The Division 2 is an absolute behemoth of a game. This sequel from Massive Entertainment and their retinue of supporting studios builds on the improvements already made to the first game, giving players a whole new city to explore and a number of other new additions. It’s an evolution over the original, not a revolution, but it’s well worth investing your time in.
Set half a year after a weaponised strain of smallpox was released in New York on Black Friday in the original game, The Division 2 has you travelling to Washington D.C after the S.H.D. Network (Strategic Homeland Division) goes offline. Once in D.C, you must help re-establish some sense of normality by supporting a number of fledgling encampments and bringing the network back online. The premise isn’t incredibly inspired or original, but it does work well as a continuation of The Division. There’s a lot of story for players to dig their heels into, and it’s conveyed through the series of main missions, side-missions and collecting lore from around D.C.
It’s a shame that Massive didn’t really play with the narrative as there’s some genuinely interesting moment-to-moment story beats that show how much room there is in this world. There’s some genuinely interesting characters in D.C., but they just feel disconnected from the vague overarching plot. As with other live service games, they’re really only there as a support structure for the gameplay and replayability is the key focus. This means the majority of dialogue is delivered alongside combat, and dialogue between missions is commonly delivered quickly and to the point.
I was very skeptical heading into Washington D.C. for the first time. New York was so perfect inforthe first game and I struggled to see how they were going to match it. While it doesn’t beat the setting in the first game for me, the recreation of Washington D.C is mind-bogglingly huge. With a 1:1 recreation of the capitol, The Division 2 takes players through a number of notable locations all recreated with a staggering amount of detail. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, The Washington Monument, The White House and many other landmarks are all in the game and play a prominent role across a number of missions. This attention to detail makes the fallout from the epidemic all the more tangible as these iconic locations fall into disrepair around the player.
It does miss the atmosphere and unique imagery of a snow covered New York, but is made memorable by a new weather system that keeps the environment around you fresh as you battle through thunderstorms, fog and heavy rainfall. The weather effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game; walking through the city as thunder crashes all around me, only to find myself in a firefight with enemies I could barely see ranks as one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve had in some time.
Playing on PS4 Pro, it looks fantastic and only rarely dips from a steady 30fps. The level of detail is staggering, and even the dirt and trash piles deserve 10/10 for detail. The trade off is that there is noticeable texture pop in that tarnish the experience. The game in general has been fairly steady. We shouldn’t have to praise Massive for releasing a working game, but I’ve only experienced a few minor server issues and almost no crashes. Considering some other big high profile releases, it was vital that Massive got it right out of the gate and they absolutely have.
The mission and environmental design are where The Division 2 shines the brightest. Each main story mission is tightly designed with firefights that feel tense and claustrophobic. It’s these moments that overshadow much of the open world and show just how well a level designed with purpose compares with filler tasks and checklists.
One of the most important aspects in any shooting game is the way it feels. The Division 2 addresses some of the problems I had with the first game by adding a bit more variety between the weapons and giving a better sense of damage dealing. Guns feel crunchier and harder to control, and enemies react as they fall over and clutch at limbs, giving a sense of realism that the first game often lacked.
The amount of time they take to down has also been improved as enemies now go down with fewer hits. There’s still a sponginess to some enemies, as you can unload clip after clip on some of the enemies and still be no closer to having killed them, but this is still an action RPG with levelling and numbered damage stats. In general, time to kill has been vastly improved across The Division 2 and it feels both more dynamic and realistic.
After the main narrative is done and dusted, loot is the driving force to keep you coming back. The game does a fairly good job of drip feeding you increasingly better gear, and as you progress the inclusion of mods grants players a greater degree of customisation. Once you hit the level cap, the mods start to play a bigger role in loadout optimisation and specific builds.
The problem is that the loot isn’t inherently interesting. The guns are based on real world weapons, meaning there isn’t the same sense of wonder as provided by sci-fi or fantasy settings. It’s down to the skills to provide the techno-thriller excitement with a number of high-tech offensive and defensive gadgets. There’s the returning gadgets like the turret and seeker mine, as well as new additions like a status-changing chem launcher and new flying drones. Each of these skills can be customised with different effects and mods, providing players with plenty of builds to use.
As in the first game, it also falls flat with the variety of the bosses you fight. They can be grouped into one of three types of ‘heavy’ character, either with a sledgehammer, flamethrower or machine gun. Eventually you figure out how to take each one down without much challenge, and I found myself disappointed when these capped off a major story mission. They’re simply unremarkable and it’s an area that Ubisoft need to improve on in future.
One strength The Division 2 has is its focus on four player co-operative, but not at the expense of solo players. Every mission in the game can be played with up to three other players, but it does a surprisingly good job of balancing the difficulty between the different player counts, ensuring the game fits a number of different play styles. I played a lot of the game solo, but The Division 2 is definitely at its best when you’re coordinating the use of tech between players, finding the best synergies and working as a team to progress.
The Dark Zone also returns, although I should say Dark Zones as there are now three of them. One of the biggest complaints in The Division was the disparity between high-level players and those just starting out, it essentially made that portion of the game inaccessible to those just starting out or who had lagged behind after level caps were raised. The Division 2’s Dark Zones now normalise player gear, meaning that instead of raw power there’s a greater emphasis on gear optimisation and player skill. Once you reach the endgame a Dark Zone can become occupied, turning gear normalisation off for an experience closer to the original.
There’s a number of quality of life improvements as well, including introductory missions to ease newcomers in, a shake up of the rogue system, new activities in the zone and a different play style focus for each of the Dark Zones. Massive have clearly took on a lot of the feedback around the the previous game and I think it’s something the really dedicated community of players are going to appreciate.
A 4v4 mode makes its way into The Division 2 for those players who want a more competitive experience from The Division 2. I found the inclusion of tech in the mode made it a bit of a cluttered mess, like the mode was almost an afterthought, but it can hopefully be improved on down the road.
The Division 2’s endgame opens up as soon as you end the campaign. Celebrations are cut short after defeating the one of the game’s tougher factions in a battle to win back Capitol Hill when Washington D.C. is invaded by an organisation known as the Black Tusk. This is a faction unlike anything we’ve seen in The Division so far as it’s members are armed to the teeth with tech that matches in some ways exceeds your own. Players must win back the city from the Black Tusk through a number of control missions and through replaying the previous missions with revised dialogue and these new enemies.
This provides a substantial amount of content for the endgame to feed off, with numerous world tiers adding new challenges and difficulty levels. It will be interesting to see what Massive add to the endgame going forward, as it’s already in a good place.