E3 2018: hands-on with The Division 2 – a major upgrade over the original game

At this year’s E3, Ubisoft creative director Julian Gerighty said team behind The Division 2 tried to learn “everything” from The Division to help make the sequel better. As he reminded me, the original game’s final DLC was especially meaty in terms of PvE content and PvP balance, but it’s the first impressions of the game that mattered most: The initial Dark Zone iteration is still what gamers remember best, and that’s not necessarily a compliment. I myself was not impressed with the original demo back in 2015.

But based on my preview of The Division 2 at this year’s E3, I can say that Gerighty’s team obviously learned quite a bit – and absolutely improved on the original.

A change of scenery

The biggest thing many people will notice in the current flurry of The Division 2 images is the open spaces. Gone are the towering New York skyscrapers that gave the maps a slight claustrophobic feel. Oh, they’re actually still in the game, as Washington, DC, was selected as the new game’s setting thanks to its diverse real-world environment. But the emphasis is much more on the openness of the map. In some ways, that also makes it feel ever so slightly more generic: It’s still a war game, just with more style.

It also has more of an RPG twist, as you level up, choose a (changeable at any time) specialization, can see where your explosion will hit, and have tips on creating combos (my survivalist specialization had a chemical shot that could be comboed with another shot to create a fire hazard). That’s not even including armor and weapon modding.

But it is still a war game. While it doesn’t do all the “right” things we talked about during GDC, civilians are a big part of The Division 2’s PvE dynamic world. You may not get it from the demo, but saving civilians isn’t just an abstract goal; the captured NPCs can actually be freed to take over the area you’re trying to liberate. They may need help with food and other supplies you can deliver to them. They’re not simply objects to interact with but AI with their own programmed desires and goals. So that system brings a lot of context not just to the battles but to the idea of The Division as a whole.

This is what’s sold me on the game as a sequel capable of surpassing the original. It’s one thing to do more variety, new systems, new weapons, support for crafters (yay!), and creative classes. It’s another to integrate them in a way that better simulates stories players can interact with. In theory, to me, that’s art. I’m generally not into more realistic games, but understanding that our battles have some weight, even for a few hours until hostile respawns may take over a civilian outpost again, means everything to me in a persistent world. We’ll have to wait to see just how much weight it has at release, but right now, I’m intrigued.

Familiar feelings in a less familiar place

All that said, some of my impressions of the first Division’s demo have carried over into this second. Loadouts felt like the new classes, and terrain is still highly interactive, but the PvE emphasis better showed the story, though not the dynamic function Gerighty told me about. It’s a limitation of the demo, but an understandable one (especially given that the machines were stressed to the point that we were told not to open the map unless we wanted to risk crashing the demo).

The open space certainly changed the cover system. The look of everything still screams “typical shooter,” but the feel, however, is different. Moving to cover in New York, for example, was always a short dash. In DC, though, you could encounter a long stretch of coverless danger. I am used to playing on the backline during these types of demos, but as my grenades and chem shot showed a pre-fire blast zone with the latter being a set up to combo a fire field, I felt bold enough to take more risks, and it often paid off.

AI was smarter than expected. Once again you have NPCs using cover and dashing out to treat or revive their allies. Reading targets is easy enough. But when mobs also sneak behind you, flank you, press your cover, and ignore blunt distractions, the risk vs. reward in positioning pays off. I did bump into some frustration at having to constantly elect to jump off terrain, as there were plenty of platforms and ledges near cover I was trying to sneak through. I imagine it’s part of the learning curve.

Again, The Division 2 isn’t usually my kind of game, and memories of the Dark Zone PvP situation probably have many readers expecting this game to be Division 1’s launch all over again. But from an MMORPG perspective, I could certainly appreciate the dynamic ideal of the PvE in ways similar to Guild Wars 2. Ubisoft truly does seem to have learned a lot. This may actually be a title to watch, not just for general gamers, but MassivelyOP readers who want challenging PvE in a realistic setting.

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in Los Angeles, California, for E3 2018, bringing you expert MMO coverage on Anthem, Fallout 76, Elder Scrolls Online, and everything else on display at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo!
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Diego Lindenmeyer

only changed the place, thats the “major” upgrade? lol xD

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jay

If they make it easier/more organic to find groups I’m all in. If they have the same random group finding system that they had in Div 1, I’m out. I could never ever find people to do the group content with, and would just log out in frustration, and then uninstall the game in D1.

K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

First of all, I love The Division. But I have these questions:

(1) Will the Dark Zone still suck?
(2) Will solo players still be able to get whatever gear they want for their builds now that there are “raids”?

Teh Beardling
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Teh Beardling

I just hope the Dark Zone isn’t the shit hole it was at D1’s launch. I hated that area so damn much. I generally play an RPG how I would like to believe I would act in real life. I see a downed fellow agent, I rush in to help them up. Help eliminate the enemies moving in. Only to get gunned down in the back by the person I just rescued as soon as the danger is clear. It was the most frustrating experience of my entire gaming life(and I’ve been gaming a LONG time). Eventually I just quit going there and eventually just quit the game entirely. I don’t mind PVP. In fact I love it in games like WoW. But there, enemies and allies are clearly defined. The whole free for all muddled mess in things like the dark zone, while slightly more realistic, are not fun in the slightest unless you’re a prick.

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ZenJitzu

Agreed. I like the idea of it as an experiment or a way for players to PvP, but I don’t like how it’s integral to the game in terms of rewards. Half of the new Shields require you to spend time there, and you can’t even get the weekly reward in the game without clearing Dark Zone enemies.
Last time I was there, my team of two accidentally went out the wrong door after fast traveling to a checkpoint, and surprise surprise, gank squad outside.
I prefer Ghost Recon Wildlands’ method…just make PvP a separate thing.

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Diego Lindenmeyer

They changed the city … Nothing more.. .They should just have launched as a Expansion and not a new “whole” game
Gonna wait till its 10bucks to buy it again

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A Dad Supreme

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time in The Division, this is probably the only game that I’m 100% sure I’m pre-ordering in the next year.

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Vorender

At this point, it’d probably just be safer to wait for Division 3 to release by Christmas.

Godnaz
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Godnaz

Waited over a year from launch to buy Div1 on Steam sale for $20 after the Jesus patch dropped and people were raving about how much better it got. Will be waiting for a Steam sale on this one as well. If you looked at the E3 release list, too many great games are launching around the same time that for me, this is just a filler.

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Loyal Patron
Nic Hickman

I know suspension of disbelief is vital in any video game, but in the first one I just couldn’t get over the fact that you had these regular humans, sometimes with a bit of padding or armour, that were just insane bullet sponges. It just felt so odd having a whole group of people pumping what must of been thousands of rounds into a bad guy who grunts like he is having small rocks thrown at him. It was a disconnect I just couldn’t get over. And unless they’ve come up with something I can’t conceive of to overcome that, I imagine it’d be a problem in the sequel too. The only alternatives I could even think of were realistic damage for all, which would turn it too much into a Rainbow Six vibe, kill off the RPG elements and scare away casuals, or more sci-fi elements with robo-armour or virus infected mutants, which would kill the ‘very near future’ vibe.

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Rolan Storm

Yeah. Had to imagine my agent has paranormal abilities and enemies are mutants.

The only thing felt off about the game.

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Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

Dynamic world…so does this mean that bad dudes will periodically take back zones and there’s going to be a constant battle for territory related to the NPC aid? Because I’m already mostly sold on the sequel, but this would just be a whole mess of cherries on top of the sundae.

Also, patch is live for the first game with the “Shields” system thingy. Apparently it’s basically another achieve system of sorts that gives you bonuses in the first game for completing shit (including retroactive rewards) and will provide some kind of rewards for the sequel.

Guess I’m getting back into Division again for a bit : |