The Division 2 Review
Set within the concrete jungle that is post-pandemic Washington D.C, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 builds incredibly well on its previous title, adding new skills and Specialisations, locations and enemies, and all-out war in the streets. While the game gives you an aesthetically pleasing open world to explore, with constant upgradable gear drops to make progressing forward enjoyable, the lack of originality and just how bullet-spongy the enemies are, tends to overshadow what is a decent online RPG looter-shooter.
Alright. So yes, this is late. And no, I’m not sorry. Uni holidays are well underway, what better excuse to relax and celebrate after three and a half months of being glued to my computer screen, than gluing myself to the couch and getting stuck into a game that had been in my sights since its open beta back in February.
The Division 2 released just over three months ago now, and with the 70+ hours I’ve spent with it, I can say the experience came with incredibly mixed feelings, leaving me with a (strange) desire to not really progress any further or play the game any more than I already had.
This title certainly presents itself as a well-polished looter-shooter and a massive improvement from The Division. While New York was a brand-new playground at the time, exploration, a lack of enemy variations and balancing issues, upon release, was where the first game fell apart. It didn’t have a proper ‘endgame’ and unfortunately became repetitive when trying to max-out your agent.
The sequel then, has a new location in Washington D.C, spruiking an abundance of weapons and armour, now with new talents and ‘set’ bonuses, eight different Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) gadgets that can be readily interchangeable, varying enemy types, and at level 30, a tough choice between three brand new ‘Specialisations’.
New and refreshing activities are peppered throughout the map, from Safe Houses and Settlements which serve as safe zones/strong points, while vast amounts of enemy-held territory make for gritty battles to take the area back for your guerrilla-like allies.
The city of D.C feels very much alive here, while at the same time extremely dangerous for the avid tourist wanting to really soak in the crippling atmosphere and decor of what once was a thriving metropolis.
D.C in All Sorts of Trouble
First things first, Washington D.C is just absolutely spectacular! Having never been to America, and therefore not knowing many of the landmarks in D.C itself, what Ubisoft Massive has done here, in their supposed 1:1 scaling of the city, truly is impressive.
In the dark, depressing and often abandoned streets, looming buildings stretch way off into the distance, acting as barriers that snake like a maze between the long, drawn-out streets. Trash, destruction and remnants of a frantic struggle remind me so much of how in Avengers: Endgame, the city was lined with rubbish and debris, just piling up and forgotten about, five years after the “Thanos Snap.”
It becomes refreshing to take in some of the more open vistas, most notably the National Mall – between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial – and The Ellipse, just outside The White House. Other iconic explorable locations include the National Archives, the Air and Space Museum, Roosevelt Island, MLK Library, Tidal Basin and the FBI Building.
In terms of story, it has been seven months since an evil scientist released a virus called Green Poison on the busy shopping holiday Black Friday. In a methodical bioterrorism attack attempting, the aim was to reconcile the issue of a rising population, which resulted in a devastating loss of life across America in just a matter of days.
Washington is now the centrepiece, coming under attack from three rivalling factions who are all hellbent on taking pieces of territory from one another across D.C, while a resistance has set-up a base of operations within The White House.
You, a Division Agent, answer a distress call from the resistance forces, and after storming your way through the main gates of the decrepit, war-torn White House, you and couple of dedicated staff set about reclaiming the streets of D.C from the bad guys.
Now that’s about as far as the storyline really goes. There are a handful of MAIN missions that feel more like scenarios or chapters even; much like checklists that see valuable individuals join the fight at The White House, and inevitably brings you closer to wiping out the main opposing forces in the area.
It consists mainly of go to a location, shoot all the enemies, interfere with their plans, defeat the big boss(es), get rewarded. And it is this gameplay loop that players will find themselves in for the majority of their time in D.C.
At the end of the day, the interior design of the levels and intriguing locations make for exciting mission environments, but as you venture deeper into the city, levelling up and becoming adept at tackling the harder missions, storytelling and narrative aren’t something to get heavily invested in.
While you gain experience points from just about everything you do in the game world, from gunfights in the streets, rescuing civilians from public executions and main/side missions, the level cap becomes present at 30, which then requires you to tackle some of the more difficult and drawn out battles.
It took me roughly 40 hours to reach max level – that’s after completing all compulsory story missions, capturing Control Points, the Strongholds, minimal side missions, upgrading Settlements, and the occasional dynamic events on the city streets.
The three factions, Outcasts, Hyenas and True Sons all have predominant footholds in key areas of the city. Control Points are enemy held locations that require you to rid the area of foes, and friendly combatants will then defend and guard the positions.
Various points of interest will appear on the map, and dynamic events like Supply Drops, Hostage Rescues and Territory Controls all have your agent completing a mundane task by eliminating short waves of enemies and collecting loot and XP soon after.
SHD caches can be found in hidden locations, awarding points towards Division skill upgrades and perks, while some of these SHD points can come from allocated missions. Also scattered across the map, and aptly labelled, are resources and crafting components that’ll help you resupply allies at Control Points and can be used when crafting blueprints.
There is a hell of a lot of things to do in the world “Pre-Endgame”, in the time you spend reaching level 30, and the activities, loot and enemies truly advance exponentially once ‘the invasion’ begins.
Let’s Do It All Again
Once you complete all the main story missions and arrive at level 30 – or close enough – you are then tasked with heading to what’s known as Strongholds to clear out the last remaining enemy forces within their own bases; the Capitol Building and Roosevelt Island being the standouts.
These are longer missions, usually with three boss battles, and are sort of large set pieces that really are quite fun to play. Arriving at the Capitol building and being attacked head-on by gunfire and massive mortar rounds felt a little like that Modern Warfare 3 mission where you storm the beach in Germany to go and rescue the Vice President; except here it’s brighter, more present-day and there are no tanks, helicopters or an army there to help you out.
As you complete these Strongholds, you gain more powerful weapons and stronger pieces of gear, and upon eradicating the hostiles from their fortified areas, you are launched into Endgame. This really is where The Division 2 shines, but at the same time, it has one of the most frustrating developmental concepts/ideas, I, personally have seen in a video game.
Endgame brings with it something known as World Tiers and no longer does the level displayed on your equipment matter, but now you need to worry more about a gear score. Just like in Destiny, where every item drop will generally be slightly above what you currently have equipped. Higher gear score = better progression.
Along with now advancing into World Tier I and having to equip gear with incrementally greater numbered scores, the new faction, Black Tusk invades, and set your game world progression all the way back to square one.
What this means is, that in an odd turn of events, and what I found to be incredibly infuriating, was that all those Strongholds I had just cleared out, Control Points I’d fought for, streets I had thought I’d cleaned up, and main missions I’d completed, were now occupied by Black Tusk forces. Talk about a sense of Déjà vu.
That’s right, just when you thought it was all over, the people at The White House had the situation under control, and all those civilians you helped repair the city with were on the straight and narrow, Black Tusk just appear, and they cause utter chaos.
Now, the Black Tusk are in no means an easy opposition! They come with all new enemy archetypes, from the normal classic goons, armoured LMG guys, engineers with turrets and suiciders, but they also have advanced technology, similar to what you as a Division Agent have on hand. There are even mech-dogs with devastating sniper rifles on their backs, not to mention dudes with exploding proximity drones and just all-around superior attacking strategies.
The game forces you to go back and complete missions that were previously inhabited by True Sons, Hyenas or Outcasts, taking on Black Tusk in the same environments as before, just with a more sophisticated enemy.
It felt lazy to me, the whole Endgame narrative and the introduction of Black Tusk, kind of reminiscent in how Ubisoft similarly cut-and-paste some of the playable area from Far Cry 5 and used it again – with a lot more colour and different enemies – in their next title Far Cry New Dawn.
What could have worked more effectively I thought, was introducing Black Tusk earlier, opening new playable locations that were unique to BT, still have them as the superior enemy and work toward a higher gear score and better loot. I don’t know, just anything BUT having to repeat the missions all over again.
You’re Not Alone
Black Tusk may be all over the streets of D.C like a rash, causing havoc by starting open gunfights in the street with other factions, but Endgame progression doesn’t have to be done alone, and certainly not without upgradable and advanced weaponry.
The whole of The Division is playable in a party of four, so you and up to three other friends can push back the tides of occupying enemy forces together (that is if you have anyone to play with). For me, having spent the 70 odd hours playing solo, I concur that it would make any players’ life easier with at least one other buddy; just having someone else there to watch your back would be beneficial.
What makes this Division title stand out from its predecessor is the Specialisations available just after making it to World Tier I. Heading back to The White House and unlocking these unique weapons gives you the slight edge you need against your foes. At the time of writing this, updates have recently added a brand new fourth class.
First off, the Sharpshooter grants an armour-piercing .50 calibre sniper rifle that is absolutely devastating to use against unaware enemies, making a perfectly placed headshot a one-hit kill at times. The Survivalist comes with a crossbow that fires exploding bolts and can use traps to take control of the battlefield. My personal favourite, the Demolitionist, has a grenade launcher that is great at crowd control and forcing enemies out of cover.
The newest class, the Gunner, bears a minigun, which lets you put an insane number of rounds downrange, stripping the armour right off heavy enemies. Teased in upcoming content for The Division 2, another two Specialisations will become available in the coming months.
In choosing a class, the four options come with additional mini skill trees that boost certain weapon types, add unique explosive ordinances, skill mods and of course, the weapon itself.
Now, you are not locked into any one of these Specialisations, you can fiddle around with all of them, provided they are swapped out back at the Base of Operations. This can be a hassle, but amongst all the other little things you can do back to The White House, having a play around with the different builds can make gameplay refreshing.
Lastly, Division agents have access to a range of skills that can be unlocked with found SHD Tech throughout the game. Able to carry two of these skills, the agent can lay down offensive assistance with a Turret (armed with a sniper, flamethrower or assault variations) or Seeker Mine, and also variations of the Hive and Firefly that target nearby enemies.
More defensive/passive skills like the Chem Launcher and the Drone allow for variations that will heal you and your allies when deployed, and a neat Riot Shield can also be used to press forward on enemy combatants.
These skills are purely preferentially-based, and even if the internet suggests that the Chem Launcher or the Hive are two of the best skills in the game for example, if you need a Shield (or just enjoy firing from behind it), then by all means, it’s entirely your choice!
What’s It All Like?
The game gives you a hell of a lot of time to adjust to the many guns and gear, so I’ll get into the arsenal and the overall gameplay. Obviously, these elements are the most crucial for the game to actually function effectively. Like I mentioned earlier, there is an absolute tonne of loot, ranging from differing weapon types, six gear slots – some with opportunities for modification – gadget/skill mods and outfits.
Guns come in many forms. Being able to carry two primary weapons, from the fast-firing SMG’s like the P90 and FAMAS, to sturdy Assault Rifles or the semi-auto, hard-hitting Rifles. The Marksman Rifles are your standard long-range snipers, LMG’s like the M60 have massive clip sizes that are effective against armoured enemies and Shotguns do well in up-close encounters. One sidearm can also be taken, from a pistol to a revolver, or even a double barrel sawn-off shotgun.
Early-game, I found myself cycling through these different types of weapons, simply because it’s easier to experiment with how the guns feel and perform against the weaker opponents on offer in the first couple of levels.
A semi-auto Rifle like the Mk17 or ACR are excellent at picking off bad guys from range but can get a bit hectic when enemies start to surround you. Paired with either an Assault Rifle or an LMG, these options can both help you out in a pinch.
I found Shotguns weren’t really for me, simply because who wants to be that close to an enemy; additionally, this would mean the shotgun would take up the place of a weapon that could be more effective at range.
Marksmen Rifles are super powerful when they’re lining-up headshots, but playing with a controller, it becomes more luck than skill. Plus, being the cover shooter that it is, the game has the MR’s feeling very much like a ‘pop your head up, no-scope someone, duck back into cover, repeat’.
Assault Rifles are really the bread and butter. SMG’s can be super helpful with their high rate of fire, but the bullet’s spray around the reticle like a damn sprinkler, where the accuracy of AR’s feel more compressed and stay on target.
In the end, it comes down to personal preference again, so an Assault Rifle paired with an LMG for sustained rounds down range was my go-to loadout – with a pistol on the side. I guess, with so much variation, different weapons work better in certain situations, and trust me, you’ll find that out for yourself.
Now the gunplay here is sleek. I mean when you get the hang of it, it is tremendously enjoyable and can be surprisingly challenging at times; which is what makes a good video game, right.
Enemies are annoying by the way in which they run right at you (which is just fucking dumb!) in their own suicidal attempt to outflank you. They run right by you sometimes, and it forces you to adjust your line of sight from the guys you’re firing on in front of you, and instead, focus on the ones now behind, and even those who are closing in from the sides. It is a weird tactic, but one that has you on your toes and always taking into consideration your immediate surroundings.
Popping in and out of cover, the way these kinds of third-person shooters work, sticking to walls and never really revealing yourself until someone else shows their head, isn’t my favourite gameplay mechanic. The Last of Us is a really good example of fluid cover transitions and moving seamlessly between it.
The ‘ole “one press of a button to enter or exit cover” is easily done but is in no way challenging. Moving long distances to neighbouring cover is just a button hold, and rounding corners only requires moving to the edge, and your character goes around themselves. It works well but removes the whole ‘naturalness’ and immersion from the game.
With large lulls between gunfights, the way the game handles combat and the moment to moment gunfights is rewarding, sometimes lasting well over five minutes. Overall, the shooting is smooth, and the varying enemy types who will use all sorts of ordinance to try and force you out of cover means you need to act quickly and adapt to their pressure.
Apart from the weapons, there are gear slots that need to be taken care of regularly because of the constant rate at which you gain stronger pieces. You have slots for a mask, backpack, body armour, gloves, holster and kneepads, all of which, in some instances – depending on their rarity – can be embedded with stat-altering gear mods.
Not only can the gear be modded, but there are talents you need to worry about as well (these are also included on the weapons). And new to The Division 2, ‘gear sets’, whereby wearing up to three pieces of the same brand, additional buffs like LMG damage, accuracy or armour can be stacked, and change the way your Agent performs.
Again, talents all come down to personal play styles, but I enjoyed ones that repaired armour when downing an enemy or staying in cover for a certain amount of time, which also repaired armour. Grenade blast radius increase was cool, anything to do with skill cooldown and increased weapon handling and accuracy were also beneficial.
The only problem with all these talents, gear sets, and mods that allow for better headshot damage, for example, is that you are constantly bombarded with gear that has more armour or a higher gear score. This makes it pointless to become attached to any one piece of gear.
After doing some research online, forums suggested holding onto pieces of gear with appealing talents until at least World Tier V (that’s right, extremely deep into Endgame) and then do what’s known as Recalibrate them into a higher gear-scored item.
The Recalibration Station allows you to extract a talent from one piece of gear or weapon, destroying it in the process, and SOMETIMES moving it over to another that is more appropriate to the level at which you’re at. I did this a couple of time with a slow-firing Assault Rifle, taking the increased rate of fire talent from an obsolete AR and putting it on the one I was going to be using. Genius.
It was kind of complicated and slightly frustrating, but that is how you keep your player base essentially; have all these elements that provide additional reasons to play, and encourage farming for talents, gear and weapons that you really want.
Additionally, there is a Crafting Bench where weapon attachments can be made, where all pieces of gear and skill mods can be randomly acquired to match your gear score. This is a nifty way of quickly making pieces of gear that are more appropriate in terms of armour stats and rating.
Seeing It Through
There is no doubt about it that The Division 2, overall, is incredibly fun to play and the experience of wading through a crippled city like Washington D.C is at times both nerve-racking and exhilarating.
Gunplay is tight. Exploring the environment is an adventure. And as the game goes on – repetition and lack of variety aside – I can see how people who like the constant drip-feed of dopamine hits when they get an item slightly better than the one they have, will enjoy this game even more.
There is a lot of content here, and I never went into PvP, but that is on offer too. The Dark Zone is a fun option if the normal streets of D.C become boring. Exploring the most toxic areas of Washington and running into higher levelled NPC gangs has its perks; all the while, another player could decide to pop you in the back when you’re not looking. Extracting items by helicopter alerts the whole areas, so it pays to have all angles covered.
Daily bounties and projects for Settlements keep the game alive and returning to The White House to maybe change Specialisations or Recalibrate gear also adds to that suggested “games as a service” model that seems to be becoming more and more present in recent video games. There is no end, really.
The roadmap for The Division 2 will definitely see the addition of brand-new content, but I can’t really see myself coming back for more. I enjoyed what was on offer, but the way the introduction of Black Tusk came about and the grind post-World Tier V, let alone actually getting there, doesn’t appeal to me. And for what?
There are apparently Easter Eggs throughout the game, tougher enemies called Hunters somewhere, collectable masks and also Exotic weapons and gear that may drop once in ever God know when.
Do pick the game up if you like Destiny for more of a modern twist on that kind of gameplay, and after the flop that Anthem had, I think this game is sort of what they were going for. If you liked the first Division, then hop into this, and I can definitely see that there is well over 100 hours of game here.
Cover image from: https://psprices.com/region-us/game/2440071/tom-clancy-s-the-division-2-standard-edition
Copyright © Will Boddy 2019