Previews

The Division 2 – Hands-On with Dark Zone and Conflict Alpha

We are about a month out from the launch of The Division 2, so the team at Red Storm finally gave us the opportunity to get a deep look at the upcoming Ubisoft sequel in an extensive hands-on event . This would be the first chance to see the expanded Dark Zones, as well as the brand new organized PvP mode called Conflict. Pairing up with three other players (one of them who was with a side-car driver, as you’ll hear in our streams), we set our sights on the nation’s capital.

The Division 2 takes place seven months after the events of Black Friday. Winter has come and gone, and summer has brought more than the change of seasons. Storms and sweltering heat have allowed plant life to flourish, freeing the smallpox epidemic that seized Manhattan in the first game. With the quarantine broken, the “The Dollar Flu” (so called due to the hand-to-hand spread of money on Black Friday) has spread to Washington D.C. Like New York, the city did its best to respond but failed, with little more than multiple Dark Zone quarantines in the wake of their efforts. Once again, civilians are banding together to form small pockets of safety surrounded by looters, rioting, crime, fear, and hopelessness. The Division is their last hope.

While The Division 2 will feature a full 40 hour story campaign that can be run solo or with friends, this hands-on time was spent on the aforementioned Dark Zone improvements, and the new Conflict mode.

If you need a refresher, Dark Zones are the portions of the game where players can encounter more dangerous foes, as well as other players — in short, PvEvP. Thematically, it was the epicenter of the outbreak, standing as a monument to the failed attempt to lock the virus into a quarantined area. Players that ventured into the space would find contaminated gear that they had to shepherd past AI enemies and other players alike to reach designated drop zones. Once there, they’d fire a signal flare and start a short countdown. This countdown was essentially a dinner bell for everyone in the zone — they now know that you are trying to cart something valuable out of the area, and they just might like to take that for themselves. Even friends that helped you push through those tough parts of the zone might suddenly like the shiny new gun more than they like you — nobody is safe in the Dark Zone. Where there was only one Dark Zone in The Division, in the sequel there are three.

The Division 2’s divisions are all based in D.C., but that doesn’t mean they’re similarly themed. Dark Zone East is a wide open space full of long open sight lines — perfect for the longrifle fans in your team. Dark Zone South is choked with vegetation, with large interiors, tight corridors, and plenty of close combat. It is the space where the sick were initially sent when things with sideways, so it’s also the place largest hit. The third zone, Dark Zone West (creatively named, I know) is comprised of homes, apartments, alleys, and a whole lot of medium range combat. It’s also the testing ground for DC-62 — the compound that was meant to destroy the disease, which, naturally made it much worse.

To help introduce players to these new zones, there are new private interim missions. These missions provide a bit of narrative and a taste of the zone without the threat of PvP. Once completed, they unlock the full PvEvP experience of The Division 2.

Beyond the expanded number of Dark Zones, there are some additional core gameplay loops to shakes things up, as well as improving on the overall online experience. To help with dropped connections and latency issues, the team has completely reworked the client/server architecture, and increased the server count. This should prevent the launch woes we saw with the popularity of the original title this time around. Secondly, the Red Storm team has improved the anti-cheat system, building in new internal systems, as well as integrating third-party anticheat software and a banning process to nix the offenders. To further reduce the nuisance population, VoiP has also seen a bit of a tweak — when the bullets start flying, the voice from the other side drops, so no more grief from the other side.

Beyond the mechanical changes, there’s also a new gameplay loop called Rogue. With an emphasis on theft and greed, the Rogue system allows players a new choice when they encounter locked boxes in the Dark Zone. In The Division, when you found a box that wasn’t yours, your only option was to keep on walking. Now, you can bash the lock and share it with everyone around you…that, or you can, of course, steal it all for yourself. Either way, it wasn’t yours, so now you’ve gone rogue. Being in a rogue state means you are now vulnerable to attack from everyone in the zone. Fighting back only worsens the situation, making you a disavowed rogue. Killing those hunting you is the deepest cut of all, alerting everyone that you are fair game and making your status “manhunt rogue”. It creates a progressive escalation loop that further fleshes out the Dark Zones with shades of grey besides simply betraying your friends.

The last major change is easily the most controversial, but the one I feel is the most needed. To ensure the most fair and equitable experience when players do encounter each other, all but the final endgame Dark Zone (referred to as an “Occupied Dark Zone, where friendly fire is on at all times) is normalized. This means that the stats between weapons, regardless of rarity, are normalized to ensure that it is player skill, not equipment, that determines the outcome.

All of these improvements should culminate in a more rich and rewarding experience for new and returning players alike, ensuring fair and equitable fun for all.

After getting hands-on with all of these great additions to the game, we finally got our hands on the second big addition — Conflict. Conflict is an organized PvP mode wrapped around two game modes, skirmish and domination. Skirmish is best described as traditional team deathmatch, and domination is reminiscent of a location-based capture system, with three locations on each map. Unlike the first title, the maps used in Conflict are purpose-built specifically for The Division 2, so there are no reused areas. PvP in The Division 2 will feature a unique progression track, skill-based matchmaking, the normalization I mentioned above, as well as a fully-baked clan system with clan XP, perks, vanity items, clan chat, ranking, and more.

As you can see, we got up to all sorts of shenanigans in Conflict, and we had little to no idea what we were doing. It stands to reason that more seasoned players (and ones less eager to surrender), and a little more practice with the three new maps, will make for some exciting new adventures. Without further adieu, here’s a little more skirmish on Georgetown and Domination on Capital Ruins. Enjoy, and look for more coverage as we head towards the March 15th, 2019 release date on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

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