Putting the “Loot” back in the Looter Shooter.
I have very fond memories of the first Division. When it was announced back in 2013, it was my most anticipated game coming out of that years E3 and one that more or less delivered on what I expected from it. Exploring New York with a few close friends, and making new ones along the way, I found enjoyment in the title for several months, jumping in and out whenever new content would roll out. What Division 2 gets right, more so than its predecessor, is that it has included significantly more varied content to tackle once you’ve pushed through the story, delivering what I feel is the best endgame content that any Live Service game has had during its launch. With so much customization and the implementation of several quality of life improvements, The Division 2 is a fantastic sequel, delivering a vastly enjoyable experience that is even better as you fight alongside friends to take back DC.
Much of the appeal of the Division is exploring the open city in front of you, improving upon your gear and weaponry as you eliminate enemy forces and gather narrative collectibles that piece together a story about survival and the violence that has encased the city. While The Division 2 doesn’t reinvent the series or drastically change up the formula from its 2013 original, it refines and expands upon it instead, offering a more polished and more engaging sequel, maintaining the identity of the franchise without offering up the exact same experience all over again. That said, if the original Division didn’t impress you back then, then it’s unclear if this newest version will change your mind.
When you first log in, you’ll be prompted to make your agent. You’ll choose from a few faces, skin colors, facial features, and whether or not they have scars or tattoo’s. Despite my best efforts, the customization doesn’t really offer the ability to make a good looking agent, without some serious tinkering and even then, I still couldn’t have them looking as good as I wanted them to. To further add insult to this, several NPC’s walking around have far better faces than what is offered during the creation process. While you’ll unlock a barber later on, this feature only allows you to change basic things like your hair or tattoo’s.
Once you’ve made your agent, you’ll push through an opening area meant to illustrate why your character is sent to DC, to assist in the efforts to take it back from various enemy factions that have taken it over. The core story to The Division 2 is how you will do this, the people you’ll recruit along the way, and the impact you have in shutting down those warring factions. While there is some decent writing and some incredible set pieces, the story here can feel lost among the team chatter and excessive swearing the game seems obsessed with. You’re often given some narrative context to the events that are unfolding, but since you are consistently talking with your squad, planning strategy or tactics, or joining up with a few randoms to have music and bark dogs blasting through the mic, it is easy enough to miss much of the voice work that your character is being fed through their earpiece. Since your character is voiceless, much of the game is characters talking at you and not to you.
With the White House as your base of operations, you’ll embark out to drive away a few factions that have taken over most of the city; The True Sons, The Hyena’s, The Outcasts, and The Black Tusk. While there are several interesting enemies within their ranks, there isn’t any direct personalities among them. Apart from some wonderful chest cam footage cutscenes you’ll unlock, each faction lacks that villain on the battlefield that makes your blood boil. Despite any of the missions you’ll undertake or named bosses you’ll put down, each faction feels lifeless and repetitive in how you’ll interact, encounter, and deal with them. For those looking for a boss encounter to top the lame helicopter battle from the previous game, well, you don’t get it here. It’s a shame considering how much character and life their leaders have through those collectible videos that end up making them feel detached from your current narrative. The biggest problem pertaining to these cutscenes is that I’ve talked to almost a dozen players who didn’t even know they unlocked them or where they could even find them. Had each of the final missions among their ranks featured cinematic battles with them, then I would be having a very different opinion about them as I do now. Where Anthem was criticized for its short narrative, I at least had a villain and interesting characters to keep me entertained throughout its story.
With your agent, you will be equipping and mastering skills, using SHD Tech Caches to unlock perks, learning specializations that have a variety of skill trees to work through, and outfitting your agent in high level gear that will randomly drop during encounters or as part of a reward. You’ll also have your cosmetic items, allowing you to be a fashion icon with the variety of clothing you’ll find as you scavenge backpacks and suitcases all across DC. Much of the appeal of wanting to keep playing The Division 2 is in tracking down better weapons, recalibrating your gear for better stats, or experimenting with your skills to maximize your damage potential, that and tracking down every single collectible you can get your hands on.
As you complete certain missions, you’ll unlock skill points. These are used to purchase agent skills like having a turret or drone fight alongside you, or using the chemical launcher to burn through an elite’s armor. There are eight skills in total that all have variations to them to dramatically change up if they are an substantial offensive or defensive addition to your arsenal. I personally rock the assault turret and the healing drone, but have been mixing and matching other skills to find that perfect combination to reflect what other skills my teammates are bringing to the table. While it is very possible to play through The Division 2 as a solo player, having teammates with you equipped with a variety of different skills can truly create some remarkable and often hilarious experiences that you just won’t get on your own, that and keeping you alive during many of the intense combat encounters. As you choose your initial loadout for your skills, you’ll use SHD Tech Tokens to purchase the other variations of those skills. SHD Caches, which you will find across each of the numerous districts, contain these tokens and you’ll use them to unlock perks as well. Perks vary from holding more grenades or health, equipping multiple loadouts, or having the ability to earn XP faster. Some perks are locked until you hit level 30, ensuring you don’t burn through all the progression right from the start and become too powerful too quickly. The biggest problem I’ve seen mentioned regarding perks is there isn’t any way to use them to create different builds as you’ll eventually just unlock all of them, instead of allowing us to make choices and create unique agents apart from our friends.
Apart from locked perks, three initial specializations are unlocked once you reach the endgame content. These abilities are offered through the use of three specialty weapons; a grenade launcher, a crossbow, and a high powered sniper rifle, which you can freely swap in and out of your arsenal depending on the mission. Each weapon comes with accompanying skill trees that you will level up alongside your agent that look to further add more strategy and customization to what you bring with you. For example, I chose the crossbow specialization as I love the weapon and have been unlocking several of its skills. These include such things as boosting assault rifle damage, increasing my outgoing healing, letting me equip a flame grenade, or the ability for my armor kits to heal those within 10m of my agent, something that has saved my team countless times. What is so shocking about this system and its inclusion is that it doesn’t happen until some 30-40 hours in, yet the game never once felt like it was lacking content or that something was being held back. The game up until that point had more than enough things to do and gadgets to use that it never felt like something was missing, let alone something as massive as what these specializations can truly bring to each combat scenario. With the promise of more of these special skills and abilities to come in the near future, it merely offers us even more choices on how to equip our agents and how to shake up how you structure your squad’s roles.
Weapons and gear are a huge focus of the Division as this is what you will be mainly shooting for as you level up and hit the endgame. Weapons come in the varieties you expect of a real world shooter and allow you to equip multiple modifications, scopes, magazines, weapon skins and more, making each gun a masterful work of art as you affect its stability, accuracy, and overall damage. Each weapon comes with a variety of stats, with higher tier weapons having special stats that will assist you in making certain builds or a nifty perk that suits your playstyle. The same goes for gear as well as you’ll min and max the pieces you have to find that balance of being effective yet powerful as you can equip a massive variety of mods that affect numerous stats like armor, skill power, and health. As you level up your perks, you will be able to save special load outs that make switching builds easy to do without have to take time to adjust your entire loadout before each mission. Weapons and gear follow the same live service model of colored tiers, offering up better and stronger choices the higher the tier. These start as white items, then work their way through green, blue, purple, yellow, and end with orange exotic items.
Now, while the gear is fun to collect, there is a small downside to how the gear systems works that I hope will be addressed in the near future. Once you hit endgame, you work towards raising your gear score level, and this continues into each subsequent world tier. As you complete strongholds in the endgame, your efforts will be translated into the state of world changing to become harder and require a higher gear score to remain competitive. This fundamentally means that your gear will become useless once you enter the next World Tier. Destiny has the infusion system to keep your gear relevant and I hope a system that is comparable to that is introduced into the Division 2 as it can feel wasteful to put a solid effort into making a build as World Tier 5 is eventually going to be released and make your World Tier 4 gear obsolete. This has been a vocal issue among the die hard fans of the game and that of popular YouTube content creators like KackisHD who has expressed his frustration about not being motivated to make builds when they will be useless in the coming weeks.
As you complete various missions and projects; the latter being special objectives you will complete for your neighboring settlements and allies, you will unlock new blueprints to use at your crafting station. These can be anything from weapons to modifications, to gear items that will grant you that RNG chance of crafting something with more appealing stats. Eventually, you’ll unlock a recalibration station that will let you reroll a stat on a item, pulling a more sought after stat from another weapon that will be used up in the process.
While Legendary weapon drops are exciting, there is something insanely satisfying about the sound the game makes when you have a light blue pillar of light shine up from the ground indicating that a cosmetic piece of gear has dropped. These range from shoes, gloves, jackets, hats, sunglasses, and a few more fashion options that will make your agent stand out. While there is a real money store present to fast track a lot of your options, I’ve unlocked well over 80 cosmetic options from simply raiding every backpack and suitcase I’ve encountered, all without spending a dime. You’ll also earn keys and currency used to open up loot crates that also contain these cosmetic goods. One of the more impressive items to track down are masks, as shown in the picture above. These are unlocked by defeating challenging hunters that require a bit of work to track down as you’ll need to fulfill certain conditions to make them appear, let alone defeat them as they will attack you with the same gadgets and healing capabilities of your own agents.
I’ve touched upon it lightly already, but projects will consume a great deal of your time as you complete their objectives and return back to key locations to hand them in. These usually consist of donating gear, defeating certain enemies, or contributing to resource gathering at control points you’ve taken away from enemy faction control. Projects will net you specific blueprints, or new bounty missions, and the fact that most of these objectives have clear rewards presented to you, allows them to feel more impactful as you know what you are working towards instead of a chance of a random item you already have a dozen of. In an industry that is built almost solely on RNG rewards, it’s nice to know exactly what your reward will be.
The Division 2 has a ton of collectibles to track down, progression to keep track of, and commendations that will earn you a variety of rewards. While it’s a lot to work towards, there is a very robust clan system that launched with the game that has made playing the game with your friends even more fun. While clans have a somewhat small roster limit of 50 players, you’ll work together to earn rewards as you complete a variety of tasks each week. As you earn experience, you’ll level up the clan and eventually gain the ability to add more features to your logo or banner as well as upgrades to your clan vendor and weekly rewards.
On your journey to take back DC, you’ll have your standard story missions, side quests, strongholds, and reoccurring world events that have you taking back control points, rescuing hostages, shutting down propaganda radio broadcasts, and more. The story missions are easily my favorite content of the lot as they take place in spectacularly designed missions that give you a great deal of freedom of how to approach cover during combat, usually allowing for multiple ways to flank and take on the enemy. The set pieces are the highlight of the experience and while the open world aspects of the content don’t feature the same level of design, the tight combat and enemy placement more than makes up for it. Story missions are designed around being replayed, and I’ll dive a bit deeper into that explanation when I start talking about endgame as it refreshes much of the content all over again.
There are several story missions I’ve replayed nearly a dozen times as I’ve jumped back into them to help out lower level players progress. This is possible due to a scaling system that bumps up the lower level players to match that of the highest level player. Currently, the scaling system is not working entirely as it should, making your lower level teammates more of a glass canon than a truly effective agent. Due to the fact that outdoor missions can take place at either day or night, each with variables to their weather, I’ve tackled some missions 4 or 5 times and have had them feel unique each time. It’s a testament to the open world design that many other live service games could adapt, allowing their content to remain enjoyable even after repeating it for hours at a time.
The story missions take place in some very interesting locations. The Air and Space Museum alone is a mission I could talk about for hours as you’ll do battle inside a functioning planetarium, on the surface of Mars, and all over the highly detailed exhibit. There’s a mission later on where you’ll progress through a tunnel of illuminated blue cubes that change to red when someone is taking cover behind them; it’s one of the most gorgeous locations in the game and is a stand out moment that illustrates just how diverse this game can be for taking place in a single real world setting. The strongholds, which are larger scale missions, take place in equally notable environments such as Roosevelt island, The District Union Arena, and the Capitol Building itself. These lengthy missions have a great balance of large open battles and small confined locations that can really turn up the heat when enemies start flooding in.
Side quests are small narratives that have you turning back on a neighborhoods water supply, helping out a beekeeper, tracking down stolen paintings, and over a dozen more objectives. These missions often take place in interesting areas that have one or two main set pieces and are usually completed in around 15-20 minutes at most, depending if you are tackling the mission solo or as a group. These bite size missions share in a lot of design as the world events that you’ll find all over the map. While you can fast travel to visited locations on a whim, It’s very productive for you to take the time and travel on foot, encountering a wide range of activities that will keep you busy, earn you loot, and allow for the combat to truly shine. Whether it’s trying to secure some crate drops or eliminating enemy forces as they transport resources, DC is packed full of quick bursts of combat that keep remaining enjoyable every time you head out into the war torn streets.
While I’ll talk about the endgame shortly, I wanted to mention that the Division 2 does lack many of the better modes and ideas that eventually made their way into the first game. The Underground, which was a randomly generated dungeon system, is something that I really hope eventually sees its inclusion into this sequel as this type of procedural content was one of my favorite additions to the first game. With all major content being added to the Division 2 for free, it’s only a matter of time before we start to see what will keep us busy for the coming months. That said, removing some of the best content the first game saw was the same problem that plagued the launch of Destiny 2 as it shipped without much of the previous games’ better ideas.
Live service games have always been about what content you will experience once you’ve pushed through the main story. The term “Endgame” is used to define that remaining content that follows; activities you will repeat over and over again. Where a game like Anthem launched with very little of this type of content, The Division 2 shattered my expectations of what endgame could truly be. If you wish to remain clueless about what the context of what the endgame entails and want to be as surprised as I was, then skip the remainder of this paragraph. Ok, So the endgame in Division 2 sees the invasion of the Black Tusk attack force, a top secret group that pushes their way into DC once you’ve driven back several of the factions. This group infiltrates several of the story missions and strongholds, changing up each encounter you’ll face when you now look to repeat them yet again. This refresh of the encounters and the forces that you’ll take down breathes new life into old missions I’ve already completed nearly a dozen times. As you complete each of the available strongholds, you’ll push the world state into a higher gear score territory, making the game far harder and raising the gear score ceiling in the process. This endgame state also brings with it an entirely new stronghold for you to take on that will require a bit of a grind to be ready for. At the time of this writing, Ubisoft has announced that Tidal Basin will release on April 5th. I’ll update this review with my thoughts on the new Stronghold.
Much of the endgame is focused on min maxing your gear, raising your gear score, and using the variety of customization systems to make your character strong enough. While there is a ton of new and refreshed content, and the increasing difficulty of its world events, your focus is to keep earning new gear, or using the available crafting systems and projects to gain the ability to earn top tier blueprints to craft powerful and essential gear mods. To assist in helping your lower level squad members, you can drop gear earned when playing with them, as you’ll be earning gear with the max gear score available in their World Tier instance, as long as they were present with you during the drop. This system has allowed me to boost the gear score of my friends by giving them a 300 gear score item when they are usually finding 250-275 gear.
Being a multiplayer focused shooter, I’m often asked if The Division 2 can be played solo. While I’ll dive into the multiplayer features shortly, let’s talk about this first. While yes, The Division 2 can be played as a solo experience, or at least one with little to no co-op interaction, there is a harsh difficulty in several encounters that will have you reload to the previous checkpoint upon dying, and you will die, a lot. This is mainly due to the game loading in enemies from all locations, having the AI rush you with several enemy types, and even loading enemies directly in front of you right out of thin air. Entering into endgame, it can be brutal trying to tackle any activity in the streets that have several enemy types or events that are wave based. It’s not impossible, but it can sometimes feel as if it requires a very high skill level to even have any chance of survival on your own. The game is also designed around having multiple points of holding your ground, really showing that having a full group of players spread across a battlefield is how the game is meant to be played. Joining other players will scale the difficulty up, but upon some 70+ hours of play, myself and my group found that there really isn’t any advanced scaling when it was just the three of us. When a fourth player was added in, the game got considerably harder.
Joining other players is as simple as inviting your friends or matchmaking with a group of randoms. While I had a few players simply stay at the start of a mission and not move or join in, most of my random matchmaking turned out to be very good. The Division was a great meeting place of meeting new players and moving from game to game with them, and the Division 2 is no different. I’ve been regularly playing with a friend of mine from Kentucky, as well as adding new friends from the UK or that of one of the screenwriters of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As you join up with friends, you’ll play in the instance of the group leader, showing a DC that is based around what missions they’ve done and what is left for them to do. Sadly, in order to see what progress your DC is in, you’ll need to either check your progression tab and see what you have left to do, or jump into your own instance and make a note of what you currently have on the go. This isn’t a massive issue or one that has caused any frustration, but it’s a shame that the White House itself isn’t your own personal instance as helping my low level friends pre-endgame, meant that I had to jump back into my instance to add points into my specialization and then load back into their game as that vendor option isn’t present until they have unlocked the endgame content as well.
While much of the advertising around The Division is through its PvE component, there is a PvP side to the game through some traditional game modes like Skirmish and Domination, which are basically Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill, respectively. These two modes take place in three different maps through skill based matchmaking. This mode has your stats normalized so it relies more so on your ability to kill other players instead of just waving the toughest gun around and letting it do the work for you. Apart from your standard PvP, there is also the much talked about and radically changed PvPvE mode; The Dark Zone. The Dark Zone is back and feels to be centered more on making your character go rogue and turn on either your team or gunning down other players. I remember when the original Division launched that some players were afraid to go rogue and I constantly ran into other players who were keen on sharing the loot and extracting together, and it’s possible that Ubisoft has seen this behavior and decided to make the appeal of going rogue to be an incentive rather than something to be penalized over. In fact, going rogue, surviving with your gear, and gunning down other players is often met with far more rewards as well as access to a special vendor that is only unlocked when you’ve performed several rogue actions.
When you are presented with a big score of high powered loot, you can share it with your team or take the whole stockpile and trigger your rogue status. Your once now teammates can attack you, but if you gun them down, then you’ll earn the distinction of being a disavowed agent, which is presented with a red icon that is more visible than your standard rogue agent icon. When you continue to kill more agents, you will earn Manhunt status, and let me tell you, wow do other players ever start chasing you down for that bounty placed upon your head. My first trip into the Dark Zone had me hold Manhunt status for a considerably long time and we had several close calls before we eventually held out long enough and snagged some decent loot.
While the Dark Zone in the first title was big enough that you could extract gear more often without the threat of another group coming in to ruin your day, the Dark Zone here is split into three smaller locations that feel very compact. These smaller locations are designed around forcing your extractions to be under fire consistently, whether it’s from computer AI forces or other enemy players hoping to snag your nearly secured loot. I’ve had discussions with my friends, clan members, and complete randoms about the Dark Zone and while some of them haven’t enjoyed their time in this new version, many of them understood that the original Dark Zone had a great idea but didn’t fully capitalize on it. Here, Massive seems to have made the Dark Zone into what it was originally supposed to be; an area where each encounter is tense as you battle against other players for high end loot. While the Dark Zone can be enjoyed with the same normalization of it's PvP modes, there is also a all-bets-are-off mode where your weapons and skill power is tested to the limit, putting all that time into making the best build pay off. Your performance in the Dark Zone also comes with its own level and there are reward tiers that let you customize your agent with a variety of options such as being able to hold more contaminated items, or reducing the time needed for an extraction.
The Division 2 is a gorgeous game regardless of your platform. The amount of detail present in this 1 to 1 scale recreation of DC is staggering, and after chatting with another player who lives near a neighborhood present in the game, it certainly seems to get all the details right. The amount of detail that Massive went into to recreating the city is mind blowing and the level design present in each of its set pieces has made so many encounters far more memorable than what was present in the first game. The Division 2 also brings far more color into its sequel and with the variable weather conditions, causes each location to be experienced in a variety of different ways. Even the Dark Zone has this yellow mist hanging in the air that really gives a unique look to the area that really reinforces that you’re in a whole new part of the city.
While Ubisoft really took on making this sequel with the input of what worked and what didn’t with the first Division, it’s a shame some of the later ideas that really made the title shine were left out. That said, much of what makes the Division 2 stand out is in the refinement of what they have been able to do since then. The game feels better, looks better, and with clean menu’s and clear goals of what you are working towards, the Division 2 is a better made game that has tremendous potential. The biggest hiccups, apart from a few glitches and bugs that are present in the game, are with the game’s lackluster story and portrayal of its enemy factions. While additional content may help flesh out the factions themselves, apart from having those stories told through collectibles, the way in which live service games roll out their stories is still lacking, due to the focus on making the story aspects short so that other players who are not into the story aren’t just sitting around waiting. Regardless of what you want from the game’s story, its combat and loot systems are extremely well done and combined with some stellar level design, makes the Division 2 a live service game worthy of your time.
The Division 2 was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
All Screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.