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The Division 2 gets exploration right

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The single-player aspects of the private beta are a big improvement over the original

The Division 2 - opening the gates to the Dark Zone South Massive Entertainment, Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft

I’ve been playing the private beta of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 pretty much continuously for the past two days. I’m happy to report that, at least so far, the sequel diverges from the original in some exciting new ways. But what I’m the most happy about is how it encourages and rewards players for exploring the environment.

I played a ton of The Division when it first came out, racking up every single achievement that the game has to offer for solo players. I located all the drones, found all the cell phones, and pieced together every one of the orange-hued echoes that I could find. Many of those collectibles were rewarding bits of storytelling about a society on the brink of collapse.

One of my favorites involved a missing person named Alexis Kwan. The mission begins like many others in the game, with a plaintive radio call from one of your allies that seems innocuous at first. But eventually the quest takes a dramatic turn, becoming a tragic and moving story about love and loss.

But, if I’m being honest, there wasn’t a whole lot of gameplay around these side missions and collectibles. At times they felt more like filler pasted into the corners of the game, carved inside the sleepy streets of an otherwise lifeless game world. In fact, many parts of Ubisoft’s version of New York City felt closed off entirely thanks to invisible walls and permanently locked doors. Outside of diving into scripted raids or instanced missions, exploration mainly involved moving from street to street outside. Those areas that were open — multi-story apartment buildings or small storefronts — were tiny, repetitive, and not a lot of fun to explore.

That’s not the case with The Division 2.

It seems like every time I set out for a new objective in Ubisoft’s version of Washington, D.C., there’s some hidden nook or cranny that keeps drawing me away. So far I’ve discovered long, circuitous alleyways that serve as a shortcut between major landmarks. I’ve found massive underground parking garages and sprawling office buildings. Even the streets themselves, wide boulevards lined with low-slung government buildings, have a kind of character that simply wasn’t present in the original game.

They’re also crammed full of gameplay.

The Division 2 includes lots of organic events that players can stumble upon in the open world. I’ve found several groups lining up civilians for execution. Others have taken over loudspeakers to broadcast nihilistic propaganda. In each case I’ve been able to observe what’s going on from a distance. Ubisoft is encouraging me to eavesdrop on these scenes for tiny morsels of narrative content. But, unlike the echoes and other collectibles in the original game, I can actually step into the scene and take action.

Add to that a host of side missions and enemy strong points to assault and there’s plenty of gameplay on offer for fans of single-player action. That’s all in addition to traditional audio logs and the franchise’s signature echoes.

The other remarkable thing about The Division 2 is how it encourages you to ask for help by inviting other players into your game. When you die there’s an additional option alongside the button to respawn that lets you send out a call for aid. Once activated, it allows other players nearby to join in on your session.

Well, in theory at least. This is a beta, not a demo. Twice now when I’ve tried to join other players the game has simply crashed. I’ve requested aid many, many times already and haven’t had a single player join me as of yet. Hopefully things will get ironed out prior to the launch of The Division 2 on March 15.