I have the distinct memory of bumping into an NPC in Grand Theft Auto 4. The citizen dropped his smart phone, which he'd been using to take a photo of a building. He groused about my rudeness, and then rather than picking his phone up off the ground, he simply took a second phone from his pocket and resumed taking pictures.
One of the easiest ways to see how deep the simulation of NPCs goes is to interrupt their routines. Someone is walking down the street and you stop them. Do they eventually continue on their way, or do they stroll off in a completely different direction? And where do they go when you follow them? Nowhere? Somewhere? Do they travel aimlessly in circles or do they actually have a starting point and an end point?
While playing The Division 2 beta over the weekend, I ran into some NPCs who were heading out to gather food (according to the omniscient readout on my UI). Having spent a lot of time in my gaming life following NPCs around, my expectations weren't high that these settlers were really going to gather good. I figured they'd just wander through the streets randomly until they got into combat or circled back.
I'm happy to say I was completely wrong.
I followed the group of four foodies for a couple of minutes. They were very polite, noticing my presence, giving me a thumbs-up, even saying confidence-boosting things like that they had a better chance of succeeding with my protection. That's nice and all, but I was still doubtful they had an actual mission. After tailing them for a few blocks, I was preparing to give them a little emote wave and go do something else, but just then they turned off the street and approached a building.
A few drew weapons. One took cover. Another sat down for a brief rest. They seemed cautious about entering, so I ran on ahead and checked it out. Through the doors was a courtyard, and it did indeed have some food supplies in it. And, to my surprise and pleasure, this little group of food gatherers actually started gathering food.
After a couple minutes, they left the building, one of them carrying the box of vegetables (along with several ounces of my newfound respect) they'd collected.
To my mind, though, the real test was what would happen if their routine was interrupted. And on the way back, we ran into a few members of an enemy faction. Gunfire erupted, grenades were thrown, and the settlers dropped their box of food, took cover, and pulled out guns. We fought and killed the enemies, and then I ran back to where the box of food was, fully expecting it to just be left there.
Again, I was wrong! Yes, it's done a bit awkwardly, as two scavengers clip through each other, but one does actually pick up the food and even yells "Hold up! I'm coming!" to the others who have already begun walking back to the settlement.
As for what happens when they make it back to the base, well, I wasn't exactly included in the mission debriefing. One of them shouts in victory, and the gate opens for me, but the NPCs have their own special door that only they can enter.
It's cool, though. Good work all around. I've got other things to do anyway. I can't just hang out with food collectors all day! I'm an important Division agent, after all. You guys... you guys have fun in your secret food room. Without me.
Regardless of my hurt feelings, I'm extremely happy The Division 2's NPCs actually do stuff. After this food mission, I also escorted a few groups to different areas on missions to collect water and crafting components. I even discovered you can help, and while they're gathering you can contribute resources if you have some in their inventory. It speeds up their collection time, you gain some XP with each donation, and they even thank you.
Yes, in the clip above, you can hear another Division agent requesting backup, probably because he's being shot to death on some mission, but I'm much more interested in helping this lady gather potatoes.
I hope there's even more of this when The Division 2 is released. After completing a project to help the settlement form a hunting party, I'd hoped to see some groups going out to shoot at the deer you'll sometimes see running around in the streets (or maybe they'll hunt raccoons or dogs—I'm not sure how desperate they are). I never saw any hunters wandering around Washington DC in the beta, but maybe I will when the full game arrives on March 15.