Tom Clancy’s The Division is and forever will be an underrated looter-shooter that everyone still loves to hate. Granted, it launched in a horrible state with a lackluster narrative focus and extremely frustrating gameplay mechanics. It lacked the depth you would expect from an MMORPG. And the much fabled Dark Zone-Rogue system became a griefing hotspot for the first few months of the game. It was a recipe for disaster and it became one. But after 2 and a half of years of active post-launch support, The Division is a fun experience.
Ubisoft Massive stuck by it’s failing game and boy did it pay off.
The project to save The Division was something brilliant altogether. If I was to compare the game I played at launch and the game I play now, I’d be at a loss to criticize it. The game is a different beast now. The Division is one of the most atmospheric and engaging MMORPG with a very fun PvPvE system I’ve ever played. So naturally, when Ubisoft Massive announced back on March 9, 2018, that The Division 2 was in active development, I was elated. As a fan, there was nothing more I could ask for.
On Ubisoft’s E3 presentation, Julian Greighty unveiled to the world what their vision of The Division 2 is. An open-world, looter-shooter RPG set in the ruins of Washington D.C. The premise of the game was kept intact as was the core gameplay loop. Yet enough changes were made to the game that if felt like a proper sequel.
Mainly, the outlook of the developers had changed over the course of development from The Division to The Division 2. The game was developed with an “endgame first” concept and the rest fell into place. For the first time, reaching max level won’t stop your progression but it will augment it. For the first time in The Division’s history, 8 player raids were being developed. It looked like a good time for old and new players alike.
The developers have been transparent about their game and content plan so far. All of the gameplay mechanics have been explained in quite a detailed fashion. The raid, titled Operation Dark Hours will take place in the Washington National Airport and will feature the endgame specific Black Tusk faction. The Year 1 content plan will feature 3 free updates with narrative missions, new game modes, new specializations, and new content to dive into.
Players were promised a taste of these things in the now-concluded Private and Closed Beta and again in the ongoing Open Beta. And after sinking some time into it, I can say that this is what The Division 2 should be at launch. The gameplay is crisp. The game feels and plays exactly like The Division but is different enough in terms of atmosphere and gameplay that it feels fresh. The world feels much more accessible due to the design and placement of landmarks. The map is dotted with activity points and faction politics for you to dip into and be a part of. The map encourages exploration through hidden alleyways and looting opportunities. And carefully placed settlements and safe houses allow players to rearm and regroup.
The developers have taken their time to iron out the issues that plagued the first game’s open world experience. Where The Division struggled with crafting a sprawling world with only side missions and collectible hunt, The Division 2 introduces active world events and control point invasions allowing a steady stream of dynamic content. The story missions aren’t bland either as completing these unlock further interactions with more characters and even open up opportunities of gaining some additional benefits at your home base. You can recruit characters and use their expertise to benefit your base and increase their effectiveness. Side missions aren’t just shoot and loot either. This time around, some side missions are as interesting and meme-worthy as securing (read: stealing) the Declaration of Independence.
While the beginning world state looks mighty fine, the Dark Zone and the Endgame have been looked after quite a lot as well. In The Division, your introduction to the Dark Zone was sure to be unpleasant. Toxic players would camp the entry gates and kill any new player because it was “fun”. In The Division 2, your first foray into the Dark Zone is strictly PvE. This is to encourage new players to take on the high risk-high reward gameplay, next time they’re in the Dark Zone by letting them know that measures have been taken to prevent early level griefing. Stats in the Dark Zone have been normalized to prevent imbalanced PvP fights and rewards have been adjusted to allow Rogue and Manhunt players and justly compensated.
The most fun aspect of the Open Beta is the Endgame. The Black Tusk faction are no pushovers. This faction has mechanized Big dogs with guns and drones on top of well-trained mercenaries armed to the teeth. You do not want to take them on alone in the Beta. Fortunately, you have three powerful specializations to rely on to take on the challenge. These three specializations and the signature weapons do even the playing field a lot. A coordinated team of 4 players can finish the invaded missions pretty easily and the rewards aren’t exactly bad either. The risk-reward-satisfaction experience is really good and there’s nothing better in an MMORPG than a good endgame.
However, a variety of bugs have already been spotted in the Open Beta client. Ubisoft Massive has promised that these bugs are actively being worked on and will be fixed in the day 1 patch. But there are more problems that The Division 2 isn’t looking at.
The Open Beta only introduces us to 4 skills out of 8. While the 4 skills are pretty balanced on the outside, some sub-skills are clearly a better option than the others. At this rate, the skill usage meta is pretty significantly balanced towards overwhelming DPS over support and tanking. I’ve rarely seen people use the Repair flying drone as a support player.
Certain UI options are totally redundant. If I need to deconstruct my gear or open a reward box, I shouldn’t have to go through 3 checkboxes or UI options to do so. Time to kill in certain situations feel completely out of touch, especially in PvP. The Skirmish game mode can turn into a kill box if you get caught in an alleyway and if your exits are cut off allowing for zero counter-play.
Ubisoft has already revealed that cosmetic customization will become a thing in The Division 2 as well. The Division 1 introduced us to loot boxes in the form of Premium caches which have a significant chance of returning. And with more customization options compared to the first game, The Division 2 can quickly become another micro-transaction hellhole.
The already announced Season Pass will include 8 exclusive assignments and Base of operations projects which have not been elaborated upon. If these projects and missions offer some exclusive gear that somehow screws up the balance of the meta, the game will soon turn into pay-to-win and that is the last thing a full-priced MMORPG needs.
The Division 2 promises a lot of things and it has a lot on stake. The Open Beta is promising but will it be able to have a stable future? Or will it devolve into another mess like The Division and will require a herculean effort from the developers to make it great again? As a fan of the series, I desperately want to be proven wrong about my anxiety. But until it launches and proves it’s mettle, I’ll be a wee bit skeptical of The Division 2.