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July 2019

Tom Clancy's The Division 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: March 15, 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Tom Clancy's The Division 2'

by Adam Pavlacka on Feb. 5, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 is a shooter RPG with campaign, co-op, and PvP modes that offers more variety in missions and challenges, new progression systems with twists and surprises, and fresh innovations that offer new ways to play.

Pre-order The Division 2

Later this week, players around the globe are going to go hands-on with the private beta for Tom Clancy's The Division 2. Before opening the gates wide, Ubisoft invited us over for an early round of playtesting. I sat down with the Xbox One X and played through a few missions with some other early players.

The beta starts off with an assault on the White House. More accurately, I came across an assault on the White House and had to stop the attackers from getting in. This section of the game was played solo, but it offered a chance to get familiar with the controls and see one of the biggest changes from The Division. The enemies are no longer bullet sponges, so your opponents are a more realistic challenge.

One notable thing about the enemy AI is that it doesn't like to hold back. The old movie trope of a ring of attackers surrounding you, but only engaging one at a time? Yeah, that doesn't happen here. If you tag one enemy, every opponent in range is going to come running. They're also not guaranteed to all attack from the same direction. Some will flank, which means situational awareness is a must. If you have surround sound or a good set of headphones, plan on listening for audio cues.

After killing off the attacking force, the White House opened its doors and enabled a set of skill unlocks. The full set of skills is being held back for the final game, but the beta allows you to play around with the drone, seeker mine, and turret. Each of these has multiple variants (e.g., the seeker mine can track enemies and explode, an alternate version can track teammates and heal them), so there is still some variety. I'll admit to being partial to the turret + seeker mine combo when first attacking a group of enemies, especially if one of them is armored.

With the White House cleared, I headed into the city and made my way to the first settlement. Settlements are safe zones, with stores and resources, that can be upgraded. Improving settlements also improves the White House, so you're always building toward a better baseline. The settlement is where I grouped up with my co-op buddies before heading out as a four-man squad to the Grand Washington Hotel mission.

The goal at the hotel was to reach the roof and save the hostage. With a focus on close-quarters combat, the hotel mission could've easily been repetitive, but the developers smartly avoided that trap. Each floor had an independent design, with different pathways due to broken-down walls (and floors). One area even had my team shooting at enemies on the other side of the hotel atrium. On the roof, we faced off against the boss and his minions, which is where my first complaint about the beta came into play.

If you remember what I said earlier about the AI, you'll remember that it is aggressive. This isn't a bad thing. It's a good thing. When you combine this with repetitive (and free-flowing) spawn points, it can get frustrating. There's nothing like clearing out a section of the map, only to turn against an oncoming opponent and be stabbed in the back because a squad of soldiers spawned behind you. On the one hand, it forces you to be aware of your surroundings at all times. On the other hand, it can feel a little cheap.

Even with the enemy spawning, beating the mission was satisfying. With a bit of excitement from the win, we split up and explored the city solo for a while. It was here that I got a real taste of the AI and realized that it seemed to ramp up in difficulty based on the number of players in your party. One player was AFK for a while, so I played solo in a party of two. When he finally split off and left me alone, the enemy AI seemed to get easier.

Running through the world on my own highlighted my second complaint about the beta: the stickiness of the cover system. The Division 2 uses an enter/exit cover system. You can run from cover to cover, but it's a very deliberate choice. This sounds good on paper, but when you're running and under fire, it's easy to accidentally pop into cover (including from the wrong angle). If you do the latter, you're going to leave yourself exposed. I would've really liked a more dynamic, natural-feeling cover system.

Next up was a fast-forward to the future, or in this case, the end game. While we took a break, the folks at Ubisoft entered some server cheat codes and got my entire squad buffed and ready to go. Instead of fighting random factions, we were now facing a highly trained, highly skilled, and very well-armed fighting force. Of course, we also got some perks, including unlocked specializations, which give players a high-powered weapon with limited ammo.

My specialization was the survivalist, which meant I got a crossbow that shot exploding bolts. The two other specializations were demolitionist (grenade launcher) and the sharpshooter (sniper rifle). We didn't get to change specializations during our play time, but Ubisoft reps said that you'd be able to re-spec in the final game and try all of the specializations.

Using the survivalist's crossbow was a key part of my team's advance, as a well-placed bolt could pick off an enemy behind cover. I didn't even need to hit him directly, just in the general area. Ammo was scarce enough that the crossbow wasn't overpowered, but it was strong enough to be useful.

What really stood out for me was fighting against the "not Boston Dynamics" robot dogs in the game. These guys were agile and tough. They were probably the closest thing to a bullet sponge in the private beta, but then again, they also seemed to earn it. Made of metal, they are challenging creatures that shouldn't be underestimated.

Boss encounters during the end game have some nice touches that add depth to the engagement. Yes, you can just shoot at each other, but when we were clearing out the Air and Space Museum, our Ubisoft demo guide offered a key tip: Shoot the ammo chain that's feeding the chaingun. This caused the ammo chain to break and temporarily stagger the boss, giving us an opening for extra damage.

It's difficult to accurately describe the various environments in the game. We only saw a limited section, so everything seemed fresh. What looked like a lot of variety over a handful of hours could end up being repetitive when played over a week. We also didn't get a chance to dive into the Dark Zone, with all of its chemical destruction and leftover Christmas decorations.

Trying to guess how the single-player experience will shake out is difficult, but after playing The Division 2 private beta, it's certain that Ubisoft has clearly designed this game for multiplayer. Going through two end-game missions as a full squad was the highlight of the day. If this level of quality content can be maintained throughout the game's life cycle, then fans of the franchise will be very happy campers.

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