The time has finally come, and The Division 2 is upon us. It’s a big game, far expanded from the original, and we’re reporting from the front lines with the first entry in our review-in-progress format. Our early access started alongside everyone else this past Tuesday, and we’ve spent the last three days digging in and seeing just what this sequel has to offer. Join us as we begin to review The Division 2.
Back in December of last year, I was lucky enough to fly down to Red Storm studios for an early preview of the game. At the time, we were looking at PVP, first in the Dark Zones and then in structured matches. Even though we were only looking at a tiny slice of the game - a few hours total - I walked away more excited for what The Division 2 than probably any other game this year.
The original Division was one of those games that just dripped with promise. The fundamentals were a lot of fun, even in the early days just after launch. The looter-shooter style of gameplay was far more novel then than it is now, but the constant sense of progression, tight gunplay and a fascinating and all-too-realistic game world drew me in and kept me thinking about those early experiences every time a new open-world shooter gets announced.
Like many of you, though, I dropped off. I didn’t stick around for the fixes, not because I was unhappy with the game (I’d stuck mainly with PVE), but because of my unique position as a games writer drawing me away. I watched from the sidelines as people hit endgame and the complaints started to rise. Also like many of you, I came this close to returning once fans began proclaiming that Ubisoft had fixed the game and it was better than ever.
The Division 2, in many ways, is the culmination of the trials of its progenitor. The hope here (because I’m not far enough to say for sure myself) is that The Division 2 will be the game The Division should have been - and then blown up with fresh ideas and features to achieve full-blown sequel status instead of a “Division 1.5” like happened with Destiny.
Having already experienced a preview of the endgame, I can tell you that it is expanded and is a much deeper game later down the line. Or should be, if the preview holds, so I’ll be testing that as I level up and have the same go at is as all of you. Let’s talk about what I have experienced.
The game opens with a bang - literally if you use grenades. After creating your character, you’re thrown into the game world and are fighting for your life almost immediately. This is the kind of tutorial I enjoy. It’s not heavy-handed and teaches you by doing before getting out of the way again. You’re introduced to The Division and the first opposing force, The Hyenas, in short order.
Let’s make something clear here: there’s some crazy stuff going on in this game. I mean, it pulls no punches. Within ten minutes, you’re walking your way through D.C. like Will Smith in I Am Legend (and I’m convinced they put a deer in front of you because they know you’ll try to shoot it) and then single-handedly taking down two dozen thugs assaulting the White House. And yes, I shot some fools because I’m nothing if not a good patriot.
Anyhow, you don’t stay there long. It’s a touch point to teach you some more of the game’s systems. It’s in the White House foyer where you’ll decide your first skill. These are defining abilities that change how you’ll approach a battle. I toyed with the idea of a turret or maybe the picking up the hive bomb that recharges your shields if you stand in its circle. In PVP, I found the blast shield useful, but for my first foray into the open world, I went with the attack drone. It’s small but extremely mobile, able to fly and hunt down enemies that are attacking you or specific targets you want to be whittled down. It’s excellent for picking away at Hyenas in far away cover and does a decent amount of damage, too.
If you’re picking up on the fact that these essentially fall into the Trinity, give yourself a point. Like most open-world massively multiplayer shooters, The Division 2 essentially lets you specialize into a class and synergize with other players. As you complete missions, you’ll unlock perk points to further expand your character, such as specializing in a specific weapon type or cutting cooldowns. Gear you find also has attributes that feed into the “role” you choose. I use parentheses because you’re not selecting anything so much as gearing toward the playstyle you enjoy or would be most beneficial to your team.
So far, I haven’t opened up my game to other people. I’ve been playing late at night, opting to complete story missions. To its credit, the game doesn’t beat you over the head to invite other players, though you can sometimes tell that some encounters were designed with small groups in mind. In fact, the first mission you pick up from the second settlement is clearly designed with a group in mind, throwing waves of enemies at you that may not be overly hard but are so plentiful as to feel like they’re dragging on a bit.
Thankfully, playing the game is a lot of fun. The gunplay is fantastic. Weapons have a sense of impact and power to them that other looter-shooters (ahem… Anthem) could learn from. I wound up moving away from an automatic rifle to a single-shot and had to check to make sure it wasn’t a shotgun. Now, I want to find a shotgun. I’m pretty sure my enemies will wind up a fine red mist.
The game world is also beautiful. D.C. is a much more fun city to run around in. Spring has arrived, so greenery and color are popping up everywhere. At times, running around in the original felt almost depressing with its grey, brown, blue wash of color. I’ve found it to be exactly the opposite here and the level of detail is nothing short of impressive. Remember that deer I shot? It landed in a puddle that slowly turned red and rippled around its body. Then I shot it again, and it became really red. That’s a funny anecdote, but if you look close, there’s an attention to detail that’s really remarkable. The art team has done an excellent job of making this world feel real and once-lived-in.
All of that said, even though I’m having a great time, my early first impression is that this is more Division. That’s not a harsh criticism, in fact, it’s what I would expect only a few hours into a sequel. Plus, I liked the original Division. Before I report back in the next week or two, I’ll be looking for the game to open up and show me how it stands on its own. I’ll also be diving into some group PVE and PVP. If my preview was any indication, that might be how The Division 2 is experienced best.