Ubisoft released “Tom Clancy’s The Division 2” for Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation and Windows PCs. As an agent of the Strategic Homeland Division, you respond to an emergency at the unit’s headquarters in the White House.
Draining the swamp pales in comparison to the problems facing the nation’s capital in new video game “Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.”
The White House is under attack. An enemy force occupies the Lincoln Memorial and a wrecked Air Force One has crashed at the foot of the U.S. Capitol.
Chaos reigns as the result of a pandemic, which has left Washington decimated. In the role of an agent for the Strategic Homeland Division, the player is tasked with protecting the division’s makeshift headquarters at the White House and assisting survivors to improve their ragtag existence.
Among your adversaries are several clusters of enemies seeking to extend the lawlessness set in motion by the virus that killed millions.
“From the very first minutes you play the game, we want to really create urgency,” said Chadi El-Zibaoui, associate creative director. “We want to really hook players on the narrative and get them curious about what is happening in Washington, D.C.”
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“The Division 2,” out Friday, for Microsoft Xbox One, Sony PlayStation 4, and Windows PCs ($60-up, for ages 17-up) is a sequel to the very successful “The Division,” released in March 2016, which attracted 20 million players and has remained playable online.
Players need not have played “The Division” to tackle this new game. The story so far: A virus passed along on U.S. currency during Black Friday decimated the population, first in New York City. As society’s institutions crumbled, a team of sleeper SHD agents were mobilized to maintain order and protect surviving civilians.
As the new game begins, it is seven months later and the player’s character, a division agent still in New York, gets a distress call from Washington. That “can only mean one thing, their headquarters are under attack,” said the game’s creative director Julian Gerighty. “They are hanging by a thread and that means America is hanging by a thread.”
Played from a third-person point of view, you can see your character, so customization is a major part of “The Division 2.” You can choose from an arsenal that includes pistols, machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, turrets and seeking grenades.
A mix of an action game and role-playing game, “The Division 2” gives you multiple ways to play. Your game console or computer must be online, but you can explore solo. The game’s designers recommend you team up with one to three other players for major missions (you can organize your squad or let the game automatically team you up). “The game really sings when you have a good group of players you can rely on,” Gerighty said.
Within the game are three online multiplayer “dark zones” where you can cooperate to fight off players to choose to become rogue agents that betray the division for rewards.
Players can explore a vast photorealistic reproduction of Washington, created using the same geographical mapping data used by Google Maps and Waze. Players will visit famous landmarks including the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian museums and other locales such as Union Station and the Capital One Arena.
Publisher Ubisoft deployed photographers, artists, sound design technicians and game designers throughout the city to create a massive virtual rendition of Washington for the game. Sound designers walked the streets late at night to capture its sound without the daily hustle and bustle. Local musicians were enlisted to make background music for the game.
Seven Ubisoft studios have been involved in the game’s development. And even though Ubisoft’s designers have in the past recreated ancient Rome, French Revolutionary-era Paris and Victorian London in its “Assassin’s Creed” games, as well as Las Vegas and New York in other “Tom Clancy” games, “for the first time in a Ubisoft game, and I think pretty much for the entire industry, we have recreated the city one-to-one,” Gerighty said.
This devastated rendition of Washington “is a character itself,” he said. “Each area has a very strong identity.”
Game creators talked with local police, fire and emergency personnel about how the city would respond and devolve amidst a pandemic. Experts said the National Mall, the historic space that stretches from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, would become a focal point “where you can drop supplies if needed, or you can set up field hospitals,” said Cloé Hammoud, a researcher for Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment studios in Sweden.
“The idea is to have really grounded-in-reality scenarios, and we combine everything to make something plausible,” she said.
A standard version of the game ($59.99) is out Friday, but players who bought the $99 Gold and $199 Ultimate editions of the game have been playing since Tuesday.
An initial objective for players is to make their way to a besieged White House and get their marching orders. Your customized character – they can be a woman or man of any skin color – smoothly moves between hiding places to stealthily take on enemies. Once inside the embattled building, you can upgrade your skills and weapons, then head out on new missions.
“The Division 2” will likely become a blockbuster like its predecessor, says Mat Piscatella, video games industry analyst with The NPD Group. That earlier game was the No. 3 selling game for 2016, behind only “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare” and “Battlefield 1” and the seventh best-selling game to date in the U.S. across PlayStation 4 and Xbox One combined, Piscatella said.
“Early player and reviewer feedback for (the game) seems quite positive, and while it’s not exceeding the Twitch viewership of ‘Fortnite’ or ‘Apex Legends,’ it’s among the top 10,” he said. “So it has everything going for it one would want.”
This new game could have a long life, just as its predecessor did. After players finish the story – estimated to take 40-plus hours – they unlock a new “Endgame” expansion of the game in which earlier foes are stronger and re-entrenched. And a new enemy, a private military group called the Black Tusks, emerges to shift the balance of power.
Coming a few weeks from now: a new mode called Raid in which eight-player squads combat new super-powerful adversaries. And over the next year, Ubisoft will release three additional free episodes that continue the story with new missions in Washington and the surrounding area.
The game’s launch “is just a beginning,” El-Zibaoui said. “The first game has been running live for three years. We have a long term commitment for this one as well. We are already working on what’s next.”
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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