If The Division 2’s beta is anything to go by, Ubisoft’s upcoming looter shooter is going to be an excellent experience.
Since I only casually played the first dozen hours of The Division, The Division 2 has probably felt fresher and more exciting for me than it would for someone who grinded out dozens of hours in the first game. My time with the sequel’s recent beta has really won me over with its sleek UI, exceptionally tight shooting, and fantastic sense of place. All of that was present in the original game, of course, and yet it still suffered from a lot of poor design choices that led to a rocky start for the franchise. That said, The Division 2 seems poised to improve in some of these problematic areas without undergoing any massive changes that would detract from the experience fans would expect.
"My time with The Division 2’s recent beta has really won me over with its sleek UI, exceptionally tight shooting, and fantastic sense of place."
The most welcome change for most players will be that enemies are far less bullet-spongey than in Ubisoft’s first foray into the looter shooter genre. While they still take an unrealistic amount of damage, the need to unload entire magazines into basic enemies is a thing of the past. I often avoided unnecessary conflict in the original game, but The Division 2 has already made it instantly more rewarding to take on a few stragglers in the streets for a quick firefight and the hope of extra loot. Bullet sponge enemies can still be a problem (if you see it that way, that is) on harder difficulties for obvious reasons, but the generally lower time-to-kill is a nice change of pace for casual players who aren’t looking for such a grindy experience while exploring the standard campaign.
Better yet, The Division 2 revamps armor, weapon, and tactical systems quite a bit as well. The tech feels especially more useful and worth the time and effort to invest in specific skills. While the first game seemed to eventually nullify some of your choices, since they all balanced out as more-or-less equally viable, The Division 2 makes each choice feel like it has a benefit and a consequence. There’s enough variety to the different skills, such as picking between a sniping turret or an automatic fire turret, that your playstyle finally feels catered to your tactical choices. There are so many perks to choose from that I immediately knew my time with the final game would be full of exciting choices as I shaped my character into exactly who I want them to be.
The new armor system is looking like one of the game’s finest improvements right now. Rather than having a set health bonus through gear, players now have a second bar granted to them through their armor. This creates more tactical situations, because while health regenerates the same as in the first game, your armor is where you gain the brunt of your protections. It can only be repaired while hiding from enemies and using valuable time to do so, meaning possibly granting the enemy flanking opportunities and putting you in stickier situations. This risk/reward system creates far more enjoyable, calculated gunfights. And since most of the gameplay involves shooting, weapons have been similarly revised and streamlined with flat values that make for significantly less busywork in finding the right attachments for your guns. Even so, stats have been expanded upon to allow for min-maxers to dig ever deeper into the math.
"The Division 2 revamps armor, weapon, and tactical systems quite a bit as well. The tech feels especially more useful and worth the time and effort to invest in specific skills. While the first game seemed to eventually nullify some of your choices, since they all balanced out as more-or-less equally viable, The Division 2 makes each choice feel like it has a benefit and a consequence."
I also never felt bored of the game’s environment during my time with the beta, despite the majority of my time taking place the in the city proper. This is due to the fact that The Division 2 seems to be actively addressing the first game’s oft-maligned bland, grey visuals. Sure, downtown Washington D.C. looks pretty similar to Manhattan, but there’s more to the game this time around. Wild animals scatter across beautiful green areas with lush vegetation amidst the rubble, the city itself has more diverse interior locations with varied aesthetics, and enemies wander around with distinct paths and goals in mind, leading to unexpected and realistic engagements.
During those engagements, it’s easier than ever to team up with random players and friends. Although the beta felt relatively easy, The Division 2 enabled me to quickly send out calls for assistance any time I felt like taking on fights with others to test out the synergy of different builds. This addition goes a long way in making the game feel like a solo experience when desired without sacrificing the core design of a cooperative game. It doesn’t force players to interact often, yet it keeps others close enough to come to the rescue if things ever get rough.
Despite these positive changes to the gameplay and design of The Division 2, there are some legacy issues prevalent in the beta. Audio cutting out, some awkward graphical hiccups, and general gameplay bugs stand out among these problems. For instance, my healing drone once refused to heal me during an intense shootout, and another time it literally disappeared off my screen as soon as it deployed. I couldn’t pick up loot sometimes, and my guns periodically made no sound while shooting. Perhaps the most jarring were the textures that would regularly take a long while to fully load on my PS4 Pro, leaving me to look at a PS2-quality city more often than I deem acceptable. It is a beta though, and such issues aren’t uncommon to see in pre-release test versions of games, so there’s that as well.
"Although the beta felt relatively easy, The Division 2 enabled me to quickly send out calls for assistance any time I felt like taking on fights with others to test out the synergy of different builds. This addition goes a long way in making the game feel like a solo experience when desired without sacrificing the core design of a cooperative game."
Many of these bugs are likely to get fixed before the game’s release on March 15. And thanks to The Division 2’s stellar gameplay and heavily improved world and exploration, there’s more to praise than complain about. I walked away from my time with the beta with a smile on my face and an eagerness to dive into the full product next month, and that’s more that can be said for my less enthralling time with the first game.