Hands-on with The Division 2

When I sat down to begin the demo for The Division 2 at E3 2018, the dev team representative overseeing our demo told us we were going to run through it twice, once to get a feel for the layout and the enemies, and the second to see how fast we could complete the objectives. I thought this was odd but fair, but I could only imagine what the game was going to throw at us once it got going. Despite being only a 15-minute piece of the game, this demo was tough, reinforcing the importance of the game’s team-based mechanics and really testing the four of us grouped together to take it on.

That said, the game featured some cool classes, tight shooting, and some of the most advanced enemy AI I think I’ve ever encountered. The Division 2 is going to kick my butt at launch, I can already tell.

Some brief lore: six months after the smallpox pandemic upended New York City in the first Division, the summer months are beginning to shed light on the now decimated world in more ways than one. The sickness spread far beyond the city limits, even infecting the nation’s capital Washington DC and disabling the government. As you can imagine, the city is complete turmoil, and The Division is called in to clean up DC just as they had in The Big Apple. We start the demo on the road to the Capitol building, tasked with taking out a group of enemies that have stationed themselves on the route.

I am playing as a Survivalist, a tank-like character with a explosive arrow-shooting bow as a special weapon. This thing really packs a punch, particularly in the later stages of the demo, but I’ll get to that. We first encounter a few enemies out in the open, which highlights the cover-based shooting system of The Division 2. If I do not stay in cover, I die –it’s as simple as that. I can move from cover to cover as my leisure, but I must make sure I do it at the right moment or else I’m going to get lit up.

The Division 2’s AI is nothing to sneeze at, as I found my enemies to be strategic and downright smart in the heat of battle. If my teammates and I got too close together, the enemies would not hesitate to flank us. If I stuck out of cover even the slightest bit, an enemy across the field would be able to get a few shots in. It’s not unfair nor is it ever insurmountable, but this AI is definitely one that will exploit any and all mistakes that are made while fighting it. This requires me to always be at the top of my game, and honestly it makes the entire demo that much better.

Eventually we reach a large open area with a crashed plane in the center, and it’s here where the most heated of the demo’s battles takes place. We are met by dozens of soldiers that come in waves, relentlessly returning fire and lining up at flanking angles that require me to move my position. They react to grenades quickly, rendering those nearly useless, and they even know not to get too close to the red barrels lest one of my teammates or I shoot it for an explosive kill. Just when we think we have the upper hand, things only get more difficult with the introduction of the heavy.

This heavily armored behemoth takes no damage and suffers no recoil, pursuing us with a grenade launcher until we can figure out a way to remove some of that heavy armor and make him vulnerable. This is where the team-based focus comes into play: as a survivalist, I have the previously mentioned explosive bow. One direct shot into the heavy’s chest blows off some of that armor. Another removes his helmet along with a few other pieces, and all of a sudden the rest of my team can make short work of him. After a few more waves of enemies, including a really fun spot with two of those heavies at the same time, the demo ends with us victorious in claiming the derelict aircraft as our own.

The second playthrough, I swear the devs ramped up the difficulty of the AI, because while we still survived those soldiers in try #2, they all acted like highly trained special ops units. I don’t know if it was how we adjusted the second time around or if they actually did tune things up a bit, but that firefight at the aircraft was much tenser in round two.

The Division 2 is shaping up to be a remarkable team-based shooter, the kind of game that will test even the most seasoned third-person shooter player from the get-go. With the announced addition of Raids and other specialty missions, there will be plenty of warfare to go around when The Division 2 drops on March 15, 2019. I can only hope I’ll be ready to take it on by then.