The launch of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is nearly upon us, and everything we’ve seen to date says its going to be bigger and better than its predecessor in every way. Set seven months after the first game’s Black Friday event, the seasonal change looks to be one of the most visible differences, as the snowy winter setting has been replaced by a hot, humid, and stormy summer. The locale has changed too, as agents from The Division receive a distress call from Washington DC and move on from New York City. According to the game’s developers at Massive Entertainment and Red Storm Entertainment, The Division 2 will feature a 40ish hour story mode that can be played solo or cooperatively, and they’ve said that it was designed with endgame in mind first. One of the biggest endgame areas in the first game was The Dark Zone, where players could go head-to-head or team up to nab some sweet loot.
I recently had the chance to go hands-on with The Division 2 to spend some quality time in the Dark Zone, and was happy to see that the developers at Red Storm have made some big changes this time out.
1. There are now multiple Dark Zones to explore.
In The Division, there was only one Dark Zone, a large area that was the epicenter of the outbreak in Manhattan. Walled off from the outside world, this space was where players could go to find high-level loot and get their PvP on. With its snow-covered city streets, it felt very much like the rest of the world. This time out, players will have more areas to explore. The Division 2 will feature three different Dark Zones, each with its own distinct vibe and biome archetype.
Dark Zone East will be centered around the Capitol Train Station and will be the most wide-open of the three areas, featuring plenty of long sight lines for you try out that shiny new sniper rifle you just picked up. Since this was a major transportation hub, there will be opportunities to pilfer lots of supplies.
Dark Zone South is down by the Waterfront and, in the game’s lore, is where the infected went to be interned and quarantined. Thanks to this area’s narrow alley ways and interiors, the gameplay here is more centered on close-quarters combat.
Dark Zone West is the final Dark Zone and is in the posh suburb of Georgetown. Largely residential, this area was the testing ground for DC-62, a cure for the virus that clearly did not work. The combat focus in Dark Zone West falls somewhere between the first two, revolving mainly around medium-range combat.
This time out, the Dark Zones will be unlocked linearly as you play through the campaign. The team at Red Storm wanted to ensure that players felt like there’s an actual reason to visit the Dark Zones, so each will be introduced in a story mission and will be supported by a backstory that fits into the narrative.
2. The action in the Dark Zones will be normalized.
One of the issues that some folks ran into when exploring the Dark Zone in the first game was the fact that it was tough to survive as a low-level player. This often made it so that new players were hesitant to give it a shot or were more likely to give up after only a couple excursions. With that in mind, the team went about thinking up ways to make the Dark Zone experience more player-friendly.
In an effort to make it a more even playing field for everyone (I believe the term they used was “fair, but intense”), the team decided to normalize all gear stats to ensure success was more tied to player skill than to having the stronger weapons. This means that players who spend hundreds of hours in the game won’t automatically have a distinct advantage over newer players just because they have high-level loot.
However, the team at Red Storm recognizes that some players will want to test their gear builds without this normalization. With that in mind, when players reach the end game they’ll have the option to enter an Occupied Dark Zone, where there’s no normalization, friendly-fire is on, and there are no Rogue system statuses (more on that in a second) letting you know whether that squad across the street is friend or foe. Essentially, this is like a sort of “Hardcore Mode” for players who want more of a challenge.
3. There’s a new Rogue Loop in town.
The Dark Zones in The Division 2 are what the developers refer to as PvEvP, meaning you’ll spend the majority of your time taking down AI-controlled baddies but will occasionally come face-to-face with some human controlled enemies. The Division 2 expands the ways that players can interact with the Dark Zone, adding to the risk while also increasing the reward.
One of the biggest sources of loot in the Dark Zone are supply drops, which offer weapons, armor, supplies, and more. In a neat twist, if you’re the first to a supply drop, you’ll have the option to take all the loot for yourself or share it with others. While you might be tempted to snag it all, there’s a drawback: you’ll go Rogue. Once you’re Rogue, you’ll be tagged for nearby players and will need to stay alive long enough to find a spot that will let you clear your status or get back to the drop zone to extract your loot.
If you’re Rogue and run into another player or squad, however, you’ll need to protect yourself. If you kill an opposing player while Rogue, you’ll become a Disavowed agent and will be listed as such any time anyone sees you. They’ll get a reward for killing you, but if you manage to kill them first, you’ll become what’s known as Manhunt Rogue. This means that every player in the Dark Zone can see you on their map and you can be sure that they’ll be coming for you in an effort to take your sweet loot and get a bonus for killing you.
I didn’t see any Manhunt Rogue players or teams during my hands-on time, but it sounds like this is a straightforward and more simple Rogue loop that offers plenty of rewards for whatever risks you’re open to taking.
4. The overall online experience has been greatly improved.
The development team listed the online experience for players as one of the biggest areas for improvement, and it sounds like they took some major steps to make it more accessible and more pleasant for everyone. First off, they reworked the client/server tech to make sure the connection was rock-solid, eliminating chances for lag or dropped connections. They also increased the server count so there’s no chance of waiting to get into a Zone.
On the PvP front, they took a number of actions to reduce toxicity in the community. The biggest of these was the removal of hostile VOIP. In the previous game, you could talk to squad or player that you were shooting at (or being shot by), which often resulted in some not-so-kind words or outright trolling. It wasn’t always a great experience. Now, as soon as you fire or are fired upon, that voice connection will be shut down. There’s also some new anti-cheat tech in place to ensure everyone is playing by the rules.
Finally, there is a new clan system that puts the game more in-line with other modern shooters. Once you’re in a clan with your pals, you’ll have a dedicated clan chat, direct clan messaging, and a bulletin board for sharing your hopes and dreams (or when you’re looking for a group to roll with). Clans will also have their own progression tree, which will unlock special clan perks and collaborative goals.
5. There’s now a dedicated PvP mode.
OK, it’s not really related to the Dark Zones, but I was happy to learn that The Division 2 would feature dedicated, organized PvP modes for the competitive multiplayer fans out there. There will be two different gametypes: Skirmish, a team deathmatch mode in which players fight to deplete the other team’s respawns, and Domination, an objective-based game in which you’ll battle to capture and hold locations. The Division 2 will launch with three unique maps created solely with PvP in mind and based on the Dark Zone locales (I played Skirmish in Georgetown and Domination in Capitol).
As is the case with the Dark Zone, gear stats will be normalized to ensure the playing field is largely level. There will also be a unique PvP progression track that we’ll be learning about soon, as well as skill-based matchmaking. I had a lot of fun playing these dedicated multiplayer modes, and I’m sure it will be a welcome addition for the community.
All in all, the new Dark Zone content looks to be a major improvement over the offerings from the first game, so I can’t wait to explore more. Players who want to join me in an early look can sign up for the game’s recently-announced online beta or guarantee a spot by pre-ordering The Division 2.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 comes to Xbox One on March 15, enhanced for Xbox One X, and you can pre-order today on the Microsoft Store.