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Read this before buying Tom Clancy's The Division 2

Between Apex Legends, Anthem, Fortnite, Destiny 2, and Warframe, there are a lot of shooters out there vying for your time. If Ubisoft gets its way, you'll ignore all of them. Tom Clancy's The Division 2 hits consoles and PCs on March 15, 2019, and from the looks of things, it's going to keep you busy for a long, long time. Like its predecessor, The Division 2 gives you a post-apocalyptic metropolis to explore, mysteries to solve, civilians to rescue, and loot to collect. So, so much loot.

But The Division 2 isn't a simple retread of what came before. Back in 2016, The Division didn't exactly get off on the right foot. This time, Ubisoft wants to hit the ground running. The studio claims that it's learned from The Division's mistakes (and the improvements that it made, which transformed The Division into a legitimately good game), and it's applied every lesson to the sequel. That means a revamped endgame, more options for customization, a number of quality-of-life improvements, and more.

Whether you're a Division veteran looking to see what's changed or a first-time player who needs to get caught up, here's a quick rundown of everything you need to know about The Division 2 before buying it. Good luck, Agent. We'll see you in the Dark Zone.

The second time's the charm

The Division was full of bugs when it debuted, and players who reached the endgame quickly complained that there wasn't enough to do. Ubisoft heard those complaints, and it's addressing them head-on for the sequel. The Division 2 is "like a second marriage" says David Polfeldt, managing director at The Division 2 developer Massive Entertainment. "The first time you marry, you're probably happy enough just to fall in love," Polfeldt elaborates. The second time around, you know what's in store, and you're better equipped to make it work long-term.

To that end, Massive has analyzed what didn't work about The Division — and what did — and designed the sequel accordingly. The UI is cleaner and less confusing. Instead of focusing on new game modes, post-launch support will be more about content — new missions, new locations, and that sort of thing. The Division 2 will have more endgame content right off the bat so that players who blow through the 40-hour campaign aren't left high and dry. Enemies now go down after a reasonable number of hits, too. At least during the campaign, there won't be a "bullet sponge" to be seen.

Basically, if you were burned by The Division's rocky launch, you still might want to give The Division 2 a look. The series is three years older and its developers are three years wiser, and that might make all of the difference.

Now, where did we leave off?

In the world of The Division, chaos reigns. On Black Friday 2015, terrorists launched a biological attack on the United States by dousing paper money with a modified strain of smallpox, infecting anyone who came into contact with the contaminated cash. The more that people spent, the sicker that everyone got (and they say this game isn't political).

That's where you come in. In The Division, you played as a sleeper agent for the Strategic Homeland Division, who was activated to help keep peace after the so-called "Dollar Flu" struck. It's not an easy job. As the plague spread, New York City descended into chaos. The first wave of Division agents disappeared. Civilians began to loot and riot. Criminals broke out of the prison at Rikers Island and formed gangs. Vigilantes known as Fireflies decided to cleanse the city using flamethrowers. A rogue Division agent named Aaron Keener co-opted a private military contractor called the Last Man Battalion and transformed it into an anti-government army.

By playing The Division's main campaign, you stopped the LMB and brought a measure of peace to New York City. It's not enough. Keener kills Dr. Gordon Amherst, who created the Green Plague in an effort to weed out humanity's weakest links, and steals his research. The good guys have a vaccine in development, but Keener wants to improve the virus and hold the whole country hostage.

In other words? The trouble is just beginning.

Say hello to the nation's capital — or what's left of it

The Division 2 moves the action from Manhattan to Washington, DC, and the shift brings a number of changes with it. While The Division took place in winter, when everything was covered in snow, The Division 2 is set during the bright, humid summer. While New York's streets were narrow, boxed in by towering skyscrapers, The Division 2's map is wide open, giving you a better view of your surroundings — and making it easier for enemy sharpshooters to get a bead on you.

Producer Cristian Pana tells USGamer that Washington, DC was the "only … choice" for The Division 2, and reveals that the new location opened up all kinds of new options for Ubisoft's development team. Where The Division only had two different biomes, The Division 2 will have six. The Division 2 takes place seven months after the Dollar Flu outbreak, so DC isn't in the middle of a breakdown. It's on the slow road to recovery. Nature is starting to reclaim its stake.

Setting The Division 2 in the nation's capital also opens up new story opportunities — as Pana notes, Division HQ is in DC, not New York — and provides plenty of landmarks for players to run across. In fact, The Division 2's map is a one-to-one recreation of real-life Washington. Expect to engage in shootouts around the White House, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, and more.

Showing up late to class

Massive will keep The Division 2 interesting once the main story has wrapped up by waiting until the endgame, which begins when characters hit level 30, to introduce classes (or, in The Division 2 parlance, "specializations"). You'll have three specializations to choose from, and each one will give you unique abilities, as well as a signature weapon that you won't be able to get any other way.

The Survivalist, for example, will wield a crossbow with explosive bolts, and will help with crowd control by deploying traps and status-changing effects. Demolitionists use grenade launchers to disrupt enemy gathering spots, while Sharpshooters have a special .50 caliber sniper rifle and a series of skills that'll make long-range combat a breeze.

Specializations aren't just a way to shake up The Division 2's game loop. They also play an important part in the game's eight-person raids — more on those in a second — by giving everyone a key role to play while facing off against The Division 2's enemy factions. Ubisoft plans to release three more Specializations during The Division 2's first year, too, so if the inital offerings don't hit your buttons, something that's more your style might be on its way.

You make some good (control) points

The Division was about containing a crisis. The Division 2 is about rebuilding after a disaster. In The Division 2, Washington, DC is a mess, but you can rebuild it, which is why the game's map is suddenly more important than ever before.

The first Division game had Safe Houses, or places where you could restock your ammo, respawn after deaths in free roam mode, fill out your map, and manage your stash of weapons. Those are back in The Division 2, but they're just the tip of the iceberg. As you explore Washington, you'll also run across ramshackle "settlements" set up by civilians. At settlements, you can recruit new operatives for your base of operations by performing side-missions and donating supplies, which in turn unlocks new gameplay systems like crafting.

You can also take over enemy territory by conquering Control Points, which then become burgeoning settlements that you need to build up by gathering supplies. Oh, and if you're not careful? The bad guys will roll right in and take their Control Points back. Judging by The Division 2 beta, those will pop up almost as soon as the game begins, but they'll be especially important and challenging during The Division 2's endgame. Buckle up. Rebuilding DC is going to be a big, big job.

Raids kill players dead

Destiny's got 'em. So does World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and Final Fantasy 14. Anthem calls them Strongholds, but they're basically the same thing, and now The Division 2 is getting them too: eight-player raids are coming to The Division, giving you another way to while away your post-campaign hours and earn the game's most powerful weapons.

These missions will be extra tough and will force you and your team to work together very, very closely to tackle both powerful enemies and solve "social puzzles." The raids are also built with the endgame specializations in mind, so you'll need to make sure you have a well-balanced group and that you know your job inside and out.

The Division 2's raids won't be in the game at launch. They're coming later, as part of three separate post-release DLC packs (the exact number of raids in production isn't clear). Ubisoft claims that the idea is to give players a chance to level up and put teams together before dropping them into "the most hardcore activity in endgame," although the extra development time probably won't hurt, either. Ubisoft has yet to announce when this content will hit, although even if you have to wait a while, the price is certainly right …

There's no price better than free

You get more than just The Division 2 with your purchase. According to Ubisoft, you'll also get all three of the first year's add-on episodes totally free when you buy the game. Those DLC packs include the aforementioned raids, as well as extra missions and other fun activities.

Now, there are some caveats. Ubisoft didn't say that all of The Division 2's DLC will be free, just those three expansion episodes. Cosmetic items can be earned through "caches" — think loot boxes — that you'll earn while playing, but you can also buy them directly if you're willing to part with some real life money. If Ubisoft wants to keep The Division 2 rolling after year one — and chances are, it very much does — it might also release premium DLC after the game's first anniversary.

In addition, Ubisoft will sell a Division 2 season pass. Season pass owners can play the expansions' story content a full week before everyone else, will get to try the three new specializations early, will receive cosmetic items that you can't get anywhere else, and will get access to exclusive "bounties and projects." Some of those special missions will explain what happened in Washington before your Division agent rolled into town. If you're deeply invested in The Division 2's lore, the season pass might be worth picking up.

Highway to the Dark Zone

The Dark Zone, a special multiplayer area filled with loot drops and player-versus-player mayhem, was arguably The Division's most exciting feature. In the first game, you'd head into the Dark Zone to gather loot, then fought your way to an extraction point. At the same time, you — and, more importantly, your newly acquired treasures — were fair game for other players, who could "go rogue," kill you, and steal your stuff.

It was very tense and extremely fun, and it's no surprise that the Dark Zone is returning for The Division 2. This isn't the same Dark Zone that you remember, though. The Division 2 actually has three separate Dark Zones. Each individual Dark Zone is smaller and has fewer players, but they're also denser, making for more fulfilling matches. This time, you'll only need to conduct extraction operations for the best loot, too. Lesser items will go straight into your inventory.

Going rogue is a little more complicated now, too. At the early stages, rogue agents will be focused on stealing gear in order to access a special hideout known as the Thieves' Den, which contains exclusive vendors. Killing another player makes the rogue "disavowed," which puts a bounty on their head, while mass-murderers will be the target of sprawling manhunts led by other players and AI enemies.

Ridin' solo

Most of the loot-based shooters out there — Destiny 2, Warframe, and so on — are designed as multiplayer experiences first and foremost. A few practically force you to play with other people (Anthem, we're looking at you). The Division 2 is different. As in the first game, you only encounter other The Division 2 players in special circumstances: when you're at a safe house or your HQ, when you're in the Dark Zone, when you've decided to queue up for one of The Division 2's competitive multiplayer modes, or when you've explicitly decided to form a team or answer a fellow Agent's distress call.

The rest of the time, you'll be prowling Washington's streets solo, aside from the few computer-controlled allies you'll run across on patrol. That's not just a concession that Ubisoft is making to the single-player crowd. The company is actively encouraging people to explore The Division 2 alone, if that's how they prefer to play. Every mission, including post-campaign endgame content, is solo-able.

In fact, from the sound of things, raids are going to be the only piece of content that you absolutely need other people for. So, if the pressures of multiplayer team-ups are too much for you — or if you just hate other people — rest easy. You can still enjoy The Division 2 just fine.

Which Division is right for you?

If you've made it through all of that and decided that you want to give The Division 2 your hard-earned cash, you have one more decision to make: which edition of the game should you buy?

The standard copy of The Division 2 which will set you back $60, and pre-ordering will score you a special shotgun, crafting blueprints, and a "Hazmat 2.0" costume. The Gold Edition, which costs $109, comes with the season pass and lets you into the game three days early. At $120, the Ultimate Edition includes two special weapons, more stash space, a couple of exclusive costumes, and a few emotes. For $130, you can get the GameSpot-exclusive physical Ultimate Edition with a steel case.

If you're looking for toys, the higher-end copies of The Division 2 are for you. The $190 Dark Zone Collector's Edition isn't cheap, but you'll receive a special box, a statue of one of the game's characters, a soundtrack, an art book full of lithographs, and a physical map of Washington, DC for your money. You spend $250 for the Phoenix Shield Collector's Edition, which swaps out the statue for a 1/6 scale action figure and a different box, but be warned: that version is only available on Ubisoft's store.

Buying the Division 2 is an Epic undertaking

Now, you're all set to buy The Division 2. You just need to know where to get it. Well, if you're playing on consoles, we've got some good news: the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One editions of The Division 2 should be available at any regular retailer, as well as digital storefronts.

If you're playing on PC, things are a little trickier. Steam, which is usually the go-to place for PC games, won't carry The Division 2. Instead, the game is going to be exclusive to the Epic Games Store and Ubisoft's own launcher, Uplay. You can still buy The Division 2 from other sources — HumbleBundle has the game for sale, for example, complete with the regular 10% discount for Humble Monthly subscribers — but in order to actually redeem your game code and play the darn thing, you'll need a Uplay account.

Not that skipping Steam seems to be hurting The Division 2's pre-orders at all, of course. Ubisoft reports that The Division 2 pre-orders on the Ubisoft store are six times higher than those for the first game, and that pre-orders of the PC edition specifically are greater as well. Expect The Division 2's servers to be absolutely packed at first, so be patient if you're trying to log in on launch day. You might be waiting a little while before you can get started.

What the critics are saying about the Tom Clancy's The Division 2

The Division 2 is now available to the general public, and players from all over the world are battling their way through the game's overgrown, mostly abandoned Washington, D.C. The big question now is, "How are people liking it so far?"

Many reviews for the game are still ongoing, but below, we've gathered some thoughts from critics who've been playing through The Division 2's campaign and endgame. And we have some good news for you: if you've been hoping that The Division 2 is an improvement over the original, it appears your prayers have been answered.

GameSpot's Edmond Tran (in progress): "'Encouraging' is generally how I feel about The Division 2 at this point in time. It's got a fantastic sense of place and progression, and the combat scenarios and skills continue to be interesting."

IGN's James Duggan (in progress): "Overall, The Division 2's initial leveling progression has been a relatively joyful undertaking. It clears the low bar set for the genre with ease, but it's still not an experience I'd subject myself to in a vacuum, without the promise of a deep and interesting endgame."

USgamer's Mike Williams (in progress): "The Division 2 is a game I want to go back to because it feels good to explore and slowly progress forward. I'm always being rewarded for pushing forward, which should be the basic expectation of any loot shooter."

GamesRadar's Sam Loveridge (in progress): "Character concerns aside, The Division 2 is proving to be quite the epic adventure, jam-packed with the kind of glorious time-sucking content that's made the Destiny series so successful. It sounds stupid, but it's just so fun, which is exactly what you want from a game like this."

Twinfinite's Zhiqing Wan (in progress): "Right off the bat, The Division 2 is already clearly a marked improvement over Ubisoft and Massive's first foray into the looter shooter genre. Developed with the end game in mind (as the developers have claimed multiple times), this game feels like a complete package that promises to offer you at least tens of hours of playtime in just the first few days."

And finally, we encourage you to check out The Washington Post's take on The Division 2. The famous newspaper tasked several of its reporters — actual residents of Washington, D.C. — with playing the game so they could comment on it both generally and in terms of how accurately it depicts our nation's capital. Here's a sample.

The Washington Post's Gene Park: "It's easy to mock Ubisoft's assembly-line approach to creating open-world experiences. But the fact remains that they're incredibly efficient at creating high-tier experiences packed with content. It's hard to say how strong the endgame is, but Tom Clancy's The Division 2 is front-loaded with enough things to do to make it worth a dive right out the gate."