“Fallout 76” was a buggy, listless wasteland and became an industry laughingstock. “Anthem” barely got off the ground. Recent updates to “Red Dead Online” are causing players to lose faith as they’re nickel-and-dimed for dirty clothes and dances.
It’s a dark coincidence that a video game about abandoned and lost communities could be host to millions of adrift gamers, outraged and disappointed by the recent dud parade of massive, open-world online shooters.
In Washington, where the game is set, Ubisoft held a preview event for “The Division 2,” the sequel to the company’s most successfully launched game ever. The public can get its first taste of the game Friday with the launch of the open beta.
Creative Director Julian Gerighty is well aware of the travails of other similar shooters with large, always-online worlds for players to explore, and more importantly, loot for better gear and items. It’s the latest in the “games as a live service,” concept, where developers continue to tweak a launched game with updates, new pieces of content and new ways to stay engaged with the game for hundreds of hours after a player concludes the main story line.
“I can’t speak to any other competitor or title, but making this type of game is incredibly complex,” Gerighty said. “'The Division 1′ wasn’t perfect at launch, but it steadily improved. It’s still not perfect! There are issues in every single live game. We’re trying hard to reduce performance issues, cheating issues.”
But 2017′s “Destiny 2,” by celebrated developer Bungie, somehow forgot the lessons of its bumbled predecessor, which reignited a new cycle of outrage. Instead of bettering a good product, the company is spending much of its post-launch time in a course correction. Will “The Division 2” learn from history’s (very recent) mistakes?
“A hundred percent,” said Gerighty, who was creative director for all live content after “The Division 1” released. The post-launch content was responsible for rescuing the game from losing its audience and eventually grew to become an industry standard for looter shooters. “The live team is the same team. We rolled right on to ‘The Division 2.' The endgame wasn’t something we really focused on. We only delivered the endgame post launch. All of that on ‘The Division 2,' you’re getting on day one.”
On the game’s launch day of March 15 (or March 12 for preorders), it promises a map that’s a 1:1 recreation of a sizable chunk of Washington, D.C., an industry first for any city depicted in a video game. It’s also 20 percent larger than the first game’s depiction of Manhattan. And the game will come right out the box with not one, but three Dark Zones, which are dangerous, endgame areas where players cannot only attack each other, but also house the game’s most valuable gear.
It’s clear Ubisoft sees an opportunity to seize upon in the current market. For “The Division 2,” it’s touting an “endgame-first philosophy.” When the story ends, a new military group called the Black Tusk will be introduced. Soon after the game’s launch, players will get access to a new area on the map — the Tidal Basin region of Washington — and an eight-player raid, a first for the series. Beginning in the summer, the game will add “Outskirts: Expeditions,” which will expand the map further. (Here’s hoping The Washington Post newsroom might make an appearance. Currently it’s just outside the playable map.) For fall, there will be an expansion that involves storming the Pentagon and a yet-to-be-announced third extension.
The Dark Zones element is the most distinctive feature, allowing traditional player vs. game combat while also pitting you against other players. Gerighty said the first game’s Dark Zone was intimidating for newer players, since new gear could only be obtained by “extracting” them out of the area. This time around, the game will have an onboarding process to familiarize players with the mode and the layout of the land, as well as modified checkpoints and extraction points to make it easier to loot without fearing other high-powered players.
“I’m much more of a single-player type of person. I have very limited leisure time so I want to enjoy it on my terms,” Gerighty said, referencing his own concerns about the first game and why they made the change for the new version. “The Dark Zone was a little bit intimidating. At the end of the day you didn’t know how your time was going to be spent. And really, time means loot. If you find this incredible loot and you get ganked right when you try to extract, that doesn’t feel fair.”
Playing the game also feels good. The Post played an hour of the game on an Xbox One X, and it was a stable, smooth experience rendered in 4K resolution. We only scratched the surface of the game. The Old Post Office Building that makes up President Trump’s Washington hotel is certainly there (but not Trump branded). And the game promises to use the city’s vast underground and subway system as another way to explore.
“I’ve been working on live games for 10 years,” Gerighty said, as he pondered how other games may have influenced his design choices, including “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” “If you’re being driven off the beaten path, you’re going to be rewarded for it. That’s something I’m passionate about. If you see a manhole, the underground is always a call to adventure, and there’s always great loot down there.”
After the thrashings of recent games like “The Division 2,” a lot will be riding on whether Gerighty’s preference for the road less traveled is indeed the right path.
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