We've been back in the Dark Zone for a few rounds of PvP combat as The Division 2 edges ever closer.
We really enjoyed The Division when it launched almost three years ago, and we weren't alone. The game received generally positive reviews and millions of players around the world started to wander the cold streets of Manhattan in search of cool loot. One of the big appeals was its interesting take on the shared world with the Dark Zone concept, as you were never quite sure if other players would be friendly or hostile. This made the sealed off area extremely atmospheric, especially with our precious loot being at stake.
It wasn't perfect though. Many players didn't like the bullet-sponge enemies and that the otherwise tactics-focused game vanished in the wind when fighting players with better equipment than theirs. The developers have addressed several of these concerns with game-changing updates over the years, which is one of the reasons why The Division still has a fairly large player base. Then why release a sequel instead of just continuing to update the original? We went to Massive Entertainment's headquarters in Sweden to find out.
Our sole focus was to learn more about the game's Dark Zone and multiplayer, and it didn't take long before it was obvious why Massive needed a new game to deliver what they wanted. For example, we can't say the Dark Zone anymore, as Washington has three of them spread across the city. Why? After spending a few hours in the East and South Dark Zones we came to understand that the answer is diversity. The Division's Dark Zone feels pretty much the same wherever you go, while the two Massive let us loose in this time around each felt very distinct. Where the East Dark Zone generally consists of more open areas where nature has reclaimed most of the territory, the South Dark Zone seems better suited for close quarters combat due to its urban environments filled with ruined buildings and abandoned vehicles. This doesn't just mean that you get more visual variety, but also makes it a lot easier to find areas better suited for your preferred playstyle.
Being used to long distance encounters, we felt right at home when exploring the East with our trusted sniper rifle. Well, right at home might not be completely true. Going from a very dark and gloomy Manhattan to a sunny and lush Washington was an impressive experience. Seeing the Capitol Building bask in the sun behind the tall trees and the vine-covered statues really showed off the Snowdrop Engine's power and that Massive actually loves colours. If this sounds a bit too open, then head to the South Dark Zone where your shotgun and SMG will come in handy as you run through tight hallways and underground tunnels trying to outflank your enemies.
Diversity isn't just important in terms of the environments, but weapons and skills too. With Dark Zones being what the developers call 'normalised' (your equipment's power level won't matter), it's especially important to have weapons and skills that suit your playstyle and use them at the right times. Favourites like the turret and seeker mine return with new modifications to make them viable options for different scenarios, while new options like the chem launcher and drones quickly showed how useful they can be. The chem launcher's riot foam seems to be a real life-saver when encountering the new suicide bomber enemies, making them immobile for the two seconds you need to kill them. That's right, enemies that are as bullet spongy as the original are few and far between this time around.
Massive seems to be well aware of the fact that many of the players who jumped ship did so because they couldn't stand how much damage enemies could take, so regular enemies on our level died after one or two bursts with an assault rifle and stronger enemies didn't stand a chance if our team focused fire on them in this build. Those of you who like to empty a few clips into a single enemy shouldn't fret either though, as we also came across some biggies that were as heavily armoured as the one we saw in the E3 demo. Just don't expect to spend as much time on killing the regular Joe this time around.
You might not want to spend so long griefing other players either. Many players still feel that the Rogue Agent system - whereby agents are incentivised not to attack each other and it's open season on those players who go rogue - is shallow, and one reason for this is that it doesn't differentiate misdemeanours and major crimes in a significant way. The Division 2 hopes to fix this by having three levels of rogue; grey, red, and yellow. Committing more severe crimes will increase your wanted level, making you even more visible on the map and increasing the bounty on your head. You can see just how tempting hunting down those yellow dots are in our gameplay video where we decided to see how the other players on the map would react when we fired a few (dozen) bullets at them. Spoilers: we weren't able to get out of an alley for several minutes.
Some of you might not like the idea of weaker enemies and the developers know that, so they've decided to take advantage of having three Dark Zones in an interesting way by disabling power-restrictions in one of the Dark Zones once in a while. Players' power level suddenly means something in this instance, so that the player with the best weapon might not have the advantage after all. Venturing into these zones won't just increase the chance of getting your heart pumping, but also getting better loot, so it might be worth taking the risk.
Because we all know that loot will be a very important part of The Division 2, and it shows in the game's design. You won't just get more loot by killing enemies and completing missions anymore, but also by completing challenges in the three different parts of the game. Did we forget to mention that there's more than regular Washington and Dark Zones?
Skirmish ended up being really well-received when it came to The Division, so Massive has decided to double down on PvP in the sequel by not just bringing Team Deathmatch back, but also introducing Domination. Both modes should be well-known, so the more noteworthy part of these inclusions is the fact that they'll take us to new areas and reward us with special equipment. Having to enter the menus to access the modes makes it possible to see what other parts of the USA and world look like after the plague. By all means, the modes were okay in and of themselves, but there are better multiplayer shooters out there, so playing these modes just left us wanting to go back to what we know and love in Washington. That's just our taste, however, and we know that there are many players who love the dedicated PvP in the original, so Massive deserves praise for giving us the option without sacrificing the quality of other aspects.
In fact, Massive has made everything we love in the original better while at the same time introducing changes we didn't even know we wanted until we got to try them out. Where some games anger their hardcore fans by making changes to attract more players, The Division 2's changes seem to find the perfect balance by giving us new options. AI enemies we encountered weren't eating bullets like candy but didn't feel like fodder either. More weapons and skills make it easier to find stuff that suits your needs and wants perfectly. Having three distinct Dark Zones offers great variety both in terms of visuals and gameplay. A three-part Rogue Agent system makes griefing a lot less viable, and two PvP modes are ready from the get-go for those of you looking for continued action. The Division 2's Dark Zones and PvP seem to be even more than we dared to hope for, so it'll be interesting to see if the campaign and endgame can live up to them.