Can Ubisoft get The Division 2 right, first time?
It’s not unfair to say that Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment have their work cutout to even keep people hyped for The Division 2. The first game has a history more chequered than my nan’s tablecloth, enduring patch after patch after patch to try to put right every issue. But like a mythical hydra, every issue removed seemed to cause three more to burst out of the ugly, bloody stump – at least during Year One.
In fact, Year One of The Division was so bad that Ubisoft even started looking to people on the outside, like Gandalf just hanging on by his fingertips and whispering to all us hobbits to “Fly, you Fools,” – and fly we did. The player base plummeted as problems with builds, loot, balancing, the cluster fuck that was the Dark Zone and a host of performance bugs beat The Division to the ground and then carried on kicking. But, to Ubisoft’s credit and again like a certain grey-bearded wizard, The Division didn’t plop quietly into the fire, instead fighting back all the way down to be reborn by a raft of subsequent patches.
By the time we got to patch 1.8 (yes, that’s 8 large game-changing patches, plus several DLC expansions), The Division had finally become something that wouldn’t make the late Tom Clancy turn in his grave so hard that he drilled his way to the nearest highstreet. Most of the issues were fixed, loot was more varied, there were more than two viable builds, and the Dark Zone… Well, the Dark Zone was still a shit show, but hey, you can’t fix everything. Even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart.
But it took so much work, with Ubisoft going so far as to invite prominent streamers and YouTubers to Sweden to brainstorm ways to fix their broken-ass game. Who does that? Ubi do, and thank God they did. Now with The Division 2 hitting the shelves and servers of the free world in just a few months, what do Ubisoft and Massive need to do to get it right first time? Is that even possible in this day and age? Probably not, no, but you can’t say they’re not giving it a concerted effort.
First of all, they’ve relocated, moving away from the smoggy, snowy confines of Manhattan to the much more expansive Washington DC. Surprisingly, very few games or even movies are willing to use the US Capital as a setting, so this in itself is uncommon, but it’s also interesting because the map (which is 20% larger than that of the first game) is 1:1 with the real DC – though obviously not all of it. Biomes will separate the Capital into navigable chunks, maintaining the desperate, oppressive atmosphere of the first game but coating it with a sheen of fallen majesty that can only come from a capital in flames. I for one will miss the snow and grime of New York City on a really bad day, but we’ve seen some of the impressive environments in The Division 2 and the diversity and scale has me super hopeful.
One thing Ubisoft have promised to address is enemy strength. The time-to-kill, particularly in PvE, has always been an issue in The Division, with even a standard shielded enemy soaking up bullets like some kind of cyborg from the future. Using three entire clips on a dude five feet away and achieving little more than giving his centre mass a playful tickle just completely undermines the gritty atmosphere of the world and made some events, particularly the Incursions, feel like unpleasant slogs through a pop-up shooting gallery of indestructible mannequins. In the Division 2, the TTK is shorter, and critical hits and headshots will matter more. Also, armoured enemies will be just that, and we’ll be able to shoot off the armour pieces to expose critical weak spots. I’d still like to see more unique enemies, especially bosses, designed with personality and diversity, but we’ll see.
Another issue that Ubisoft have struggled to get right in the Division is loot. Well, loot, levelling, and gear in general. It’s gotten way better in recent months, but the loot system has never been quite there. The fundamental thing about loot, and the thing that a lot of games get wrong, is that it has to matter or it’s utterly pointless. RPGs like Diablo and Borderlands are good examples of how to do it right, as in those games when you get a legendary or epic drop 8 times out of 10 it’s going to benefit you either to make your current build stronger or to take you down the route of a different build. When the loot system doesn’t work, you have no build diversity, which means everyone is just gunning for that one optimal build and there’s no synergy in groups and no tactic other than everyone spamming the same skills over and over. The Division 2 needs to get this right from the start, instead of dropping 80% vendor trash and mixing its own colour scheme up (seriously, finding purples that are better than oranges should be the exception and not the rule), we want meaningful perks and stats on gear to maintain a sense of real progression and to afford some true build diversity.
Speaking of which, you will be able to pick a Specialisation once you reach the endgame. Including classes like Demolitionist, Survivalist and Sharpshooter, these grant new skills and signature weapons like a Chem-launcher, that should allow for a more versatile and tactical endgame. As we’ve been promised 8-player Raids that will work similarly to Incursions but on a much larger, grander scale designed to cater to the hardcore endgame player, we’ll need a way to maximise the benefits of abilities, gear and player skill that can only come from a decent loot system.
One of the most effective ways to drop high end gear in The Division is the Dark Zone. Unfortunately, one of the most effective ways to piss off an entire player base is also the Dark Zone. The Division’s free for all cluster-fuck approach was actually a solid idea, as agents could choose to work together or go Rogue, stacking up gear before calling for extraction to ex-fil all that sweet loot. Ganking and griefing were exacerbated by an almost total lack of balance, and for the most part players just learned to accept it since it became fairly clear that Ubisoft simply couldn’t fix it. We don’t know how the PvP is going to work yet in The Division 2; we haven’t been shown anything and so at this point it could go either way. Clear rules, fewer opportunities to exploit the systems or outright cheat, and well-defined parameters are essential.
Based on where Ubisoft eventually took the first game, there’s a lot of potential for The Division 2 to do well. But without proper direction – and that means Ubisoft having a clear plan of action going on instead of all the reactionary bullshit – the game will suffer or even fail. Sadly, many people will be waiting for a failure, but I sincerely hope that Ubisoft surprise us when The Division 2 launches on March 15th.
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