The Division 2 preview | Quite possibly the most Ubisoft game ever

Ubisoft often catches flak for how similar its games can look and feel. While this comes with some positives, it also means that the titles tend to bleed into each other. These include a ton of loot and cosmetics, a healthy commitment to post-launch support, trying to play a “safe” political middle ground, the ability to play with your friends, RPG mechanics, and an open world littered with things to do. The Division 2 seems like the ultimate combination of each oft-used bullet point, coming together like a French Voltron that would make Yves Guillemot giggle with joy. Given its focus on the endgame and general enhancements, The Division 2 looks like it’ll safely be an improved version of its predecessor for those who into the series and just another looter shooter for those outside of that bubble.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the optics of a rocky launch, The Division was one of Ubisoft’s best-selling new IP and ended up attracting over 20 million people in the years since, which is incredibly impressive. The updates piled on and turned that game into a quiet success and likely ended up ensuring that many will be on the hook for a sequel.

Returning players will likely remember how, as is the case for a few other looter shooters, that the endgame was shallow and repetitive. That’s bad for a genre predicated on replayability. The Division 2 looks to be taking that criticism head-on with its approach to how players will play the game once they’ve “beaten” it.

A whole new faction will take over the map that will “change all the rules” called the Black Tusks. These sophisticated, top-tier assholes are decked out the latest gear made to challenge those who have burned through the earlier parts of the game. They invade all parts of the open world and the missions to constantly keep the challenge up and, thus, the need to grind for better weapons, equipment, and specializations.

The Division 2 preview | A new faction enters the battle

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And you’ll need that step up because this crew is no joke. Drones and a constant barrage of soldiers ensure that you have to use everything in your toolbelt to come out on top. They’re good at coaxing you out of cover by force or flanking methods and the tight environments don’t allow for much room for error. And these invaded missions are different every time too, meaning you can’t just memorize them to avoid dying all the damn time. But Creative Director Julian Gerighty says that the struggle against these militant big shots is part of the fun of the endgame.

“I’m not a hardcore player,” he admits. “I have a family. I don’t play hundreds of hours but I still want to play this content. It’s very hard to demo this type of content where just anyone can pick up a controller and beat this endgame content. You need that 40 hours getting used to content and playing it by yourself is going to be very different from playing it in a group that’s well coordinated. It takes coordination and banding together but I think that’s part of the fun as well.”

The Black Tusks also have a mysterious narrative justification for showing up as well, but they are just one part of the full court press of endgame content that the team has planned. A whole new progression tree unlocks in that post-game that hosts talents, skill mods, and more that will you tackle the new threats.

Eight-player raids, three episodes, new areas, missions, specializations, new threats, bounties, weapons, gear, modes, maps for the Conflict mode, and much more will also be doled out over the months after release, showing that Massive’s commitment to endgame isn’t just confined to what is locked on the disc. In fact, Keith Evan, lead gameplay designer at Red Storm, claims that all the patch work done on the first game helped them achieve this as well cries from the community. And this means that the game will have the most content of the games of its ilk, as much as Evan and the time like those other titles.

“For us, we’re able to compete because we are the same team that built the first game, the same team that ran it post-launch and we’ve learned so much,” he says. “So instead of having to built everything from scratch, we are able to learn so much from the community wanted and what we wanted. And so we are able to have a huge game at launch. I think we are going to have the biggest offering that this type of game has had out of the gate.”

The Division 2 preview | Rise and grind

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Focusing on endgame content will stir up those eager for another looter shooter but The Division 2 might not attract many others outside of that audience constantly looking for numbers to go up. That, along with the amount of standard RPG mechanics, might seem like a total grind lacking the necessary glue to hook people not already on the hook.

Shooting is decent but obviously skewed towards what kind of gun you have. Early firearms were wildly inaccurate while the later game weapons were more precise and packed more of a punch. Arenas often felt cramped too and the aggressive enemies often bully you out of cover, which is something the dodge move couldn’t always save you from.

Having a trashed environment makes sense for the setting but all the clutter makes dodging and taking cover difficult since it’s hard to not stumble of some bookcase that’s tipped over at a weird angle. The gadgets and upgrades give fights some variability with but the core of the game isn’t as rock solid as it should be. The Division 2 is designed to be played for a long time so its passable foundation is a bit disappointing especially given the rock-solid shooting in Destiny.

Players looking for a fantastic shooter might also be dissuaded by its near necessity for co-op. Combat is incredibly punishing and enemies are bullet sponges, meaning that you’ll not only need a few buddies to take down the hordes of people in masks and cargo jorts, but you’ll also need them to constantly revive your ass too. Venturing out alone was not only boring but also difficult in a way that the game doesn’t seem designed for.

That extends to its story mode as well since it appears to mainly just be a vessel to push players through Washington D.C. in order to loot it dry. The mute protagonist and lack of meaningful characterization is par for the genre, as characters with little name recognition bark at each other to serve as the impetus for the grind. Players probably don’t expect these sorts of games to have engrossing narratives as they are more about the story of the loot itself, but that doesn’t excuse it.

The Division 2 preview | A empty chamber

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The game’s supposed empty politics also can’t be so easily excused. Placing the game in the destroyed capital of the United States may indeed ratchet up the stakes in a way that the team wants, but it’s hard to look at a burning capital and pretend that it isn’t loaded. Judging by the marketing, it wants to leverage current political polarization for its benefit but then hand wave any sort of actual stance.

That’s not how it works because it’s a missed opportunity at best and tactlessly taking advantage of a modern situation at worst. This isn’t just an isolated incident either as Far Cry 5 and New Dawn were treated the same way. Art has a chance to say something and purposely going out there and saying it has no meaning is disappointing. Evan disputes this and says that it’s art and that it contributes to the discussion, despite not detailing exactly what it is contributing and seemingly going against Gerighty’s insistence that the game is “fantasy video game.”

“I also think there is something to be said about it being a work of art,” he said. “Art is always there to add to conversation. We know that people are going to play the game and have their own opinions on it. We don’t want to dictate that exactly for them. We want people to play it and take it in and form their own opinions and add to this conversation of what all art is adding to.”

A game about getting better gloves and guns might not be the most ideal package to comment on some issues but it’s usually better when media makes an attempt over, well, whatever this is. Although that likely doesn’t matter to people who want more of The Division 2. Its negatives might not turn some people off the game as it is an experience specifically tailored to those who will be amped over its improvements. The lack of notable storytelling, the “safe” middle ground it’s trying to play (or not play), and “mandatory” co-op won’t matter as long as the extensive endgame and continuous loot grind hook play their roles. And, given the improvements, is incredibly likely. It’s all a numbers game and it looks likely that these additions will multiply fans’ enjoyment of The Division 2 even if it doesn’t add many along the way.