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The Division 2 private beta: Five things we learned on the first day

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The gameplay is much more challenging, but the world itself feels hollow

The Division 2 - soldier looking up at the Capitol building on fire Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

The private beta of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 kicks off today for those who have preordered the game. While high-level content doesn’t unlock until tomorrow, there’s still plenty to share about our first few hours with the game. It’s clear that The Division 2 has a look and feel that’s very different from its predecessor. Meanwhile, we’re still not sure what to make of the storyline so far.

Here’s five things we learned on the first day of The Division 2’s private beta.

The tactics have changed

The changes to combat in The Division 2 go deep, and they begin with subtle changes to the look of the game.

Environments appear to have much less contrast than in the original, especially at night or in dark environments. Once engaged, there’s no longer a guarantee that enemies will have a persistent icon floating over their heads. Those two differences combine to make it very hard to know how many enemies you’re fighting against at any given time, or where they even are on the map.

Things may change in the mid or late game as more passive skills unlock, but in the opening few hours these factors combine to change the flow of combat quite a bit.

In the original The Division it was pretty easy for me to post up on one side of an environment and push through to the other, making lateral moves from cover to cover as I went. This time around the enemies have found ways to sneak around and flank me on a regular basis. As a consequence, I’m forcing myself to maneuver faster and more purposefully than ever before.

One feature that I’ve been playing with today is called “parkour mode.” It cuts down on the stickiness of cover by making your character automatically vault over low obstacles if they’re running. It’s going to take a bit of time to change my muscle memory, but so far I can see the potential for much more fluid advances and retreats.

The storyline of the beta, such as it is, has players returning several civilian encampments to working order. Once improvements are made, upgrades for the headquarters inside the White House are added on one by one.
Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

Weapon choice matters

Weapons feel much more defined this time around. In The Division, there wasn’t all that much separating an assault rifle from a scout rifle. Both worked well at either medium or long range. In The Division 2 — at least on PlayStation 4, where I’ve spent the majority of my time — aiming feels a lot less sticky. That means scout rifles are really only effective for poking at stationary targets behind cover.

Meanwhile, shotguns have been dramatically improved. A semi-automatic model, so long as it’s at an appropriate level, is hands down the best way to deal with enemies up close. Where that leaves submachine guns, which were effectively uber-weapons in the previous game, I’m simply not sure.

Another big question in my mind is the role of light machine guns. In The Division, they were practically worthless. So far in The Division 2 I’ve been happy with their ability to suppress enemies. Once you’ve got them zeroed in, it just takes a few short bursts to fix someone in place, pinning them down and showing the word “suppressed” in bright white letters over their head. But actually doing damage with them has proven extremely difficult.

The role of tech has expanded

After the opening few levels in The Division, Strategic Homeland Division (SHD or “shade”) tech sort of faded into the background. Seeker mines were just as good as a grenade in most circumstances and stationary health kits were simply a timed area of effect buff. This time around, tech seems to play a much bigger role.

Take turrets for example. The beta includes two different styles, an assault and a sniper variant. They’ll happily plug away at enemies once you deploy them, but you can also assign them to a specific target on the fly with the press of a button. As a solo player, it’s the equivalent of having a teammate who actually listens to you. In a small group, it allows a single player to hold a flank much better than ever before. High-level players will find all kinds of clever uses for the feature, I’m sure.

Evidence of civil unrest is piled high in Ubisoft’s version of Washington D.C.
Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

There are also synergies to be found between different types of tech, which are mounted to your character as skills and in pairs. The healing drone, if left to its own devices, will repair your armor. But you can also assign it to repair your turret, which seriously improves its resilience against incoming fire.

Even more surprising, I quickly found that the enemies had access to some of the same tech that I do. Some enemies lobbed seeker mines in my direction very early on, while others drove flamethrower-wielding RC cars with deadly effects. I’m curious to see what other surprises lay in store with boss encounters down the line.

It’s easy to play together

The launch of The Division in 2016 was rife with technical errors. It was practically impossible to participate in cooperative missions when the game came out, and persistent matchmaking bugs plagued the game well into its second year. The same can’t be said for The Division 2.

Multiplayer just works.

I had very little difficulty joining in with other players on the fly. Better still, it was easy to form parties while outside of the base and actually run the missions that I wanted to run. While playing solo, the game also encouraged me to ask for help from the other players by sending out calls for aid. On more than one occasion other players actually showed up, helping me to push through a difficult encounter.

The result is a game that feels simultaneously like a solo and a multiplayer experience. That should pay dividends early on by helping to galvanize the community.

Early cutscenes make the player out to be a simple law man come to clean up the mean streets of D.C. The morality of the original game, set in New York, wasn’t nearly so cut and dry.
Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

The storyline feels apolitical, but that could change

Ubisoft turned a lot of heads last year at E3 when it pitched The Division 2 as a game about the next Civil War, and then refused to acknowledge what that might indicate about the current political climate in the United States.

I listened hard and read a lot throughout my roughly four hours with the game today, but so far I can’t really get a handle on what The Division 2 wants to say about our modern politics at all.

To many, that probably sounds like a good thing. But refusing to have a perspective in a game about the life and death struggle for our nation’s capital in 2019 could just as easily be a liability for Ubisoft.

In the fiction of this world, the SHD is a sleeper cell of highly trained commandos embedded in all walks of life. When the call comes from the executive branch, SHD agents answer by unswervingly bringing their version of law and order to the streets. In the original game, that meant uncomfortable encounters with armed minorities, some of which were all to happy to point out that the player might not be on the side of liberty and freedom after all.

Lurking in the background of the story in The Division 2 is a president, the commander in chief who activated the SHD in the first place. Suffice it to say, I’m very eager to learn more about his motivations... or lack thereof.