Review – Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
After the unnecessary backsteps of Destiny 2’s launch, and the complete fire show that was Anthem’s, the bar for Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was not exactly set too high. Fortunately, this did not stop Ubisoft from raising that bar for everyone else. Unlike Bungie, Ubisoft used its road map and updates from The Division as a necessary blueprint for its sequel.
Please don’t get me wrong. It is still an “As a Service” game that would benefit much more from continuous updates. A sequel, by definition, starts you from zero and forces its player base to grind through Pre-Endgame content again, working to max out your level. But you play what a game is, not what it isn’t, and this may not be an altogether bad thing for The Division 2. While jumping in felt like I was home, there were many things I had to relearn or I had to retrain previous ways of Division thinking. Plus, the grind oddly didn’t feel like much of a grind.
As I have said, none of these games truly start until their Endgame. Once you have beaten the main boss and/or mission, and hopefully reached level 30, this is where these games tend to open up. But regardless, the first 29 levels still need to be worth playing. And surprisingly, The Division 2 never feels like it is wasting your time in its early levels. Loot is plentiful and missions are always nearby.
Gone is the New York setting and its endless snowy streets of businesses and buildings. Instead, you have a warm and lush Washington D.C. with its instantly recognizable landmarks and monuments. The Division was a barren and ruthless landscape, and the focus was simply on surviving. Now you have active settlements that are focused on living. The difference may be subtle, but it is welcome. Many times I have come across shoot-outs in the streets, sometimes it’s gang member versus other gang members, and other times it’s settlement members that are fighting back. I felt an immediate pull to intervene rather than run past to my objective.
The Story of Division 2 takes place 7 months after New York and the events of the Dollar Flu. While defending a civilian settlement, the SHD Network goes down and a distress broadcast is shot out to all agents to head to Washington D.C. Chaos caused by the virus has led to gang attacks on the White House, the National Mall, and other national landmarks. With supply lines being cut off, civilians formed their own settlement territories. The criminals did the same, forming factions like the Hyena’s, Outcasts, and True Son’s, bent on raiding communities for supplies and control. Each with their own backstory and character classes.
Just like The Division, the game starts with a pre-intro section that quickly shows you minimal mechanics. This gets you moving, climbing up, jumping down, shooting, finding cover, and reviving. After this and a cut-scene, your intro gameplay starts. Using what you learned, you quickly fight your way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Your new base of operations, and the start of the actual game.
From here, you are now able to unlock your Skills and your Perks. Skills are your standard Turrets and Seeker Mines that you know so well, but throw in a couple new ideas like Drones and Chem Launchers. Perks, on the other hand, are RPG updates that you can give your agent: Extra storage in your backpacks, extra grenades, extra med packs, etc. Your first Perk is required, allowing you to carry an additional weapon like we are used to. From there, you can upgrade any Perk you wish if your requirements are met. Well before level 30 you will have all available perks unlocked, and upon reaching 30, you will have more than enough SHD Tech to unlock the rest.
All this leads us into the actual missions in The Division 2. After unlocking your Base of Operations, the map opens, and you see the layout of the sections and how DC is split up. The first mission you are given is to make your way to a Settlement; Settlements are mini bases of operations. Performing projects for each settlement will unlock a better quality of life, but more importantly, it will unlock people to employ at your Base of Operations. This gives you access to more and more functionality like crafting, bounties, shooting range, running the Dark Zone, etc.
After unlocking your first Settlement, you are given your first main mission. These are just that: main missions required for advancing the story. Missions that you can go back to and play at any time on harder difficulty settings. In addition to these main missions, you also have side missions. Side missions are quicker and easier and can be accomplished playing solo. Other than being story required, the major difference in the side missions and the main missions is that side missions can not be replayed once they are accomplished. Also, while a main mission gives you a static amount of experience based on the difficulty you choose, side missions are worth a percentage of your level. This is good to keep in mind when playing early on. Knock out as many main missions as you can that your level allows. Then save those side missions for when you need an experience boost.
Beyond the main and side missions, each section also has two or three Control Points. These are specific area’s that are currently controlled by enemy gang members. You need to get within the control point and then shoot up a flare to signal nearby AI freedom fighters to assist you in clearing multiple waves of enemies until a boss shows up. Clearing this boss not only unlocks a supply room that grants you very good loot, it also unlocks the cleared control point as a much-needed fast travel location. Add in bounties, public executions, territory wars, broadcasts, SHD tech, and the world of Division 2 is constantly alive with missions to take on.
Ubisoft spent a lot of time trying to tweak and polish the Dark Zone in Division, and their efforts show in Division 2. Rather than a single Dark Zone that any and everyone has the same dominion or fear of, Division 2 has three separate Dark Zones. Two of them being a bit more restrictive while the third is the same Wild West that hard core agents and streamers know and love.
By “more restrictive”, I mean that they attempt to make it more appealing for agents to experience the Dark Zone. And honestly, it works. You now can’t go rogue unless you intend to. Either by stealing from loot crates, cutting down other agents contaminated gear, or by activating kiosks found through the area. Once you do go rogue, you can be shot at by anyone and your timer starts. Until then, you are unable to open fire on any non-rogue agents. Continuing rogue activity not only increases the time left, but also further triangulates the coordinates of a Rogues Den. A place that gives you access to DZ merchants and completely wipes your rogue timer with a clean slate.
Non-contaminated gear also drops while in the DZ. The lack of this was a big problem in Division 1. You could spend a night in the DZ and literally come out with nothing to show for it. The better gear still must be taken to an evacuation point, but at least you have something to show now for a rough night. Your weapons are also all equal, minus whatever mods you have on. But if an SMG does X DPS for one person, it does X DPS for another. The playing field is evened, and you don’t have to worry about the hardcore players that are already max power level and have all named equipment.
For the hardcore PVP’ers, the third Dark Zone area is still the same lawless old west that you remember. Walking in those gates is confirmation that you accept being gunned down by any and everyone. You can open fire on anyone at any time. The weapons are not standardized. It is the DZ that you know and love. Or hate.
Another benefit of three separate Dark Zones are the smaller size. Nothing feels too far away if you want to make that trek, for good or for ill. That keeps things moving if you prefer the PVE part of things but also keeps you fully aware that the occasional PVP’er is also just as nearby.
Once you hit level 30 and make your way through the final mission at the Capital Building, The Division 2 takes a slight spin to introduce your endgame. Enter: The Black Tusks. As you are celebrating your victory, a private security contractor, Black Tusk’s, invade the city. Many of the D.C. landmarks you just spent liberating are once again seized and under Black Tusk control.
This is a nice way to reset the chess board without wiping all the pieces from the table and starting new. A soft-boot of the story to enter the endgame and to refocus your expectations. Like all standard “shared world shooters”, you are no longer playing to level up your character but to power him up. Gear now will give you a power level; power level allows you to access events and missions. Completion of events and missions allowing you to access the next World Tier which grants you better gear. Repeating the process as needed to play through the events and stories of the Year One content that drops.
Division has always been as deep an RPG as you want it to be, and Division 2 lets you go even deeper. If you want to play level 1-30 and dip your toes in the endgame, you can absolutely do this. But if you want to dive into the RPG mechanics of your agent, it is surprisingly deep and customizable. Divisions 2’s endgame gives your agent the chance to further distinguish himself with a specialization. Starting with three specializations: Demolitionist, Sharp Shooter, and Survivalist, with more to be added later. These specializations allow you to further tweak the RPG element of your agent. It also gives you access to a specialized weapon: A grenade launcher, a cross bow, or a powerful sniper rifle.
Solo or Squad
Like any shared world loot shooter, The Division 2 is at its best when you are playing with a squad of friends. Nothing is better than organically making your way through the streets and seeing D.C for the first time with your friends. Than being called over to loot chests or joining your friends already in a firefight. Coming across a bounty and having to fight to keep yourself and your friends alive. Playing with your friends is the way The Division 2 is meant to truly be played. But it is far from the only way.
The Division 2 is very accessible as a solo player too. Sometimes, you get tired of waiting 15 minutes while your friend looks through his gear for the best possible combination or has to empty his backpack. Having to ask, “Is Dan still awake?” five times during a mission. Sometimes playing solo is the best option for a player and The Division 2 allows you to pretty much play the entire game solo. And not just experience the game but to really have fun playing it.
I had no problem playing anything other than a main mission on solo. Not to mean I didn’t die and it wasn’t difficult at times, but it was never overbearingly difficult and it even felt extremely satisfying when I figured out a way to handle the rushes with very little cover. Resetting your perks and skills would always help when going from solo or group play. But if you ever did find yourself in a situation you couldn’t handle, you can always put out an alert for some help. Although your success with this is random at best.
Joining a group for a main missions is very simple. And unlike help requests, mission requests are answered fairly often. Most times, I am given the chance to join a group in need within a matter of seconds. Occasionally, I would have to broadcast my request and then start the mission solo and eventually my squad would fill before I get too far. But don’t expect talking or taking time to wander around the missions looking at things. When players do this, they do so to complete the mission, disband, and repeat. Allowing you to go right back on your merry solo way.
Graphics and Sound
Ubisoft’s Snow Drop Engine makes The Division 2 simply gorgeous to look at. There’s just the occasional bug and some texture pops. At one point, I noticed a completely white area beyond an overhang. I walked in and suddenly the textures popped in, but it was now completely blank white outside the overhang. Playing with friends, some would complain that the lag was too intense to continue playing. And the one major bug I personally ran across was having two of my friends be unable to move, other than rotating and shooting. They both had to completely log out of the game and log back in.
The sound departmetn is fantastic, but early on there were some oddities with the guns and how they sounded when firing. Voice acting is very good, as is the delivery of lines. I never cringed at any of the lines, thankfully enough. It was fairly immersive and pulled me in to specific characters and missions. Running through an indoor rainforest, enemies shouting out orders or charging in, the main boss over the intercom, can be a visual and audible wonder. Charging the final mission point with grenades going off all around you is fantastic.
If I would have wanted anything, it would have been more of an audible focus on some of the wildlife. While I visually saw a much greater attempt at there being increased wildlife in Division 2, it would have been cool to hear it. A flock of birds in the morning, or a howl of dogs at night. But if I am being honest, none of us are playing this game for its Disney moments. Just with the insane focus on the visual immersion and its instantly recognizable buildings and national monuments, having that same immersion with the sound of the world having life could have been something truly special.
Enemies in Division 2 are much more learned and versatile. They will adapt to how you are playing and actually try to flank rather than simply charge forward. But when they do charge forward, they do so with a purpose to close the gap before you are ready with a new magazine. The use of automated machines like turrets, flying drones and walking drones make it that much tougher when swarmed by multiple rushes.
Different factions bring in different mechanics. Some may rush in while others use devices. Some may send flame throwers in your direction while others stop you with chem-launchers. Your play style never really changes all that much but it is nice to get a variety of enemies and what to look for.
The use of armor makes everything in The Division 2 feel much less bullet spongy than the original game did, and that includes yourself. Taking down an enemy’s armor may take some time if you don’t aim at weak spots, but their health fades fast after breaking it, as does your own. I have fallen fast by being overwhelmed by too many lower level enemies, thinking I can simply walk out and roll/shoot my way out like Rambo.
The overall story, however, is just ok. I can’t really say it got me invested in any sort of way. After playing, someone could have made up everything that I just played through and I probably would believe them. However, the endgame does bring about some twists and turns, which is nice. I like that reaching level 30 just gets you half the story.
I do wish that Division 2 adopted some quality of life applications. Any looter-shooter that subjects you to a finite number of items you can carry really needs a way to manage this when not on your system. Spending an hour to empty your backpack and your storage before you start a session can be frustrating, even more-so in a game like Division 2, where you can have multiple of the same weapons giving you totally different perks and results. Also, having a “postmaster” to grab those unreachable items would have been invaluable. More than once, I killed a boss in a way that has made retrieving the drop impossible. It would have also helped against bugs that either cause a person to leave the group or to have to exit and re-enter.
The Division 2 does an excellent job of making it feel like home, and for people that truly enjoy the RPG mechanics and how deep they can go, it also feels surprisingly fresh. Ubisoft spent years tweaking and polishing The Division’s formula, and they took everything that they learned and improved upon them in a way that moves the game forward. A “shared world shooter” may not be your thing, but The Division 2 is clearly the most complete and proficient of the bunch. That bar may not have been high, but it is now.
Snow Drop is a beautiful engine that makes the 1:1 world of Washington D.C. stunning and vibrant.
Enemies are much more learned and versatile. Employing flank moves and charging when appropriate.
Strong Tom Clancy movie like narrative. Strong supporting cast of characters, both friends and enemies.
The Division 2 can be as deep as you want it to be, and if you are willing to jump in the deep end, the fun is very rewarding.
Final Verdict: 9.0
The Division 2 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of The Division 2 was provided by the publisher.