There is one thing in particular I’m not good at when it comes to MMO gaming — that is being able to slow down and enjoy the process of levelling. That particular journey is one I rail against, one I view simply as a necessary evil, an obstacle to be overcome in a mad dash to ‘where the game begins’ — the end game.
In apparent contradiction, however, if you offered me an MMO that forwent the levelling experience, one that said, ‘Bing! You are max level from day dot — go forth and raid’ I probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy that either.
It’s possible this contradiction arises from one of the inner-shifts as a gamer I’ve gone through over the years, where the value judgement I make against the components of an MMO hasn’t kept up with what I might actually enjoy.
I think the reason I wouldn’t accept (at first?) an MMO where you could go do everything from the moment you logged in is that it would feel undeserved. Unearned. Cheapened by not having ‘suffered’ to get there. That means I believe at some level that access to raiding and the end-game gear experience is something that must be earned in the first place.
Wait, do I Believe That?
When I take it out into the light and say it plain like that, I’m not sure that IS something I believe. Or at least, it isn’t a standard I would enforce on anyone else. But does that then follow that I also believe I’m on some other level — higher or lower — than my fellow players?
I don’t think so… Not now at least. Not consciously. I do wonder if there is an implicit bias1 at play. Something that may have roots back to when I was more firmly entrenched in the PvP player base.
While I never bought into the hate that existed between the PvP and PvE groups, it was pervasive. It was impossible not to feel immersed in it, the feelings ranging from pity for the poor lambs who didn’t understand, to disdain, to outright and open hostility.
I generally took the tack of trying to convince and sell people on the benefits (as I saw them) of the PvP way of life. I simply exited any conversation it was clear this simply was not going to happen (aka, most of them).
There were a number of motivations for the tack I took, many altruistic, but some as a matter of preservation. I think a large part of the hostility that existed between the two groups stemmed from a vocal outcry against implementation of any kind of meaningful PvP in new MMOs from the PvE sphere. It felt like being under near constant attack and having to defend the style of play we enjoyed best.
More than likely that was a belief shaping experience.
A lot of what I just wrote for the prior section I thought through as I wrote it. But even before, without that level of introspection, I had a vague desire to try ‘learn’ how to better enjoy an MMO more completely. To enjoy the experience in the early- to mid-game as well as the end.
What ESO and FFXIV have in common which made them good candidates in my mind, was a stronger focus on story than most of their competitors. While I’m far and away from being in a position to judge their overall quality in this regard, I’m enjoying what I’ve seen of both so far.
FFXIV previously allowed itself to get too bogged down in requirements to do some fairly bog-standard MMO fetch and kill side-quests. Now the XP-tuning so far seems to allow you to bee-line the MSQ (Main Story Quest) which makes it much more likely I’ll manage to get through it.
Part of the mindset shift I’m attempting is to mentally treat these two titles as the co-op/multiplayer Elder Scrolls/Final Fantasy titles I always wanted and simply put aside the fact that they’re MMOs — and all the baggage those come with.
While it’s still fairly early on in the experiment, it seems to be working. I haven’t even been tempted to look into what the raid-metas might look like, the health of the end-game scene in general or anything else of that nature for either title.
No doubt I’ll engage in the endgame if and when I get there, but that will come after I’ve stopped to smell the roses along the way.
I’ve had a draft kicking around for a while now aiming to explore how I’ve changed as a gamer over time. But as this post sort of ambled it’s way through my mind I could never quite grasp the full form of it. Originally I thought it might focus on my change over time (in the MMO-world, at least) from being an absolute carebear to PvP evangelist to somewhere in the middle.
Complicating this further is that more than once I’ve found that my actual preferences in games had shifted, consciously unbeknownst to me, and became something different to my stated (and at some level, still believed) preferences. The PvP evangelist back to more of a PvE-leaning player was certainly an example of this.
Further, separating what has been an internally driven change in my preferences vs. what has been driven by the market might not be a task I can even do.
The Need for Persistence
Somewhere along the way, though, I started to require something more from games in order to feel satisfied by them. Some reward. Just playing isn’t enough. It might be gaining levels or earning loot. It might be unlocking Achievements.
The added emphasis is mine — it struck a chord with me. I think because even though I don’t view this need as a bad thing myself, there have been other changes that once I became consciously aware of them I did feel a need to somehow reconcile them with myself.
What I hear in Pete’s article is a desire for permanence. For some degree of persistence and recognition to what has gone before. There could well be more to it, or I may have an entirely different set of gaming motivators from Pete and missed his mark completely.
But it lead me to make the following comment, which I don’t think I can materially rewrite in any better a form, so I’ll copy here with a small amount of tidy up for reference:
I remember being perfectly happy playing completely static and unchanging from round-to-round FPS’ like Quake World: Team Fortress back in the day.
…Right up until I got my first taste of an MMO. Which for me was Asheron’s Call. Many things about AC blew my young mind, but not the least of it was that I could log out and come back later and carry on building from where I was. What a concept!
When this started finding its way into FPS titles like the Battlefield series, a sort of unholy melding of round-to-round play but with persistent ranks and unlocks, I knew I could never go back to a completely static game environment.
I think what this offers us is a sense that what we’ve done matters. At the end of the day, it might still have ‘just been a game’ but there is something a little more tangible than time spent to point at and say, ‘I did that’.
Evolution of Taste and Tolerance
Bhagpuss spoke to the change over time in his desire for a realistic, weather matters, food matters, weight while swimming matters, low-magic RPG where there was narry a hint of rivaling God’s or Dragon’s, to being able to let go and buy into the trappings of the more standard RPG fare where power-spikes of the players lead to such encounters becoming relatively common place.
“I was paying far more attention to whether I was enjoying myself than whether I ought to be. It turns out that being powerful and winning all the time is fun.”
The journey is one I can relate to as I have been through the same, albeit over a relatively shorter period of time.
My tolerance for demanding games has dwindled to near zero. But I suppose I should clarify ‘demanding’ in this context. Because I’m still all for challenge in games. I’m good with beating my head against a raid boss for several hours a night with friends, and in a similar vein I’m perfectly happy to play through titles like Dark Souls that have the potential at least, to be rather punishing of poor play.
But I simply will not sit through another game that demands that I eat and drink every 60 seconds. And looping back to my straying away from PvP evangelism? There was a time when I was all for the full-loot, winner takes all style of Asheron’s Call: Darktide. I loved the concepts of base-building (and loss) of Shadowbane and Darkfall. Territory control in EVE was an amazing draw.
Now I can be easily frustrated if a player in PvP manages to dislodge me from a quest or hunting spot, even if there is no other real consequence.
This was one of the changes in myself that I had trouble with. I couldn’t with any certainty finger-point at a specific time, place or reason for this change in myself and what I wanted out of a game.
It might’ve been the disappointing executions of both Shadowbane and Darkfall. It might have been the then result of being more open to trying WoW and its relatively light implementation of world-PvP.
I don’t know, but I do know that when I realised it, that I couldn’t really tolerate my own previously-preferred style of play any more, that I felt quite like a fraud. There I had been espousing the virtues of such PvP implementations. The player-stories they offered, the increased power and meaning of social interactions through the steadfast allies and deadly nemesis’ you’d come to find… And I’d lost the will to engage with it?
I think in some ways I might even still be looking for the answer to what happened there. There is some part of me that would like to be back in that world — but it just isn’tme any more.
I think with this, it will conclude my impressions of The Division 2 beta. I could go back and do the structured PvP, I could also go in and play the other specialisations (I tested through with the Demolitionist myself, friends took the other two: Sharpshooter and Survivalist, so I saw them in action too).
But I won’t. In part because the weekend is over and the realities of work reassert themselves, sure. Even were this not true though I feel less of a need to explore the demo more. Because it is such a familiar experience I’m more content to wait and see and do it ‘for real’ in the live game.
In any case, we played through the end-game ‘Invaded’ mission included in the beta 3 times, once on normal and twice on hard, the highest difficulty open in the beta.
So… Was it a bullet sponge fest?
On normal, with the gear the premade specialist characters started with? No, actually.
This starter gear was primarily high-end gear with a few epics thrown in. We didn’t have anything in the way of modifications for our skills. (Yep, even skills can have mods now.)
Item Level would’ve been in the 330-340 region, with a maximum possible a bit over 350 from what we could tell. High-end armor pieces were ilvl 350, with the highest weapon drop I personally saw at 352.
With this sort of gear, Normal difficulty felt OK. Red health bar guys were just two pumps of a SPAS-12 (8-round shotgun). Purple and Yellow health barred mobs took more, but still felt pretty OK. Focus firing any given target including named bosses melted them quickly.
And on Hard?
Well… Yeah, OK. No getting around this one.
The Black Tusk enemies on Hard are a significant jump up over their normal counterparts. The damage they can inflict feels OK (actually, it hurts a great deal — I’m not into that kind of thing, I swear!) but their life bars. Sheesh.
The red health bar guys can now take five to six solid SPAS-12 blasts, breaking through the heavy armor of the medieval looking guys with chainguns takes the sustained fire of multiple full mags from the group to actually start doing damage.
There are quite a few unknowns that may mitigate this though. As I noted, we were missing modifications for our skills. We didn’t have a full set of skills to choose from. We didn’t necessarily have an optimum setup of attribute rolls, gear talents or brand mixes, either.
How much headroom is there for DPS growth from these factors? Unknown. I hope it is substantial though, because this was just hard. We didn’t have an opportunity to try out Challenging or Legendary1 difficulty yet.
Time to Loot
Warning: There is absolutely no guarantee that the drop rates experienced in the private beta will match live.
But I hope they do – because it felt like the right balance between the original stinginess of loot that we experienced in the early days of The Division 1 and the loot pinata that you’ll find if you go play now.
Even on the normal run we each received a few high-end / exotic gear pieces each. On the hard runs we perhaps received four to five such pieces each.
Basically, the drops were not so common as to lose all meaning, but neither were they so rare as to demotivate playing just that little bit more for a chance at another.
Outside of the brand gear I talked about in my early game impressions, there was no sign of ‘proper’ set gear as yet. Whether they are keeping that back for the full retail launch, or whether it is being held back for a later release, or worst of all in my opinion, expected to no longer be needed due to brands — I don’t know.
The Specialist Roles
This is probably the area I’d most like to withhold judgement on until the the full release of the game.
But it seemed like your selection of specialty had very little bearing on how you play the game.
90 to 95% of the time you’ll be using your ‘standard’ kit, because the exotic ammo drops are rare. Extremely so. One or two drops of the ammo per run it seems, although on the first run through I had none at all.
The Sharpshooter’s .50 cal rifle is a great fight starter if they’re given the chance. The Demolitionist’s grenade launcher was excellent as an ‘Oh shi-‘ button (although using it honestly just put me in the frame of mind as it being a poor-man’s version of the Colossus’ ultimate). The Survivalist has a crossbow with explosive rounds. It seemed like a fairly versatile weapon, with the bolt lodging into whatever enemy it hits. At that point there is no escape, even if they run behind cover — that explosion in their chest is now inevitable.
But will there be perks to differentiate one specialisation from another? Gear sets exclusive to the specs, perhaps? I hope so, as they certainly do not feel very distinct from one another from our experience in the demo and need something to give flavour.
With this experience I wrap-up my time with The Division 2 demo. In large part because the weekend is over and I’m back to work tomorrow, but even if that was not the case, I don’t feel any particular drive to go in and play more.
Don’t get me wrong, my experience with The Division 2 — some frustrating bugs and crashes notwithstanding2 — has been by and large a positive one.
But it’s also been a very familiar one. The changes are for the most part very welcome, but the core of the game is just The Division 1 done in summer.
I’ve said it before — but it really is true; if you enjoyed and want more Division 1, this will be absolutely your jam. If you didn’t get on with Division 1 then it’s equally likely you’ll find nothing here to change your mind.
I enjoyed the taste of the endgame the beta allowed, I feel that some tuning on enemy life / armor values might be in order if the player damage doesn’t scale much from the additional mod slots we were missing, especially in consideration of the fact this was only on ‘Hard’ difficulty.
It’s not a pre-order, must have, day 1 title for me. When I pick it up is going to largely depend on the rate of content releases for Anthem. With the first story update scheduled for March, Anthem may well hold me over for some time.
Potentially that is quite an optimistic view though, and I know within my circle of gaming friends some of them are hyper-keen and were extremely impressed by the continuation of The Division. This makes it much more likely that I’ll pick it up on or soon after release — but I’ll get it when I need to and assess when that is as we go.
As always though with demo impressions, this is by no means a review. There are just too many unknowns (for me, at least) to even begin to make such a claim. Certainly the demo experience has solidified my position on to buy or not personally — but if you’re still on the fence and didn’t get a chance to try the beta out this weekend yourself…
Just wait for the actual reviews and launched game streams, etc. You’ll be able to get a much firmer idea then how well (or not) Massive and Ubisoft have managed to deal with the bugs, the balance and the like.
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 a 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.