies. Whether you’ll have access to these allied factions and how they’ll be equipped is one of the game’s dynamic elements, so using them may feel a little more interesting as new and more varied scenarios arise.
Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Bullet Sponge
In addition to standard guys with guns, The Division 2 also adds some spicy new enemy types. One kind that gave us a headache had packs on their back with hoses from which they sprayed expanding foam goo (not unlike the G.L.O.O. gun in Prey), which would slow you down and eventually completely immobilize you as it accrued on your limbs. Once we had taken down a sufficient number of bad guys, the boss emerged: A big, beefy boy with armor that we needed to whittle down before we could finish him off. The boss didn’t add any particularly new or interesting tactical elements besides his increased resilience, which brought to mind one of the major criticisms we recalled from the original Division — that enemies tended to be bullet sponges, which felt contrary to the tactical combat the game encourages.
Taking on the boss did provide a good opportunity to use our new special weapons, however. A new addition in The Division 2 from the first game, when characters reach level 30 they will gain access to a new, specialized weapon. Our first time through the demo we played as the Demolitionist class, which gave us access to a heavy artillery gun that quickly chewed through the boss’ armor. The second time, we played as the Survivalist, who carried a crossbow with bolts that would explode in an area of effect after a short delay. The delay made it harder to utilize well, but it struck us as something that would be well-served by better team coordination, since your allies could help drive enemies into the blast zone.
Divided we fall
After taking down the boss we then had to hold the control point against a new wave of enemies coming at us from the Capital, again with an armored boss unit. This was essentially a mirror of the first fight, but from a defensive position, instead of offensive. Our first round went incredibly smoothly as two of us held the high ground up in the plane while the other two controlled the flanks, driving enemies into a tight kill zone. The second attempt couldn’t have been more different, as the squad was scattered around the ground and kept dying while separated.
The Division 2 also adds some spicy new enemy types.
Like the first game, The Division 2 is clearly designed with groups in mind. Playing with a coordinated team creates plenty of opportunities for tactical positioning and synergizing between different weapons and items between specialized classes. Alone, however, we anticipate that the same mission would be a bit of a slog as you just grind through enemy HP bars.
The Division 2 seems like a solid iteration on the first game, expanding upon its third-person co-op gunplay with more open environments and a greater ability to specialize. Where the first game was following in the footsteps of the immensely successful Destiny, however, The Division 2 enters a different market; one where “live games” like Destiny 2 are struggling to maintain the enthusiasm as its predecessor. We will have to see how well The Division 2 can address the larger problem of how to make an endless online loot grind as compelling as publishers clearly want it to be.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC March 19, 2019.