The Division 2 EXCLUSIVE: Yannick Banchereau Interview

We played five hours of Tom Clancy's The Division 2 last week at an event hosted by Ubisoft in San Francisco and in between presentations about the game's open world and end game plans, we interviewed Yannick Banchereau, live content manager at Massive Entertainment.

The Division 2 is a followup to the hit new Ubisoft IP launched in early 2016 and is a single-player or co-op shooter, that also features PvP elements where players step into the combat boots of Federal Agents known as "The Division." The game takes place in an open-world version of Washington, DC after a catastrophic outbreak, that's chock full of linear story and side missions, and other dynamic events, and is played in third-person. It's a looter shooter where players progress and gear up not on their character and character skills, but their base of operations and other settlements. The goal is to help people, and thwart the nefarious plans of rival factions who each have their own unique agendas.

Related: The Division 2's Story Campaign Length Revealed

Banchereau worked on the first Division as well, but on the community side, and as a result has a unique perspective when it comes to better serving players and addressing their feedback. In our interview, we discuss the substantial changes to setting, environments, factions, AI, progression and other improvements The Division 2 aims to bring.

The Division 2 Key Art JPG
The Division 2 Key Art JPG

Screen Rant: Can you tell me about your history with The Division IP? Did you work on the first one as well?

Yannick Banchereau: Yes, I worked on the first game. I joined Massive about one year before we launched The Divis ion 1. I was working as a community developer, so the relationship with the community of players. So, I was here when we launched the game and then, or throughout, the post-launch of The Division 1. And then for Division 2 I transitioned to this new role of live content manager.

So, you got in near the end of the first game. How early on was Massive already started planning The Division 2 when the first one was wrapping up.

Banchereau: I mean we started having some thoughts already right from the moment where we finished the first game. And there were already some people thinking about like, okay, like “If we make a sequel, what, what would it be? Where would we go? What would be the next story we want to do?” And so, it started very small with just a small team starting to already think about what would be a potential sequel. And then, as we made the first game, it became very clear that we needed to do that sequel. So, then this team expanded into eventually more and more people in the production team to eventually a full scope sequel that we have now.

And when did you land on decision to go to Washington with the sequel's setting?

Banchereau: I don't remember the timeline exactly, but I think it's-- Because we explored several cities, we explored several options. I think we knew right, very, very soon, but we wanted to move out of New York. New York was a nice city. It was very good for the narrative and the setting. But in terms of gameplay it didn’t necessarily have all the things we wanted, because it was lacking a bit in varied environments and diversity. So, we explored a bunch of different cities. We looked at New Orleans, we looked at Seattle, all of those, those that potentially had a different nature.

But we constantly came back to the idea of Washington DC. Very quickly, it became a thing because we were like, “If we want to up the scale, if we want to up the stakes, actually, it makes sense to go from New York, which is a symbol, to Washington, which is another symbol.” It's a symbol of the nation, the center of power. This is where everything happens in the USA. So, it's really like, “If we want to up the stakes to be a nationwide issue, Washington makes a lot of sense.” And then exploring the city, we realized that it had everything we wanted, which was very, very different types of environments. This different type of buildings, these very open areas, and these more like enclosed areas. So, it really very quickly became obvious that this was where we wanted to be.

Sure. This one is months after the first one, seven months or so. And you can start to see the overgrowth everywhere. There’s plantation and animals, I saw a dog run by, and eagle take off, etc. Is there a big focus on that regrowth of nature pulling back in?

Banchereau: Yes, absolutely. That was one thing we were also interested with. Which was for us changing the season. Going from the winter and the cold and the snow of the first the game, we wanted to have something. But was like, explore the idea of, “Okay, a few months later what happens once the weather gets better, but the infrastructure does not come back.” So, suddenly summer itself becomes an issue as well. Because, when nature is growing, we have actually a heatwave on Washington DC in the storyline and all that.  And people are not prepared for it. So, we were very interested in looking at, “Okay, what happens if there is no infrastructure, at least taking care of all the natural side of things?” Like the water.  Washington is a city that is by the water. So, if nobody's taking care of all the dams you have and those kinds of things, if nobody's taking care of just the vegetation that is normally in the city, what happens? So, we had a lot of research into that. We talked to a lot of experts and everything to see what would happen. And it was a very exciting thing for us as creators to be able to take that city, and especially with the one to one re-creation of it, at an architectural scale, but then transforming it into this seven months later. Nature is everywhere. But it was a very exciting project.

Given the setting, the base of operations being the White House, will the lore explore what happened to the world leaders or the government during the outbreak?

Banchereau: That's one of the ideas that you would get from Washington, right? But it’s also for us, the idea to up the stakes. As the Division, you are a federal agency, but it’s here to normally only answer to the President of the USA. But with The Division 1, you don't really know what happened to the government. So, this is definitely one of the threads which you are going to be exploring in The Division 2.

You come from the community side, and now you're working the live side. That gives you a unique perspective on what the community feedback is.

Banchereau: Yes.

What are some of the most important things for you, or that you've seen from the community, that you've been able to help address with the sequel?

Banchereau: That's one of the reasons why I'm in the role I am, because of that background. We thought at Massive, it was very interesting to have that perspective for running things at the live level. Someone that actually has this experience of community. And I think what's very interesting, what we've learned a lot with the Division 1 was basically how do we interact with the community. How do we talk to them? And how do we actually understand what it is that they want and what it is that they need? And what's the importance we need to give to their feedback compared to what we want to do with the game? So, we've learned many ways to interact, to listen. And that's something that we're taking with us in the sequel. We are making a sequel, but it’s directly based on all the things that they liked with the first game. All the time when we were doing a post-launch content for the first game, knowing that we were all making a sequel, we would look at community feedback and look at, “Okay, how can we take that feedback and improve things in the first game, but what can we learn from that feedback for the sequel that we're already working on?” So, a lot of things that are done in this game, are direct results of feedback we got from the first one. And I think that's what's very exciting and I'm so very looking forward to when people finally start getting their hands on the Division 2, and tell us what they think about it, and what they want, and then start working on that.

What are you most excited to do in this game that you couldn't do in the first one, outside of the setting being different?

Banchereau: I think there’s a lot of new things we've done. One of the very exciting new things we're bringing is, this very focus on the endgame, that we didn’t have initially with the Division 1. This focus on the endgame is focused on, “How do we create a very smooth transition from the campaign to the endgame? How do we create a new path for progression with the specialization?” I think this is something that's going to completely change the way people approach the endgame compared to the first game. Make it a bit less about the gear grind and more about really developing my play style with many, many more tools. I think this is going to be very different and this is very interesting for us.

I saw some of the different skills and gear loadouts, especially with how mods are handled differently in The Division 2. Are there any major changes to how the progression tree works and things you can unlock and use?

Banchereau: Yeah, the path to progression is very different now. Where is the base of operation? Where are the settlements? As you progress, as you do the campaign, it's not just about -- In the first game you would have your base of operation and everything was done there. And as you progressed in the game, you would upgrade.  Now, we've spread that across the entire world. So, that means you head to settlements and as the settlements progress and upgrade, they send resources and staff to the base of operation [The White House], which in turn helps you progress. It feels like your progression is a bit more connected to the progression of the world. And therefore, in the base of operations and in your character progression, we've really changed the way things work. So, now you, for example, have to unlock skills by spending some currency.  So you have to go out there and get the currency and unlock the skills. And then we've deepened the RPG a lot compared to the first game. We've simplified some aspects of it that we thought had too much complexity that wasn't needed. And therefore, we've added yet more layers of RPG elements that people can really, really dive into if you want to go in that direction.

Can you talk about the factions and how they compare to the first game?

Banchereau: Yeah. So, we have three factions in the game. We have the True Sons, the Outcast and the Hyenas. What we really wanted to do with these factions compared to the first game, is really develop their identity in terms of motivations, in terms of what's their goal. It's not just -- Like in the first game it was just factions, but they really didn’t have a goal. They were just here, and they had potential motivations from backgrounds, but they were not really striving for something. Here, we have factions that actually have a goal. They have a vision of what they think the world should become. And so, they are fighting for that. And then in terms of gameplay, we really wanted to create factions that have different identities in the way they combat and the way they fight against the Agents. So, we really developed the AI in different ways for each one of them. When you encounter them, you’re really going to be approaching combat against the Division in a different way. Some of them would be more like keeping distance, protecting themselves. Others are very aggressive, constantly trying to flank you. So, we really tried to deepen that as much as possible.

When you walk into the city, you can see what you were talking about earlier in the varied environments. There are open areas and and ruins getting enveloped in overgrowth. Are there vehicles or potential for vehicles in this game? Or does the map not cater towards that?

Banchereau: Yeah. No, we are not really a doing-- I mean there are vehicles all in the the city.

Yeah, a bunch of ruined ones [LAUGHS].

Banchereau: No, we are not really exploring vehicles for that game.

In terms of weapon balance, I remember in the first game it changed over time, but the Vector was THE gun to use - everyone needs the Vector. Is there a “go to” power weapon like that in this game?

Banchereau: [LAUGHS] I guess we'll find out when people start playing. They will tell us which one is the--

Okay okay, what is your favorite gun? 

Banchereau: I mean, I love assault rifles, so I always go for an assault rifle. I’m simple like that.

What are you most excited for fans to get their hands on and see in this new game?

Banchereau:  I think the open world and the way the open world functions now, with the living world system, the factions actually behaving depending on their needs with resources, and then struggling, fighting for these resources. That's something that I'm personally very excited about and I think our players will really like because… it can easily be overlooked, but when you start looking at it, when you start playing with it, and using that as a gameplay element, it's so much deeper than the open world we had in the first game. In the first game, it was always like, especially for players, they always felt like it was such a missed opportunity that we didn’t us the open world more, especially in the endgame. You can just fast travel from one mission to the next. You wouldn’t really be exploring the world in the campaign. In this game, the open world is really going to be, in itself, a whole activity that you can do in the endgame and really where most of the things are going to be happening. So they're really going to get the players to spend more time in there. That’s something really exciting.

Thanks for your time, Yannick!

More: Read Our Other Division 2 interview with Creative Director Julian Gerighty

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 releases for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on March 15, 2019.

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