The Division 2 Open Beta Impressions
Ubisoft held an open beta for the Division 2, giving player’s the opportunity to try out a handful of story missions, side missions from the game’s beginning, along with a small section of the endgame. This was an excellent opportunity for players to get their hands on the up-incoming title before it officially launches on March 15.
Here’s my takeaway from the game, having played several hours of the open beta.
The Division 2's Story
You start off in the beta having to watch this cutscene detailing how the outbreak from the first game destroyed many things people take for granted now, such as Wi-Fi, hospitals, police -- almost everything built by a well-maintained society; these are all gone. For those who didn’t know, the outbreak from the first game was a virus transferred through dollars used during Black Friday. The first Division takes place a month later, in December or early January of that year. The Division 2 takes place eight months later. Still, the world has not recovered, and things have only gotten worse as supplies begin to dwindle.
The cutscene plays out, and your agent is on their way to the White House. It’s a sunny day; there’s smoke rising not too far off, the buzzing of insects ping in the distance. It’s a stark contrast to the dark, snowy downpour of the first game.
As luck would have it, the White House’s base of operations is under attention, and they need help with your agent coming in hot. They’re under attack by one of the new groups of enemies you’re going to encounter a lot throughout the open beta, the Hyenas. The Hyenas are a group of well-equipped and organized forces who are rampaging all across D.C. Their looks fit the part, too, as they’re dressed head-to-toe in body armor and masks.
After you come to the White House’s rescue, you race upstairs to meet with the comms coordinator, Manny, who's been holding down the fort. He fills you on some of the details, such as the JTF exploded and reformed into various gangs now attacking the city, there’s only a handful of surviving Division agents operating in town, and you’re the new sheriff.
For anyone jumping into the series for the first time, this quick scene is a lot to take in. Here’s a quick breakdown: The JTF stands for Joint Task Force, and they were made up of the police officers, firefighters, civil volunteers, and national army guardsmen who created the organization shortly after the outbreak happened. They stood up and did their best to reign the people in, wanting to keep society intact. The fact that they imploded and are now no longer a thing says a lot about how well things are going.
In the game’s timeline, the outbreak hasn’t even been out for more than a year, and things are the way they are. With the way the city looks with the various vegetation overtaking many structures, many would believe it’s been years, not months since society broke down.
After you meet with Manny, you set off into the city. You’re instructed to meet with one of the last-surviving Division agents in the town and make your stand. The introduction to this game makes the Division agents feel a bit more mythical than they were in the first one.
You have the chance to play three primary missions in this open beta. However, there was a lot more to do than merely run those over and over. Some of the more enticing action happened outside of the missions, namely the new roaming events where you had the chance to stop a public execution. Those opened up once you had entered the Theater settlement and finished the primary mission, Grand Washington Hotel.
Roaming Events and Gunplay
The roaming events occur throughout the Division 2 map. These are small little events you can take part in where succeeding means you have access to better supplies for your settlements and you clear out a little gang activity in the district. While fun and quick to do, these events can feel like a hassle, because they happen in the middle of the city’s streets.
This means you’re fighting in vast open areas, engaging in wild firefights attempting to find decent cover. When you’re doing these missions during the game’s night mode, it’s easy to lose enemies and have them quickly flank you, destroying your character’s armor. Not only that, you’re susceptible to having an enemy patrol wander through and give the event’s opponents added reinforcements.
The patrol only wondered through an event a handful of times, but it was frustrating when it occurred. But, thanks to The Division 2’s smooth gunplay, things never got too out of hand. Most of the game’s weaponry felt robust to handle. The shotguns had plenty of “oomph!” behind them, the SMGs fired an extensive amount of bullets into an enemy’s chest, and there was a lot of satisfaction with landing the perfect headshot with a sniper rifle.
However, those had played the first game already knew this. The gunplay felt familiar, and when I played, I felt like I had already done a lot of it before. The Division 2 didn’t amp any of it up; the developers didn’t try to outdo themselves. The gunplay still felt smooth, crisp, and quick, but a lot of it seemed like it had taken it from the first game.
The new abilities changed things up, though, beta players only had access to four of them, out of official game’s eight. I immediately had a new favorite of them, which was the chemical launcher. You take the launcher out, aim it at a spot on the ground and fire. This small, dusty area lights up, and if anyone fires a bullet through this, it catches fire. It was a great way to stop enemies from diving head first into my cover, and the cooldown on the ability was insane.
Still, the turret reigns supreme. You through it down on the ground and this monster of a little gun can tank an entire patrol or one of the game’s elite.
The abilities were fun, but still, the beta did not impress.
Quality of Life Goes Amiss
Ubisoft misses the target for plenty of features capable of making the game more fun, and there’s a lot of ways they could have done this.
The first one comes whenever you loot an item. You see a small text appear at the lower left-hand section of the screen, listing the name of the item and its color. While you can quickly notice the color, knowing what you just picked up is another. It’s challenging to tell what it is, and the pop-up vanishes shortly after, forcing you to search your inventory for the item. You also have to deal with this small text whenever you’re in a settlement, and there’s a list of things for you to do.
The next is the fact that enemy’s do not show up on your mini-map, at all. Players are forced to figure out where they’re getting shot from, based on the red highlights surrounding the map. It shows you where they are, but not their exact location and how many you’re fighting. You only find this out after you’ve killed the last enemy. Because you can’t see how your enemies as dots, it’s effortless to lose track of one and have them flank your cover. Especially when you’re fighting in the dark.
There’s also so much to do in the game, which is an odd complaint to have. It comes from having to do too much, as soon as you leave a settlement. You’ll receive notices on your mini-map about various things you can do, but say, all you want to do is make a B-line to The Division 2’s PvP area, the Dark Zone. Instead, on your way there, you’re forced into three or four different firefights because the game has these random events happening to make the world feel alive.
Without a doubt, it does, but when you’re playing a game to seek out additional content and wanting to advance, it’s tough when all of these side activities continue fighting for your attention. It’s easy for them to get out of hand, which they did.
A significant moment stands out from my time playing a game when I had grouped up with a friend. We had just liberated a small outpost and now guards on our side began to patrol the area. However, a random gang patrol popped up immediately after we finished this side activity, and we were back into another fight. We ended it and promptly went across the street to engage in one of the propaganda missions, attempting to cut off a recording a gang was using to lure citizens to their side.
When we got to the device, we had to wait for a timer to turn it off. As we braced for the event to spawn a wave of enemies, we noticed they were taking longer than expected. We knew the gang had generated in the middle of the street between the event, and the outpost we had liberated minutes ago. My friend raced across the street while I remained in the event’s area, as to ensure we didn’t lose our timer. He fought them off, and when one of the gang members dropped the access key, I was able to use it to finish the event. While it was hilarious, it still left a sour taste in my mouth because of the disorganization.
Another thing to note was the fact the game's ambient dialogue felt out of place. The Hyena gangs were supposed to be this organized force of evil rampaging the city. However, when you go to fight them, you hear their members spouting off the f-word as many times as they could, with phrases like, "I need blood!" or "Die! Die! Die!" being shouted. It undersold their performance for the main campaign, and it made them feel like the enemies you fought in the first one.
The Division 2's Endgame
After finishing up the three main missions, players had a chance to try out some of The Division 2’s endgame, which Ubisoft has been marketing for the past year or so. For anyone who didn’t play the first game, many initially did complain about how little there was to do, other than continually going through the Dark Zone and fighting other players. This time around, Ubisoft made sure they were extremely clear about what players have to look forward to.
You have access to three specializations, a Sharpshooter, Demolitionist, and a Survivalist. Each endgame character is a spinoff of your agent, except they come with new high-end gear. You get to try it out in a mission that drops you right in action.
I had a bit of a problem with being dropped in like that. I had little to no context about what was going on and had even less of an idea of what weapons or skills my character was using. After a brief look through in the menu, I had an idea, but because I didn’t build this character, there was also something off about using them. They didn’t move or fire the right way when I controlled them, likely because I didn’t make them. It was a jarring feeling, and it didn’t prepare me for the over-the-top encounters I had.
Despite the newer abilities, I frequently died during the experience. It was fun watching the large numbers when I hit an enemy, but The Division 2’s endgame didn’t feel good while I went through it. Being dropped in like that wasn’t a good experience, and I’m sure plenty of other players won’t have the same experience I did. The gunplay and fighting still felt fine.
Overall -- How Was It?
The Division 2 open beta was fine. There were a handful of bugs here and there, such as crashing at random times, and a consistent sound bug where I couldn’t hear my gunshots when I aimed down sights. It was a great experience to figure out one thing -- The Division 2 feels a lot like the first Division.
For those who stuck with the first one and had a good time, this is going to be an excellent game for you. There’s a lot of new stuff added that change up the game just enough to make it feel now.
New players might have a tougher time, though. There’s plenty of jargon thrown around new players will miss the context on, and there’s nothing too much new here compared to other cover-based shooters.
The Division 2 is a fine game, and I’m sure the first few weeks are going to be rough. It’ll take Ubisoft a little time to iron out the wrinkles of the initial launch. There’s plenty to look forward to with The Division 2, as Ubisoft has not been shy about they plan to do after launch, so make sure to keep an eye on this game and jump in when you’re ready.