The Division 2 preview: A damn near perfect sequel

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't agree that Tom Clancy's The Division is one of the best squad-based shooters of its generation. But it wasn't without flaws, and Ubisoft seems perfectly aware of this. In preparation for the launch of The Division 2, there's a lot of evidence to suggest this sequel is focused on taking the best things about the original and improving them. Until this point, the big parts of what Ubisoft has been sharing is the online gameplay. In a recent preview event, Ubisoft gave us a six-hour look at the 40+ hour campaign attached to this story.

And it's good. It's so damn good.

Washington DC is in a lot of trouble

My Division 2 preview starts off in what's basically an active warzone in the US capital. I made my way up the White House lawn, facing a barely organized collection of assailants armed with whatever was handy. Some would sit back and shoot, allowing me to effectively dispatch them with precision, while others seemed to prefer rushing me to get a little more physical. The sheer volume of combatants made this a challenge, but it quickly became clear I'm dealing more with an angry militia than an organized force.

As you liberate more areas on the map, it becomes clear you're really starting to make a difference and taking back the city.

Washington DC is under siege, and you spend the entirety of this game rescuing it from these militarized factions. As someone who comes from the DC area, it's wild to see how accurate the streets and buildings are as I run by. I've had dinner in several of the buildings that are currently on fire. I've walked down these streets a hundred times, and know exactly where I am at all times. It's exciting, but also tremendously dangerous. Every street has a new challenge, as active squads of armed forces roam around looking for a fight. This map is alive, and I'm always on alert.

Some of these areas are shelters, small communities of civilians who just want to survive. As you fight off the rogue elements, you collect resources to help them survive. And the more of this you do, the more resources you get as backup you can call on when you really need some cover fire. These are also civilian fighters but they're on your side and really come in handy when you need them. And as you liberate more areas on the map, it becomes clear you're really starting to make a difference and taking back the city.

And then Ubisoft cranks up the difficulty dial, and things get serious. But more on that later.

A unique, squad-friendly RPG

Unlike many of the "RPG-esque" shooters we've got today, where you pick a class and work through a traditional skill tree, The Division 2 is entirely modular. Your weapon and skill loadouts are completely yours to optimize. If you want a single-shot rifle with a nice scope and a pistol as your sidearm, do it and customize that to fit your needs. If you'd rather spray and pray while relying on drones and grenades to push your enemies into the line of fire, it's easy to do. And best of all, you can save your set up as a loadout so you can switch back and forth depending on who you are playing with.

This deviation from the standard brackets of "heavy gunner" and "sniper" is practical in a way that I deeply appreciate.

Instead of a skill tree, you have a collection of ability slots you can unlock. If you want more ammo to play with, unlock those first and enjoy the bucket of metal to throw at the enemy. You can also opt to unlock better scopes and more slots for accessories and gadgets, if that's your jam. This deviation from the standard brackets of "heavy gunner" and "sniper" is practical in a way that I deeply appreciate, because it means everyone you encounter in a PVP fight is at least a little bit of a surprise.

Best of all, every character layout and equipment list is highly visual in the game. When someone has a weapon or gadget, it's visible on them at all times. This gives scoped weapons a tremendous advantage when it comes to prioritizing targets in an active PVP environment, and will make a huge difference in the way some people equip themselves as assault and even griefers. There's a surprising amount of flexibility in this system, which forces players to think about how they're equipped in a way that isn't traditional in a lot of PVP combat experiences.

Squad up, take back the city

In the second half of my preview with The Division 2, Ubisoft gave me a peek at the Endgame materials. This experience is all of the things I loved about this game so far, cranked up to 11. The first mission we experienced took us through the Air and Space Museum, which was under siege. Having been in that museum at least 20 times in my life, it was HUGE to know exactly what was in the next room. But more than that, the difficulty jumps up in a really fun way and makes you really want to play this game with a squad. To be blunt, I haven't wanted a four-player squad throughout the whole campaign this bad since the first SOCOM game, which is a testament to how well Ubisoft made the way you play the game with friends that much more enjoyable.

This game gives back exactly what you put into it, often in the most brilliant and unexpected ways.

And this game is built to last, which is amazing. It's clear the multiplayer and expansion experience is going to be great for this game. We already know Ubisoft is planning three different map and mission expansions for The Division 2, but there's also some really interesting things happening with the Dark Zones in this game. In the last game, Dark Zones started out as sort of the wild west where your skill level had a serious impact on performance. An update enforced Normalization, making it so skill mattered more than just brute force leveling and gameplay. In The Division 2, Dark Zones are mostly Normalized PVP zones, but with a fun twist. On occasion, one of the three Dark Zones will ditch normalization and make it so you can go nuts and really lean into your abilities and earned skills.

And really, that's the overall takeaway from my Division 2 experience. This game gives back exactly what you put into it, often in the most brilliant and unexpected ways. Instead of a rigid formula with hard spec tables to follow, this game takes the choice-based philosophy we've seen Ubisoft deploy in a bunch of games over the last year and apply it in an amazingly effective way. With the beta for this game around the corner it's clear Ubisoft is ready to show everyone how much this franchise has grown from the previous version, but for me, that thought isn't really complete until you sit down and tackle this incredible campaign alongside the ridiculously fun PVP experience. Truly, this game is worth more than the sum of its parts, and I'm so excited to see everyone else have fun with it.

Russell Holly

Russell is a tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!