The Division 2 Private Beta – Early Impressions of Early Game
Righto, so I’ve spent about 6-7 hours with The Division 2 beta so far. This first day of access has been about the early game (starting right from level 1) with a transition to allowing late-game play and testing a specialisation after the three-hour maintenance tonight.
I’ve completed both of the main story missions available in the demo, most of the side missions and then a bunch of the more randomly-generated event based content.
I have not yet tried out the available Dark Zone area or the PvP, so I can’t talk to that just yet.
Before I go any further though, I want to acknowledge I have a bias toward Anthem. I intend to ultimately play both games, and see myself bouncing between them as content releases occur, but certainly my preference is to start with Anthem. If you’re interested in why that is — then some of my reasoning for that is here.
I’ll endeavour to keep most of these sections therefore as factual as possible, with a more subjective opinion piece in the post’s conclusion.
The Division 2 immediately presents a more polished set of technicals than the Anthem demo did, and I include the improved open Anthem demo in that statement too.
The servers showed little to no sign of a struggle to start with and game performance was solid without causing the PC to do a pretty good impression of a space heater like the Anthem demo client did.
There is unfortunately one very significant caveat to this — if you play in sessions longer than ~2 hours at a time, you will be subject to a memory leak issue.
It presents in one of a few ways — the most common being to simply crash, but at one time I started taking performance dips which grew increasingly worse over time, from 75-90 FPS working well, down to 15-25 FPS with judders before I finally reset the client.
There are also intermittent server-side disconnects. They’re not terribly frequent — perhaps once every hour or two, but a poorly timed one can cause you to lose all progress in a mission and restart.
Earlier I was running from the nearest safehouse to the East Darkzone (the one open during the Beta). I was just about there when a client freeze and crash hit. I logged in again, almost arrived a second time and then had a server disconnect. Sigh.
Whether it is simply YouTube compression being YouTube compression, an intentional downplay of the visuals to avoid accusations of ‘Downgraaade!’ later on or other — the game in action on your very own screen looks a lot better than the game trailers would suggest.
While it is unmistakably still the same engine as The Division 1, there is an increased visual fidelity and sharpness to The Division 2.
I believe higher res textures are playing a role here, but also a conscious design choice from Massive to not soften the image so much in post process. This game is edgy, but not in a jaggy unanti-aliased kind of way.
There doesn’t appear to be any sort of Motion Blur on by default which I’m sure will make a lot of people happy.
In short, Division 2 aims for a much crisper display, and hits the target well.
If you played The Division 1, you know what to expect and you will already know whether or not that is a thing you want more of.
If not for the increased diversity in biomes in the game, the moment-to-moment gameplay could easily be mistaken for that of the first game.
That’s not to say there haven’t been changes – there have, of course. But if you didn’t enjoy the core gameplay of the first there is likely nothing here to change your mind.
I’m new to The Division!
In that case – know that you’re in for a third-person cover shooter that leans more toward the RPG end of things with longer time-to-kill than most other shooters you might be familiar with.
Having said that, standing around, not using the plentiful cover around will still see you a pile of mincemeat on the ground in fairly short order. At least — that is true until you’ve geared up and started using the appropriate skills if that is a position on the field you want to occupy.
Loot is a huge component of the game, if you consider Diablo or Borderlands in third-person shooter form you’re pretty much there.
And like Diablo at least — the abilities also play a major role. You can unlock the ability to heal, wield a powerful shield letting you advance on the enemy position without cover and ultimately flank, deploy turrets, and more. You can equip two such skills at a time, select a modded-variant of these skills to use and then also pick an ultimate skill from a selection of three.
The game can technically be played solo. But don’t. You’re best off with friends and may have up to 4 (including yourself) in the freeroam and main story missions.
For more detailed information, highly suggest you take a look around the net for other reviews, but I note that any review from the launch of The Division will be woefully out of date.
I’m not new — what are some of the key differences?
You might want to sit down for this one. After your experience with the JTF in The Division 1 you might not be ready for it.
Seated? OK, good.
The friendly NPCs in this game are not useless. The relatively low-key ‘capture and hold the area around this box’ side-missions of The Division 1 have been upgraded to a Territory Control mechanic in The Division 2.
A small area of the map will become an enemy stronghold, which you can fire off a flare to bring in surrounding friendly NPCs.
And they do work. They will push in on enemy positions and really make their presence felt. They’re also not your typical MMO or MMO-lite NPCs that deal no damage and essentially are just activity placeholders til you come to save the day.
No, these guys will mow shiz down.
And this sets a general theme for Division 1 –> 2 transition. Everything that was in the freeroam map of Division 1 is still here but generally speaking a bit bigger and better.
Side missions are more like mini main story missions, although perhaps a bit formulaic in what we’ve seen so far. Fight your way into a building. Do something (e.g., save a hostage, check on some intel), then: Oops, the enemy got mad and sent in reinforcements. Fight your way back out as well.
Safehouses still exist, but some of them are now Settlements. Settlements can be upgraded with your support with new facilities to help both the people there and yourself. They’re where you will recruit your operational staff from which unlocks additional facilities back at the Base of Operations.
They’re also often extended mission hubs, with each upgrade then opening more missions and side activity options.
The gunplay is about the same (which is to say, competent — but nothing to write home about).
Skill selection in the demo is incredibly limited but for the most part are quite promising. Perhaps the biggest exception to this is the new Division 2 variant of the Seeker Mine which is… not good.
‘Seeker’ Mine is now a bit of misnomer. Because it doesn’t. (At least not in the Airburst modded form, I couldn’t say for certainty none of the mods do.) Instead you deploy the Seeker as before, but then must target an area for it to go do its thing at.
If you’re using this to open combat, then all good! It will scuttle on over and give a rather surprising ‘Hi!’
If you’re already in combat, generally by the time it’s rolled its merry way over to the target location everyone there is either dead or 10-meters away in some other direction.
It doesn’t feel good to use in its current form which is disheartening because the Airburst Seeker Mine was one of my favourite skills from The Division 1.
Making up for this somewhat, the turrets (both Assault and Sniper variants) are amazing — so there is definitely a bit of a mixed bag.
I’ll likely comment on this again after we get to see some of the endgame variants, but I already can tell I like the direction of the changes to Loot from Division 1 –> 2.
Armor and Brands
Right from the outset with low-level green drops, armor pieces can belong to one of several ‘brands’. This forms the basis of a set-bonus for gear right from the outset, letting players customise builds in interesting ways.
Right from level 1, you can start thinking about the direction you want to focus — be that on empowering your abilities, marksmanship, defensive staying power or straight up raw firepower.
Brand set bonuses only require 3 pieces to get their maximum bonus, so you have a number of ways to mix and match across your gear.
Perhaps the one downside to this is that crafting armor pieces feels a waste of time as they do not come with a ‘brand’. At least not at the outset of the game.
Weapons and Modifications
The variety in weapons and their handling characteristics is impressive. The shooting perhaps seemed a bit loose to start with, but may well have been a symptom of lower accuracy weapons without the benefit of modifications.
Around levels 5-6 I started getting weapons which felt tighter to control and access to enough perk points to buy out the basic range of weapon modifications.
Mods now don’t litter your stash or inventory taking up space. You gain access to at least a set of basic modifications through investing in Perks, which can then be used on any weapon at any time.
Modifications will typically have both a positive and a negative effect, and at least for these low level variants there is an actual decision to be made on whether or not you’d want to use them. Is a reduction in Crit damage worth the increase in Stability? For an LMG, maybe. For a SMG almost certainly not.
I’ve also gained access to to some Blueprints for Modifications which do appear to need to be crafted before they can be used. I think these DO go into your bag, but there is a separate inventory for modifications.
I haven’t crafted one of these yet though, so I’m not 100% positive how this fits together. I’ll revisit this in a later post.
Character Progression and Perks
The Division 1 lacked much in the way meaningful progression outside of levels and gear. While there was a perk system present, it offered less meaningful choices and it was relatively linear in how it was unlocked.
The Division 2 by contrast, while very likely to end up in the same position of a ‘finished’ character having everything unlocked at least provides you with a set of decisions on what order to tackle your unlocks in based on what you felt you wanted or needed most in the moment.
The options are largely themed around capacity. For example, increased inventory (starting size is frustrating), increased stash, carry capacity for grenades, armor kits, etc. But there is some variation for example with the basic set of weapon modifications.
Still, expect for your main way of character progression to be, as it was with The Division 1, with levels and gear.
Impressions of the Early Division 2 Gameplay vs. Anthem
I like what I see. There is a lot of promise and fans of The Division 1 are likely to be pleased with the direction the game has taken.
On paper, I was beginning to question my choice in focusing on Anthem first, as it sounds like The Division 2 is going to have a much heavier load of endgame content from out of the gate. Some of which we’ll get to try later tonight or tomorrow!
However actually getting my hands on the game again confirmed for me that I’d be happier with Anthem. The weighty, stuck to the ground feel of The Division 2 offers a much more realistic environment (not that ‘realistic’ is a term that should be tied too heavily to a looter-shooter) but it also offers up its own set of annoyances.
When I can’t jump or even step over certain ledges, getting stuck on a ramp only inches from the ground in places — I’m immediately drawn back to the hyper-mobility of Anthem.
It’s hard to say with having had exposure to such a limited selection of abilities in The Division 2 so far how they compare, but it is easy to tell they’re more of a supportive role as opposed to Anthem where they are (depending to some extent on your choice of Javelin) the main feature of the combat. At least this is true without the heavier cooldown orientated builds which may be possible with later game gear.
So this leaves The Division 2 reliant on its gunplay and cover mechanics. This is a solid foundation, and with the right set of friends by your side allows for some awesome moments in the set-pieces of the main missions.
The grounded nature of The Division 2 can then be turned into a strength whereby flanking your enemy to get a good shot becomes an exercise in team tactics.
Ultimately my wish is that The Division 2 and Anthem were separated in launch dates by more than just a month. Even one extra month would have allowed for a much more peaceful co-existence in my life. ;)
As it is, my friends and I will have to prioritise once both are out. Barring any nasty surprises with the launch of Anthem, my expectation is that my preference still lies there.
The content schedule for Anthem while heartening, I feel is still going to provide a gap. In which, jumping over to experience the story and endgame of The Division 2 for a while shall be very welcome.