Posted on February 4, 2019
10 Big Takeaways From Hands-On With The Division 2’s Open World
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Release: March 15, 2019
Rating: Not rated
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Last week, we got to spend several hours with the Division 2. During that time, we explored the ruined streets of Washington, D.C., cleared a few side missions, helped some settlements, and skipped ahead to check out one of the endgame missions. There was a lot to absorb, but here are our 10 biggest takeaways.
(For more on The Division 2, check out our New Gameplay Today, which shows the game in action, as well as features on its new factions and the cosmetics element.)
Taking back the White House
Our day began with a memorable mission: Our Division agent stormed the White House, which was under siege. After eliminating the threat, we moved into the building, which has been transformed into the Division’s base of operations. Folding tables and supply crates lined the hallways of the building, which made for a jarring scene. “It just felt natural,” says creative director Julian Gerighty. “If you’ve ever been to the White House, it’s actually fairly small-scale. It feels like it could be a base of operations. So where better to lead the rebuilding of the city and the country than the White House? For me, it’s an obvious thing.” New York’s post office HQ was an important hub in the first game, but it’s hard to beat the symbolism attached to the White House.
Once we settled into our White House digs, we headed out to a nearby settlement. These spaces are more ambitious and important than they were in the first game, and players can have more of an impact on their direction. Donate enough resources, and new structures can be added within these walled compounds. “One of the issues with shared-world shooters or shared-world games is that because they’re shared worlds, it’s very hard to show personal impact,” Gerighty says. “Creating spaces where you can have a direct one-to-one recognition of your efforts that comes through not only in the audio cues of people saying, ‘Hey, thanks for that, agent,’ but it’s also that you go out and help the settlement and you find something for them, and it appears in the settlement. You see, through your efforts, that life is coming back – and it’s not just food and shelter, but it’s also art and it’s also music and things like that.”
The time jump is significant
Seven months may not seem like a huge leap, but the difference in how things are in the first Division and its sequel are stark. Nature is working to reclaim D.C., with plants overtaking street signs and roads cracked and heaving in places. The NPCs you encounter have their acts together in ways The Division’s New Yorkers didn’t. During my time in the streets, I didn’t encounter anyone wandering around looking for a bottle of water. Instead, I saw small groups of survivors working together to forage their own supplies. “The civilians that are still there are fighters,” Gerighty says. “They’re out in the streets trying to survive. They’re looking for the resources that they need, so they’re not the helpless civilians that you saw in the first game. That’s super important to me.”
Civilians are here to help, too
Not only can the civilian NPC take care of themselves, they can help you out, too. Certain sections of the city can be taken over by enemy factions, and players have to reclaim them if they want to maintain order. “You can get into the area and scout it out, and then shoot this flare to call in reinforcements before you attack, and civilians will come,” says senior lead designer Keith Evans. “Unlike a lot of our NPCs from the first game, they’ll actually help you fight. They really can help swing the battle.” After you’ve reclaimed the area, you can donate supplies and perform other tasks to keep the friendly civilians in power. After all, the stronger they are, the better they’re able to battle enemy factions and hold territory on their own.
Welcome to the simulation
Apparently, there’s more going on with civilians than their ability to fire weapons and not dying of thirst in the streets. As we roamed the open world, we saw groups leaving for and returning from foraging excursions. That’s not just for show, according to Ubisoft. “No matter where you are in the world – you could be playing a mission or in the dark zone – the settlements and the civilians there, plus all the factions, are running a simulation across the entire open world,” Evans says. “You can open up the megamap and see some of their behavior. If one settlement has become really strong and in another you haven’t done enough in that part of the world and it’s becoming overtaken, their supplies are dwindling, this faction might start a trade route to trade with the other settlement. And that’s an actual route that the A.I. takes, and it might get intercepted by other factions who might steal their supplies. It’s kind of happening in the background, and you can always step in and affect it.”
D.C.’s weather is a lot more dynamic than New York City in the wintertime – or at least it is in The Division. “We wanted to have something that we could play around with a little bit more,” Gerighty says. “So you have thunderstorms. You have thick, pea-soup style fog in the evenings and in the mornings. You’ve got rain. There’s a lot more variety in the types of weather and times of day that you can get within this setting.” We did have a small skirmish in the streets during one especially foggy period, and it completely changed the sensation of battle. Without clear sightlines, we had to move from cover to cover more cautiously, since I didn’t know where my enemies were. They weren’t granted superhuman sight, fortunately, which could have been frustrating. Not only was it visually impressive, but it changed what would have been a fairly ordinary encounter.
Fun with factions
The Division 2’s factions are a big part of the game (go here for a more in-depth look), and the dev team is rightfully enthusiastic about what these groups bring to D.C. “The 1 through 30 of the campaign, the factions you fight are, personally, I think they’re more interesting than the first game across the board, because they’ve all incorporated the best elements of the first game,” Evans says. “I love the cleaners from the first game, and it was always fun throughout the whole campaign to pop the weak point on their back and have them explode or move into their buddies and do these chain reactions. You’ll notice now that a lot of the factions have these little weak points where they don’t always explode, but it’ll be a heavy-weapons guy and you can shoot the belt on his gun and it’ll force him to reload and open himself up to an attack. They all have these little intricacies that I think make them more interesting. There are other little things, too, like fighting a red bar enemy versus the elite with the yellow bar, each time you level them up they gain new attributes – it’s not just about them getting more health. Their baton will be an electrified baton that can lock you down in place, or the suicide bomber will explode in fire, things like that, where you really have to be on your toes.”
Peace through superior firepower
Enemy factions can take over territory and alternately neutralized in various neighborhoods. Is it possible to negotiate a larger peace through the campaign? The short answer, as I found out, is “Nope.” “It’s not that kind of game,” Gerighty says. “This is a cover-based shooter. Your character, the agent, doesn’t have a voice, there’s no negotiation possible there. Negotiation is with a handgun, and that’s pretty much it. It’s just something that we are. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to stick with that in the future, but today we’re a cover-based shooter and we’re leaning into that.”
Gear is good
Item drops are a major component of The Division 2, with fallen enemies often leaving tantalizing pillars of light as their virtual tombstones. The first game had an in-depth endgame built up around gear sets, but Ubisoft felt there was plenty of room for improvement. “The gear game in the first game, we had a pretty limited set of gear until we started adding gear sets,” Evans says. “Then there were very random talents on everything. It became an Easter egg hunt to find the good min-max build, and you really had to go online. This time, what we’ve done is we want to give you clearer goals to grind toward, so all the gear is split into brands. We’re shipping with over 10 different brands, and just by collecting the brands you get this simpler goal to grind for up front, if you just match the symbols you’re going to be unlocking bonuses, and we’re hoping that’s going to be a good onboard to people to uncover the whole depth of the RPG, because throughout the leveling game it deepens and then in endgame when we’re adding exotic weapons and other parts. It gets complicated, but I think in a really good way that adds a lot of depth. We’re just trying to make it more accessible up front, really focusing on that 1 through 30 and getting people sucked into it.”
Critter killing is optional
When we said nature was reclaiming D.C., we weren’t kidding. The city is teeming with animal life, including deer, rats, dogs, and more. While you can shoot each of these animals, don’t expect any rewards for your efforts. “We have a deep crafting system that’s much deeper than the first game,” Evans says. “But we wanted to tie that more into scavenging. There’s not a hunting aspect to the game, but that’s there to… you’ll notice that the animals in D.C. are totally different from the animals that were in New York. We wanted to tie that into selling the believability of the space. You’ll find foxes or raccoons that duck under cars if you get close to them, and there’s even vultures that will attack other animals or bald eagles that are rare in that area of the country.” In other words, you won’t be using pelts to make ammo pouches, or anything weird like that.
The Division 2 is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 15.