From my initial gameplay impressions, through my interview with Keith Evans, and on to the end of the private beta test, I’ve had the opportunity to play The Division 2 more than most. After sufficient time in the very early game and more rounds in the Black Tusks invaded mission than anyone would realistically want to play, especially knowing that they wouldn’t keep any of the loot on launch, there’s no doubt that The Division 2 has improved over The Division 1, but is it enough to justify a purchase for players that are on the fence?
In my past articles, I’ve explained what was “new” in comparison to the first iteration of The Division. To put it succinctly, kill times have decreased, new items and specializations have been added, and a slew of worldly upgrades have been made to keep players entrenched in the game for the long term. In addition to that, updates for the first year will be completely free, which bodes well so that players won’t be segregated to only the portions of the game that they have purchased. It all sounds great, and in the early game, it feels amazing.
Initially you are dropped into a world that requires smart cover choices with deadly consequences if you aren’t aware of your surroundings. Many times, whether I was by myself or with an entire group of 4, if we found ourselves in an area, such as a control point, where other enemies may be lurking on the crust of the encounter, they would often find their way into the battle, pinning us in the middle of a firefight where we were sorely outmatched. The AI appears to be much improved in terms of deadliness. When you are outnumbered, in many cases, the enemies would move in, making it increasingly tougher to stay alive and even to fight back at times.
Luckily, a few bullets are all that is needed to kill most enemies. Ubisoft this time around stated they wanted a little more realism, and in that department, they have accomplished it in the early game. Few enemies will take more than several rounds from an assault rifle, with armored enemies allowing their armor to take the brunt of the damage, until their armor is destroyed, where they then become a bullet bubble instead of a bullet sponge. This translates very well in the Dark Zone, which hasn’t changed too much aside from the locale. As you make your way through the Dark Zone, killing enemies and picking up loot, the basic principle of extracting the loot via a helipad or clearing is still your main goal.
The main difference in the Dark Zone is the gear scaling. Though the gear scaling was in full effect, it’s very hard to see how that will transcend 10 or 20 levels, as the max level items Dark Zone participants had available to them were level 7 items. That being said, kill times for players were also quicker than before. Several shots at close range was enough to dispatch a rogue agent or two, and the landmark encounters were challenging, if not sometimes overcrowded with other players. Many times, my team would arrive to an encounter to find it already completed, or another team in the middle of the battle.
As enjoyable as the early leveling game was, it abruptly became an entirely different animal at end game. After completing the second main mission, players had the option to hop over to new, max level, fully geared characters across the three specializations, and take on the end game version of the Jefferson Trade Center mission. In my efforts to understand each specialization, I ran the mission on normal mode and hard mode, close to a dozen times. Within the first few moments of the normal mode mission, it’s clear that some enemies still shrug off bullets, as if you’re lobbing marbles at them with a slingshot instead of using a sniper rifle.
I will admit, that I learned a lot after a couple times through. Looking through my gear after each run, on multiple characters, led me to voraciously modifying and remodifying my weapons and armor as new guns and modifications became available. Finally, after several stints of trial and error, I found a setup that worked for me, and enemies in the Invaded Normal Missions felt less daunting. I also found that I favored the Survivalist, as it was somewhat close to the healing profession that I would normally play in RPGs. By the time I decided to call normal mode quits, I could generally make my way through without dying, or our entire team wiping, which was quite a feat considering my first time through, we all died at the first encounter.
When it came to the Hard Mode mission, everything appears to have taken a mighty turn for the worst. Enemies seemingly returned to their bullet sponge ways. While I’m sure group scaling has something to do with it, some enemies seem to take forever to kill, even when playing solo. At times it was terrible to the point that I had to resort to by hand gun to keep the damage ticking away, as I exhausted both of my weapons, and refused to use my crossbow in fear that the special ammunition wouldn’t drop later, and I wouldn’t be able to use it when it was really needed. In this aspect, I was supremely disappointed. My understanding was that bullet sponginess was limited to an enemies’ armor. Unfortunately, they left out that some enemies (not all) will have armor and shields that can soak up over 2 magazines of more than 90 rounds from my LMG. This pales in comparison to what we saw in the early game. Giant golden big-boys brandishing miniguns or rocket launchers were the pinnacle of the “armor sponge” premise.
In the hard-mode late game, despite enemies with hefty shields that seemed to barely tick away, and mechanical war-hounds that may as well have been tanks, once the shields and armor were broken, enemies quickly died. The only solace I had that kept me pushing through Hard Mode and the underlying drive to be excited for The Division 2’s end game, was that, my character wasn’t completely maxed out in the gear and modifications department. I simply thought back to my experience in the Normal runs, after modifying my weapons and armor, how much easier it had been to defeat enemies I once thought were a little too resilient.
Still, as an encounter, the Black Tusks Jefferson Trade Center mission is not a flattering first look on what was otherwise a stellar first showing performance. I was especially impressed at the weather effects, and how something as simple as rain or fog can fundamentally change your battle experience. Quite literally, The Division 2’s private beta is divided among a stellar leveling experience, and a reminder of what many people truly disliked about The Division 1’s end game. Based primarily on this experience, I can only assume that players that were once on the fence, not sure if Ubisoft would deliver on a less bullet spongey experience, have not yet been sold. Despite that end game hiccup, for me at least, I’m looking forward to soldiering on and seeing what else Washington DC is hiding in the overarching Division narrative. For any other agents out there that were reactivated to try the private beta over the past weekend, will you be answering the call March 15th, or will you leave this call unanswered?