The Division 2 Private Beta – Endgame PvE

The Division 2 Private Beta - Endgame mission on hard, reviving a friend.

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.

Normal difficulty felt OK. Red health bar guys were just two pumps of a SPAS-12 (8-round shotgun).

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?

Our first pass of this room on hard was a nightmare. It made our group very afraid of the explosive flying drones. They became priority target #1.

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.

Our first time through on normal it was clear as day weather at this section. The rain storm at night made for very poor visibility, and added to the challenge quite a bit.

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

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.

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

Ehhhh.

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.

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.

Conclusion

If you haven’t already, you may also wish to view my thoughts on the early game PvE, and the Dark Zone PvP.

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.

Why Anthem? Why not The Division 2?

I’ve been asked this question in various forms over the last little while. Some just want to know what about Anthem excites me full stop, for others they’ve been legitimately curious why I would be more hyped for Anthem than I am for The Division 2.

And my knee-jerk reaction in my head was, ‘Well duh- just look at ’em!’–but then when it came to actually articulate these oh-so-clearly-self-evident reasons, I drew a blank.

I couldn’t really say why I had such a strong preference for Anthem.

Not to worry if your preferences lean the other way–there is little doubt that I’ll ultimately cover both. I’m not really going to be trying to change your mind with this either, rather just give some insight into why I lean this way.

Going back to the Announcements

But I want to see full on expansions with level cap increases, new areas, new stories and new shinies to chase. I would have joyously paid for this for The Division 1. No amount of logic has been able to completely remove the sting of lost opportunity that The Division 1 represents.

When the titles were announced, Anthem left me with a sense of ‘Eh. We’ll see.’ Mass Effect: Andromeda was still fresh in the mind, so my usual enthusiasm for all things BioWare was tempered. Nonetheless, it looked interesting and I made a mental note to check on it again when it was a bit further along.

The Division 2 announcement, however, actively irked me. It felt to me that The Division 1 had plenty of potential life left to it, but had been left to die. Two years after launch and the story had not been moved, cars crashed into place on Day 1 were still there on Day 601.

The Division 1 had been left to stagnate, stuck in stasis, opportunity wasted. And then along comes The Division 2, seeming to me as nothing more than a rather cynical cash grab.

I’ve since tempered my view a little – I recognise that there were some fundamental problems with the way stats and itemisation worked in The Division 1. And sure, they could have done a Loot 2.0 patch but not without risk of pissing off at least some of the remaining player base who liked things the way they were.

Second, like it or not–I also recognise that Ubisoft is a business. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be treating consumers well of course, but they are not a charity. They do not carry any obligation to continue delivering against The Division 1 if the business case doesn’t stack up.

But I want to see full on expansions with level cap increases, new areas, new stories and new shinies to chase. I would have joyously paid for this for The Division 1. No amount of logic has been able to completely remove the sting of lost opportunity that The Division 1 represents, especially in light of Anthem claiming a 10-year plan.

The Story

The story and mission structure of The Division 1 was some of the best leveling content I’ve ever had the pleasure to play through. There was a sense of mystery around the First Wave agents, how or who spread the virus and more.

The Division 2’s story trailer by contrast leaves me a bit cold. The reality may be that the story is just as good and builds on Division 1’s — but if that’s true they’ve done a terrible job of conveying it.

Granted with Anthem, BioWare has been very close to the chest with the story. But even from what little has been shown and spoken about, there is mystery, forces bigger than ourselves, a misguided bad-guy with a pinch of Thanos and pinch of Darth Vadar in the mix. Reality manipulation is a thing. Forces of creation can and will go wild. Perhaps a pinch of The Dark Tower in there too.

I expect it will closely follow the BioWare tried and true template (albeit with 100% less sexy-times this time around, which personally I’m good with) but it’s been… quite a while… since I’ve been through a BioWare story in full, so I’m ready!1

But… But… EA!

Alright, let’s clear the air on this one a little.

And secondly, perhaps a bit more controversially — I think anyone holding the view that EA is evil but Ubisoft is good is being willfully ignorant or perhaps stuck in denial.

I’m well aware of the grievances against EA. They have certainly not been any kind of consumer advocate. ;) The issues were covered in excruciating detail, after all. But the resolutions and post launch improvements? Hardly a boo spoken.

Nonetheless, I don’t have any illusions that they’ve somehow overnight come up with a customer-first policy. I’m well aware that they may end up stinging us with something unwanted in Anthem.

But two points on this:

I think EA has been sufficiently frightened off being too obnoxious for a time by the fallout over lootboxes and the intense backlash they’ve received; not only by their customers but by legislators and as a result their shareholders.

And secondly, perhaps a bit more controversially — I think anyone holding the view that EA is evil but Ubisoft is good is being willfully ignorant or perhaps stuck in denial.

Ubisoft has not been a saint either, through adding microtransactions to titles (even The Division 1, in fact) post the review cycle. Even when adding them in at the game’s launch — including somewhat scummy items such as an XP Booster for a SP game (AC: Odyssey, which full disclosure I loved the game in spite of this).

They’re also a firm believer in creating a half-dozen editions of a game, and for Division 2 this has crossed from simple cosmetics or short-lived starter gear to a permanent stash-space increase only available with the super-duper uber-rich-person edition.

And in conclusion…

Anthem lets you play as fricken Iron Man, man. Case closed. Booyah. ;)

I actually went for more of a War Machine look as opposed to Iron Man. (Pfft; everyone was doing that!) Legs should have been darker as well, but were tied to the face plate colour. Overall happy with the results the customiser allowed for!

More seriously; I’d be happiest of all if both games were successful. I don’t buy into an ‘us or them’ mentality over the two. If I had unlimited time, I’d cover both from the get-go.

But since I don’t have unlimited time, and must choose — it’s Anthem for me to start with.

When my team and I run through all available content and are hankering for more, I believe The Division 2 will be there for us in our time of need. Switching between the two, allowing for content to develop in one whilst we play the other is going to be excellent.

There is more I could talk to over the relative transparency of the Devs and their community interactions, but the more I dove into my own motivations and thought processes the more I realised the centre of it for me was mostly around Ubisoft’s lack of long-term support for Div 1.

I’m willing to forgive and forget, providing a chance to Div 2 to be better. But if in a couple of years from now we’re talking about the announcement for Div 3 — I think we’re done!