Online service games are a marathon. It's not just about the launch; it's about feeding a hungry community and providing enough content to keep players happy. Six months ago, Ubisoft Massive and its partner studios launched The Division 2, a second shot at its online third-person shooter RPG concept. The Division 2 stumbled after launch, with players pointing to problems with loot, crafting, and PvP balance. One of the The Division's biggest YouTube creators, Macrostyle, actually stopped coverage on the sequel a few months ago due to these issues.
We're now six months into The Division 2's lifespan, with Ubisoft preparing to launch Title Update 6 and the second episode of new story-based content. USgamer spoke with live content manager Yannick Banchereau about how the studio has navigated these past few months and where players can expect the game to head in the future.
When The Division 2 was released, players who had achieved the maximum level were able to choose from three specializations that added a signature weapon and unique skill tree: Sharpshooter, Survivalist, and Demolitionist. Back in June, Ubisoft Massive added a fourth specialization to the mix, Gunner, which allowed players to run-and-gun away from cover wielding a heavy minigun. Balance-wise, the studio worked hard to make sure the Gunner didn't become "the go-to option."
At the time of Gunner's release, Ubisoft also revamped the skill trees for the previous specializations, making it so that all weapon types would benefit from the skill tree. Ubisoft has committed to more specializations in the future, but it doesn't look like every addition will come with a complete revamp of the existing choices.
"That was a one-time tweak, because we really wanted to make sure that specializations would not limit you in the choices of the rest of your build," Banchereau tells me. "At the moment, we are not looking at anything as drastic as that. Of course, as soon as a new specialization comes in, we want to make sure that all of them are viable options. There might be some smaller tweaks that we want to do here or there to make sure that all specializations are equally interesting."
Loot and Inventory
One continuous problem in The Division 2 is a familiar one for a lot of live service games: the ongoing flow of loot and subsequent inventory management. Loot is the carrot that keeps players playing, but maximizing your effort in The Division 2 has sometimes been too complex for neophytes and is too grindy for veterans. In addition, avid players of the game tend to point to the inventory size as a problem, noting that their inventory and stash space is usually full.
Title Update 6 aims to fix some of these issues, increasing the stash space to 300 and allowing players to target specific loot in certain locations around Washington, D.C. Ubisoft is looking into inventory increases as well, but the change isn't as easy as just changing a number on a server somewhere.
"That is actually something that we are looking at. We haven't confirmed it yet, because we are still assessing, but that is something we would like to do," says Banchereau, in response to a question about increasing inventory space. "There's a lot of elements that come into play with storage space. There's a lot of technical elements: Database size, traffic, bandwidth, and all of that. We want to make sure that we're not creating a bad experience for the players because their character files are too heavy."
He also acknowledged that "inventory space is usually more of a symptom than actually being an issue," and Ubisoft is looking into why players are hoarding so much gear. Obviously there's a reason the players feel they need to keep all that gear, and that problem could be fixed with other changes outside of simply increasing the inventory.
Of course, part of the reason players hold onto so much gear is trying to supply different builds, with multiple specializations and different gear sets for each task. Players having multiple builds is something Ubisoft prefers and Title Update 6 will actually make it easier for non-raiding players to access raid-level gear sets, though chest pieces and backpacks will remain exclusive to raiders. In a recent State of the Game recap, Ubisoft noted that the changes would "allow players to come up with new builds, but also ensure that current builds will still be viable." Banchereau concurs that the gear set changes allow for more flexibility and makes it easier for players to obtain new gear.
"Our thinking was that—especially this raid—it's been here long enough that people who have learned to beat it already have those gear sets. So now is the time to start making those gear sets available to the general population. We want to make sure that there is still an advantage to playing the raid. You'll be able to build your gear set, but if your want to build it [in] the most optimized and efficient way possible, you might want to play the raid," he says.
Ubisoft wants the general populace to be able to be a part of the community in The Division 2. Banchereau acknowledges that making it easier to get the gear you want might make a player too satisfied with their progress, thus making them leave The Division 2 behind. But he sees that satisfaction as a key part of the experience. "Our idea is more that if we simplify it, make it a bit more accessible, yes they might complete their builds faster, but therefore the experience is going to be much more fun. Once they complete that build, they might want to try to create another build."
One mechanic that won't be changing with the upcoming title update is Gear Score. Players in The Division 2 are currently capped at Gear Score 500, and Ubisoft doesn't want to raise that limit just yet.
"It's not something that is off the table, but it's not something we're looking at in the short term," says Banchereau. "We're making a lot of changes with Title Update 6 to gear. We're making a lot of changes to Gear Score 500. We want to see how that plays out. We want to see what kind of new builds people are going to put together. Once we have that formula that we're happy with, then maybe we might want to consider increasing gear score. But at the moment, we're really about trying to have as healthy a gear score 500 as possible."
The centerpiece of an MMO usually comes down to the mountain that veteran players give their all to summit: the raids. The Division 2 currently has a single raid, Operation Dark Hours, which launched back in May. One of the early issues with the raid came down to PC players being able to easily complete the raid, while console players were struggling because they lacked the same precision in terms of control. Banchereau said that issue taught the studio how to create raids that both pools of players can complete.
"That's something that we want to be very mindful of. We don't want to end up in a world where we have to balance the game differently for platforms. What we're looking at moving forward with the raid is to make sure that the challenges we're placing you against are not purely based on your accuracy and ability to quickly shoot down things," he says. "The first raid was a real opportunity for us to learn how all players would interact with this kind of content. The PC vs. console part was very interesting, and something that we are putting at the center of the discussion moving forward."
Instead, Ubisoft Massive wants raids to be focused more around teamplay, complex puzzles, and other mechanics that don't rely purely on reflexes. Future raids will likely be built with this concept in mind, even if we don't know when these future raids are going to launch. The first game received several Incursions, which were its closest things to a raid. The first three Incursions came within a month of each other, while the final Incursion came eleven months after launch.
In contrast, the first raid for The Division 2 came two months out from launch, and the second is scheduled in a blanket autumn release window. There's no indication that Ubisoft will find a consistent release schedule for the raids. Ubisoft has yet to commit to any release schedule for The Division 2's raids, and Banchereau says they'll be released when the studio is happy with it.
"When it comes to a raid, what's very important to us is the quality. The quality of the challenge that we're pitting the players against," he says. "We want to make sure that any new raid would come because it makes sense and it really is a challenge that we're happy to pit against our players. So, it's really about creating it, polishing it, making it as good as possible, and then that comes out whenever it's at a level of quality that we want it to be. We're not really thinking about deadlines or specific windows when it comes to raids."
Prior to the full release of the upcoming episode and title update, Ubisoft will be testing the content on The Division 2's Public Test Server. One change in this round of the PTS is the lack of story content; Ubisoft says it doesn't want to spoil the story by testing it. Banchereau believes that there's no reason to worry Episode 2's story content, because Episode 1 taught the studio so much.
"With Episode 1, it was the first time we released new narrative content. It was very important for us to test it from a technical standpoint. We were very confident in the quality of the missions, but the technicality of it, like having players use the helicopter to load the new mission, that was the part that we really wanted to test," he explains. "We have it and it works with Episode 1. We are much more confident with Episode 2 and therefore we think that it's not worth spoiling the story to test something that now we know works."
The Division 2 is only at the six month mark, but Ubisoft Massive is drawing on its experience with the first game to improve this one. It took two years until The Division reached update 1.8, which is considered by many to be that game's turning point for the better. Contrarily, The Division 2's start was much better, and it has the potential to hit its stride much quicker.
Right now, The Division 2 needs more work to satisfy casual players and the hardcore alike. Banchereau admits that Massive faltered in catering to both groups in the early days of the first Division, but today feels that The Division 2 is in a better place.
"We've been a bit guilty with The Division pre-1.4 of balancing the game only for the very hardcore players and making sure that the game remains challenging for them. When you do that, what happens is the game becomes way too hard for the rest of the playerbase," he says. "We are much more careful about that now. We are trying to create a world where the game is balanced for both. Where players that are not so hardcore can choose the difficulty they want to expose themselves to. There are still challenges for the hardcore players. That's why we have things like the raid, heroic missions. And we are looking at ways to challenge those players, but at the end of the day, it's very important for us to make sure that it's a fun and enjoyable experience for as many players as possible."