From a more diverse setting to a better endgame, The Division 2 promises to be bigger and better in every way.
I played a lot of The Division when it came out. Going by his record-breaking sales numbers, you probably did too.I got a close-up level cap, spent a bunch of time in the Dark Zone – getting screwed over, and occasionally, screwing over others – and had a brilliant time. Then I stopped and never went back.
The division was a huge success for Ubisoft – it broke a company sales record – but that drop-off is something the sequel wants to address. Its developer, Massive Entertainment, wants more people to be playing The Division 2 for longer, and to achieve that the team is Sweden is making a host of changes – some big, some subtle – to the sequel.
Even though Washington D.C. the shift in location is key to making The Division 2 more varied in almost every way.
"In New York, we had one of the most iconic cities in the world," Creative Director Julian Gerighty tells me. "But the area we chose [central Manhattan] is very large grids, huge buildings, canyons of glass and steel, while Washington D.C. is wide-open spaces in some areas; almost-communist like buildings that show that this is the seat of power, this is homebase, 'respect government'; that small European-style houses in Georgetown. "
In fact, Washington was selected over a series of different US cities presented to Ubisoft during early development. Gerighty tells me they also considered staying in New York, but also Seattle and New Orleans before deciding to go with Washington for the sheer variety it offered – something Gerighty refers to as "biomes".
Washington and its surrounding areas provide a diverse backdrop.
"If in New York we had two separate types of environments – residential and commercial – in Washington DC, we have six: residential, commercial, governmental, historic, wide-open on the mall, and nature biome with Roosevelt Island and all parks that have overgrown. "
These are not just for visual variety, they were chosen to create different types of gameplay. I only got to play in the densely built-up areas of D.C. but I'm told how vulnerable I will feel while trying to make my way through Washington's vast malls, where there's little cover and abundance of vantage points for enemies.
Washington D.C. Offers More than New York
"We wanted to move to a different city to explore different stories," Gerighty tells me. He also says D.C. was chosen because of its symbolic potency.
It's hard to see what he's getting at, since I'm interviewing him in front of a huge banner showing the game's key art: three agents stand in front of the Capitol Building and Washington Memorial, who are on fire, coughing up thick smoke .
"We chose it because of the architecture, the symbol, the iconic nature of the city as well," he says. "The Capital, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial – all of these things that symbolized America in a way and the collapse."
It seems a slightly loaded point, so I ask him about the satirical nature of tearing down Washington D.C. in a video game right now, during the current political climate. He smiles, "I have no idea what you're talking about. The game is apolitical. "
Moving on …
Making the Dark Zone for Everyone
Some of the biggest changes are coming to the Dark Zone, the Division's PvP arena. In the original this was a cordoned off area of Central Manhattan, where players would venture to retrieve higher-end loot and, if they wanted, sabotage other players trying to extract said loot. It was one of my favorite things about The Division when I played the first beta and when it first came out, but as the game matured, it became a mode which provided more for the most hardcore players. A series of changes attempts to accommodate more types of players.
The aggressive PvP experience is still there, but now called the Occupied Dark Zone
First off, there are now three distinct Dark Zones, located in opposing areas of the map. To the East you will find Union Station; in the South, there's Fisherman's Wharf; and to the West, you'll find one in Georgetown. To make it more inviting for a larger set of players, Dark Zone will now implement normalization. Simply put, while the gear you've acquired will still give some advantage, most of the base stats are squished in a way that will level the competition. This is to make the Dark Zone seem less forbidding for those who venture into it less often.
However, this does not mean the Dark Zone is being diluted. The intense, aggressive PvP experience is still there, but is now known as the Occupied Dark Zone. Every week – well, that's the cadence Massive is currently testing – one of the three Dark Zones will be taken over, becoming 'Occupied'. In that Dark Zone, normalisation is turned off and friendly fire is on. The Occupied Dark Zone is designed to cater to the more hardcore players and promises the highest rewards.
Time Is Never Wasted in the Dark Zone
"Another thing is that we found the amount of time you spent in the Dark Zone was not necessarily seen as rewarding," Gerighty reveals. "Yes, there was a great loot to be found but you had to extract it, and that came with a certain amount of risk."
In the first game, keep the loot you found, players would have to call in a helicopter by sending up a flare. This would draw attention from other players who could steal your loot before it was successfully extracted. "That's a risk move," explains Gerighty. "You could be taken for everything you have. We had certain players specializing in ripping off other players. "
Not all loot needs to be extracted from the Dark Zone in Division 2.
The Division 2 introduces a non-contaminated loot – unique gear that you will find in the Dark Zone but will not have to extract it in such a risky fashion. "That stabilizes the experience … not everything is risk-reward. So your time is always going to be rewarded within the Dark Zone. "
Helping People Play Together
It's better to play The Division 2 with a full squad of four. To make it easier, the sequel is introducing a simplified clan system that aims to connect people and also stimulate cooperative play. Buddying with people interested in mainlining the story will be easy, as will find those who want to raid the Occupied Dark Zone on a weekly basis. "You see a common objective and some common rewards you can move towards," Gerighty hopes.
Playing in clans will also have more tangible benefits in the form of exclusive vanity items, an exclusive location within the new clan hall – and the perks that are unlocked only for clans as well. "We're going to continue improving it to ensure the clans are super well-integrated in all the different activities in the game. But it's a general goal to give players a chance to play with that they will enjoy playing with basically. "
Classic PvP Modes
Finally, the last thing I saw in Division 2 was its more traditional PvP modes: Skirmish, essentially straight-up Deathmatch, and Domination, a three-point control mode. These modes take place on completely separate maps. They're still set in Washington, but not contiguous with the open world. These are closed arenas.
Skirmish and Domination are modes you have played countless times, but with The Division's mechanics
While having the Division's unique array of gadgets at my disposal in these modes was fun – it's always going to be fun to be able to throw a portable flamethrower behind an opponent – there's not much to say about Skirmish and Dominance. They're modes you've played countless times but with The Division's mechanics. I think they're all inclusive, but it's still another way to keep people playing The Division 2 and not switch to another game, even if it's just to meet those more traditional PvP cravings.
Finally, I ask Gerighty what's the one thing he wanted to change or improve on with The Division 2.
"The one thing I knew about the first game at launch that we were under-delivering on was the endgame experience," he reveals. "We went to The Division 2 saying, 'OK. Endgame is going to be our focus. This is where we're going to deliver the best type of content. '
"So everything in the game is structured to bring you to the endgame experience. And then, at the endgame experience, have this buffet of activities that speaks to a bunch of different player types. "
It will be a while before we know if The Division 2 is good on that promise, but seeing the changes being made to Dark Zone, the environment, how it's catering for players of different tastes, it's obvious that Ubisoft is trying to build on the successes of the original and strengthen the weaknesses, and make The Division 2 appealing to a more diverse player base. After all, it's more fun to watch the world burn with friends.
Daniel has been to America a number of times, but never after the apocalypse. Follow him on Twitter.