One of my biggest disappointments in terms of games this generation has to be Tom Clancy’s The Division. I remember playing the beta and enjoying it a fair bit, but not enough to pick it up on launch. It wasn’t until around mid-last year where I actually bought the game because it was on sale for something stupid like $15 for the Gold Edition so I figured why not. As a result, I (thankfully) missed all the issues that the game was subject to with its launch and the first year or so – The Division that I played was very different from the one that initially released, for the better. However, I still found myself completely bored with the world, story and content. I will say the game had excellent technical performance, great gameplay, survival mode and cool variety in gear sets, but there were too many poorly communicated ideas due to the art direction and designers who believed that making every enemy take a stupid amount of bullets was a great way to make things difficult. In saying that, I did really want to like The Division, but it gave me no reason to. I used the beta that was up over the weekend to see if Ubisoft Massive had really learned from their previous works and created an engaging world with The Division 2 and while there were many changes I liked, I can’t help but shake the feeling that the endgame and difficulty spikes will be just as hollow as the original.
To start off, The Division 2 did not really waste any time in getting me into the action, which I liked. The moment-to-moment gameplay which is centred around the combat is where The Division really shone, adding its own spin to the cover-based shooting format which was revolutionised and popularised by Epic and their work in Gears of War so long ago. The combat mechanics are virtually identical, with small additions/changes like enemies having breakable armour justifying some of their sponginess. Breaking said enemy’s armour results in creating a weak point, which then allows you to down the opponent in no time. THIS is the change that I wanted to see. My biggest frustration with The Division was how a bloke in a wife-beater and cargo pants named Steve was able to absorb as many bullets as EA does developers. It was absurd, immersion breaking and not fun. The Division 2 opted to throw more enemies than usual at me to challenge me, requiring me to be more on point with my aiming to be able to wipe numerous opponents quickly or become overwhelmed, or so it seemed. I did one of the missions with a group of friends on hard to see where the game placed the newly introduced combat mechanic in higher-end content and I was disappointed to see The Division 2 still approaches difficulty in the way the original did. I still encountered a bunch of enemies that took longer to down than I would like, and this was only on hard. I remember doing the missions in the original and spending ten minutes shooting one guy and getting him close to death, only for him to heal and have all that work be wasted. I really do hope that any legendary missions in Div 2 don’t go this ridiculous, as what I experienced in the hard difficulty would be as far as I’d like to go in terms of sponginess (though I’m not opposed to bosses being tough in general).
There’s never a bad time to workout
A huge gripe I had with the first game was that Ubisoft Massive seemed to think that grey is the only colour a game can have, but with The Division 2, that has all changed. The artists have realised that green exists as a colour as well as some others and as a result, The Division 2 features some beautiful landscapes which help make the world feel hostile and desolate, yet alive and thriving at the same time. Even something like garbage and dumpsters being thrown across entire streets makes the world beautiful and all the more believable. There were also changes to the designs of the enemies which made their toughness make more sense, as they were visibly armoured, not just dressed in last night’s pyjamas.
There is not a whole lot to say about the changes that come into The Division 2 as they were very minor. One of the changes I really liked, however, was with the resupply boxes. For the uninformed, resupply boxes are little boxes that you’ll see around the world and during missions that allow you to restock yourself with ammo, grenades and armour boosters. Previously, when in a group, everyone had to individually resupply, but now the first person who resupplies will leave a bunch of drops in front of the box which will fully stock your ammo and equipment reserves. This really helps with the flow of the game as you are not having everyone stop to resupply, you are basically having the person who is at the front resupply for everyone. Armour boosters are another little change that makes the game feel much better. In the first game, you just had a flat out health bar that you could replenish when your health got low. This was done either via a medkit or with health recovery equipment/skills. Now, your health will naturally recover to full, but the part you have to manually replenish is your armour. You can recover your armour via armour boosters (replacement for medkits) and medic drones. This little change puts it more in line with games like Anthem and Destiny, whereby you have an armour/shield layer to break through first and THEN you get to dealing damage to health. I personally like this change as it makes the vitality flow a bit better than in the previous game.
What I cannot wait for, but didn’t get to try as it was not available, is the raids. Raids are by far my favourite part of Destiny, and The Division’s incursions were… just the most poorly and boringly designed things I’ve done (and I did Crota’s End in Destiny). But it seems that Ubisoft Massive are learning from their mistakes and are actually crafting an eight-player raid activity for the end game, which I am so excited for. I believe that the designers in the development team are more than capable of crafting and designing a compelling raid experience. The last Incursion, Stolen Singal, was a step in the right direction, and if the designers can keep that momentum, the raid might be something special (though I doubt it will be able to topple the Destiny raids like Wrath of the Machine or Last Wish). From what I’ve been reading about The Division 2’s end game, we might be in for a treat.
For a beta, The Division 2 ran superbly well. Whilst some of the longer viewing distances would murder my frames and caused me to lower my settings to around medium at 2560×1080 resolution to maintain a 60fps+ framerate, it was certainly above and beyond what BioWare demonstrated with the (intentionally named) Anthem Demo. The performance in the beta was by no means perfect, but the Snow Drop engine works phenomenally well (probably due in part to Massive working closely with AMD for this game). I would like to see some of the larger viewing distances scaled back to preserve performance but, for the most part, it was really well optimised. There were a few issues, but they were ironed out very quickly.
Even though I was not really a big fan of the first game, I am keen to see what Ubisoft Massive bring to the table with Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. Some minor changes have made for what seems to be a much more fluid and streamlined experience. I can’t really comment on what the end game will be like, but here is to hoping that lessons have been learnt.