The Division 2: Warlords of New York DLC Review
Gangs of New York
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 launched in the spring of 2019 to wide, if somewhat muted, praise. A cover-based loot shooter with number-crunching RPG elements, the game was notably free of major bugs and gave players a highly-detailed, post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. to explore and shoot their way through. Moving between cover and shooting guns felt smooth and fun, if not completely new. The AI could be challenging and was intelligent enough to lay down suppressing fire and frequently attempt flanking attacks. Difficulty scaled seamlessly whether playing solo or during missions played with higher leveled friends. Frame rates were generally high and smooth, even on PC. All of this was enough to count as a success for a loot ‘em and shoot ‘em up on sale one month after the abortive launch of Bioware’s Anthem.
But the game wasn’t without flaws. The setting — the U.S. capitol in humid summer awash in trash and toxic green fumes — wasn’t quite as gripping as the first Division’s vision of New York’s cold Midtown canyons in falling snow. The story hadn’t improved in the time between games either. Players are members of the Division; government sleeper cells agents activated after a biological chemical attack ravages the country, leading to widespread disorder and the emergence of several independent militias.
As outlandish as it was that your main base of operations was the White House, and as fun as it could be to invade enemy camps around the Lincoln Memorial or in the steel wreckage of Air Force One, it was hard to escape the strange discomfort of playing as the police. And then there were the looting realities of playing a militaristic, Tom Clancy-inspired game with its endless supply of holster and knee-pads, to say nothing of the drab and boring cosmetic options. Baseball caps and wrap around sunglasses, anyone?
It is doubtful that unease about playing as the police, or lack of fashion choices, is what caused The Division 2 player numbers to dwindle in the year since its release. But with the release of the new paid DLC Warlords of New York, Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment have made significant steps towards reinvigorating the game. The changes made should please existing players and go a long way towards drawing in new ones. If you’re looking for a new loot shooter to play regularly, or just something to blast through with friends, Warlords of New York offers an attractively priced entry point to a fun game with a satisfying amount of content.
The expansion brings players back to New York, but sets the action further downtown in the Financial District and Battery Park with the ruins of Brooklyn Bridge visible in the East River. It’s summer and ruined streets of Manhattan look stunning. It’s difficult to think of another game that renders garbage and refuse with such vivid realism. Warlords breaks the new area up into four zones; each with their own gangs to battle, some of which are recognisable from the first game. The plot is that an agent, Aaron Keener, has gone rogue and in order to track him down each of his four lieutenants needs to be found and defeated. The defeat of each lieutenant awards players with a new skill to use in fights, including the popular sticky bomb that detonates on command. Interestingly, players must remain in New York, unable to fly back to D.C., until the DLC’s story missions are completed.
The biggest changes this expansion brings are to the system for upgrading and adjusting the skills and abilities of weapons and gear. The original endgame system in The Division 2, named “gear score,” was frustrating and confusing. Casual players had difficulty understanding what gear score was or figuring out why they should care about it after completing the main missions, while hardcore players, those who enjoy min/maxing and endless farming for higher tier loot, were frustrated by the system for upgrading and tinkering with equipment.
Warlords introduces a new gear system for the entire game and more. As long as you have the DLC, gear score is gone. (It remains for players who do not purchase Warlords.) The highest level a player can reach has been extended from level 30 to level 40 with all focus now on overall damage and defence numbers. More importantly, skill and ability stats for weapons and gear have been vastly streamlined and are now much more intelligible at a glance. While the original gear recalibration system was an anxiety-inducing nightmare with layers of menus and confusing options, Warlords introduces perk and stat libraries, giving players the ability to save the stats they want and to apply them to gear or weapons (once per item).
This is a big change and it means that instead of “rerolling” gear by crafting items in the hope of winning a high, randomised skill number, players can build libraries of useful stats. It’s a good system because applying a new stat or perk to a piece of gear is expensive. The expense incentivises players to go out on missions and collect loot to sell in order to afford their planned upgrades. And while collecting loot they can keep an eye out for higher skill percentages or better perks to add to their libraries.
There are still plenty of menus and numbers to play around with, but on the whole the loot system has been greatly improved and is much easier to understand. Playing through the DLC in about seven hours, I also noticed that the frequency of the loot drops had changed. New backpacks, holsters, knee-pads and weapons were appearing less frequently than in the base game. But when they did appear they were more useful. This too is a welcomed change and cuts down on the amount of time players need to spend in their inventories sorting out which weapons and equipment to keep or scrap.
The enemy AI seems to have been turned up a few notches too. While I was able to play through almost 100% of the base game’s story solo, the foes in Warlords made me sweat. They are more aggressive and even more prone to flanking. I recommend finding a friend to play along with or teaming up with others via random matchmaking, otherwise you could find yourself reloading missions with some regularity.
I did encounter a number of bugs in my play-through (including one that halted progress for a day) but these were quickly patched out and have now been fixed. I personally would have loved to see some improved cosmetic options and an overall increase in cosmetic loot drops but the developers have now added a new option to colour all gear on command. New clothing and accessory options have also been promised in the coming months. The Division 2 is improved by its new DLC and that’s good news.
I recommend Warlords of New York to anyone who enjoys third-person shooters and particularly to those inclined to optimising and perfecting builds and weapon load-outs. It offers a good balance of challenge and reward and it simplifies and corrects some of the confusing excesses of the base game. All I’d like to ask in return for restoring law and order to the streets of Washington D.C. and lower Manhattan are a few new, choice hats.
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