By Paul Davies

Ubisoft would be the first to agree that the ‘live’ strategy for The Division was sorely lacking in 2016. While End Game content was a reactionary process (albeit rapidly resolved) for The Division, this 2019 follow-up has post level-cap intrigue as a wholly integrated raison d’être.

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There’s still an almighty lid secured over eight-man Raid details, but Critical Hit was recently invited to explore the End Game content for The Division 2, that includes new Agent types, challenging new missions, and something to keep the three Dark Zones in constant demand. All this, by the way, has something to do with a sinister new fourth faction: the Black Tusk.

Our hands-on time was spent in PvE, within two so-called Invaded missions taking place within the halls of the Air & Space Museum, and later in an underground Federal Bunker. Compared to what we had experienced of the Campaign, which you will have opportunity to sample in the upcoming Private Beta (7-11 February), the Invaded missions are a whole new level of intensity. The Black Tusk turn their controlled territories into kill-zone conundrums; their ranks comprising eight complementary archetypes that require coordinated efforts to dismantle effectively. Regular Agents wouldn’t really cut it, hence we get three Specialists: Survivalist, Sharpshooter and Demolitionist (medic, marksman and engineer, pretty much).

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The Specialists each have a kind of class ability, although Ubisoft prefers not to label so restrictively. Let’s say they each have a particular perk, in addition to a unique power, that a unit of four patrolling Agents would do well to take seriously. The Specialists Skills are locked, such as the Survivalist’s Mender Seek-Mine, and Fixer Drone, but they are otherwise free to build a kit comprising sniper-rifles or shotguns for when damage is needed. It’s just that the Sharpshooter and Demolitionist will make a much better fist of those situations.

Again, using the Survivalist as an example, each Specialist has a trademark tool, in this case a bow with explosive arrowheads, which can put the enemy on the back foot if used wisely. One of the newly introduced themes of The Division 2 is that of armour protection, applied to Agents and enemy factions. Before any serious damage can be done, armour needs to be broken down, so that weak-points are exposed. A Sharpshooter’s rifle has armour-piercing rounds, while the Survivalist’s arrows blast sections clean off for Demolitionists to punish. Since Agents have armour too, the Survivalist’s Fixer drone helps keep that in good shape.

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With The Division 2, the rather insipid description of “online cover-shooter” has a chance of becoming something much more captivating. Yes, battlegrounds make full use of cover to allow for suppressed fire and tactical weaving between obstacles. However, new Black Tusk archetypes that include robot sentry dogs (!) and guys with dive-bombing drones, cleverly exploit surroundings, which means constantly searching high and low for enemy positions. Targets need to be prioritised, some don’t leave Agents much of an option – for example Black Tusk skirmishers, that rush Agents’ positions. There were few clear ‘best’ solutions to any battles our four-person team faced, other than constant communication and sticking to plans as they arose. At times, Black Tusk took us back to the best of Halo and the Covenant.

In terms of world design, The Division 2 seems much more in tune with its NPCs for PVE encounters. Meaning that, when breaking down the ranks of the Black Tusk in the Air & Space Museum, the Agents’ thoughts turn more urgently toward which enemy archetype has gained an advantageous position, which have been compromised – for example a robot-hound-turret backed into a corner – and keeping track of those that are neutralized. And it’s way more complicated than “sniper down” because waves of attack are strategically timed.

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You might be done clearing the floor space of the planetarium, but suddenly there are Tusk marksmen at the windows up above. It is rather Raid-like, more so than typical missions. To defeat area boss Stan ‘Clunky’ Dawson in the museum, he’s almost the least of your worries until he’s practically on his knees, armour in tatters, his loyal wingmen finally depleted.

For atmosphere, we’ll take an underground Federal Bunker over a derelict New York City Subway station any day of the week. Until now, Ubisoft has been showcasing the wide open spaces that Washington DC has to offer, in contrast to the grid-based claustrophobia of the city that never sleeps. And so, bunched together at one end of an rough-hewn rock tunnel, engaged in sniper battles and hoping combined DPS could halt rushing attacks, it felt closer to a blockbuster action sequence in the best possible sense. In the bunker, even larger areas such as an Operations Room and storage facility were densely packed, limiting line-of-sight, where the only long-range threats came from high above; from the walkways and Officers’ Quarters. Enemies (‘adds’ you might want to call them) enter the fray from places you don’t always expect, it’s not just a case of watching a couple of doors and hanging way back.

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We’ll be deploying into the Private Beta from the 7th, to manage our expectations along with everyone else. It’ll take time to test the boundaries of what Ubisoft has put in place for The Division 2. However, if we can take the publisher’s word for one thing: there is going to be so much more for Agents to chew on at launch, and way beyond the first week. Nobody is feeling more nervous and hopeful than The Division live team right now, we guarantee.

Last Updated: February 5, 2019

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