In the wake of the deadly virus outbreak on Black Friday, millions of Division agents descended on New York City to try and preserve the government and rule of law. A few months later, and it’s clear that they failed in that attempt, but as agents of the Strategic Homeland Division descend on Washington DC in The Division 2 next year, they’ll still be fighting to defend the survivors and to rebuild the freedoms and way of life from before the pandemic.
We played through the mission seen in the reveal trailer from E3, dropping us into a mission that assaults a group of bad guys hanging out in the wreckage of Air Force One. With all four of us handed different preset loadouts, there was some good variety in our character builds and the abilities we had to call upon. My character came equipped with an M4, a shotgun and the Hive grenade full of homing drone explosives that spring out of it.
There was also one of the new, more powerful weapons in my loadout, a grenade launcher that came as part of the new Demolitionist specialisation, where Survivalists will get crossbows and Snarpshooters sniper rifles, obviously. They’re powerful and rewarding to use, but they’re also restricted in how much ammo they have, making their inclusion as a third weapon for your character feeling quite a lot like the Power or Heavy weapon tiers from Destiny: high power, low ammo count, and only certain enemies drop ammo for them as a reward.
If you’ve played the first game, you’ll be right at home here. It feels and plays almost identically, with easy snap to and move between bits of cover, satisfying feeling guns and combat. Whether simply a fact that we had well powered characters, the enemies felt like they went down relatively quickly without as much attritional damage as they could often take in the first game. Even when stepping up to the hulking, brutish, heavily armoured enemies. Their grenade launchers certainly packed a punch, but hit their weak spot – an exposed ammo pack at the rear – and it was suddenly very easy to chip off their pieces of armour and remove the threat.
That said, the game nearly taught us a cruel lesson not to rush headlong into the fight. Though it’s all about damage output and whittling away enemy armour and then health, this is still a tactical shooter. You need to stick in cover, you need to be aware of enemy positioning, you need to be looking for flanking opportunities and times where you yourself can get flanked.
Playing on Xbox One X, the game looks gorgeous, and if the snowy wastes of New York started to get a bit dull, then Washington DC in the summer will be able to provide much more variety in its environments. It’s bound to lose a dose of the distinctiveness to its visual style that the first game had, tumbling into a much more generic post-apocalyptic type of world, but for the series as a whole, it’s a positive step.
Of course, this is just a tiny slice of what The Division 2 will have to offer, a mere glimpse of the core combat and a straightforward mission. Ubisoft talk a good game in terms of how they’ll be more focussed on the endgame time time out and keeping the game engaging for those who will drop dozens of hours into it each week. In that regard, outside of the second to second gameplay, it’s still very much that we’ll have to wait and see.