When I first saw The Division 2 I was concerned about a number of things. Despite enjoying the first game, I felt like the setting of New York in winter was a cornerstone in establishing an environment that helped tell the story. I was also hoping that it could diversify itself from the original game by offering more skills and abilities to keep the game interesting as it got toward the end, where the original started feeling a bit monotonous. Massive Entertainment clearly saw these issues as well as some others and took some interesting steps to try to address them.
Washington D(ump) C(ity)
The first thing I noticed walking out onto the wide streets of Washington D.C. was that there was a TON of trash incorporated into the design. Perhaps in an aesthetic choice or maybe to highlight how different cities were affected in different ways by the virus of the series, the garbage is much more prominent than in the original. It’s actually used in some ways to provide more realistic barriers to going certain directions in the on the map, which is more visually appealing than a random wall or invisible wall. It even serves as a device to hide the copious amount of loot in the game which itself is already fairly well hidden in small boxes and luggage cases throughout the world.
Outside of the trash, D.C. itself seems to very well represented. The design of the major monuments are the obvious focal point and they are used even better than they were in Division 1. The White House turns into your central base of operations and areas in and around it become home to a makeshift military operation while still clinging to the formality of its original design. The United States Capitol has been taken over by a paramilitary organization that turns it into a stronghold that functions as part of the end game content. Everything in between is either a base of operations for a nefarious group or a looted and dilapidated husk of its former glory.
The use of flora and fauna spreading throughout the city streets and mixing in with the garbage makes the city feel like its already long gone. Even more than the first Division, the creation of a vast city with so much detail almost seems wasted in how often you’re running through it from A to B blasting away at every enemy you encounter.
All of the Shooting and All of the Looting
One certainty is that you will be blasting away at a seemingly ridiculous amount of enemies. Toward the end game, so many waves of bad guys come after you in the missions and word events that you can be pulled out of the game wondering what justification there is for this many people all wanting you dead. I suppose it is a product of a Massive’s desire to move away from ‘bullet sponges’ and keep the game flowing. They throw a variety of enemies at you that fall into four main categories:
- Closers – melee, shotgun, and suicide bombers
- Grunts – mid range enemies that usually work to suppress and grenade you
- Snipers – who snipe
- Heavily Armored Guys – which are the ones that usually function as bosses and can wield a variety of weapons
As you progress in the game, the different factions will have different versions of each of these. Some may have some of the very same tools you use like chemical guns, auto turrets, and radio controlled bomb-trucks that function as a proxy for your fancy self-propelled grenade. These all work to make every encounter unique. It helps a game that leans very heavily on the combat mechanics to feel fresh even dozens of hours in.
One of the elements that changed in the combat from the original is the armor system. The first Division had armor on enemies and of course, you wore “armor”, but it was just a modifier to your health value. Now in addition to health, you and many enemies have a physical armor element. Enemy’s armor may only cover part of their bodies supplying advantageous areas to shoot (along with normal weak points like explosives). This means that unarmored enemies can usually be dispatched with only a handful of hits. It effectively still makes many enemies ‘bullet sponges’ but it uses it in a context that makes logical sense and can be circumvented. Heavily armored tank enemies sometimes take multiple magazines just to break one piece of armor off, and then that area is the only unarmored area to do health damage and take them down.
Once you have dug through this dense layer of combat mechanics, the loot system takes over the gameplay almost entirely. There were portions of the game where I was actually getting annoyed running from crate to crate looting items. Granted, many of the items are resources to supply outposts (netting XP and some buffs as well as finishing projects) but many are pieces of equipment to pile into your inventory. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if it was a little easier to determine exactly what you need and get the rest out of your inventory quickly, but the system takes quite a bit of practice even to be serviceable. Especially in the late game when a couple missions can net you 50+ items to sort through and you’re left to determine what is useful and whether to deconstruct or sell the rest for several minutes.
Missions and End Game
Games of this nature live and die by what how well they hold up in the long term. My 30 hours in Division 2 felt solid all the way through even with some hiccups and general confusion where the game doesn’t inform you well. What was most disappointing, however, was that I felt like there was little guiding me into missions. I skipped quite a few side missions in ending the game and it felt like it came out of nowhere because of how little the story was impressed upon me. It seemed like the first Division did a much better job conveying what was going on and why you needed to be going to each mission. Perhaps given that, this sequel was more challenging and involved than the original, it had me moving much more quickly between missions and absorbing less.
The end game for Division 2 seems to fit in line with many ARPGs. It, with a bit of story twist, repopulates the map with enemies, recaptures all of the bases, and resets the main and side missions. This was a little frustrating given how many side missions and bases I never even touched, but it does present the gadget-clad enemies you usually only see in later bits to nearly every part of the game. This means you get more complex gameplay throughout. It also gives you an entirely new set of tech trees and a “signature weapon” to unlock and find special ammo for, further adding another layer to the gameplay. It almost feels like end game content you’d see for a game months after release rather than one that already takes 30 hours to get to. When you compare that to Anthem’s end game it’s almost laughable how poor its system is in comparison. In fact, comparing nearly every core component of Division 2 to Anthem, the combat, world and character design, enemy diversity, the loot system, AI, and obviously loading screens, it’s hard to believe they are contemporaries.
Washington D(a) C(onclusion)
The Division 2 is a solid looter shooter than leans hard on the gameplay and reward cycle of gaining loot. If you can tolerate the genre, it’s one of the best out there currently, but it’s probably not going to win anyone over – and even less so with the story. I think one alluring aspect will be the multiplayer as it’s finally moved beyond just Dark Zone mayhem (even that has improved) and ventured into a somewhat competitive 4v4 setup. While it does need some balance given some of the weapon and ability functionality, it still presents a nice change up from the normal formula. The present state of Division 2 is more complete than most online “service” games and totally blows away what the first game was at launch. I’m interested to see what the future holds and, hopefully, it’s not expensive or low effort DLC.
Tom Clancy's The Division 2
The Division 2 exemplifies the looter shooter genre and builds on the significant amount of work that went into The Division after launch to create a game that stands out among its contemporaries. While it does a great job building the environment of the US Capital, it lacks a punchy story to supplement the great quality of the gameplay.
- Highly detailed representation of post-apocalyptic Washington D.C.
- Excellent combat with diverse enemies and high quality AI
- Large amount of content in base game
- Solid end game content available from launch
- Forgettable story with minimal interaction
- Can get a bit repetitive