“The Division 2” is an examination of what life will be like more than half a year after a pandemic brought the world governments to its knees. It’s also meant to be a game that learns from those early missteps of the original title.
The game, due out on March 15, 2019, takes place seven months after the opening events of “The Division” and moves the action from New York City to Washington, D.C., where the headquarters of The Division has suddenly gone silent.
Twenty-seven days after patient Z, Washington D.C. fell and now America is on the brink of collapse. The game sends players from the snowy streets of New York City to the hot, flooded roads of Washington, D.C., said Julian Gerighty, creative director on the game.
D.C. has been transformed into a mix of biomes inhabited by a variety of civilians, terrorist groups and a growing corrupt government, he said. There are rooftop gardens patrolled by armed guards and small enclaves of civilians that are constantly under siege. The city is threatening to become the epicenter of a new civil war.
The mission of the Division in this second game is threefold: To push back the factions tearing up the streets, find and help the civilians, and finally to restore the critical infrastructure that offers the Division the equipment and power it needs to continue on its mission of stabilizing the country.
Before giving gathered press a chance to play through a small portion of a demo, Gerighty walked the group through three key elements of the game.
Washington, D.C. is a very, very different city than the Manhattan presented in the original title, he said.
“It is 20% bigger than the midtown Manhattan we had in the first game,” he said. “This allows us to express ourselves better with narrative and gameplay.”
The game’s map features six different sorts of biomes, each representing a different approach and variety not present in “The Division,” he said. The original game and its Manhattan only had two biomes.
In D.C., you’ll find looted commercial areas, nature biomes thick with vegetation, flooded commercial districts, suburbs — like Georgetown — residential areas that have been left behind and historic sites that have massive wide-open spaces.
The next major point that Gerighty wanted to dig into was the philosophical approach the team took when it came to “The Division 2’s” end game.
“The end game for us was a focus from the beginning,” he said. “We have expand options and available opportunities. We have accessible, deep and varied gear that drives the experience.”
“And social is the backbone of the game. You can play as a single player if you want, but it’s even better as co-op.”
The team also worked to “respect the time you spend within the game,” he said. “It’s always rewarding. There are clear goals and meaningful progression. Everything will have a meaning to it, a clear reward.”
Part of the end game will include things like a new signature weapon system that happens when your character tops out at level 30. During the demo, the team showed off three of them: a crossbow, a .50-caliber sniper rifle and a grenade launcher. Each of those weapons will have its own progression system which will modify the way it works.
“That presents a whole new progression for players,” he said.
This “end game first” philosophy is an important element to the game’s creation, said Terry Spier, assistant creative director at Red Storm, one of the teams working on the game. “It means the game is built to have a healthy end-game ecosystem. We want to have a huge amount of content from day one.”
That focus was a lesson learned from the original game.
“We learned so much from the first game and learned how fast they can consume content,” Spier said. “It is a common trap for a lot of games. Somehow gamers fit 72 hours in a 24 hour stretch. They consumed the first game in a wonderful manner. We want to make sure we give them as much as they want from the start.”
“We are making sure we give them that deep gear game and customization we know they’re after. And we’re making sure we deliver on this setting. I think the brand itself is now known for one-to-one creations of the world. “
Finally, Gerighty discussed the company’s post-launch commitment to the game.
“Our approach is that we have two years of learning (from “The Division”) and we know what people want and how they play the game,” he said.
With that in mind, Ubisoft has already planned out the game’s first year. Every three months the publisher will deliver a major free piece of downloadable content called an episode. It will include new areas to explore, new story missions, new things to do by yourself or as a group, and new gear.
In action, the game is a marvel to behold. Washington D.C. in collapse is a study in near apocalypse, a location that manages to convey the delicate balance the Division is hoping to push toward civility and away from the growing chaos.
Spier says that setting is the first thing he notices as a gamer when he plays “The Division 2.”
“It continues to blow my mind,” he said. “This ridiculous recreation of D.C. seven months after the green poison.”
“This game is not post-apocalyptic. This is a rare gem where you are on the knife’s edge. The Division, they are the last line of defense. If they mess up, the world will collapse. So you are seeing a world that is about to go down.”
The demo had a group of four of us playing toward a goal, but not an actual mission. It took place in the open world and asked us to capture a control point located just below Capitol Hill in the wreckage of Air Force One.
The characters we played had all just hit their max and had unlocked specialty weapons. Each were built by the team to show off some of the game’s weapons and, more importantly, the game’s increasing use of deep role-playing systems.
“It’s different from the first game,” Spier said. “‘The Division’ was known for the spiderweb of choices in the gear game. But we’ve increased that this time around in its width and depth. Your ability to find a piece of gear and then examine the role-playing game statistics that we provide for you is profound.
“And then just when you’re done, when you reach level 30, the specializations open up a new choice opportunity for you.”
In the case of the demo, the character I controlled had access to a crossbow and explosive tipped bolts. Finding ammo for the weapon was hard, so it had to be used carefully and only when it mattered most.
The character was also loaded down with a sidearm, a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle.
Playing through the short scenario twice, the game’s setting was the most compelling element. The streets, littered with trash, provided ample cover to snap to and move between. The open spaces allowed for both an opportunity to flank enemies but also to be flanked by them. Both runs through the demo resulted in significantly different approaches to how to take down the enemy. Both were equally exhilarating and rewarding.
Spier noted that the developers are also spending quite a bit of time working on the game’s mechanics and that they’ve refined every system in the game, from the RPG elements to movement to character, camera and controls.
“All of the things we’ve learned for two years of live development is helping us on this game,” he said. “Across the board it’s better.”
That’s one reason Ubisoft is launching “The Division 2” instead of simply adding all of this content to “The Division,” Spier said.
It’s also because the developers feel that the game has such a rich universe that there are simply too many stories to tell in one game.
“The first story was about Manhattan and the patient zero story,” he said. “Now we want to tell a different story about a different location. There are different things we wanted to do in D.C. that required a fresh start.”
That fresh start means that players of “The Division” won’t be bringing their characters forward to “The Division 2.”
“We want to take players on a new power journey, with new mechanics, a new depth of RPG,” he said.
Instead, players will be starting over with a new agent, but not a green one. While the agent will be level one, they will be agents that were activated before the kick off of this second game.
“Your agent is war torn, they’re not fresh, they’re not a newb,” he said. “You receive this SOS from the headquarters and your ragtag group is going to investigate and you find these enemy factions ravaging D.C.”
The team is also putting in a lot of work to make sure that “The Division 2” doesn’t have the same sort of launch woes as the first game, in particular with infrastructure issues.
“Our plan is to have an incredible amount of testing, beta test, working hard to get that infrastructure right,” Spier said.
As for the future of “The Division,” whether it will be killed off when “The Division 2” launches, Spier said that won’t be the case.
“We will continue to support the first game as long as we have players who want to play it,” he said.
And the answer to the other important E3 2018 question, will it have a battle royale mode?
“There are no plans at launch to have battle royale,” he said, but then pointed out that “The Division” had a mode very similar to battle royale called survival. “I was really proud of survival and the job Massive did on that addition. And survival had that sort of flavor. I would love to see something like survival in “The Division 2,” but there are no plans to have battle royale at launch.”