The Division 2 review: Hands-on
When Ubisoft launched The Division, the game showed a lot of potential - potential that arguably wasn’t realised until several months - and expansions - later. With that in mind, you can be sure that the company wants The Division 2, unveiled at E3 2018, to impress right out of the gate.
Ubisoft brought a demo of the game to E3, and across the course of the show we were able to run through it a few times, exploring the new setting, specialisations, and enemy types to see how the game is shaping up.
The Division 2 release date and platforms
As announced at E3 2018, The Division 2 is set for release on 15 March 2019 and, like the original, will be available on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
You can pre-order the game ahead of release next year via Amazon (£49.99) and GAME (£49.99) in the UK, but pre-orders are yet to go live in the US. You can also pick up The Division 2: Special Edition from GAME (£54.99), though exactly what the special edition will provide is yet to be announced.
The Division 2 preview
The first big change in The Division 2 is the setting. While the first game tasked you with exploring a post-apocalyptic New York, the second has shifted the action to Washington DC: something that the devs insist isn’t a political statement, but which is hard not to read as one in today’s climate.
Beyond the politics (or lack thereof) the move changes gameplay dramatically. While the first game saw you and your online teammates creep along narrow streets lined with high-rises or explore claustrophobic underground tunnels, our demo was set in an expansive outdoors section, as we fought to take control of the area surrounding a downed Air Force One.
All of a sudden it opens up sightlines across the battlefield, empowering both snipers and flanking maneuvres - which the enemy are just as likely to take advantage of as you are. It’s not all outside of course - the demo also included one fight inside an abandoned building - and no doubt the full game will have more varied settings, but it’s refreshing to get a break from all of the first game’s brownstones.
Combat’s been tweaked in other ways too. For one there are the new specialisations, late game unlocks that give you access to a powerful signature weapon and special power-ups. The Survivalist has an explosive bolt crossbow and can fire off clouds of flammable gas for example, while the Demolitionist gets a grenade launcher and the Sniper has… well, you can probably guess.
The developers were quick to point out that specialisations are not classes, and with that in mind you shouldn’t expect massive gameplay changes between them: a couple of special abilities and a special weapon you’ll only get sporadic ammo for aren’t going to change your tactics dramatically, and for the most part player characters are all created equal.
Your opponents are less egalitarian, however, and just like in the first game you’ll have to plan fights to handle the varied threats. Lose track of enemy medics and they might revive opponents you thought were out of the fight, while anyone carting round a red canister on their back is liable to use it to cover you in, um, gloop, leaving you stuck to the spot.
Heavies are the biggest threat, with armour that has to be removed before you can kill them - that’s where the signature weapons come in handy - with pieces getting chipped off one by one as you whittle them down.
Gear and weapon systems seem broadly similar to before, though there’s no word yet on whether Ubisoft has spared the budget for some slightly less drab clothing this time around. We were all stuck wearing various shades of grey and brown though, so maybe don’t get your hopes up too much on that front.
The shooting itself is solid enough, and will feel familiar to anyone who played the last game. It’s just as tough as before, and you’ll have to be smart about staying in cover, as it only takes a few shots to take you out of the fight.
Still, it’s a shame that the actual gunfeel hasn’t had a boost. This was always one of the areas where The Division lagged behind Destiny, its closest rival, and there’s nothing here to quite close the gap. The tactics around the fights are complex and interesting, but the core shoot & loot loop never quite clicks in the same way it does in Bungie’s games.
SHOULD I BUY THE DIVISION 2?
If the first Division never did it for you then the sequel is unlikely to win you over. This is a sequel with a small ‘s’, refined rather than revolutionary, squarely aimed at fans of the first game who are eager for more.
Still, if Ubisoft can learn from the previous launch and ship The Division 2 with the depth of content that the first game reached a few expansions in, it should more than hold its own. At least until Anthem comes along.