The Division 2 is an anomaly in today’s gaming world: a sequel that noticeably improves on many of the issues with its predecessor, and a full-priced retail game that actually has a fair amount of content. Will the wonders never cease? I truly did not think it was possibly anymore in the world of gaming. Polished and primed for years of life ahead, The Division 2 is a well-made game. Maybe not always fun, but well-made.
The Division 2 is one of these games in the newish genre of online looty-shootys. That is what I shall call them. Its basically an MMO but transposed into the context of an FPS. Think of Anthem, Destiny and the like, and you’ll be on the right track. There is a plot, but it is fairly barebones, and most of the time you are grinding for levels and loot to upgrade your gear score. There are also multiple ways to engage with other human players, either in a squad with them or against them. The combat, which is real-time shooting, is heavily stat based. If any of that disappoints you, this might be an immediate point at which to stop reading, because The Division 2 is very much your typical looty-shooty.
The plot follows on from The Division 1. Basically, a global virus caused near-total societal collapse, and now everyone is living in basically one gang or another, with some being good gangs and some being bad gangs. You are a member of The Division, basically, the only government-sponsored paramilitary force left to maintain order. You are dispatched to Washington DC, to help them out with all of their problems there. Once there, you use the White House as a base and, basically, spend most of the game liberating various areas of DC from evil gangs and imposing some sort of order upon them. While doing so, you recruit people and upgrade various good guy bases, which not only makes everyone happier, it makes the world feel more stable and complete. The recruited figures add gameplay value by being specialists who unlock game features such as crafting.
Areas are segmented into level groupings, and generally, you will have one home base in an area, a few plot missions, a few side missions, and then a few random events, like capturing checkpoints. You can gather resources and collectables, as well as find loot lying around an area. One of my favourite collectables was the little hologram figures of people acting out scenes before the societal breakdown happened. These mini-stories are some very good examples of voice acting. Its all in all an almost perfectly Ubisoft style of exploration, but it works quite well and gives quite a lot of content by the end. The feeling of improving the world visibly as you go is also great.
Speaking of the world, Washington DC has been very lovingly recreated in a dystopian setting, and I am actually quite impressed with the finished product. It’s great to discover landmarks and do missions inside of notable buildings, and using the ruined White House as your base is a great touch right from the start. The graphics, in general, are pretty good, maybe not for individual character models, but in a larger view from a distance – in combat and motion, everything looks quite slick and realistic.
Combat involves stats and levels, with all your main gear having those provided and noted on them. You also have cosmetic clothing, which you can purchase with real money or unlock in the game. There are a variety of gun types, with just about all the normal ones you would expect. You can modify or craft weapons in a variety of ways, to personalize them for yourself. You gain levels, which can be used to unlock perks, and you can also use a separate form of level up points to unlock gadgets and tools, like mini turrets or drones. At endgame, you can swap between three specializations which have their own weapons and skills and are levelled in their own right. These are the Survivalist, who uses a crossbow, the Sharpshooter, with a powerful sniper rifle, and the Demolitionist, who makes things go boom.
Your main gameplay loop in combat is cover-based shooting and dashing from cover point to cover point. You would also deploy your gadgets during this time. This is where many improvements are felt from the previous title – the enemies react better to combat and are more varied, and just the overall feeling of engaging with them feels a lot slicker.
This is another point where the game might become make or break for you – there isn’t a heck of a lot of depth to the combat, despite it occasionally feeling quite good. If you like cover-based shooting, great, but aside from very few adjustments and unique features in main missions, you really do just fight off waves of enemies, move forward, fight off main waves, rinse and repeat. You do the whack-a-mole thing with enemies in cover a great deal too. Maybe it’s just me, but I also didn’t think the shooting had as good a “game-feel” as other cover-based shooting did too. It honestly felt better in Gears of War 1 to me, and that’s all the way back in 2006. Maybe its just because this is primarily designed for PC users, but at the same time console controls have been better before, so why not here?
Bosses are generally lacklustre, being just pretty normal enemies with more health and damage. A few main story missions were exciting and were what I would hope I would do in Washington DC. But there’s a big difference between a 6 hour game with 3 highlight set pieces and a 100 hour plus game where you have 2-3 highlight set pieces. Most of the time I got a bit bored with the game to be honest, because the loot treadmill didn’t quite grab me. I can see how it might do for other players, but I’ve never been one to be motivated by my gear score alone. I would prefer a decent motivation, reason or story to keep pushing on.
The multiplayer features are implemented quite well – you can request aid from randoms in the world when you need it and can squad up for missions easily in multiple different ways too. I played a bit of the game multiplayer and a bit of it on my own to see how it goes, and while technically you can play the game solo, it’s a huge chore and pain to do so. Mostly the battles involve so many waves of enemies that you will painstakingly pick off 3 waves by yourself and be felled by the 4th and must go all the way back to a long-ago checkpoint to start again. I preferred Destiny in this regard for feeling like I was a solo adventurer who could get help if I wanted – here it became almost a necessity to get human help past a point. Even though there is scaling when you have human allies, the fact that you can be revived by them makes a big difference to being solo.
The endgame is not amazing right now, but it is serviceable. Once again the Dark Zones return – spaces where PvP and PvE intersect, and where you can combat enemies and players for gear and levels. There is a dedicated PVP battle mode. After finishing the main quest, your world becomes a post-campaign world where new factions move in and you can replay missions with different difficulty, etc. None of this is groundbreaking, but we will have to see how things go over time with more content releases.
For now, The Division 2 is a looty-shooty with a lot of content and quite well-focused mechanics and gameplay. If you liked The Division 1, this will only be an improvement (unless you miss the snow too much). I was not personally convinced that this genre is entirely for me though – it requires deep attachment to goals you create for yourself, such as numerical gear scores, and the gameplay is often just a grind to improve that. For that reason, I can respect it as a well-made game, while disliking it personally. There’s not a lot of diversity in gameplay. Just cover shoot, move forward, cover shoot some more. Put on gear. Start all over again. Even in games where you can reduce the gameplay in that way to a few words, there’s normally a plot, or setpieces or characters, or a unique selling point that push you forward. There’s not enough of that here.
I’m not entirely convinced at this stage that I think looty-shootys are a good idea in general, and The Division 2 has not particularly changed my opinion on that matter. It might be better with a dedicated group of friends online, but for people looking to team up with randoms, its fun, but not enough for me to care too much to push forward for so many more hours. I would hate it if other Ubisoft franchises like FarCry had this process of genre-change happen to them. I still think for FPS games, I would either enjoy a really polished PvP experience, like the best multiplayer-only games can be, or I would enjoy an amazing limited hour single player campaign. This in-between genre doesn’t quite do enough either way.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
The Division 2 is a looty-shooty with a lot of content and quite well-focused mechanics and gameplay. If you liked The Division 1, this will only be an improvement.
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