The Division 2 Open Beta

895 wc

I tried the open beta this past weekend, because it was free.

First, in marketing terms, it was a far better game demo than The Division 1 Open Beta, because you got into the action much faster, and didn’t spend your first 30 minutes just wandering around trying to find where to start. So in that sense, it’s much better.

Other than that, there’s nothing much to report. It’s basically identical to the first game, except it takes more CPU and GPU power to run. I’m sure there is some minutia in there that is different and/or improved, but it’s not apparent to me, whose only experience with the game is playing The Division 1 Open Beta.

I might even suggest that it looks *worse* than the first game, for all the extra GPU power required to run it. There is a very distinct low-contrast foggy veneer over everything which makes it look more realistic I guess in terms of matching the look of a hazy day viewed through our faulty eyeballs, but less attractive in terms of what looks compelling on a computer monitor. There are no deep blacks or rich colors to be found.

Deep, rich … uh … light greens … for shadows. Capturing the life-like artistry of the overexposed photo. This is what Asian import games typically do.

I had to turn the game down from 1440 to 1080 Medium settings to get it to run at a respectable rate on my less-than-two-year-old Nvidia 1070. It still had trouble maintaining a rock-solid 60 fps, the bare minimum required for a responsive shooter these days. It felt a bit sluggish.

Since I tend to be a more defensive-minded shooter player than a run-in-guns-blazing shooter player, I’ve decided that I like cover mechanics in shooters more than not. So I like that The Division 2 continues to have a cover system, and indeed I would say the most fun part of the game for me is ducking from cover to cover and watching your player semi-Parkour around the screen, bobbing and weaving like someone who knows what they’re doing. But I didn’t like having to press spacebar to go into and out of cover. It got in the way. I prefer Mass Effect Andromeda’s automatic cover system.

One other thing I noticed about the sound palette: There was a very muted quality to all of the sound effects, as if you were hearing them all from a long way away. Weirdly enough, the gunfire sounded like it was meant to fade into the background ambient noise, even your own weapon. All of the enemy NPCs yelling back and forth sounded like they were wearing masks, muffling their voices.

This sort of muted soundscape is another trend I’ve noticed in these newer progression shooters. It’s the complete opposite of older games like Call of Duty, where the sounds were overwhelming in their noisiness, rattling your speakers and ear drums and nerves, like real guns and warfare would actually do. I’d be curious to hear a game developer explain the reasoning for these newer sound design changes. The only thing I can figure is they don’t want the game sound to compete too much with streamer’s voices, or, because it’s an MMO, they expect people to play so much that “realistic” gunfire sounds would get on people’s nerves over time and drive them away.

Seeing as it’s yet another new game with nothing particularly new or interesting to offer, a game which should more properly be an expansion for the first game, I don’t see any compelling reason to buy it. If anything, it made me interested to go back and buy The Division 1 at a deep discount. Except unfortunately it, too, is full price right now.

I might have decided to buy it if only there had been more volumetric fog effects turning every black shadow into a light brown muddy smudge. Is fog the "in" feature of 3D graphics in 2019? Because there's a *whole lot* of it in The Division 2.

I actually found myself thinking I would like it a whole lot more as a single-player game. It’s not un-fun to walk around the world and listen to NPCs, and clamber over and around obstacles, and fight with NPCs to back you up. Where I start to get irritated is when I see other players running around in my game world. They don’t add anything to the game, they don’t do anything interesting, there’s no point in interacting with them, they don’t help, they just get in the way and break the immersion. They stand out as outsiders to the game world. They either sprint in straight lines toward endgame like min-maxing speed runners, or they just stand there looking dumb.

Other players especially get in the way here because it’s another “you’re the Chosen One” MMO. You, the player, are apparently the only The Division agent capable of saving Washington, while everyone else sits around waiting for you to act. Yet the game world is filled with a thousand other The Division agents. That narrative problem disappears when you turn it into a single-player game.

In a nutshell, The Division 2 is “okay.” Of the “progression shooters” like Destiny and Anthem, it would probably be my pick. Fun in occasional moments and short bursts, but overall not a must-buy.

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