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The Division 2 Private Beta Impressions
Just the right nudges
When Tom Clancy’s The Division was offered as a free game for PS Plus subscribers in Asia last month, I gave the game a shot. And many of the other live service looter-shooters that are now in vogue. I have mixed feelings about it. My hype for the sequel, The Division 2, fluctuates for weeks as I try to comprehend this series.
After playing the Private Beta for The Division 2, I can safely say that Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment are changing the right things to make the base experience just a bit smoother. And the new addition in content looks like a meaty one for fans and veterans of the previous game. But I still have a few minor, personal, quibbles on it.
Sense Of Place, But The Place Is Muddy
The Division’s setting of a recent virus oubreak in wintery New York was such a great, realised space. It’s a believable location that isn’t just all there to serve gameplay. It is filled with environmental storytelling cues. Yet the many spaces you visit served gameplay due to the many, many cover places you can duck down too.
Also, the ability to close doors on cars and see the tyre popping was a neat novelty.
Some time has passed in The Division 2 and now you are in Washington D.C. in summer. When I first see the setting in the E3 reveal, I was bummed. The series has a bland and at worst generic aesthetic thanks to its focus on being grounded- it’s a Tom Clancy game after all. The winter setting in the first game sets it apart but now, I fear it will all just be muddy and brown.
For the most part, this is unfortunately true. A lot of the environment just looks ugly. And no, I also mean it also looks unintentional ugly due to slow texture loading so everything can look all muddy for the wrong reasons.
However, Massive Entertainment managed to flesh out the open world map to feel just as a believable space as the previous game has. In a side mission location, a hotel was converted into an outpost for one of the enemy factions. They are an organised bunch it seems, as you see a board of patrol shifts with sticky notes plastered. In the safe spaces you visit, you can spot kids playing around the area. Old banners are repurposed and painted over for one vendor I saw.
And to sell you that some time has past, pristine cars with doors opened are a rarity. And the piles of garbage you can spot has grown vegetation. Even wild animals can be spotted roaming the area. There are no random civilians hanging out in the streets no more, ally forces will go out on patrol and will engage in enemies naturally, so the world feels more alive without contradicting too much with the core gameplay.
Quality Of Life And Accessibility
The Division 2 also addresses some minor but important issues that should make the looter shooter RPG feel better. The UI is noticeably snappier than ever, with less need to navigate through tabs. Equipping gear is also faster.
Plus, you can even customise individual elements of the UI- making as big or as small as you like, or disable some of them.
And props for making a very in-depth setup screen. Before you can start a new game, there’s a multitude of options to adjust outside of the regular brightness settings options. Subtitles and inverting Y-axis are available here too, which I find welcoming.
The Shooting, The Looting And The Numbers
If you’ve played The Division, The Division 2 feels right at home, for good and bad. The weapons are all resembling real weapons and they shoot as good as you expect. Except for the shotguns, they still lack the punch and heftiness you expect from a video game shotgun.
Combat are of the cover shooter variety. But it’s fun, thanks to smart AI enemies. They will attempt to outflank you for sitting in one place too long and will retreat should they be in danger.
I loved that they changed how health is displayed. Being an RPG where guns with bigger number do bigger damage, this means at worst the first Division is a bullet sponge fest, popping and shooting your very realistic looking gun just to see the health bar slowly drain.
Instead, you now start the game with armour with a small regenerating health bar. This slight change plus all of the enemy factions actually looked like geared for tough firefights, makes it a bit more believable that you need guns with bigger numbers to do damage. And you can soak more damage too.
Another improvement in the sequel is the change in how skills work. Rather than unlocking boring abilities, you instead unlock a platform- or a skill archetype. Say, you can have a drone used for healing, or use another variant that can shoot enemies.
It’s a fun way that allows for more free-form builds compared to the previous game. Though I feel like some platforms feel odd to use. The seeker mines, which in theory will move to a target you select and blow up, don’t work as much as I wanted it to be.
Also, looting is streamlined as well. You only get to see your character in animation kneeling down to open a box when it’s rare loot inside.
The Private Beta lets players play a couple of side missions, encounters dotted in the open world and two main missions. These plays out similar to the first game, nothing of note aside from the much more pronounced soundtrack. The soundtrack’s good!
After completing the two missions, you get access to the endgame. By the endgame, your character can have three different specialisations, each with a signature weapon exclusive to them and special grenades. The beta allows you to try all three and one endgame mission, which is essentially resuing one of the main mission but now with tougher enemies.
And they sure are tough. There are new enemy unit types to fight and can be overwhelming. Despite the reuse of a main mission location, it works. You follow the same path but the fights unfold differently where the extra kit you are not just handy, but essential to survive. I just hope that these endgame missions don’t become too samey from its original counterparts.
I did not get to try the Dark Zone, the series’ signature PVE/PVP content, though it seems some good changes are heading there too. And a post-launch update will add 8-person raids, which sounds very intriguing, and should excite players that are willing to sink their teeth into this game.
Overall, The Division 2 is poised to be a better one of these looter shooter RPGs. It brings the right amount of small changes to keep new players engaged, while adding big new content for the series veterans and those that want to spend more time in the endgame. The summer D.C. setting might not look the most aesthetically popping, but the world remains well-realised as you expect from the previous game.
Ubisoft has announced that there will be a public beta coming just before release. So if you need to try the game for yourselves, you can do that too.
The Division 2 will be out on March 15th for PS4, PC (Epic Games Store, Uplay) and Xbox One.