Following on from its 2015 predecessor, The Division 2 takes players to Washington D.C. to clear the streets of rioters and hoover up loot in equal measure. With the “games-as-a-service” market becoming more crowded than ever, can The Division 2 challenge for the top spot?
The first thing that is noticeable about The Division 2 is the sheer beauty of its impressively rendered, disease stricken Washington D.C. On Xbox One X, it runs in 4K with impressive HDR functionality. This means that sunsets burn into water left on the ground, and each immaculately constructed environment houses more detail than the last. Character models are impressively detailed too, aside from the occasional wonky faces on NPCs.
Washington truly is the star of The Division 2, and Ubisoft Massive clearly recognizes this. Moving away from the snowy, grid-formation streets of New York City, Washington feels less oppressive. Where NYC was full of concrete and identikit roads and alleyways, here the paving gives way to open spaces. Dank sewers, shopfronts, and residential addresses are all present and accounted for, but the entirety of the city is more vibrant. Trees are bursting through sidewalks, while deer and other animals roam the city. It feels alive in a way that it’s predecessor never managed. There is an added element of verticality, and this leads to more secrets to find. It’s a world you’ll want to explore, too – the environmental storytelling and audio logs located throughout the city are more than just icons on a map. Each tells a new tale about the last days of civilization, or a story from the perspective of one of the games warring factions.
Unfortunately, these are definitely the highlights of The Division 2’s narrative. Its “retaking the city” narrative is full of tropes, and lacks any real payoff. For a game set in the center of the American government, it asks plenty of blunt questions about what can be done to protect freedom but never offers any answers or even attempts to grasp with them. It’s a shame, and not every medium needs to be viewed through a political lens, but given the source material it feels as though this is a missed opportunity.
Those looking for solid gameplay will be very pleased to know that The Division 2 features plenty of hard-hitting action. Ubisoft Massive have learned from the post-launch additions to the original game, refining gunplay to be punchier. Aside from the occasional “why can’t I take cover there”, the original game’s excellent cover system remains intact, while skills have been impressively diversified. Where one option is a remote turret, it now comes in machine gun, sniper, and flamethrower flavors, encouraging varying styles of play and an excellent sense of camaraderie within a four player squad.
While The Division 2 can be played exclusively solo, it feels much more fun when coordinating flanking maneuvers with friends or players found through matchmaking. Missions are full of neat environmental touches, and many take place in unique locations – a planetarium, for example, or a Vietnam war memorial complete with audio effects. Objectives are still fairly straightforward, but the wealth of locations to visit and explore keep things fresh throughout. Combining skills with allies feels rewarding, and enemy AI is surprisingly smart. They’ll constantly approach from new angles, probing for weaknesses and using their abilities whenever possible.
Thankfully, enemies are a lot more varied this time around, and most don’t take anywhere near as much damage before dying. Bosses tend to be disappointingly unimaginative though, and they are often frustratingly spongy. They require constant shooting at armor pieces to chip away, and while it feels like a huge relief to finally finish them off, they feel cheap and disappointing given the other enemy types on display.
Killing enemies offers a surprisingly generous number of loot drops (as does leveling up), and The Division 2 strips away a lot of what made the original such a chore in that regard. For one, weapon attachments are now unlocked as perks, and can be added to as many weapons as possible. This means no more looking for that one scope that you attached to an old gun and forgot about. Weapon types all feel distinct, and some perks feel devastating in the early to mid-game – a rifle that offers an extra 65% head-shot damage, for example, goes some way to alleviating the aforementioned bullet-sponge boss issue. Stats on weapon mods are now streamlined too – each has a positive and negative effect, both clearly explained. It’s a simple system, but one that still encourages earning new variants to see each effect stack.
These weapons can not only be used on AI enemies, The Division 2 has added a new “Conflict” mode – a match-made player-versus-player game mode. Weapons and armor are normalized here, but the modes are disappointingly vanilla – Team Deathmatch and Control are the only two options at present.
That isn’t all though, as Dark Zones return in a much more accessible guise in The Division 2. Dark Zones are tense areas that mix players with enemy factions. The catch here is that players must extract loot gained in the Dark Zone, a process that attracts the attention of rogue agents. Agents must now be manually designated as rogue, and weapons are balanced, alleviating the prevalence of griefers in the original Division. Rogue agents can earn better rewards, but eventually will be headhunted by other players. It leads to some great emergent storytelling moments of “remember that time…” that is unmatched in this genre.
For those yearning for the Dark Zone of old, each week one Dark Zone becomes “Occupied” and essentially rolls back to the rules followed in the first game – that is, there are no rules. Level and gear matters, players can turn Rogue in a heartbeat, and you can end up leaving empty handed or with a backpack full of riches.
The Occupied Dark Zone is just one facet of The Division 2’s comprehensive endgame content – in fact, Ubisoft Massive claim that the game is built with the endgame in mind. Upon finishing the campaign (which can take between 30 and 40 hours in itself) and reaching level 30, a new faction invades Washington. Their tech, weapons, and training are a step up from anything encountered in the main game, and this means that replaying old content feels almost new again as they appear in older missions and world events.
These missions offer a chance at more loot, to work towards new “World Tiers” which were introduced later in the first game. Each tier has its own loot threshold, and you’ll need to grind your way up for the series’ first Raid which is coming shortly after launch (and for eight players no less). Your character also learns some new tricks in the endgame, opening up a new “Specialism” with a signature weapon and unique skill-tree. There are three to choose from, and each synergises well with the others.
Quite honestly, The Division 2 feels like a watershed moment for the loot-shooter sub-genre. Its mechanics are solid, its performance is great (aside from some minor glitches and bugs), and its content is bountiful. These things make it a rarity in the genre, an outlier from games that launch half-finished and limping from patch to patch and DLC to DLC. The Division 2 is the new gold standard for games-as-a-service – D.C. really is lovely at this time of year.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.