The Division 2 just kind of… starts. Once you’re done creating your character, they step out into the middle of a raider attack on your base. You fight off a few waves, a siren occurs, a distress signal comes in from Washington DC and as some big ships sail in from the fog, the other Agent yells at you to go. What is going on? I honestly have no idea.
If you’re coming from the first game, it’s jarring. You’re not the hero of New York (or an agent gone rogue), you can’t import your character, the intro cinematic does little to pick up on the story threads left dangling or show your trek across the US, and when you get there your arrival feels decidedly low key. Meeting the new characters, you’re given a mission to clean up DC – drain the swamp, if you will – but cutscenes all seem to be missing the first few moments. There’s no hello, no scene setting, and when you’re a silent protagonist, personally I found it a bit disjointed.
But there’s other things that do impress from the off. The character creation tool is wonderfully flexible like a full RPG, when others looter shooters would just have you pick from a dozen faces, and that extends deep into the game options. You can tweak subtitle options an awful lot, fully customise the HUD layout, and plenty more.
Actually stepping out onto the streets of the capitol, it’s gorgeous. The city is ruined with cars littering the roads and an environment that’s gradually being reclaimed by nature – wild deer join dogs and crows as animals you might encounter. You still have the grid-like layout of a big American city, the roads lined with buildings several storeys high, but it’s no longer either snow or more snow. On the one hand you lose some of the distinctiveness of the first game’s blanketed city, but the benefit is shifting weather that can be sublime and sunny for a while before descending into miserably foggy rain later on. My opening battle into the White House took on a very different tone just from the change of conditions compared to when I played the beta.
The combat also feels good. It doesn’t change radically from the first game, still being a cover shooter where you’re whittling down the health bars of incoming enemies and using a growing range of abilities. Assault rifles and SMGs spit out bullets at a frightening rate, catching you out when you need to reload just as the Hyena gang members are rushing at you or flanking your position. Team up in four player co-op and, when you’re appropriately levelled, you can blaze through without much heed for taking cover until facing large numbers of enemies, some with purple and yellow health bars and armour.
The high tech abilities also return from the off, unlocking one by one and with a number of variants. Throwable turrets, locational pings, homing rolling grenades, and various drones. They’re fun to use, and include a few new options compared to the first game, such as a proximity mine firing dart drone that can take out several enemies at once. This in particular opens up new tactical options when starting a fight, while others let you revive teammates locally, and so on.
I will admit that I struggle to remember what’s actually new and different compared to the first game here. I had to go back and check to find the new SHD tech abilities, discover that they’re no longer overtly bound to Medical, Tech and Security trees (though these areas do still play a role), and alongside the different Perks you can mix and match however you see fit.
There’s a similar sense of familiarity to the race through the loot, with a broad range of weaponry to pick from and gear slots to fill. Almost right away you can start hunting for gear sets that provide bonus perks, so you might stick with some lower levelled pieces to get clear and obvious stat buffs, and it doesn’t take long before you can craft and attach weapon mods. At the same time, you can ignore that and simply pick the best gear you’ve found, selling the rest.
The same familiarity is true of the level design, as you head to various landmarks and battle through them. However, there’s good variety in the battles and encounters, mixing up whether enemies are coming head on, or if you’re fighting on multiple storeys, on rooftops, or even a TV studio. It keeps you connected by having missions end close to the entrance, so you can simply step back out into the open world again.
The AI isn’t the smartest still, and I’ve seen them simply run through my squad because they didn’t have available cover, but they generally do a decent job of balancing the need to take cover, flank and present themselves so you can deal a ton of damage to them. It’s early days, of course, and the first few hours that we’ve played so far have had us battling the Hyenas gang, but further factions will come into play that should hopefully be more challenging and interesting.
Unfortunately, the game is not without its launch issues as well, though thankfully nowhere to the degree of Anthem or Fallout 76. I’ve had the game crash (though it mercifully put me back into the group and mission when reconnecting), I’ve had it decide I wanted to travel halfway across the map from a party I was joining, throwing my homing drone sees it crash into scenery 50% of the time despite my best efforts, and a mission I played yesterday descended into a stuttering mess every 5 seconds. Yet, on the whole, it still manages to feel pretty solid.
After half a dozen hours, The Division 2 doesn’t yet feel like a remarkable, revolutionary sequel, but more of a logical, considered follow up that builds on all the hard work that went into improving the original. The downside is that it’s maybe not that exciting, and the early story beats don’t really help that, but then we’re marching through to the end game where most of the time with The Division 2 will be spent.
We’ll be back with more thoughts and a full review in due course, but if you’ve been playing, let us know what you think in the comments below. The Division 2 is currently in early access for those ponying up for special editions, with the regular game available this Friday.