“Let’s see what the second wave is made of.” –Aaron Keener, The Division
Seven months after the events of The Division, where rogue First Wave Agent Aaron Keener abducted Russian scientist Vitaly Tchernenko, the Dollar Flu has spread around continental USA, and Strategic Homeland Division (The Division for brevity) are sent in to assist survivors and recapture Washington D.C., which has fallen to criminal organisations and vie for control of the American capitsl. After securing the White House as a base of operations, players head to the theatre district and assist a settlement in retrieving their compatriots, before reactivating the ISAC servers at the Jefferson Trade Centre. Along the way, players capture strategic locations to help survivors, can go recover the Declaration of Independence in The Division 2‘s take on National Treasure, and gain their first foray into Washington D.C.’s Dark Zone. Upon finishing the Jefferson Trade Centre mission, players also gain access to three pre-made level thirty characters, where they have the chance to take on the Black Tusks, an elite military unit with equipment that gives The Division’s a run for its money. Set in Washington D.C. during a sweltering summer, The Division 2 is a world apart from the frigid winters of Manhattan: snow and cold are displaced with overgrowth and foetid pools of stagnant water. The atmospherics are completely different, and where Manhattan offered a much more cold, desolate setting, Washington D.C. feels like Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us brought to life. The more vivid, colourful environment, and settlements that have developed now that the Dollar Flu is slowly starting to recede, give the impression of a world where people have adapted and endured despite the widespread damage that has occurred. However, while the new location is vividly rendered, I personally enjoyed the Manhattan setting to a much greater extent and felt that any sequel could’ve taken players to cities like Hong Kong or Tokyo, which would have really accentuated the consequences of allowing Keener to escape during the first game. Taking the game over to Asia would also have provided the opportunity to explore Asian cities: I would have thoroughly enjoyed having my Base of Operations at the Hong Kong Convention Center and fight through the skyscrapers of Central, or evade rouge Agents in MTR stations around Mong Kwok, for instance. The atmospherics for The Division 2 aren’t as memorable as those of The Division: a sweltering summer set in the Eastern Seaboard evokes imagery of basement-dwellers wasting away perfectly good summer days poring over TV Tropes’ forums or endless image macros, which is of course, no way to spend a summer.
Handling similarly to its predecessor, The Division 2 introduces some major changes into numerous aspects of the gameplay. Gone are the days of having to balance gear for firearms, toughness and electronics points, as well as concerns about blueprints yielding obsolete equipment and having to endlessly keep track of mods for gear. All of this has been streamlined so that things are easier to manage: with the right resources, players can continuously upgrade their gear as they level up without needing to fill their inventory with duplicates. The weapon modification system has also been improved, so that attachments offer side-grades for each weapon. Each optic, barrel, under barrel and magazine mod provides a benefit for a weapon that comes at a cost. In The Division, it was viable to attach a 15x rifle scope, suppressor and extended magazines for all of one’s weapons, since it would improve headshot damage, magazine capacity and accuracy consistently. The end result of this was that players would always run these attachments, leaving the others unused. With each attachment now providing one drawback in addition to its benefits, players will be made to consider what works best for them: certain barrel attachments reduce damage against elites in exchange for more headshot damage, for instance. The health system has also been redone; players now have an armour system covering their health, and medical kits are replaced by kits that repair damaged armour, forcing players to use their skills and consumables more wisely. Vaulting has seen dramatic improvement over its predecessor: in The Division 2, players can vault over smaller obstacles more quickly than large ones. Beyond some noticeable changes, however, The Division 2 is very similar to its predecessor and entering the game, I had no troubles at all familiarising myself with the gunplay and movement systems. While many of these changes benefit The Division 2, there are also some the movement system is not as responsive or crisp of the first – I was unable to walk properly after entering the Dark Zone, and occasionally felt as though my player was not going where I was asking. Modifying weapons was quite tricky, as clicking on a slot would always send me to the optics mods first. Visibility is also reduced, making it more difficult to see enemies and properly plan out one’s engagements. Random enemy encounters can also be frustrating: players generally feel a bit weaker in The Division 2, and getting flanked by unseen enemies can result in certain death. However, for its limitations, The Division 2 does feel to be a worthy sequel to The Division, being simultaneously familiar, while also introducing mechanics that show the developers have been mindful of community feedback.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The last time I wrote about The Division, I was trying to push my post count to one thousand ahead of the blog’s seventh anniversary, and when I wrote about The Division‘s open beta, it was three years ago. According to that post, I spent most of that Saturday on campus attempting to fix my lab computer, which had failed for reasons I can’t remember. Three years later, I’m on the lawn of the White House, repelling hostile forces as twilight sets in. For this post, I’ve got thirty screenshots, and I’ll be writing about the endgame’s Invaded mission in a separate post.
- I was fortunate to get into The Division 2‘s private beta; this was not open to everyone, and it was a stroke of luck I could experience things. After taking back the White House as the base of operations, I immediately began making my way to the Theatre to begin the campaign and side missions: the beta featured two stories and five side missions. My immediate impressions of Washington D.C. were that, while quite nice, it’s missing the same impressive atmospherics as Manhattan from The Division.
- The first campaign mission takes players to the Grand Washington Hotel. I recall travelling to the Eastern Seaboard some eight years previously, and the hotels in this side of the world have that sense of grandeur from an older period to them. Compared to Madison Square Garden in The Division, I did find that some parts of the mission were a bit more sterile in nature in terms of lighting and colour.
- As I fight deeper into the hotel, I entered what appears to be a banquet hall. Many hotels double as event venues for conferences, celebrations and other events, although at this point in The Division 2, it’s clear that the hotel’s seen better days. The Hyenas are among the first of the enemies encountered in The Division 2: along with the True Sons, they are the only enemies one will encounter during the private beta. The Division 2 seems to be missing an equivalent of the Cleaners, flamethrower-toting sanitation workers decked out in protective gear.
- The cleaners were a unique and interesting enemy to fight, and their presence in The Division 2 is missed. I ended up finding an M16A2 rifle during the first mission: rifles in The Division 2 are a separate category from the assault rifles, being distinct in dealing more damage per round and having semi-automatic fire compared to assault rifles. The Division only had marksman rifles, which could either be slow-firing bolt-action rifles or the faster-firing designated marksman rifles.
- Also absent from the private beta was the pulse: in The Division, the pulse is an indispensable tool that marks out enemy positions and when upgraded, allows players to deal additional damage against marked targets. Healing is also gone, replaced by a drone that can drop explosives on enemy positions or repair one’s armour over time. The armour repair is the preferred option, since armour is damaged very quickly. A particularly bothersome feature in The Division 2 is that players stagger whenever their armour is depleted, preventing one from ducking into cover and causing them to lose their orientation.
- We’re now nearly halfway through February, and the month has been brutal as far as weather goes, with -20°C being the daily high and windchill of -40°C a part of each and every evening. The bitterly cold weather has not dissuaded some of my friends from gathering, and on the weekend of the private beta, I was invited to bowling and raclette. It’s been four years since I last went bowling, and this time, I got three more strikes than I did last time. The grilled meats of raclette were a welcome respite from the cold: we decide to mix things up this time, and I brought fondue beef, as well as prawns seasoned with garlic powder and black pepper, which, in conjunction with the usual sausage, pepper, mushroom and cheeses, was the perfect way to ward off the cold after bowling.
- The evening concluded with two rounds of BANG!, a surprisingly fun card game. The next day, we went out for dim sum downtown amongst the still-frigid weather: the cold receded somewhat after har gao, deep-fried squid and beef chow fun, and I took the time to purchase some new sweaters. We also saw some ice sculptures at a park nestled amongst the skyscrapers,, but on account of how blistering the windchill was, could only stay for a few minutes. Considering how packed the weekend was, I’m surprised I managed to get as much out of the private beta as I did.
- The side missions of The Division 2 are more varied than those of The Division, and the first one I went through entailed collecting SHD tech. In The Division, SHD tech was used to optimise gear and was used only in the endgame, but here, they act as skill points for unlocking mods and perks for the player. There are various SHD caches scattered around Washington D.C., and nearby are gear caches as well.
- Because I have an entire post dedicated to the Jefferson Trade Center mission, I won’t be covering that in too great of detail. This mission entails reactivating the ISAC terminal before rescuing another Division agent. The summer setting does allow for some interesting phenomenon to be witnessed, such as partially flooded basements and parkades filled with disgusting algae water. It’s a very nice touch and brings to mind the writings of The World Without Us.
- I ended up playing The Division 2 on medium-high settings, which struck a balance between maintaining a smooth sixty frames per second and preserving visual fidelity. From a graphics perspective, The Division 2 is similar to The Division in many ways. Some textures in The Division 2 are inferior, but on the flip-side, lighting in The Division 2 seems to have improved over its predecessor.
- The parts of a narcotics lab can be seen here: during the intense firefight with the Hyenas, destroying the glassware will cause the chemicals to evaporate. The Division 2 features a new status effect: shooting at the Hyenas’s weak points releases a poison of sorts that disorients players and directly impacts their health without damaging their armour. It forces players to engage them at range, but when destroyed, it also slows the enemy down. The rushers are particularly bothersome, and so, I made it a point to have a good close-quarters weapon when dealing with enemies.
- When I encountered my first named elite in The Division, the ensuing battle took upwards of a quarter hour, and I wondered why my weapons were so ineffective. I wished I had a marksman rifle, and looking back, it turns out that the trick to beating Madison Square Garden was to close the distance and use an assault rifle. By the time of The Division 2, I am more familiar with enemy archetypes and know that snipers have weaker armour, so I ended up closing the distance using cover and then proceeded to melt the boss. Having finished both campaign missions, I unlocked the Invaded mission.
- One of the more amusing things about The Division 2 is that there’s frequently calls to assist other downed agents, and I invariably ended up helping no one. I get that dying during free roam is frustrating: in The Division, enemies are rare enough so that one is always prepared to handle them, even if they are a few levels higher. By comparison, reduced enemy visibility means that encounters with roaming enemies are not so straightforward, and it is possible to die from a bad flank.
- At some point during the private beta, I came across the Urban MDR. In The Division, the Urban MDR was an exotic semi-automatic rifle that dealt bonus damage to enemies afflicted by a status effect. While handling more like a designated marksman rifle, the Urban MDR’s classification as an assault rifle allowed it to hold up to 45 rounds, and deal bonus armour damage. It was an interesting weapon to use. In The Division 2, it’s classified as a rifle and handles similarly as it once did. I immediately placed an ACOG sight on it to help with longer range engagements.
- While recovering SHD tech from the Bureau Headquarters, modelled after the J. Edgar Hoover Building, I put the MDR to good use clearing away distant enemies. Two headshots were sufficient to down most opponents, and here, the Brutalist architectural style of the building can be seen. The Hoover Building resembles the Math Sciences Building at the University of Calgary, as well as Lakeview Square, a mixed use building I worked briefly out of during my time in Winnipeg.
- An open beta will be running during the first week of March, and at this point, I’m wondering if it is in my interest to continue, having already obtained a reasonably comprehensive experience of what The Division 2 will entail. If my progress from the private beta carries over, then I will definitely be taking another look in more detail, since it would be a chance to see if I can improve my loadout before the open beta ends (I’ve seen players get superior items in the Dark Zone), as well as attempt the Invaded mission with the M32A1 MSGL. Otherwise, I will likely stick with Ace Combat 7.
- Here, I arrive at the National Archives with the aim of recovering the Declaration of Independence. The mission felt distinctly like National Treasure, where treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) plans out an elaborate heist to steal the Declaration of Independence with the aim of securing the next clue to a major treasure. My task is rather simpler in The Division 2: all of the immensely complex security systems have been disabled, and it was a simple matter of walking in, destroying anything that moved with the MDR and then picking it up.
- After picking up the Declaration of Independence, it’s off to the main floor where the document is housed while on display. Players must fight a boss, but armed with the L86A2, I made short work of all enemies despite being surrounded the instant I joined the fight: here, I’ve equipped the seeker mines to act as a smart grenade of sorts. I note that The Division 2 has an impressive soundtrack: the music is well-done and rather suits the atmospherics, similarly to how The Division‘s incidental music accentuated the atmosphere in the game.
- During control point capture events, players have the option of calling in support, which makes the fight considerably easier. The Division 2 also introduces stationary weapon emplacements: mounted M134 miniguns allow players to put an insane amount of hot lead downrange, and when used properly, can allow a player to tear enemies apart. Even named elites do not stand a chance. With this in mind, when players are at the receiving end of the weapon, they are pinned down and must move carefully – being exposed to its fire will eliminate players very quickly.
- During my run in The Division 2, I only picked up one specialised weapon: the RPK. With extended magazines no longer quite as overpowered as they were, LMGs are modestly useful again even during the endgame, where their larger ammunition capacity means being able to deliver sustained, consistent damage against the exceptionally tough Black Tusks. Against ordinary enemies, I found that LMGs are best used at closer ranges – their recoil can be quite unruly. Shotguns have also been given a major improvement: the double-barreled shotgun I acquired was a one-shot kill, and I found a Saiga 12K that could consistently deliver two shot kills.
- The first of the Dark Zone missions is a PvE introduction to mechanics in the Dark Zone. It was a breeze to complete, especially since I found an MPX prior to entering the Dark Zone. In The Division, the MPX was known as The House, an Exotic SMG whose special talent was dealing bonus damage with one half of the magazine. Without any downsides, this is easily the best Exotic in the game. I’ve gotten four of these over my time, and the weapon is beastly. Even though the MPX loses its Exotic status in The Division 2, it remains very powerful.
- I encountered several players in the Dark Zone, and for the most part, everyone was friendly, preferring to work together to clear landmarks. I revived a few players who were downed in the tougher landmarks, and for the most part, found the Dark Zone to be surprisingly easy compared to its predecessor’s – my gear and weapons have been normalised, so everyone’s gear performs the same for PvP, but also allows players to hit harder against the enemies, which scale accordingly with players.
- Once I familiarised myself with the Dark Zone, I was clearing landmarks on my own, but for the most part, I was hesitant to pick up any gear and call in an extraction: my experiences with The Division‘s Dark Zone was harrowing, and I was killed by groups of Rogues. Towards the end of The Division, however, I was powerful enough to melt individual players who had gone rogue, but I still prefer staying out of sight and away from groups, since four players could easily overpower me had they any semblance of skill.
- I did end up focusing on clearing supply drops: for the most part, they are straightforward to finish, and armed with the MPX, I burned through enemy elites like a knife through butter. There was a strange bug during one of my attempts where the enemy elites threw grenades that staggered me, from incredible ranges, and I failed to reach the supply drop. In the chaos, another player got to it first, but because the drops don’t yield uncommonly good gear, coupled with the lack of incentive to go rogue, I let the player go.
- The Dark Zone in The Division 2 lacks the same intimidation factor as The Division‘s: whereas The Division‘s Dark Zone had biohazard containers, hazmat equipment and coverings everywhere, plus deadly contaminated areas that evoked a terrifying feeling of dread, The Division 2‘s Dark Zone lacks the same sense of doubt and unease, acting more as a designated area for gear hunting and PvP.
- This is why I remarked earlier that Washington D.C.’s Dark Zone, and general atmosphere, feels more like the conditions under which Tango-Victor-Tango’s original founder and co-founders discussed the formation of a site for cataloguing tropes in media: sweltering, muggy summers of the Eastern United States seem the perfect conditions to discuss creating a new website while sharing a few brewskis. I don’t drink, but I do remember walking the neighbourhood with a friend while discussing the progression of various turning points in Tango-Victor-Tango’s history years previously.
- Unlike the beta for The Division, this time around, I did end up making the level cap for the Dark Zone: in this landmark marked “hard”, I soloed and blasted all enemies to reach Dark Zone rank ten, the cap for this private beta. The MPX served me very well against all manners of opponents, having a good firing rate, magazine capacity and damage output to handle both named elites and rushing enemies. At this point, I had a small collection of items, and I decided to give extraction a whirl to complete my Dark Zone experience.
- Normally, when I call in extractions, hordes of enemies rush me: even with a Gear Score 289 character armed to the teeth with the six-piece Classified Striker’s Battle Gear, exotic weapons and two hundred hours of experience, the Dark Zone of The Division remains a harrowing experience. By comparison, The Division 2‘s Dark Zone feels less suspenseful: the scariest moment I had was when a player decided to hijack my extraction. I decided to fight back, knowing that I would likely die and lose items I weren’t worried about. We destroyed the first player, but then the second player, “Camobiwon”, decided to fight me. I blasted him with the MPX, his health melted away and he died nearly instantly. I ended up completing the extraction and was left to wonder if a normalised Dark Zone would lead to some more balanced PvP combat compared to The Division.
- Here’s my final loadout for the private beta: I ended up collecting the same number of specialised items, although truth be told, the MPX handled like an exotic, with how much damage it was dealing. Subtle icons can be seen amongst the items, indicating that The Division 2 is likely taking the concept of gear sets and applying them to non-high end items, as well. Overall, this wasn’t a particularly bad run for the private beta, and having more or less done everything to be done, I would later go on to successfully solo the Invaded mission available. I will be writing about this in greater detail soon.
After reaching the level cap, I ventured into the Dark Zone to wrap up the introductory mission and also explore it: unlike the previous The Division beta, there was also the Invaded endgame mission to experience, so I did not linger. During my run of the Dark Zone, I ended up running around various landmarks and clearing them, helping the agents that I encountered. I decided to call in an extraction to see what the experience in The Division 2 was like, and found that unlike The Division, it’s not quite as harrowing, with fewer enemies rushing onto the capture point. However, I did run into two players who figured they could try and get some free stuff from me. One had already gone rogue trying to cut the rope – another player and I gunned them down. The surviving player then tried to kill me, and I subsequently ended up melting them somehow, successfully completing my extraction. With a reasonable idea of what the Dark Zone was like, I headed off into Invaded, which I will write about separately. Overall, The Division 2 looks to be a very entertaining game – Ubisoft has promised a smorgasbord of endgame activities to keep players excited, and aside from issues with movement, as well as grenade-staggering and some UI and UX issues, this sequel seems fairly solid. With this being said, even though The Division 2 has been stated to be quite doable for solo players like myself, I find that as a day-one purchase, The Division 2 is better suited for those who’ve got a few buddies they can squad up with; I can see this game as being very entertaining for players who can play with friends. As for myself, I see myself picking The Division 2 up, not immediately, but at some point in the future once I’ve seen a bit more footage of it, as well as after giving the game some time to see a few patches: by the time I joined The Division during its 1.8 patch, the game was practically flawless and remarkably enjoyable solo.