Work on “The Division 2” began with the end.
Terry Spier, creative director at developer Red Storm Entertainment, calls it an “end game first philosophy.”
The teams working on the next big open-world Tom Clancy shooter — there are more than a half-dozen Ubisoft studios developing the game — want to make sure that even after playing through what is meant to be a robust single player, narratively-driven campaign, that players have plenty of reasons to stick around and keep playing.
So the teams started development at the end, or more specifically, after the ending of “The Division 2.”
“When players finish the campaign there is a tremendous amount of content to consume at their own pace,” Spier said. “Post-launch plans include an entire year of free content for all players.”
The Story So Far … Remains Fictional
“The Division 2” takes place seven months after the events that led up to the first game. A chemical terrorist attack on Black Friday has decimated the United States, starting in Manhattan. The first wave of responders was also wiped out leading to the agents who you play as arriving to deal with the problems of Manhattan.
In this second game, Washington, DC is falling. The network that directs the agents have fallen silent and players are brought in to find out what’s happened.
When they discover is a capital city in ruins, torn apart by instability, death, and divvied up among three criminal factions who use terror, propaganda, and violence to maintain control and fight to expand.
The decision to move the game to a new setting but advance the timeline forward less than a year was driven by a number of things, Spier said.
“Part of it had to do with advancing the world in mid-crisis,” he said. “We wanted to explore what happens in an event like this in one city and then what happens in another city. We also wanted to change seasons. We wanted to see what the game feels like in the dead heat of summer.”
While the Manhattan of “The Division” was conceived as a mostly one-to-one recreation, Spier said that the Washington, D.C. of “The Division 2” is “more one-to-one than Manhattan was.”
The game will include quite a lot of interior areas too. So players can, for instance, explore the inside of some of the museums of the Smithsonian.
As for the political aspects of a game that deals with the fall of America, collapse of the government and now takes in the capital of the country, Ubisoft still maintains that “The Division” is apolitical.
“It’s fictional,” Spier said. “It’s completely fictional. There are a number of reasons we chose D.C., none of which were politics. The game is exploring the failure of the strategic homeland division [Ed.’s note: that’s the fictional government entity that defends the country, not to be confused with the real Homeland Security cabinet department]. It’s based in D.C. so you go to Washington D.C. to see what happened. It’s Tom Clancy so it’s plausible fiction.”
The campaign will start with players retaking the White House and setting up a base of operations there. From that base they will then begin to clean up the city.
The three enemy factions — the Hyenas, the Outcasts, and the True Sons — are threatening people who live in the city, so those people end up creating their own settlements to protect themselves. Each settlement has its own identity, iconic characters, and things that they need from the players.
“They all have their own stories to tell about the world around you,” Spier said. “What they have been going through, by helping these settlements, players will be bringing the world back to life. You are an agent of change.”
Spier said those changes will be obvious as the world around you begins to thrive and grow. The more a player engages, the more impact they will see, he said.
“They’ll send staff to your base of operations to assist you in helping the city,” he said. “Those staffers will give you access to even more activities. It’s truly a symbiotic relationship.”
Eventually, the game will become — post campaign — directed by the myriad systems and AI embedded into “The Division 2.”
Each faction will react to the players’ actions and, if left unchecked, will strive to take over the entire city. That means attacking friendly factions, taking over bases, establishing strongholds, executing random people in the streets, even warring with the other factions.
“After a player hits level 30, has done all of the missions, completed the campaign, the side missions, helped all of the civilians, what’s next?” Spier said. “The game doesn’t stop there. Enemy strongholds reveal themselves as you step into the end game. They have to be conquered. There’s also all kinds of living world activity.”
The end game also opens up three new specializations for players’ characters.
On the surface, these specializations simply deliver a new, powerful weapon, but each also opens up a bunch of perks that can be used to modify the weapons and a brand new skill tree.
The survivalist brings with it a crossbow that shoots explosive arrows. The sharpshooter delivers a special .50-caliber rifle, and the demolitionist has a grenade launcher.
The idea is that over time players will unlock all three specializations and be able to switch between them.
And the game still has it’s narrative-free player-versus-player mode.
Three Dark Zones
While Red Storm Entertainment — as with the other teams working on the game — had a hand in a number of aspects of “The Division 2’s” development, their chief focus was on organized the Dark Zones where that mode takes place.
And Red Storm had their work cut out for them.
Only about 30% of “Division” players engage in the PVP Dark Zone, according to the data pulled from the game, Spier said. So they knew they needed to make some changes to make that aspect of play more engaging.
By pulling data from the game and looking at the impact some live-tuning had to the play in the original “Division,” the team came up with some version specific ideas.
“Our goal was to make the Dark Zone more accessible to get more people to participate in this wonderful space.”
One big change they made is in how players will take gear out of the space. Previously, players had to extract look and could lose everything after a long play session, if something went wrong.
“Now you’re not going to have to risk that except with contaminated items, I majority of your loot won’t need to be extracted,” he said.
They also worked to make sure that the Dark Zone play would be more about skilled battles and less about relying on a role-playing game gear gap to deliver an unfair advantage.
One of the most obvious changes to the Dark Zone, though, is that now there are three of them, instead of one. That decision was driven by some interesting analysis driven by a lot of research.
The new Dark Zone is split into three areas, each of which is about a half the size of the original single Dark Zone.
This was done to deal with an odd issue that was causing player density problems. To prevent loading issues, the original game’s dark zone had a sort of invisible bubble around it. If a player approached the zone, even if they didn’t end up going into it, it would start loading that area and treat the player as being in the zone. This caused a lot of bad player number reporting, meaning that some zones thought they had a lot of players, but actually had very few.
“You could walk toward the Dark Zone and matchmake without knowing it or ever entering the zone,” Spier said. “That’s why we threw [‘The Division 2’s’ Dark Zones] to the edges of the map. Now it’s more likely the players matchmaking for the zone want to be in there.”
Enter the Black Tusks
And then there are the Black Tusks.
“After certain key narrative events occur in the end game, a new faction will come into play,” Spier said. “They are a heavily equipped paramilitary organization that is far more organized and much more deadly than the other factions.”
They bring with them eight new archetypes for players to play against and a slew of new things to worry about, like drones and occupied drop zones.
“The Black Tusks invade the entire world,” he said. “They are filling the power vacuum left behind when you dismantle the other factions.”