The Division 2 Hands-on Preview: Killer Co-op Action

We went hands on with Tom Clancy's The Division 2 and found its co-op offering very enjoyable. Here are our first impressions...

When you try to conjure an image in your mind that sums up The Division 2, the upcoming second installment in Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment’s RPG/shooter series, the first thing you think of probably isn’t an underground car park in the middle of Paris. That is, however, exactly where we went for a preview event of the game during the cold snap at the end of January.

Improbable as it may seem, this subterranean structure that once housed stationary vehicles was transformed into a post-apocalyptic bunker of sorts, with journalists from around the globe huddled around portable heaters in between hands-on sessions with The Division 2. Den of Geek was dropped into an early stage of the game on an Xbox One X. Picking up after the prologue (which we didn’t get to see), we were greeted by an ethereal montage of clips and concepts, which set the stage nicely and recapped the state of the world.

Seven months after disease brought society to its knees, Washington, the new stomping ground for this sequel, is divided between nice folk who want to rebuild and a triumvirate of street gangs that want to rule the chaos. One of these gangs is attempting to take over the White House, which is currently housing a sizeable community of well-meaning survivors, and that’s where the brand new player character comes in.

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Having selected a character design we were happy with (there seems to be an endless array of skins, spanning male and female options), we were dropped into a simple mission: reach the White House and defend it from these marauders. The game, assuming you already know the ropes, throws you straight into combat. There’s no waiting around, which is fine by us.

It quickly becomes apparent that, whether you’ve played the first game or not, you’ll want to stick close to cover at all times. Whichever weapons and skills you’ve acquired – and there does seem to be loads of them, spanning familiar old-faithful options from the first game and heaps of fresh ideas – running straight towards your enemies rarely ends well. A gung-ho approach leads to your death pretty much every time.

You’ll want to stay hidden, inching closer to your enemies and taking them down when the opportunity presents itself. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with these mechanics, you shouldn’t find it too hard to halt the attack on the White House and put the community within it at ease. With that out of the way, you can take a look around the settlement, upgrade a couple of items, and pick up your first proper mission. This task will send you out onto the streets of Washington D.C., where danger is waiting at basically every crossroads.

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Once you’ve fought and/or sneaked your way across town and made a quick pit stop at another settlement (this one is an old theatre), the mission awaiting you is a fun one: battle your way to the top of a hotel, like a gun-toting reimagining of The Raid and take down a big armoured baddie.

Fighting through the hotel’s various rooms and levels provides a neat early test of the player’s abilities, as well as showing off some decent graphics and imaginative mini-arenas. Some rooms are littered with smash-able items, while others provide only very limited places to cover. You’ll find yourself quickly sizing up a location and rushing to the best defendable vantage point before picking off your enemies one by one.

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Playing as a member of the Division, of course, means that you get a vast array of weapons and gadgets. There are some really fun ones (which we won’t spoil here) that come in very handy in tight spots. The gadgets aren’t always easy to control, though, it’s worth noting. You’ll also want to watch out for different sorts of enemies – some will stay at a safe sniper distance, while others will try to flank you and a handful of utterly unhinged adversaries will sprint straight to your location.

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The skills you honed on the way up come in very handy on the hotel’s roof, as you team up with another Division agent (and any online chums you might’ve brought with you) to take down a few waves of goons and their leader. He doesn’t go down easy and will stalk you around the map, so you’ll want to move regularly and keep firing until his armor falls off. It took us a few goes to get that bit right, but it sure did feel like an achievement – a triumph of the will and of sheer tactics – when we finally managed to put him down.

After a bit more open-world exploration (there seem to be loads of side missions to pick up, and lots of ways to assist communities and save random strangers), it was time for something entirely different: checking out some endgame antics, which will keep players occupied after they’ve completed the main story.

As it turns out, the endgame content on The Division 2 will pit players (you can play in teams of four through online co-op) against an evil organization known as Black Tusk. Remember in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation when Simon Pegg dubbed the Syndicate an “anti-IMF”? There’s a similar vibe going on here, with the elite agents of Black Tusk clearly intended as the greatest challenge yet for the Division agents. Random street thugs they are not, packing an arsenal of heavy weapons and some very tactical thinking.

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In the endgame, you’ll be able to visit two new locations to battle Black Tusk, as well as revisit earlier locales and missions that have now been invaded by these new villains. In our hands-on preview, we got to see some really snazzy places: one area had an underground nightclub feel, with big flashing boxes that change color scattered around. In another mission, we got to fight Black Tusk in a planetarium’s picturesque observatory. Certainly, these skirmishes threw up new problems to solve, and they felt appropriately different from the White House and hotel battles we’d tried in the main game.

Again, the difficulty was pitched just right, with a couple of casualties (rather than a frustratingly massive amount) occurring along the way to our eventual victory. Playing as a co-op team of four, which you can do on any of the missions in the game, we were able to revive each other in times of need and chat over headsets. Well, in our case, the chat mainly consisted of swearing and apologizing.

The co-op missions we tried were packed with plenty of enemies, numerous eye-catching environments, and just the right amount of challenge to keep us engaged but not annoyed. There were lots of different types of danger peppered throughout, from foot-soldiers to drones to sizeable armored adversaries, and this variety kept us on our toes. We never felt overpowered or overstocked with ammo, and we can imagine ourselves diving into these co-op missions again and again in the hope of properly mastering them.

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The endgame content seems equally enjoyable for friends to tackle together, especially with the different classes of character you can select at this stage. In the endgame, you can either be a health-happy Survivalist, a bomb-chucking Demolitionist, or a sniper-wielding Sharpshooter. Black Tusk may be made of tough stuff, but you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to taking them on.

There were a few moments during our time with the game in which The Division 2 didn’t quite feel fully polished, but perhaps that’s to be expected in a pre-release build of the title. The frame rate wasn’t always top notch and some of the dialogue felt quite stilted, and you could argue that the world doesn’t feel all that realistic given that the apocalypse is only supposed to have started seven months ago, but there certainly weren’t any fatal flaws here that put us off the game.

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If anything, our main takeaway from this demo is that it made a very strong case for The Division 2’s existence. The previous game in the series may not seem that old, especially given all the post-release support it received, but the big new world and all the fresh toys in The Division 2 – along with all those fun co-op missions – make this feel like a necessary new entry to the Tom Clancy gaming franchise. And with the addition of Black Tusk, this sequel is sure to challenge gamers in ways that The Division didn’t.

We look forward to playing the whole thing, in the hope that a few of the kinks will be ironed out and that the elements we enjoyed will be stitched together well. The Division 2 is set for release on March 15 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. In the meantime, you’d better prepare yourself for some killer co-op action.