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22 Hours In And The Division 2 Is Excellent So Far 

It’s fun. It’s huge. And it’s extremely player-friendly, except for the fact that some of its on-screen text is microscopic. I’m 22 hours into The Division 2 and am pleased and impressed.

Ubisoft’s newest mega-game sequel officially launches today, though it’s actually been out since Tuesday for those who bought the $100 version. It’s another Division, which means it’s also another Destiny or Diablo or Anthem. It’s another one of these games meant to preoccupy its players with having digital fun while obtaining better and better loot. Like those games, it’s also going to be updated by its developers for weeks, months and years to come, meaning it’s going to be a game that gets reassessed regularly. We will be following it along the way, with a full review to come in about a week.

Right now, right at launch, I’m taking it in as rapidly and voraciously as a working father of two can. I’m taking some time to play by day, some at night after the kids go to bed, and all the while having the best kind of struggle to keep forging ahead. The game is generous with interesting sights and sounds. As my colleague Paul recently pointed out, wandering through the game’s virtual DC is a pleasure, like touring a new city in real life.

On official launch day, here’s what you need to know:

The world is massive. The first Division was set in a devastated New York City in the winter and this moves the narrative forward to the summer of a Washington, DC, that is showing the first buds of societal recovery. The city is the game’s world, the White House your headquarters. You can explore hundreds of city blocks full of museums and monuments, stores and subway tunnels, parks, alleys and more. The conceit is that the U.S. is recovering from a biological weapons attack that has left DC overgrown with vegetation and under siege from marauding gangs and paramilitary squads. You’re a member of a government-authorized group of peacekeepers called the Division set to patrol the city, shooting your way through enemy factions and helping civilians who are building settlements and taking up arms to fight alongside you.

Helping people is a much bigger deal than it was last time. Aside from the lack of snow, the starkest difference I’m feeling between the first Division and this new one is the presence of a civilian population that is actively involved in the recovery of the city. In the first Division, you might encounter some civilians shuffling down the street asking for bottled water. An allied military force, the JTF, would sometimes appear to provide largely useless combat support. In the sequel, you can join civilians making coordinated resource runs or patrolling and effectively fighting enemies.

Early in the game, players will reach the first of a few settlements: large safe zones full of men, women, and children trying to rebuild their lives. Players receive missions and checklist tasks called Projects that can be completed to upgrade the settlements with a relatable focus on quality of life: the creation of a water treatment facility or kids’ play area, for example. You can summon friendly fighters to help retake many of the game’s “control points,” establishing more and more of a friendly presence in the city. The recovery of DC feels like a real group effort, which gives the game a more optimistic vibe.

The core gameplay is fun. At their most basic, The Division games are third-person cover-based shooters. The idea is to never be out in the open and to strategically move through a space to outmaneuver enemies. That all felt fine in the first game but was undermined by the game’s enemies. They took too many shots to kill and had uninteresting attack patterns, which made combat tedious.

Division 2 enemies die more quickly but are also far smarter, regularly trying to flank or otherwise outmaneuver you. I’m much more worried about how enemies can counter me, and I have to be much more alert and efficient in my tactics. No more just hiding and shooting. I’ve got to move more than ever and deploy my special combat gadgets more creatively.

There are animals, but you can’t pet them. The surge of flora in DC is complemented with the appearance of animals. Dogs and deer regularly amble across the street. Technically, yes, you can shoot the animals, but why would you? They don’t drop any loot.

The mission variety is better than it seemed in the beta. As enjoyable as the game’s recent beta was, its handful of missions was disappointingly generic. Despite being set in different buildings in DC, they followed the same formula: gunfight your way into a nondescript location, attain some goal (rescue a hostage, defeat an armored boss enemy, etc.), and then gunfight back out. The missions in the full game are still dense with gunfights, but their locations are exciting and occasionally surprising. I was wowed by missions that funnel me through both real and fictional DC museums. The one set in the Air & Space Museum is full of unexpected setpieces that potential players probably don’t want to have spoiled.

Another surprise: Side missions sometimes stitch mini-narratives together. In one, I unlocked a character who then wanted to help me out in another newly unlocked side mission, which led to a plot twist that’ll surely lead to another side activity.

The game mostly looks great but can be blurry and hard to read. Ubisoft’s Division games are some of the most visually detailed things you can play. You’ll see the best piles of tires ever put into a game and fountains full of garbage amid canyons of buildings and vast stretches of vegetation. Unfortunately, at least for me and my colleagues playing on PlayStation 4 Pro systems, a lot of the detail in the game world can take a few seconds to show up. When I turn a corner or fast trace into a new part of the map, I’ll see the streets and buildings clearly, but billboards, bus ads, and other detailed planes initially appear blurry before snapping into focus. If I’m running, that snap occurs when I’ve nearly passed the blurry signs. This doesn’t impact gameplay speed and is not much of an issue if you’re moving slowly, but it’s a blemish that begs for some better engineering, perhaps through patches.

What’s more of a pain is that a lot of the game’s on-screen text for progress and unlockable activities shows up so tiny that players may have to sit close to their TVs or monitors to enjoy this game.

You get some weird but excellently destructive gadgets. The first Division had some basic tools like turrets and healing stations, all of which had some predictable upgrades. Hey, that turret might be a flamethrower instead! The new game is much wilder.

I’ve been using a thing called the Firefly: a little drone that I could initially send flying toward a target to blind them. I’ve upgraded it with explosives that detonate if any two of the enemies it tags gets close together. If I sneak up on an enemy patrol, this lets me take three of them out immediately. If I do it mid-gunfight, when enemies are spread out, I’m then trying to corral the enemies so that they trigger the proximity detonations. I just unlocked a shield that deflects bullets, and I’m thinking about getting a gun that shoots a gas cloud that I can light on fire. All of this stuff spices up combat.

It’s got another great in-game Ubisoft map. See?

There’s just so much stuff in this game. I’ve done a third of the main missions and a bunch of side missions. I’ve cleared enemy control points and then stocked them with goods to help the civilians who took them over. I’ve wandered the city with civilian patrols. I’ve found little environmental puzzles where I’m challenged to figure out how to access a collectible by spotting a way to unlock a gate or reach a building’s roof. I’ve played a PvP match (we lost, narrowly). I’ve upgraded a settlement and unlocked safehouses. I’ve taken on and completed “Projects,” series-new checklists that offer a range of rewards, and I’ve hunted down a named enemy in a so-called Bounty mission. I’ve unlocked and crafted mods for my guns. I’ve joined a colleague’s in-game clan. I’ve stopped public executions, propaganda transmissions, and other enemy-led activities that crop up in the open world. I’ve found audio logs, watched holograms called echoes that recreate past events, and read dossier entries on enemies and allies. I’ve had a good time doing all of it.

All that said, I haven’t even seen three quarters of the game’s map. I’ve only seen the top of the Washington Monument from afar and haven’t made it down the Washington Mall to Lincoln Memorial. I’ve not played through a mission with three other people (my colleagues have done co-op and dug it). Only last night, after 21-plus hours of playing, did I even activate a mission granting me access to the treacherous Dark Zone. I’ve reached level 11, a far cry from 30, the threshold for the much-hyped endgame, in which a new faction invades the map. Once the endgame begins, players are required to choose a character class, and who knows what else happens. Ubisoft has recommended that reviewers play 15 hours into the endgame to get a feel for what The Division 2 has to offer. I’m not close!

The menu design is thoughtful. Aside from the micro-text thing, the game is extremely player-friendly. Its accessibility options include the ability for basic menus to be read out as speech and the option to move and resize major on-screen elements like the mini-map. The game is stuffed with loot, and coming upon new pieces triggers a handy set of choices, including immediately junking unwanted items. Menus are swift and snappy, and players can track and even turn in quest items right on the game’s map screen. Sometimes you’re forced to go back to hub areas to turn in a quest or advance the overall game, but mid-game loading is pretty fast and hub areas are full of easy access points that let you enter and leave quickly. Generally, the game may be asking you to do a lot, but it wastes little of your time.

It is very on-brand as a Tom Clancy game. My character doesn’t smile. My inventory is stuffed with guns, gun mods, and tactical gear galore. The bad guys are very bad (there’s a cutscene of one of them shooting a doctor in the head, for goodness’ sake). We are here to save America. Yes, this is a Clancy adventure, people. If you doubt it, then let me direct your attention to the ability to buy and adorn your in-game guns with the Declaration of Independence. [Update – 3:33pm: Despite the item in question being called the “Declaration weapon skin,” the image of this skin is showing the Constitution. The game’s premium currency isn’t available now, so we can’t check to see which historical document can adorn your gun.]

The buzz on The Division 2 so far is that it isn’t stumbling out of the gate like its predecessor nor its newest competitor, Anthem. Games like these, however, take some time to reveal their true level of quality. The first Division got way better with patches deep into its first and second years. It’s encouraging that the sequel feels like iterative progress, but it has set a higher bar and, with that, risks a bigger fall. We’ll see. This game is starting off superbly.


Division 2 Player’s Aim Is Off

Today on Highlight Reel we have bullet curving in The Division 2, Red Dead Redemption 2 dunks, Apex Legends moments and much more!

Watch the video then talk about your favorite highlight in the comments below. Be sure to check out, like, and share the original videos via the links below. Subscribe to Kotaku on YouTube for more! Catch up on all the episodes on the Highlight Reel Youtube playlist!

Highlight Reel is Kotaku’s regular roundup of great plays, stunts, records and other great moments from around the gaming world. If you record an amazing feat while playing a game (here’s how to record a clip), send it to us with a message confirming that the clip is yours at [email protected] Or, if you see a great clip around that isn’t yours, encourage that person to send it in!

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The Division 2’s World Is So Satisfying To Explore

I love when a game encourages me to explore a world full, to the point where it’s fun to get lost in it. The Division 2’s Washington D.C. does that constantly.

As I roam the game’s streets in search of audio logs, “echo” holograms, and signs of the life that once filled this place, I feel like an archaeologist looking to make sense of it all.

Check out the video to see some examples of how the game rewards you for combing through the wreckage. Or read the script down below.

The Division 2 is a huge new game set in a dilapidated Washington D.C. where bad guys are running wild and civilians are struggling to rebuild. You are a member of the savior squad known as The Division and you are called in to restore order by shooting your way through the world. That’s pretty fun to do, truth be told, but what I find most fascinating about this game—more so than the pew-pew pageantry—is the game world’s ever-inviting layout.

I just love exploring this place. Like a lot of open-world games, The Division 2 fills your map full of things to do nearby. But as I’ve been playing the game for the last few days, whenever I’m on my way to a new objective, I allow myself to get lost. I can’t help it.

It’s like when I’m traveling in real life. I’ll make time to just roam and get lost in a new city. It lets me discover things based off of a natural curiosity and not from a map on my phone. It’s also how I played one of my favorite games, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

I would select a part of the map to head toward and let myself get distracted on the way. And I always found some amazing sights and cool things to do. It’s what made that game so special and why I poured so much time into it. The Division 2 reminds me a lot of that feeling…

And not just because there are similar bird sounds.

The Division 2’s war-torn Washington D.C. that lets me explore and wander in search of loot, materials, and small pieces that tell the stories of the lives that still haunt the world. I love the way that streets are designed, leading to eerily-lit alleys with open garage doors full of garbage or manholes leading down to sewers beneath the surface. I keep getting lost in it for hours.

And more often than not, the game rewards me for exploring with food, clothes, and maybe even a shiny new weapon. Finding audio logs can also help piece together parts of the smaller, ground-level stories littered throughout The Division 2’s abandoned offices, apartment buildings, storefronts and more.

So sure, a part of my mind is exploring for my personal gain. I want that good loot. But I’ve also got the natural curiosity to make some sort of sense of the madness. I just like enjoy spending time in this game world.

In a lot of the game’s missions, you go inside D.C.’s buildings. They feel like real places.

Climbing through windows, up elevator shafts, onto rooftops connecting buildings, The Division 2 really makes use of its geometry in ways that feel exciting.

The weight of your character as they shift from cover to cover or vault over things adds to the grounded and thrilling feel of conquering 4-story tall buildings, and ziplining down afterwards quickly gets you back into your search for the next adventure.

Mix in a really cool day/night cycle and some weather effects and the game invites me to continue wandering and exploring the world to my heart’s content.


It’s Okay To Stop Playing 

Recently it was discovered that Anthem was causing some PS4s to crash and possibly even stop working until fixed. Red Dead Online’s latest and biggest update ruined the game for many players and didn’t add enough content. Fallout 76 seems to always be in a constant state of barely working.

Many players, even after all these problems and setbacks, keep playing even if the game is making them unhappy, angry or disappointed. Folks, it’s time to stop playing. It’s okay to take a break.

I’ve played something even after the game has done nothing but upset or disappoint me. Years ago when GTA Online first launched I poured hours into it. After a few days, my friends stop playing as much and ultimately many stopped altogether. I didn’t. I stayed with it. I kept hoping that the next update or patch would help fix everything.

“Heists are coming any day now!” I would say to myself. Months passed and eventually, I realized that I wasn’t having fun and I just needed to walk away.

Sometimes it is easy to fall into a pit where you keep playing because the game has a really fun core experience to it or because you paid for the special edition or maybe you just don’t want to fall behind. I remember taking a few days off GTA Online and returning to see players triple my level already. I remember panicking. I needed to catch up. But I really didn’t. Falling behind isn’t a big deal, even if your brain disagrees.

It is also possible to guilt yourself into playing a game. I know someone who bought Artifact and plays it even though they don’t like the grind, there aren’t many players still active and Valve seems to have forgotten about the game entirely. Their reason? “I spent money on the game and the cards and I don’t want to waste that cash.” I’ve felt that way too. I remember buying The Division and grinding and grinding for days and weeks because I didn’t have a lot of money and every game was an investment for me. Most of that time I wasn’t really having fun, especially when I played alone. Long after I should have, I finally did stop playing it and I felt better.

Many games these days launch in various states of finished. It seems nearly every major game release has a roadmap. It can often feel like these roadmaps are plans for when the game will become better. When it will finally be fun. Maybe even when it finally becomes good? Yet these roadmaps are also a great indication that perhaps it’s best to stop playing and wait.

My boss Stephen Totillo wrote a great post echoing a similar-to-this idea last year. He waited a year to play Destiny 2 and ended up having a pretty good experience.

Except I’m not really talking about waiting to play a game. I’m talking to you, the person who might be playing something right now that isn’t clicking with you or is making you frustrated. You keep checking Reddit, watching dev streams or popping into the game’s forums. You are hoping to find solutions to problems and wanting more and better things to do. Odds are these things will come, but don’t suffer while you wait.

I spend a lot of time in the Red Dead Online community reading forum and Reddit posts. Many of these comments today are angry or negative, which is understandable. The game isn’t where many fans want it to be. Still, I can’t help feeling a bit sad reading these comments. I really want many of these folks to just step away from the game. Come back in a few months or a year and see if things have gotten better.

Don’t just stop playing either. Completely disconnect. Stop thinking about it. Play something else, maybe a game on your backlog. There isn’t any reason to keep making yourself angry or upset over something that you have nearly no control over. I’m not saying don’t leave feedback or suggestions, but realize that at some point if you are spending more time hoping and talking about fixes on Reddit than playing the game, it might be time to step away from it.

Whatever your reason for still playing that game that is upsetting you or making you feel bad, it’s probably time to stop and take a break. Play something else. You’ll probably feel better. Plus when you finally come back to that game it might just be worth playing.

This is an important thing to remember as more and more games become “live experiences”. I like the idea of a game growing and updating over time, just don’t feel like you need to stick around through all of that evolution.


Ubisoft, Please Stop Teasing And Give Us More Splinter Cell

The last Splinter Cell game was released in August 2013. It’s been nearly six years since we last got to play as grizzled spy Sam Fisher. Near Six years since we got to creep around the shadows and use those sweet goggles that make that cool noise. Going this long without a new game in the franchise would be easier if Ubisoft would stop constantly referencing Splinter Cell in all their other games.

I loved Blacklist. It felt like a perfect balance between the faster, more action-filled Splinter Cell games and the earlier stealth focused games. It became my most played game in the franchise, even if I missed original Sam Fisher actor Michael Ironside. I remember thinking shortly after it came out that I couldn’t wait for the next game. Over five years later, I’m still waiting.

It would be one thing if Ubisoft just stopped making Splinter Cell games and never referenced the series again, leaving the franchise to rot and be forgotten. That would still suck, but it would at least make it easier for my mind to move on. However, Ubisoft is doing the exact opposite of this. It seems nearly every game they release has some small reference or wink to Splinter Cell.

Some examples!

The suit players can find in New Dawn.
Screenshot: The Easter Egg Hunter (YouTube)

The most recent Splinter Cell tease pops up in Far Cry New Dawn. In that game, players can find a crashed military cargo plane which contains an entire treasure trove of Splinter Cell goodies and references. These include notes from characters in the franchise, the computer from Blacklist and even Sam’s famous suit, complete with tri-goggles. New Dawn players can even take the suit and wear it.

Ghost Recon Wildlands took the Splinter Cell references to a whole new level by actually having Sam Fisher show up in a special event and letting players work with him to complete a mission. Ubisoft even got original Fisher voice actor Michael Ironside back to voice the character, making this tease even more frustrating. Bringing back Ironside and then using him for one mission in Ghost Recon seems like a lot of work to just tease fans again.

During an interview on Inside Xbox with Major Nelson about the Splinter Cell/Ghost Recon event, Ironside even hinted at future Fisher adventures saying “Let’s see if the storylines allow an organic [way to bring], Sam, back.”. Still, a year later and it seems we aren’t any closer to a new Splinter Cell game with or without Ironside.

Beyond these bigger easter eggs and references, Ubisoft has continued to include smaller nods to the series in other games.

The most commonly found easter egg is a pair of the famous tri-goggles that Sam often wears in the games. These useful goggles appear in Assassin’s Creed Odyessy and The Division. Will a pair appear in The Division 2?

Other games like Watch Dogs, Watch Dogs 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag have included the cover of Splinter Cell games in their worlds. The weirdest reference to Splinter Cell is Ubisoft’s voice assistant who is named Sam, a nod to the franchise’s lead spy. Sadly, Ironside doesn’t voice the digital assistant.

After all these easter eggs and other references to Splinter Cell we still don’t have any confirmation of a new game in the franchise. I would at this point be happy with some remasters, at least of Blacklist.

Image: Ubisoft

Jade Raymond, a former producer at Ubisoft, confirmed in an interview with GameReactor that there was a new Splinter Cell game being designed at one point. “There is a design that we actually had and worked on that we would have wanted to make,” Raymond said. “But since I am not at Ubisoft anymore I can’t talk about it and I don’t know who wants to share that concept.”

E3 2019 isn’t that far away and as all these references seemingly prove, Ubisoft still seems to like the Splinter Cell franchise. Or at least they still know it exists. Is the year when we finally get a new Sam Fisher adventure?

Or maybe in five years, I’ll write a follow-up post to this one about how it has been 10 years of teasing.