One of the weirdest things about writing about games is playing them before release. This often means that we'll have to play through the same sections of a game multiple times before we're allowed to enjoy the full experience in our own homes. At times that has led us to almost dread starting from scratch all over again and has, on occasion, lessened our enjoyment of the first hours of a few games. The Division 2 has managed to avoid that in many very promising and impressive ways in the first twenty hours.
We've already spent a lot of time praising the visual diversity Washington D.C. offers in our previews, but it's worth repeating. Now that we've been able to explore a larger part of Washington it's become clear why they chose this location. Manhattan was and is excellent in the original, but the amount of visual variety and detail around every corner in The Division 2 is simply outstanding. Washington is filled with landmarks and architecture that makes each area feel distinct and eye-catching, making it difficult to stay your course. It's a cliché, but we've lost count of how many times we've been making our way to an objective just to catch a beautiful view or intriguing detail in the corner of our eye, making us delay that important rescue mission for a few minutes. Whether it be nature taking back its turf in fascinating ways, a group of enemies guarding a Control Point, a loot chest locked behind a fence, or one of the many OCD-triggering collectibles, The Division 2 is filled with things that will make hours go by in the blink of an eye. And we haven't even mentioned the gameplay yet.
The core experience is mostly unchanged. You'll still be spending a lot of time behind cover, using different weapons and abilities to eliminate an endless stream of enemies. It sounds extremely similar to the original on paper, but some minor tweaks make all the difference. Things may change towards the end and in the endgame, but the fights we're experiencing right now feel way more intense and realistic than they did in The Division. Enemies are far less bullet-spongy but make up for it by being more lethal than before. Taking part in fights that last for minutes is a rarity this time around, which removes the duality between realism and "gamey" aspects the original struggled with.
This also makes each weapon feel more lethal and punchier. Getting close with a shotgun will make most common enemies fly through the air after one or two shots, you'll see them lose their balance when being shot in the shoulder with an assault rifle and limp towards cover when near death. Just seeing how the bigger enemies' armour falls off to expose their more vulnerable flesh as you focus fire on it makes it seem like The Division 2 is more about tactics and precision than seeing who can endure the most damage. Again, our previous hands-on with the endgame content makes us somewhat worried that some of the sponginess will return later on, but not to the same tedious degree as before.