The Division 2 Review
Thirty-nine hours. That’s how long it took me to complete The Division 2’s, out-of-the-box, main campaign. That’s not including the many, many hours I spent tearing through the Dark Zone, either, or playing the missions, bounties and updated ‘invaded’ missions activated during the endgame. All told, I’m sitting just shy of eighty-odd hours of game time, and I still have an incredible amount of game left in my eager hands. I’ll be damned, Massive and Ubisoft shipped out a complete game at launch.
I almost say this in awe, applauding a developer for releasing what would be standard fare way back when — but we live in different times. Staggered release content and DLC is par for the course (whether that be free or paid) for most games these days, so I profess that I just sort of expect it when I boot up a title in the category of ‘games as a service’ (GaaS) — essentially any shared world multiplayer game these days. So it is no small thing to say that The Division 2 is absolutely, from this day forth, the gold standard we should expect and demand of shared world, GaaS offerings going forward. It is just that good.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about The Division 2 in a previous article, so this is the final verdict. Before putting pen to proverbial paper, I reread my initial thoughts and I have to admit that I feel I was being incredibly hard on it. Maybe it’s a symptom of my growing cynicism with games as a service, or perhaps my purist nature about how different the original Division felt when it was released— but my dismissiveness of the world has been wholeheartedly changed. Washington D.C. is as threatening and vicious as New York in the original, I just hadn’t realised it yet.
As the challenges ramped up, so too did I come to realise how much the changing weather and day/night cycles affected how you fought and behaved in the city. Night time, especially, made for dogged and desperate fights with appalling visibility (very little electricity equals no street lighting), while rainstorms meant for the enemy routinely sneaking up on you due to your inability to hear little to nothing of your surroundings barring the rain and thunder. Fog, too, made for especially unpleasant confrontations. The city of Washington D.C. completely grew on me (Hah! Geddit? Because nature has reclaimed much of the city? No? I’ll see myself out.). Which means to say that should I ever then visit the city in the real world, I would see that Massive has created a near perfect one-to-one representation for The Division 2. There is no doubt that, while wasted on a man who has never set foot on American soil, this drive for authenticity added to the real ‘lived-in’ feel to Washington D.C. during my playthrough.
The enemies you encounter as well have excellent variety which keeps you on your toes. You just cannot keep the same tactics for each faction you face, encouraging you to try out different skill sets and loadouts. I found that shotguns and shields were particularly effective against the military ‘True Sons’, while spray-and-pray like behaviour with assault rifles and gun turrets was of great use against the pyromaniacal ‘Outcasts’. Of course, every player is different, and The Division 2 continues to give you a multitude of tools to suit your individual needs and style from beginning to end. Which is just as well as cover shooters can, if handled badly, feel incredibly dull and repetitive. Not the case here, however, as the dynamic world means that while there does seem to be a conveniently large amount of cover for you to dart around, so too is there a lot of ways for you to be flanked and ganked by an enemy AI that actively, and relentlessly, wants to kill you. Luckily this time around, should you not be battling it out with other agents in the streets, then you will be more than often joined by friendly survivors and patrols (just not in main missions — you fly solo or with other players for those).
The strongholds at the climax of the campaign act as narrative progression, or attempts at giving The Division 2 a narrative at all. Sadly, while you’re very much given a sense the population has been decimated, there’s never really any sense of progression barring the fact that you help make a couple of settlements not exist as slums anymore. Even though you clear out nests of bad guys, they still roam the streets making everyone's day absolutely miserable, and there’s not really much permanence of consequences due to your actions. As such, it can feel occasionally that you’re playing around in a sandbox rather than engaging in a story — and that just doesn’t sit very well given how serious a game The Division 2 is. It’s a superb concept, I just wish that the narrative was a little bit more gutsy in its execution (though it has been confirmed that there are three story-based free DLC offerings heading our way over the year to progress the narrative).
And so we reach the endgame. Once completed, invaded missions came to the fore with a whole new, more vicious, faction called ‘Black Tusk’ coming in and ruining all your hard work. It’s here that the world tier system opens up, and standard levels are replaced by your ‘gear score’ — where the better and stronger loot you have, the higher your score (naturally). It’s also here that you choose a specialisation complete with unique weapons and perks. With three currently to choose from (demolition, sharpshooter and survivalist), each has plenty of flavour for your squad to wreck through your new, very much tougher, enemies. With fifty-two(!) high value targets to eliminate, a slew of missions to redo with new enemy dynamics, as well as even more Dark Zone, it’s fair to say that I’ll be looking at saving Washington D.C. for hundreds of hours yet, which I will do so with great eagerness! The Division 2, despite its mildly forgettable narrative, is just constantly engaging due to its brilliant loot system and superb combat mechanics.
Which is more than I can say for its ‘Conflict’ PVP mode, which is just utterly dull, and given how excellent the PvPvE Dark Zone is, I’m honestly scratching my head as to why it was even included. It offers the same modes as every other PvP mode in every other first- or third-person shooter. I played it for an hour or so, and I haven’t touched it since. It’s perfectly serviceable, it’s just a bit ‘meh’. The Division 2 has much better things going for it.
These things include the aforementioned Dark Zone, which is just as good, if not better, than that of its predecessor. The sense of danger is slightly dulled by the fact that you have to activate ‘Rogue Status’ before gunning down fellow agents, but that does also mean you can’t accidentally shoot someone who is just giving you a hand. Not only that, but each Dark Zone is absolutely huge, and has some real variety zone to zone (once again, utilizing that Washington D.C. geography to excellent effect). Now landmarks and areas of interests are clearly marked for you to empty out and loot with suitably tough baddies occupying them to make it challenging. But, for me, it’s all about the extraction. Calling in a chopper to grab your contaminated gear is so wonderfully tense that there are times where it almost overshadows the main game's set pieces. In between fighting off waves of enemy AI, you’re also keeping watch for rogue agents keen on gunning you down and stealing your new loot off the helicopter winch cable. It can make for some incredibly tense gaming moments, where it can all go horribly wrong in an instant. Or, of course, you can turn the tables on those that wish to bring you harm by shooting them down and then stealing their gear. It can all become very cat-and-mouse, or very much a ‘eat-your-wounded’ sort of scenario. It’s absolutely delightful, and if I were to introduce a new player to The Division 2, the Dark Zone is where I would start them.
The Division 2 is absolutely stuffed with excellent content, and Massive has already dropped more goodies in the form of a new stronghold mission, mere weeks after its release. There are also the upcoming ‘Raid’ missions designed for hefty eight-player cooperative gameplay which have me positively salivating in anticipation for — I’m truly excited to see the over-the-top action and destruction that eight Division agents can bring upon an entrenched foe. Though I’ve said it once already, it bears repeating that both Massive and Ubisoft have clearly learned from their own failings, and the failings of others, when it comes to shared world experiences. The Division 2 finally gives us the experience we deserve.
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