Games Preview: The Division 2 focuses on the endgame, would like you to stick around this time

If you haven’t checked in on the original Tom Clancy’s The Division in a while, it might surprise you to know that that game is in the best shape of its life right now. Numerous development studios within Ubisoft, including lead developer Massive Entertainment and multiplayer specialist Ubisoft Annecy, have regularly added new content throughout the game’s life cycle, expanding it far beyond the scope of the title at launch.

The Division 2 sees its predecessor as a jumping off point. Every kind of playable content in the original game is represented in the sequel from the off, allowing Massive to start adding entirely new content right away. Everything players of the original enjoyed is set to return, but its there most frequent request that Massive is looking to make good on.

The dearth of end game content in The Division has always been a sore spot for fans. Once your Division operative reached the level cap and finished unlocking all the goodies, there wasn’t always much to do. According to Ubisoft Annecy game director David Kennedy, The Division 2 has been designed with an “endgame first” mentality. This obviously isn’t to suggest that little care has been put into the game’s early/mid game content, merely that Ubisoft is looking to focus on a known weak point.

New end game content isn’t just an excuse for Ubi to throw in some fresh enemies with a higher health pool and call it a day (though that’s certainly an option in a looter shooter like this). Rather, Ubi’s plan is to throw open the doors on a new chapter in The Division 2‘s story once the main campaign is complete. A deadly new foe and a suite of new content opens up. This new narrative switch allows the game to evolve in a meaningful way beyond the conclusion of the base game, keeping it from becoming an aimless loot treadmill.

Our hands-on with The Division 2 (using what appeared to be the same build players will get a look at in the Private Beta kicking off Feb 7) let us spend some time at either end of the game. We began with a few hours of the early game, followed by a few hours of end game content. As is the case with looter shooter genre, the difference between the two is night and day. In its early stages, The Division 2 is keeps its pace rather slow while it shows you the ropes. Decent loot drops are a rarity, and every upgrade you make to Division HQ feels like a huge leap forward. The enemies pose a minor threat and your gear isn’t particularly good. This is all par for the course and very much expected.

My early game playthrough began with my Division operative mounting a one-man, Gerard Butler-esque winback operation on the actual, honest-to-god White House. After clearing out a rag tag milita calling themselves the Hyenas, the White House became my primary base of operations and I was welcomed into the new Division HQ. That The Division managed to take the most iconic and historic piece of real estate for themselves in a city full of iconic and historic real estate is kind of a marvel, but by the you arrive they’re struggling to hold onto it. None of their systems work, they have no supplies and the Hyenas are constantly at the door.

While several of the devs from Ubi Annecy who were with us on the day referred to the game as having character “builds”, the reality is that your characters can pick from a handful of gadgets. These gadgets let you pick up a specific skill, from demolitions specialist to group heals, making the progression system less about builds and more about filling a particular squad role. My personal favourite was a rolling grenade I could lock onto an enemy. The moment it left my hand the grenade would roll toward any targeted group of hostiles, introduce itself with cheerful beep and send them into the sky. To have this little shit available during a heavy firefight was a great boon, the grenade able to cause a panic and flush enemies into the open wherever it wasn’t able to vaporise them outright. I also found the drones that deploy squad heals to be particularly useful in a firefight, able to keep the squad up when forced into a tactical retreat.

I was able to move through the early game content on my own with very little hassle. We were grouped up early on and able to conduct a few missions as a three-person squad but it never felt like we were up against anything we couldn’t tackle on our own. This stopped being the case once we moved over to the end game content. Dealing with heavily armoured Black Tusk paramilitary troops, with their bomb droids and robot dogs, is a task not to be taken lightly. We had to stick together, co-ordinate our cooldowns and focus fire if we wanted to survive. We went from barely having to speak in the early game to giving constant situational updates. Mistakes were costly, but preventable. Purple and Gold enemy tiers posed a significant threat and would take multiple clips to drop, their armour sloughing off in pieces once it absorbed a truly hilarious amount of incoming DPS.

Most looter shooters rely on tactics and cover for optimised play and The Division 2 is no different. However, the way it leans into its militaristic setting makes these elements feel more grounded. Unlike the frenetic pace of titles like Destiny 2 or Warframe, Ubi feel content to set a more sedate pace. Through this, your interactions with violent gang members take on a different vibe beyond simple mob cleanup. There’s a feeling of tactical efficiency that isn’t present in other games of this kind. The slower pace also lends itself to both ends of the player specturm — the hardcore can be as ruthless and organised as they please, while casual players can pop in for a couple of hours in the evening after work and feel like they’ve gotten something out of it. Tough line to walk, but it’s there.

The downside of this approach is that if you’re the sort of person for whom exciting traversal is important — like Destiny 2‘s Sparrows or the highly mobile Javelin suits of Anthem — then The Division 2 might leave you a bit frustrated. This is the post-apocalypse after all — there’s no working vehicles to speak of and even if there were, the streets would still be too jammed with dead cars to drive on. Walking is the only way to get around the ruins of DC, though I wouldn’t say no to a push bike. Fast travel is available, but it keeps you from encountering mobs and picking up some fresh loot on the way. Something to keep in mind if you prefer a faster pace. I can imagine curious Warframe players might feel like their character is knee-deep in molasses.

What my three hour session with The Division 2 showed me was a game that is very invested in getting you to stick around. Community is everything to a game like this and its great to see the teams involved looking to their community for their cues on things to tackle. With Anthem right around the corner and no small amount of existing competition, it will be interesting to see how The Division 2 fares when it arrives in March. You can try it for yourself when the Private Beta kicks off on Feb 7.

The Division 2 launches March 15, 2019 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. The author attended this preview as a guest of Ubisoft Australia.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.