WELCOME TO D.C.

As far as narrative goes, The Division’s wasn’t exactly moving. From my time with the beta, it appears that the story will once again be background noise in The Division 2. Part of the issue here is that you still play as a nameless Division agent who doesn’t utter a word of dialogue. You’re here to help everyone solve their problems, and the NPCs you meet quickly love you. But they don’t really know who you are and neither do you. Since that central identity issue remains in The Division 2, I don’t see how it will effectively tell a hero story, something that the original failed to do as well.

But that’s not to say The Division 2 isn’t moving in other ways. I was drawn to the original’s snow covered streets of New York City and sheer dilapidation of it all. It was a ruined, largely abandoned world that was simply fascinating to take in. Though I’ve only had a chance to explore a few sections of the 1:1 model of Washington D.C., I think Massive Entertainment and Ubisoft have outdone themselves with The Division 2.

Washington D.C. has plenty of interesting sights and sounds to uncover outside of the famous landmarks and buildings.

The opening scene sees your newly created Division agent head north to the White House, which, in a neat touch, becomes your main headquarters. You trudge through wide streets, filled with abandoned cars, barricades, and a handful of enemies that let you reacquaint yourself with the cover shooting loop.

As I moved toward my first true story mission, it became clear that The Division 2 feels much more open than the original. In the first game, I almost always followed the overhead objective arrow because most of the surrounding buildings and activities were too repetitive to bother with. Also, lots of what you saw couldn’t actually be explored.

The Division 2 Hands-on Preview

Sure, there are still some buildings and areas that you can see but can’t touch in Washington D.C., but there appears to be much more of an emphasis on giving players the freedom to explore. The objective markers are still here, but I often chose to take scenic routes or attempt to find shortcuts, dipping through alleyways where I found SHD caches for skill upgrades and ducking into buildings where I happened upon enemies going about their days.

If the modest chunk of the map I explored is any indication, Washington D.C. has plenty of interesting sights and sounds to uncover outside of the famous landmarks and buildings.

ACTIVITIES GALORE

While roaming the rundown streets of D.C. is pleasurable, it’s always nice to have a dedicated task to complete. The Division 2 is littered with open world activities. Along with your standard story missions and side missions (which are also quite involved), unlocking new safe houses and settlements opens up a bevy of projects in the area that go towards strengthening the settlements. While these tasks aren’t as in-depth as true missions, you’re now not just a passing visitor; you’re supposed to become a member of a growing community. And completing tasks for the NPCs you meet in these settlements contributes to a growth that you can see.

One of the cooler activities you’ll find in the open world are control points, areas of the map overrun by enemies.

The shooting feels great, the cover system works well, and the various gadgets, from turrets to drones, are all here.

Liberating a control point requires you to eliminate enemies, then call in AI allies with a flare gun to let them know the area is safe to occupy. From there, you give them resources to help get the community up and running. The resources diminish over time, so it appears you have to restock them to keep the enemies from coming back. I can potentially see this becoming a cumbersome activity, but what I played added to the sense of community The Division 2 is trying to build with its open world activities.

As far as the main missions and side content go, the handful I played before hitting the beta level cap were great. In one story mission, I had to rescue a girl from the baddies, which gave me my first taste of a boss fight. Heavily shielded, the boss was pretty darn powerful for an early story mission. To make matters worse, shooting him from the front did no damage whatsoever. He had a tank shield of sorts attached to his back which had to be shot to bring his defenses down. This required me to carefully flank him alongside my allies. I appreciated that he wasn’t merely a bullet sponge, like many of The Division’s bosses. Instead, I had to use a specific strategy to take his shields down before riddling his core with bullets from my assault rifle.

The Division 2 Hands-on Preview

Although I’m excited to see how all of the various activities tie into the main and side missions, I’m slightly worried about how the UI will fare as you keep adding more things to your to do list. The map around safe houses can get cluttered rather quickly and descriptions of new activities are often overly wordy. The UI also has a problem with readability. Large subtitles help, but they don’t extend to tutorials or loot descriptions. Whenever I encountered a new tutorial, I had to move close to the TV to read it. And whenever I picked up new loot, I had to check the menu to see what I found. I honestly had no idea I was even picking anything up in the beginning. It’s that hard to read.

SMARTER MECHANICS

The core mechanics of The Division 2 are unchanged from the original. The shooting feels great, the cover system works well, and the various gadgets, from turrets to drones, are all here. The enemies, however, seem to be smarter, which in turn forces you to pay closer attention to your surroundings and engage efficiently.

Those who are really into the grind for better loot will have more ways to compare two perceivably similar pieces of gear.

In the original, it was rare for regular enemies to be bold enough to approach you. They typically sat behind their cover, occasionally poking their heads up to shoot away. In the beta, enemies flanked my position, moved to positional advantages, and effectively lobbed grenades and used gadgets of their own to stymie my progress. For that reason, I think The Division 2 will pose a greater challenge, especially as you progress further into the story.

To be clear, higher tier enemies are still bullet sponges, but they aren’t dumb bullet sponges. They have brains this time around. As someone who played The Division primarily solo, I’m curious to see just how challenging it will get. I only died a few times in the beta, though I was also being overly cautious at times. I think the enemy design will inevitably force solo players to think more about skills, weapon sets, and general tactics for approaching each scenario.

WHAT ABOUT LOOT?

At the end of the day, The Division 2 is about the grind for better weapons and armor and taking on theendgame. The beta only offered a brief sampling of the endgame with one of the Invaded missions. I played as the Sharpshooter specialist class, which I enjoyed, but I can’t really say anything definitive because it wasn’t my build.

The Division 2

During my time working up to level 7, though, I noticed that weapon classes are more varied than before. Shotguns pack a mean punch up close, whereas assault rifles are great for taking down clusters of enemies from mid-range. Weapons within each class can also vary wildly in performance, even ones that are the same overall level. The developers have exhaustively detailed each weapon description (complete with performance charts!) so that those who are really into the grind for better loot will have more ways to compare two perceivably similar pieces of gear.

I can’t comment extensively about the gear until I get my hands on the full game, but it certainly seems as if Ubisoft is really leaning into the nitty gritty for loot lovers.

The Division 2 launches on March 15 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. After playing the beta, I cannot wait to play the full game.

DT GAMEPLAY

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