First Impressions — The Division 2 'Next-Gen' Console Update

February 18, 2021
Also on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
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The Division 2’s latest update, Patch 12.1, launched earlier this week and, unlike most patches for a live-service shooter, there’s a little more to this one than a few bug fixes. Also known as the ‘next-gen’ update to its friends, Patch 12.1 brings with it an additional boost to us Agents playing on new consoles.

Players on Xbox Series X, Series S and PlayStation 5 (which is where I’m playing) now get to experience the Washington wasteland at 60fps in dynamic 4K resolution — which is what we like to see. Taking advantage of the new hardware to offer an upgrade on the already backwards compatible game is a great move and had me even more excited to jump back into a game that is easily nestled around the top of my most played games list over the past eighteen months.

But how much difference could it make? As it happens, quite a bit. The torn-up streets and dingy interiors of Washington DC have become so familiar to me, but this patch has brought a new level of vibrancy and subtle level of detail to them, making these already thoroughly developed areas look better than ever before. It’s easier to get immersed in the world now too. I noticed a significant drop in texture pop-in during my most recent few hours with the game — something that had always dragged me out previously. However, alongside these additions, there are also a few things missing — at least on PlayStation 5. 

As expertly broken down by Digital Foundry, the PlayStation 5 patch seems to have stripped out any and all of the volumetric lighting effects in the game with fog and interior dust details completely absent. I’ll admit, having taken an extended time away from the game I didn’t notice this first time around. Per Digital Foundry once again, there is also a significant difference in the way reflections are handled on PlayStation 5 as opposed to Series X. In short, Sony’s console just doesn’t cut it. Of course, I confirmed this for myself and it really doesn’t look good. In motion and when playing online with friends it’s likely to go unnoticed, but this also didn’t need putting under a microscope to spot. 

The PlayStation 5’s visuals are just not up to scratch, not just in comparison to the Xbox Series X but also to the PlayStation 4 version. The features that are missing here were both present in the previous generation, so hopefully we see them return in another update soon. And as we’ve seen from games like Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla — two Ubisoft games that look fantastic on Sony’s new console — this really doesn’t have to be the case.

Thankfully, The Division 2 doesn’t suffer in the performance department. Now, could this be due to the unfortunate absence of the above effects? Quite possibly. However, at 60 frames per second, naturally, the gameplay feels smoother. The core mechanic of moving into cover and taking down enemies feels better than ever. And, as someone who doesn’t always notice these things, the difference is stark. At no point did I notice any drops or feel like the game was playing poorly, even in large combat situations playing with three other players. 

Another significant upgrade to the game, albeit not one highlighted in the 12.1 patch notes, is significantly superior loading times (over and above the benefit of the PS5's SSD). This applied to both the initial load into the game, loading when respawning and also loading during fast travel. All of these are much quicker. There’s still a little time to check Twitter whilst you wait, but I experienced none of the agonisingly long loads that I had previously. Similarly, navigating menus also seemed a touch smoother. Considering The Division 2 can be very menu heavy, especially for new (or returning, players) this was also a bonus.

I’m not going to go as far as to say that Patch 12.1 makes The Division 2 feel like a whole new game. After all, on PlayStation 5 right now it’s absolutely not. However, the performance boost alone has given this lapsed Agent even more impetus to squad up with friends — shout out to the Worst Fireteam Ever — and dive back into the world of The Division again on a regular basis. 

Playing The Division 2 in the midst of a pandemic and a swathe of political unrest is interesting to say the least, but diving into this game even casually, playing once or twice a week with friends, was a saving grace at the beginning of 2020. I’m excited that I get to continue that in 2021 with the game feeling fresh, plus there’s all of that Warlords of New York content that I never got stuck into.

For more on The Division 2 you can read our full review of the game from its release in 2019 here.

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Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.