The Dark Zone was easily the most memorable thing about Tom Clancy's The Division when it launched in 2016. Never knowing whether another squad of agents was going to leave you to enjoy your hard-earned PvE loot or kill you and take it for themselves was a constant source of tension - something no multiplayer game has quite managed to recreate since.
So it's no surprise that Ubisoft Massive is doubling down on the Dark Zone for The Division 2 - or perhaps that should be tripling down, because the game's recreation of Washington D.C comes complete with a trio of Dark Zones in which to betray your fellow agents. These are situated to the East, West and South of the game's map, with each boasting its own layout and associated tactical options.
It's a big change to be sure, but don't take that to mean The Division 2 is tearing up an established take on PvP and starting from scratch. As I discovered during the few hours I spent with the game in Ubisoft Massive's offices in Malmo, The Division 2's multiplayer is very much an exercise in refinement, with most of the big changes taking place under the hood, rather than with the game's mechanics themselves.
One of the biggest changes, for instance, is in stat normalisation. The Division's Dark Zone, as you may remember, pulled in open-world player stats entirely unchanged, making a good gear loadout and character build essential in order to survive against other players. This, somewhat inevitably, led to a 'rich get richer' progression in the Dark Zone that saw a lot of players suffer at the hands of their better equipped opponents. Now, however, base stats are squished on entering the Dark Zone in order to ensure a balance between survivability and lethality that - more or less - puts everyone on a level playing field. The idea, according to game director Matthias Karlson, is to create 'a more inviting, more accessible and more even, fair playing field' that allows more of the player base to dip into an iconic part of the game without having a terrible time.
However, there were of course a number of players who were perfectly happy with the way the Dark Zone was structured; those players will be pleased to hear they aren't being ignored. On a rotating basis, one of the three Dark Zones in The Division 2 will be designated as an 'occupied' Dark Zone - basically meaning that, for however long it's active, it conforms to the original DZ rules. No normalisation, friendly fire is always on - effectively, it's a classic mode for the Dark Zone.
The Division 2 will also boast dedicated PvP modes at launch - Skirmish, Team Deathmatch and Domination will be playable across three different maps at launch, with PvP specific progression and vanity rewards also on offer. I had a go with Skirmish and Domination toward the end of my time with The Division 2, finding it to be a slower paced but still enjoyable multiplayer experience. Personally I don't think Domination is brilliantly suited to a game such as this, wherein cover and lines of sight are so important to the core experience, but all in all the dedicated PvP looks to be in rude health.
I cover off some of the other changes to PvP in The Division 2 in the video above, should you want to see the game in action for yourself and hear how Ubisoft Massive plans to tackle cheats and griefers once the game launches in March.
This article is based on a press trip to Malmo. Ubisoft paid for travel and accommodation.