As I’m sure you are aware, the juggernaut that is The Division is still going strong, with healthy player counts and continued support even to this day. However, as I’m also sure you are aware, the march of time waits for no man or game, and The Division 2 is gearing up to launch. In readiness, Ubisoft have decided to run down the ‘Private Beta’ route giving gamers the chance to check out the general state of affairs. With that in mind, I present to you my impressions of the state of the game, and thoughts about the Beta in general.
Now, before I start, I will be mentioning things that were wrong with the Beta experience, but please bear in mind that this is just that, a Beta, and as such I have strong hopes that Ubisoft will be able to sort out any issues well before launch.
Now, for the purposes of the Beta, a randomly generated character is assigned. I ended up with a rather scary looking lady, setting off into the city of Washington D.C. to see what was what.
The original The Division took place in New York, and followed the exploits of the Division as they attempted to trace the outbreak of a new deadly disease known as The Green Plague. Now, with modern travel links the way they are, the disease was never going to stay confined to one city, and in The Division 2 we find ourselves in Washington D.C. after the initial disease has ripped its way through the city. As we spawn in, we’re greeted by the now familiar post apocalyptic wasteland; all abandoned cars and rubbish everywhere. Unlike the original game, where the sight lines and vistas were dominated by high rise buildings and an almost claustrophobic feel when the weather closed in, this time the feel is much more open – much airier for want of a better word. The season appears to have moved on to spring/summer, the sun is in the sky and there is green everywhere.
As I took in the improved vista, a message came in to head to the White House! Luckily, Donald is no longer in residence, so I set off through the park. Apparently the perimeter of the White House base of operations is under attack, and we were instructed to sneak up behind the bad guys to engage them in a classic pincer movement. Running through a park on the way, I was pleased to see that the radar system from the old game still works the way I’m used to; as you get closer to enemies, the perimeter of the mini map lights up red, and then progressively the red moves to the centre of the map as you get closer. Using this to plan my approach, I snuck closer to the bad guys and then took cover. The firefight that followed was very satisfying. Not only were we the avenging angel taking out the bad guys, but the feel of the weapons and the cover system remains in place from the first game. This was one thing The Division always nailed: the almost geeky level of detail in how the guns looked, sounded and, most importantly, felt. This is present and correct again, and popping up from behind cover and filling the bad guys full of lead is still incredibly gratifying.
Having cleared the way, we are free to enter the White House, and speaking to people here, it becomes clear that the scale of the ambition in The Division 2 far outstrips the first game. Instead of The Division being all powerful and operating out of Safe Houses in New York, the neighbourhoods in Washington have already organised themselves into enclaves; small bands of resistance to the gangs of marauders that are prevalent everywhere. We have access to two of these in the Beta, and the first of these is the Theater District. We are sent there to get in contact with a Division agent who may be able to get us to do something that will probably save the world or something. To be honest by now all I wanted to do was shoot people, not listen to intricate explanations about SHD (pronounced “Shade”) tech and how we can use it. In true game style, reaching into the “Big Bag of Story Cliches”, the agent we need to speak with has left on a mission to save the enclave leader’s daughter, so we are sent to back her up.
The mission structure is a lot like the first game too. We are given a destination, and a suggested route to get there, but we are free to get there however we choose. Deviating from the route will be more dangerous, with random encounters with gangs, but may also give us access to loot, either stumbled over or dropped by enemies. Obviously, the better gear you have, the longer you will be alive, so checking the gear soon becomes second nature to make sure that you have the best loadout possible.
When we reach the mission, we are tasked with fighting our way through a hotel to reach the roof, and going tactically, room by room and clearing the way, is the correct way to achieve this. Going in half cocked, blasting in all directions like Rambo really doesn’t work in this game, as enemies are a clever bunch. They will use cover and attempt to flank, opening up on you from behind, which is never a nice surprise. They also have access to the same sort of toybox that the Division agents do, and can send remote controlled trucks loaded with explosives, or suicide drones with incendiary bombs on to you if you attempt to sit and camp.
The challenge of the encounters this time around seems to have been stepped up to just the right side of tricky, with many different enemy types and classes to deal with. There is the Rusher class, which is the one with the remote controls weapons, Melee class that run at you with axes, Assault class that use the cover to their advantage and many more, not counting the boss type baddies that appear as you progress. These bosses are a real pain, soaking up incredible amounts of damage before they go down, but on the plus side they usually drop some good loot. If you can find a way to use the enemies’ emplaced weapons against the bosses, they succumb a lot faster. Just sayin’!
As you explore the city, and complete missions for the denizens of the strongholds, side missions become available to you, which are helpfully marked on the map. The ones that I’ve played seem to follow the same template as the story missions; get somewhere and do some stuff. For instance, in one we had get to a garage, fight our way in, find some explosives and use them to blow some ammo caches, while fending off the attention of one of the factions in the game. This was challenging, but fun again, and when I say ‘we’ had to do it, I had managed to rope one of my friends in to play with me to check out the multiplayer aspect. Thankfully this was working well, and even though the enemies clearly scaled to the fact that there were two of us, it still strode the tightrope between “difficult” and “forget this!” very well indeed. When we died, although it wasn’t always our fault, we could usually see what we did wrong and adjust tactics accordingly to get through.
In addition to two story missions and the side quests, the Beta also gave a taste of the endgame content. To this end, after finishing the main part of the Beta, three more characters were unlocked, with three different specialisations at the level cap. On choosing these characters and stepping into a prepared mission, the learning curve went from steep to vertical!
Trying to do this alone, without a word of a lie, I played for an hour and didn’t get beyond the second part of the mission. The new faction that is introduced in this endgame have access to unbelievable technology, including giant robotic dogs with honking great guns on their backs that can ruin your entire day. Being made of metal, they soak up a ridiculous amount of punishment, and two shots from their charge gun was enough to see me dead. Even the grunts will mess you up beyond belief, and just killing one with a regular weapon is almost too much to ask. I’m sure that in the final game, with a character that has been built from the ground up, this section will be easier, but taking some buddies with you would not be a bad idea.
Another notch on the bedpost of difficulty is the fact that if you die, or if your fireteam all die, the encounter you were in has to be restarted from the beginning. This can be heartbreaking if you only have one enemy left to kill and you get overconfident – yes, this may have happened once or twice. The Beta also gave players access to the Dark Zone and some PvP content, but as the Dark Zone scares me and I hate the PvP, I didn’t get around to playing it. This is partly my fault, because I didn’t want to, but also partly Ubisoft’s fault, as the servers were turned off at regular intervals for up to three hours, really eating into the time available. On the plus side two updates were released, which I hadn’t seen in a Beta before. Swings and roundabouts…
So, the Beta has been fun, with improved graphics, much more ambition in the story line, and the familiar gunplay. However, there are some issues to report.
The worst of these is without doubt invisible and teleporting enemies. If you were to die and restart an encounter, quite often you’d get back to where you died and see no enemies, with no indications on the radar either. “Awesome!” you think, and stroll boldly down the middle of the stage to where you need to get, only to suddenly find yourself getting shot, or, on one memorable occasion, just going from all being well to being dead on the floor, without so much as a word. It appears that the enemies are in fact there, you just can’t see them. We learned that after respawning, to wait where we were for 30 seconds to give the game time to load the enemies, but even so it’s a major problem.
Enemies also teleport through cover when they need to, which makes shooting them entertaining. They would also magically appear behind us which was always extremely enjoyable and didn’t lead to much swearing at all. The cover mechanic needs a little tweaking also, as it’s all too easy to get hung up on door frames when under fire, leading to cheap feeling deaths. I think it’s because the dive/roll button is the same as that of taking cover, so trying to roll through a doorway usually results in your character taking cover on the wrong side of the gap, in full view of the enemies, where death is pretty much guaranteed. I don’t remember this being a major issue in the original Division, so Ubisoft need to look into it.
As I said at the top, the Beta hasn’t been perfect, but that is the point of them. Stress test the game, see what works and what doesn’t, and ensure that there’s time left to tweak these things before the final release. With what I have played, the engagement in the world seems to have taken a major step forward in The Division 2, with the enclaves to help, and by helping make your own Base of Operations stronger by recruiting personnel. Add to this the frankly fantastic gunplay, the balance between the weapons and the classes and the challenge that was represented, and I’m happy that The Division 2 is going to be something special. There were issues, there’s no getting away from it, but with a team of agents holding back the forces of disorder, this looks like a fight that I want to get involved in. In fact, The Division 2 is indeed even Divisionier!
Have you been playing the Beta? What did you think? Are you excited for the finished product or have the issues put you off? Let us know in the comments below!
The Division 2 will be releasing on Xbox One (along with PS4 and PC) come March 15th 2019. You can get a pre-order in right now by visiting the delightful Xbox Store.