The Division 2's UI Is A Work Of Art

It's been a while since I've binged The Division, so it's been a while since I've played a game with menus, transitions and a UI that was just pure beauty. Enter the The Division 2.

By chance, I found myself spending a good chunk of time with The Division 2's public beta over the weekend. I hadn't planned on firing up Ubi's run-and-gun loot shooter, but the Epic Games Store (of all things) gave me a massive prompt saying the beta was available, so I figured I might as well give it a whirl.

The original Division is a game that I've always appreciated, even if it's not something I actively play anymore. A good user interface is hard to do, and The Division absolutely nailed the brief with its minimalist, slightly angled lines and HUD icons.

It was a UI that provided as much information as possible while being as unobtrusive as humanly possible. Naturally, The Division 2 tries to follow the same brief, and it does so very well.

Take this scenario. I'm zoomed in, camped behind a car, when a patrol comes strolling down the street. At an instant an immediate glance, I can tell that there's precisely six soldiers in front - thanks to the tiny little UI dots that The Division 2 pops up on enemies.

I can immediately see how much equipment I have to deal with everyone as a group. Thanks to the radar, I can also see if there's another enemy that's not within my direct cone of vision (to the right or the left). Further more, the weapon change UI appears at just the right height so I can quickly get a gauge of how many bullets I can bump into this crew.

Best of all is the actual character model. The Division understands that you do not need the player model to take up 50 percent or more of the screen when zooming in. The player isn't getting in the way of valuable information, and I wish to all that is holy that other third-person games would get the memo.

Take this, in the middle of a firefight. It's a demolition site, not that far from the only DZ area available in the public beta. There's a trash melee mob advancing on my position, so I've rolled out of dodge just to give me some space to deal with that situation.

A small red triangle lets me know that there's still an enemy on the second floor of the demo site. I've also dropped a turret that's targeting another enemy to the right, and even though that enemy isn't visible because of the concrete pillar, I know they're there thanks to the thin red targeting laser emanating from behind the trash mob. I can also tell my turret to have a crack at the melee enemy with the press of a button - a single orange Q, which takes up almost no space on the screen, but stands out just enough thanks to the drop shadow and the contrast against the environment.

I also know that some friendly forces are on their way - there's a prompt next to the radar, but a tiny icon on the screen also lets me know the direction they're coming from as well. It's a ton of information that's all immediately readable without getting in the way of actually shooting stuff.

A lot of the base for this, of course, was designed for The Division. The sequel has improved upon it in bits and pieces. Take the transmission for ECHOs, which are basically narrative vignettes told through some holographs. You'll come across a couple in the open beta, and they've been refined a little from the original game.

Firstly, the game very immediately and instantly gives you an idea of what the range is for the ECHO. A square grid pops up around the area, but most of that grid immediately dissipates. A thin line and a couple of slightly transparent blocks remain so you know where you need to be, but enough of that border is removed so your visual focus is immediately drawn towards what's actually important.

Someone within Ubisoft would have spent a good chunk of time working out what that transition looked like - how long that grid remains on screen, the diagonal lines in the edges of the barrier, the size of the grid on the bottom, and how quickly everything appears and fades out.

It's visually effective, and really, really well done.

Even going into the inventory has been overhauled slightly. The original game tended to group things in a series of columns, splitting things into a series of three columns that showed your health, the DPS of your currently equipped weapon, power of your skills, and then your equipped gear underneath that.

The Division 2 still displays all of that information on a single screen, but items are now highlighted instead of a focus on numbers. The armour, health and skill power values have been shifted to the side, allowing you to see your entire loadout in a single hit, as well as any set bonuses for each item, their level, and general quality.

The weapon menu is improved as well. The DPS, magazine size and rounds per minute were always displayed on the one screen when a weapon was highlighted, but now those three values are displayed at all times underneath every weapon in your inventory.

It makes it faster to quickly gauge the general value of each weapon, especially if you're just looking for the highest damage output. The game also displays the critical strike range and damage drop off for each weapon, something the original Division didn't do. Reload time is now displayed in seconds, rather than a meaningless bar, and the game tells you what the range for a critical strike is, information that wasn't displayed before.

There's less space between individual blocks in the inventory menu, which has allowed Ubisoft to add more information without completely overloading the screen. It's worth noting, too, that you can use a larger font. The Division 2 gets that you might not be sitting in front of a monitor, so if you want something a little more readable, you just have to flick an option in the settings. It's incredibly handy.

There's a lot more that can be said about The Division 2, and we'll definitely cover that as we get closer to the game's launch on March 15. But given how many games don't display information well, or bog the player down in a series of clunky and monotonous transitions for basic actions - the experience of swapping a gun out in Anthem comes to mind - it's worth calling out the games that get it right.


Comments

    I only got on for a few hours, but was impressed very early on. Compared to various other demo's in recent times, this was a masterclass in how to do it right.

    Never played The Division, it just never really came across my radar, but this demo jumped Division 2 right up my list.

      A few YouTubers who review games have said good things about the Division now that it's had a lot of the problems ironed out. So that has left me curious of D2.

    A work of art?!

    I suppose if you mean art as in design over practicality, much in the same way as a fashion parade may be art but it is most certainly not successful ‘day to day clothes’.

    Personally the UI makes me feel physically ill. That blurry and distortion effect that comes up every time you lunch the menu or a tool tip comes up is simple terrible. Design over comfort. In much the same way motion blur affects some people. Every time a menu comes up you have to wait for it to come into focus. Now I have new(Er) glasses so it is not my eyes. It is just not thought out for those in the world in which motion blur causes trouble.

    Also there the main loading screen. A circle going around another circle, all on top of another circle PLUS There is a mirror image of it underneath but offset. Then add the distortion effect on top of that. On top of a white screen (thankfully dimmer now)

    Clearly someone has put design and art over understanding the fundamentals of what makes motion sickness. It’s makes their medical warning at start up strangely hilarious.

    Also I loved the UI from the first game but find the UI here as being too cramped and too convoluted. The first game was cleaner and more practical.

      Why don't you just disable the blur if it's causing you physical discomfort? The option is in the main video settings.

        The blur in the menu is not tied to the menu effects. You can turn off motion blur in game, but I have yet to see it remove the blur/distortion from the menues.

        Much like how there text size only affects the main menu but strangely not the rest of the menues/pop ups (unless that has change in this beta?) I haven’t got around to trying that yet in this beta

          Would probably be good feedback to Ubi directly. They take accessibility stuff pretty seriously, so they'd keep that in mind.

          You can also turn off another setting called Chromatic Aberration which will get rid of the fuzzy, multicoloured lines around the edge of some objects (not sure if that affects menu items, but it's something to check)

            HAHA Chromatic Abberation sounds like a DnD Monster devised by a GM who works for Razer. It would sync with the Chromatic Ghoul and Chromatic Gelatinous Cube.
            I know that it's really a failure to focus colour correctly, but still it makes me hehe

              Evocation spells in DnD actually - Chromatic Spray and Chromatic Orb let you pick elemental damage.

              Though on further research there are a Chromatic series of monsters - the evil dragons (Metallic are good dragons)... then again with their claw attacks they probably would sync with Razer devices! :p

      Hold on there chief. As an actual designer I can tell you that if anyone on the Division team was actually putting design first and foremost, the UI would be a lot better than it is and also a lot less motion sickness inducing. Form follows function.

      There's some big issues in the Division UI that make things look cool, but not necessarily read cool. Issues include a lack of informational hierarchy, a lot of which can be fixed by playing with relative font sizes, rather than a general across the board increase (which according to Alex Walker is an option). There's also issues with figure / ground relationship, that makes the UI tough to parse when it's against the varied junk-filled backgrounds it needs to appear against, the blur helps with this, but it's still straining your eyes more than you think.

      Now art on the other hand – a focus on that is probably what would lead to the issues inherent in the Division UI. There IS some cool design stuff, but a lot of compromises have been made for the sake of art-direction here.

      Destiny still has the best menus in the shared-world shooter game. They aren't as flashy, but it's clear an expert made them.

      Agree, after reading the article I was left wondering if my personal opinion was wrong.

      While some of the elements just work, its like they let a first year graphics designer loose on it. Too much of everything everywhere.

      Definitely could use a less is more revision.

    I do enjoy the Division and have the Division 2 on preorder. The problem I have is the game play doesn't seem upgraded. You're meant to be a Division Agent but the tracking of enimies is awkward and if they get to close it's hard to shoot them. The aimbot of enimies is off the charts, hiding behind cover you pop out for a few shots and all enemy fire just tracks you and an enemy walking, holding their gun sideways, with obstacles in their path can hit every shot. I usually love the ballistics of Tom Clancy game's but this just seems outdated.

    Last edited 04/03/19 12:58 pm

    The UI is absolutely horrible. It looks nice but it's a mess and a pain in the ass to navigate.

    Intended as a reply to @zzzonked

    This.

    It is SO incredibly bad... Some developers these days are clearly not playing with aspects of games they are creating for any decent length of time.

    Last edited 04/03/19 1:52 pm

    Still not as cool as the UI map shown in the original Division E3 demo back in 2014!

      Cool yes, but probably ditched for a good reason. Likely usability / readability issues.

        Debatable, the AR overlay provides instant spatial awareness from the player perspective rather than shifting the player view to birds eye map orientation.

          The AR overlay works in one specific open area in the demo that has carefully positioned ground clutter and adequate space. How would it function indoors? How about next to cars? In tight spaces? It's not hard to see how it would fail in many of the circumstances in game.

    I like the in game UI and the map but I find the inventory and shop UI quite annoying.

    Selecting skills for the first time in the BETA actually managed to annoy and frustrate me.
    Maybe it was a bit buggy?

    I eventually got used the hybrid click and Q+E navigation through menus, but they are generally a bit more "form over function" than they should be.

    UI might be cool to look at but the menus are still clunky with a kb/m. the constant need for confirmation / double click to get to a setting is mildly annoying

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