The Division 2 Feels Like An Apology To Those Burned By The Last Game

The Division 2 Feels Like An Apology To Those Burned By The Last Game

It’s clear the developers of The Division 2 have a long list of the grievances people had with first game, even though many of those problems were patched out during the game’s radical post-launch improvement.

That wasn’t enough, and now they’re really pouring on the charm while making a sequel that is impressive to play here at E3.

Here’s the E3 demo in action with me at the controls. We’re playing a “control point” mission in which we clear an area so that civilians can set up camp.

The last Division was a drab shared-world cover-based shooter. This game is colourful shared-world cover-based shooter.

The last game launched with a disappointing end-game. For this one, the developers from the game’s main studio, Sweden-based Massive, and partner studios such as North-Carolina-based Red Storm, are telling people during E3 briefings that they are putting “end-game first”.

The last game had three paid expansions of questionable value that added new modes but didn’t expand the story. The new game, Ubisoft promises, will have three free episodes in its first year that expand on the game’s story and add more activities. Each will be preceded by title updates and world events.

The last game’s enemies were bullet sponges. This game has heavies whose yellow health bars are initially obscured by a white grid, indicating they are wearing armour that can be gradually shot off to help players discern that they are making progress.

Here’s a batch of promises that the game’s associate creative director, Chadi El-Zibaoui, rattled off during a demo of the game this morning:

  • “Our end-game for The Division is going to be an accessible, deep and varied gear game,” he said.
  • “Of course we can experience the whole game in solo. But it really starts shining when you play with a group of players.”
  • “We want the activities to always be rewarding. So we will always acknowledge the time that you spent on an activity and will reward you accordingly. Those activities will have clear goals.”
  • “We want you to be able to identify what activities you should jump in in order to progress as you want.”
  • “The endgame, people sometimes think is just for hardcore players, but we’re committed to deliver on day one content for all of our players.”
  • “And when you complete the content we’re saving an inventory slot for you to be able to showcase your greatest feats in the games to other players.”

The big sequel, slated for release next March, moves the series storyline ahead seven months, from the winter in New York City right after a chemical weapons attack to the summer in Washington DC. It's hot and the city is both battered by factional strife and wracked by bad weather. Some parts are overgrown with vegetation while a heat wave smears the city.

New to the game are specialisation, special weapon-based classes of a sort that unlock after hitting the level-30 cap. I played as a sharpshooter, a specialisation unlocked after hitting the level 30 cap. That gave me a special sniper rifle. I've also got an attack drone. Other players have other special weapons and gear, including the ability to create gas clouds that can be set on fire if you shoot them. Players can re-spec and aren't stuck with one specialisation forever.

New to the game are specialisation, special weapon-based classes of a sort that unlock after hitting the level-30 cap. I played as a sharpshooter, a specialisation unlocked after hitting the level 30 cap. That gave me a special sniper rifle. I also have an attack drone. Other players have other special weapons and gear, including the ability to create gas clouds that can be set on fire if you shoot them. Players can re-spec and aren't stuck with one specialisation forever.

"There's blistering hot east coast weather, I mean, come on," Terry Spier, one of the game's creative directors atRed Storm Entertainment told me. "Storms. Lightning. Thunder. Rain." That's all in there? "Oh yeah!"

(A note about Spier, by the way. The man was very excited when we chatted. I praised the game's big post-release improvements, specifically the recent 1.8 patch and he thrust his arms in the air, doing the heavy metal devil horns hand thing. He's an excitable guy.)

The map is bigger than the first game's by about 20 per cent according to El-Zibaoui. He said the game will have several types of environments or biomes - commercial areas and residential areas like the first game had, but also overgrown jungle-like areas, governmental areas, the suburbs of Georgetown, and the Washington Mall.

"It's an almost one-to-one recreation of a city using real data," El-Zibaoui said. "If you know the city, you'll be able to find your bearings."

Fan-pleasing only goes so far, so right now the developers don't want to say much about story. I asked about the first game's nemesis, Aaron Keener. "I love that guy," Spier said. Is our old mentor character from the first game, Faye Lau, out of the sling? "Poor Faye," he said.

Then he added: "We are telling a new story this time, right? It is seven months after the green poison. You are an agent activated before the time of Division 2. From a narrative standpoint you are not a noob. You've been through some shit. You get the call from DC. 'SOS!' You go there and find DC, and bad things are happening there.

"I won't give you the whole storyline, OK. DC is on the verge of collapse. You find factions all over the place and they're all fighting for control over DC and fighting for resources that are left there. And they're preying on the civilians, so that's the first thing you need to take care of."

Civilians are more than the shuffling survivors asking for bottles of water that they were in the first game. The Division 2's DC appears to be filled with civilian encampments, and the player is apparently encouraged to help them.

"The living world is a big aspect of it," Spier said. "There are settlements of civilians and they all have needs. As you assist them, as they progress toward recovery, you'll see that represented in the world, their recovery." Would structures change? "You will definitely see changes in the world," he said, going no further.

The game's E3 demo is set up in an area near the crashed Air Force One. That zone is considered a "control point", an area enemies will initially hold but that can be seized by players. As players do that, civilians will come in to assist. If a special civilian survives then they take up position and request supplies. Give them supplies and that somehow affects the rebuilding.

A glimpse of the game at yesterday's Xbox press conference included a mention of "theatre resources", but Spier didn't want to elaborate on that or anything else players might be rebuilding.

Control points that players free for civilians can still be overrun by enemies again, shades of those bases in Far Cry that players could never quite keep cleared. Could that be frustrating?

"The impact of what happens will vary based on the activity," he said. "You will see lasting changes based on your actions, and in some cases those changes can be reverted by the enemy factions."

There is a PvE/PvP Dark Zone in the new game. Spier wouldn't talk much about it. "Secrets!" he said in a whisper.

Oh, but is there a player base of operations as there was in the first game? Sure, Spier said. Will it be a landmark? "Secrets!"

Will there be more great audio logs? "The storytelling in the game will definitely be present."

The first game's excellent, free 1.8 update late last year introduced a new way for PvE to work in that game, generating new missions for solo players repeatedly to keep them entertained. It seemed like a preview of what was to come, and Spier confirmed that it would carry into the new game.

"If PvE is your focus, there's going to be a lot of that dynamic happening in the whole world."

To be more serious for a moment, Spier and I talked about the series' politics. The first game clearly presents the player as a good guy, one of many American sleeper agents activated to keep the peace in the event of a national disaster.

Some of the enemies in the game are unambiguously evil, though others seem like they're just trying to survive and are looting their way through the city to do so. They may not be angels, but maybe they're not people to shoot first with no due process. I wondered if Spier had heard this feedback and whether it informed the political vibe and approach to the enemies in the new game.

"I think it's important to remember that it's a Clancy game and Clancy is always predicated on clear and present danger," Spier said.

"Not the specific book but just that premise. Once you're past that and step into the fiction of, OK, now what are we pretending? Green poison is what we were pretending. So, the goal isn't to make a political statement. It's not to reflect on any of the things that are happening in the current world, in the live world. It's truly: You are here to rebuild."

But if some players felt weird about the kind of enemies they were fighting in the first game, could the developers sympathise with that point of view and apply a different design to the enemies in the second game?

"The goal is definitely to unite," Spier said. "And build DC. We're working hard to make sure that factions feel like enemies and good guys feel like good guys and bring everybody together and bring this sort of tyranny these factions are holding over DC - they're all locked in a power struggle, because they all want it. You'll be able to feel that.

There does seem to be more attention paid to the idea of rebuilding society in the game. We'll see how it shapes up. The themes may be tricky. The mechanics, however, are already in good shape.

What's at E3 is fun to play, and what's mapped for the future seems engaging for this Destiny kind of game. The plan this time around is better. The execution begins next March.


  • The last Division was a drab shared-world cover-based shooter. This game is colourful shared-world cover-based shooter.
    Read: Boring
    The last game’s enemies were bullet sponges. This game has heavies whose yellow health bars are initially obscured by a white grid, indicating they are wearing armour that can be gradually shot off to help players discern that they are making progress.
    So..they’re still bullet sponges but with a new health bar graphic?
    Sorry Ubi, you got my money for the first one which performed horribly on my AMD card by the way… you won’t be fooling me again. Such a shame too. I remember the original gameplay trailer with the drone controlled by a phone app. That game had promise, what released was rubbish.

  • In the Division 1 and 2 trailers, in order to hide the fact that enemies had so much health they made a lot of enemies die to explosions.

  • Loved The Division, will likely love this as well.
    One of my biggest disappointments of Div1 was the lack of engagement with the civilians – the trailers strongly suggesting you were there to help them survive and come together. This article makes me more hopeful for that in Div2.

    • Div1 had a LOT of potential. Here’s hoping they’ve realised a little bit of it this time around.

  • Won’t be purchasing at release, but will be looking for end game insight as that is the decider for me. If the ttk isn’t ridiculously long for trash mobs then I will probably pick it up.

  • Seriously ‘burned by the other game’. An apology is not needed from this fan. Even launch Division was damn fun, it was one of my most favourite games at launch in years. Yes it had issues but what some gamers seemed to forget it wasnt a sequel to a game or anything like that. It was a brand new game, with virtually no peers. Not many huge games like GTA were perfect out of the gate. They took multi sequels to start hitting on a sure thing.

    Massive already took it in their stride to listen and repair and make amends. They are games devs not a jilted lover. I dont need an apology from them. Other than there was too many PVP DLC and no actual story DLC for the season pass.

    I sometimes wonder if gamers do truly realise that these things they care about so strongly about are games, and the people behind them are just human, capable error and mistakes. its like when they buy a game, it also means we buy (apparently) buy their souls as well.

  • If they made this a proper shooter instead of the style they’ve gone for I’d totally be coming back to this.

    • The setting was cool. But having to shoot an enemy in the head 10 times, destroyed all the immersion. And it became really repetitive.

  • It’s not an apology if it still has absurd fucking bullet sponge enemies, which it clearly does despite them specifically claiming otherwise.

    It’s ungodly lazy and cheap design that does nothing but ratchet up tedium and boredom.

    • How else would they incorporate the loot system?

      I didn’t even realize the game was like that when I first bought it. Then I shot a few enemies and thought WTF…

      • Increase the amount of enemies instead of having a lower enemy count with boatloads of hitpoints each, then lower loot drop chances… That’s one way I’d look at, I’m sure there are many others.

        It’d still average out to the same amount of loot in the end as a result. On top of that? It’d remove the most glaring issue with bullet sponge enemies… The fact that they make your weapons feel completely worthless, as you have to shoot a basic enemy in the head repeatedly with a sniper rifle before they actually die.

        • Make the enemies use cover better would be my first suggestion. And use tactics. Sure, include juggernauts with insane armour, but make them killable with intelligent tactics too.

  • the 1 to 30 leveling / story was actually enjoyable in D1 but having been there on day launch and being totally underwhelmed… well I guess i’ll keep an eye on this when it releases

    might be worth it to pick up for 20 bucks when the time comes

  • So are they going to fix the multiplayer, or will the server still trust the clients completely, allowing hackers to teleport and wall hack in the Dark Zone?

  • To everyone complaining about the TTK / Div 1 release problems, have you been back in a while?

    I used to hate the TTK but it hasn’t really been a problem since like 1.5, and especially post 1.8. Release problems definitely sucked too, but again, all of those initial problems are long gone.

    • I checked in a couple of months ago, and it was still very much the same old “better take some time off work because these trash enemies are gonna take a week to kill” feeling.

      In fact, every time I hear people talking about how The Division has gotten ‘so much better’ I generally check back in with some glimmer of hope… Only to be sorely disappointed when I find it is basically exactly the same as when I left the time before.

  • Back when the game came out it was dissapointing sure. But the devs sure did fix the game and i still play it now. Its quite enjoyable now.

    I just hope they have genuinely learnt from their mistakes and dont pull a bungie and proclaim they have learnt from their mistakes but proceed to repeat the exact same mistakes.

  • I dont get the people complaining about TTK.
    Its a loot based shooting game, this is how all of the big ones have worked, borderlands 1, 1.5 and 2, destiny 1 and 2, division 1, anthem looks to be the same.

    How else is it supposed to work? If everything dies in a couple bullets like a COD or battlefield game like some people seem to want, there would no point in all the vast amounts of varied guns with all sorts of different perks. Because everything would die in one or two headshots leaving barely any fighting time for gun differences to even show up.
    Thats what i always felt in COD singleplayer, it literally didnt matter what gun you used, everything would work about as well as each other (obviously excluding using a shotgun at extreme range).
    This also applies to stuff like the powers you get, if everything dies super quick you have no need for any of that.

    TL:DR – TTK enables you to really feel the difference of all the different crazy guns and powers in these loot based shooters, if everything died super quick like a regular shooter gun choices would barely make a difference (in non PVP scenarios) making chasing better loot near pointless.

    • This guy gets it^
      If everything died quickly, where would the fun be. In the division 1, it was important to ‘focus fire’ certain enemies with your mates, because they were the immediete danger. Then if someones getting overwhelmed, you help them. The shotgunners, were always the unit to focus first!

      Ghost recon wildlands is there for those that want to kill stuff fast.

      • Exactly! it added to how you approach a fight, you had to take into account what type of enemies there were. Take out shotgunners before they get close, take out snipers with your own then focus on the other guys. If everything died much quicker it would make much less difference who you killed.
        Its also why i like destiny, its enemies are on the spongier side too, if a hive knight or vex minotaur had less health their more powerful weapons would make far less difference as they would be dead too quick to use them, meaning you don’t have to actually plan who you kill in any strategic way.

    • The Division is quite possibly the single worst offender in regards to TTK… I can’t think of another looter shooter that makes nearly every enemy feel like a bullet sponge.

      It’s one thing for bosses or the occasional heavy to soak up a lot of damage, it’s a whole other problem when your weapons feel weak against basically every enemy in a mission and you’re essentially told to “suck it up, this is how it works in every game” when that is quite simply not true at all.

      Even Destiny (who I’d argue are the next worst offender for TTK behind The Division) hard modes had enemies that felt like they died in reasonable times and didn’t make your weapons feel utterly pointless.

      • I should have said, i was talking about from update 1.4-1.5 and onwards, i heard it was even worse right at the beginning. But i assume everyone was talking about how it is now as thats what matters more than what it was a few years ago.

        i don’t think the regular red health bar enemies were too spongy, if i can kill a whole group of them easily (usually 3-4 of them plus a purple health bar guy) off one magazine of my assault rifle just by having decent accuracy i think thats absolutely fair, but still leaves room for noticeable differences in gun types and perks, even more so when it does go on to the big groups of 10+ enemies or chuck a yellow/gold health bar enemy in.
        Anthem sure doesn’t look any different and i dont remember borderlands exactly being super quick to kill the mooks unless you got one of the super revolvers and were headshotting every hit.

        I can understand to some extent why people wouldnt like it, but not why they’d want it changed so it becomes like every other shooter around. if you want low health enemies and quick kills play ghost recon wildlands, COD or battlefield or something, not every shooting game needs to feel the same.

  • Was this on xbox one X? it looks pretty nice graphics wise so i assume it is. Can’t wait to play it on PC.

    Also, happy to hear my boy Garrus is back as our AI helper

  • I’m still butt hurt how they dropped the tablet support prior to release on D1. Would have been good to see in D2. Still I revisit this game once in awhile and I can say it really has come a long way from launch. If they can improve where D1 sits now after all the updates, then it’ll be a game worth diving back into.

  • I hope they actually bother to add some real expansions this time, seriously the first game had all these “expansions” and they didn’t bother to add any story based missions at all – it was just these stupid modes and recycling of old content made “harder”

    • Sites don’t run on some kind of warning system or machine learning or AI that scans older articles for typos; all of this stuff is still very manual.

      That’s not a bad idea, but it’d take an awful lot of dev work to implement (and there are always higher priorities). Anyway, I’ve fixed it up now.

      • I was thinking more so that a reader would have picked it up and commented far sooner, but that would be pretty neat =)

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