The Division, a game about the release of a weaponized version of smallpox that devastates the human population, and the men and women who struggle to hold what’s left of the world together, had tremendous promise when it was released in March 2016. The recreation of a huge swath of Manhattan, where the game’s action took place, was a technical marvel. The relative simplicity of a cover-based shooter was married wonderfully to RPG-style gear and skill systems complex enough to warrant spreadsheets for players that wanted to get into the weeds on percentages and odds.
The Dark Zone, The Division’s original format for player-versus-player activity, also incorporated player-versus-NPC gameplay to create a unique offering that combined the sort of player griefing common in games like DayZ and the Dark Souls series, with cooperative gameplay for collective security against other players and to tackle difficult NPC opponents.
The value proposition of loot shooters like The Division and Destiny, or similar loot games like Diablo, ultimately rely on the strength of their endgame content, or what players are given to do over and over again in their quest to score superior loot. This is partially where the bottom fell out of The Division. Anyone who wasn’t into PvP and willing to brave the savagery of the Dark Zone quickly ran out of things to do in The Division once the story campaign was finished. The weaknesses and imbalances in the game’s combat systems also become obvious once players settled in for the long haul.
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Massive Entertainment continued to develop new content past the planned DLC expansions and continued to tweak the game’s core systems until, in December, 2017, with the release of Update 1.8, The Division had a plethora of endgame content and tight, polished mechanics to satisfy veteran players, who returned to the game in large numbers.
In developing the sequel, Massive and Ubisoft took as their foundation the solid development that continued on the first game and made the wise decision to not fix what had been unbroken. The Division 2 is a rock-solid loot-shooter with hundreds of hours’ worth of content, polished cover-based shooter gameplay, improved loot and gear systems, and smart evolution of the Dark Zone.
What You’ll Like
Living or dying in The Division series comes down to using cover smartly and watching your flanks. Enemies in The Division 2 do not make this easy, sometimes traveling appreciable distances in an attempt to find and turn a flank, aggressively using grenades to drive targets from cover and laying down effective suppression fire.
Division agents have a bevy of gadgets — like automated gun turrets, drones, and rolling seeker mines — that can usually turn the tide no matter how outnumbered a solo agent may be. Creative thinking and the right skills will get you out of trouble if you always stay frosty. The Division 2 will make you pay if you don’t fight sharp.
Freedom of character builds
Characters aren’t married to a specific class type or role in The Division 2, this being one of the strengths of the series. By swapping out skills, gear, and weapons, players can alter their agent to take on any role needed. This freedom helps keep group play fresh, as agents can take turns as primary damage dealer, squad healer, or heavily-armored agent that takes the point and defines the battle line.
When players in the endgame earn Specializations with related skill trees to unlock, they can swap in-between these powerful builds and retain the same freedom to choose varied combat roles as before. The Division 2 never locks players into a skill path and limits their choices.
Massive amounts of content
Three factions besiege the capitol. The Hyenas are former gangbangers who talk about things like rigging boxes of asthma medicine to explode when someone picks them up. The True Sons are former soldiers gone AWOL with a penchant for dropping chemical weapons on people who might be carrying the deadly virus. The Outcasts, locked on Roosevelt Island during the outbreak in the hopes of keeping the virus from spreading, have broken out to the mainland and want revenge by burning everything down.
The city has to be reclaimed from these factions and it feels as though Massive took some cues from Ghost Recon Wildlands and the Far Cry series in designing the voluminous amount of open-world content that defines the fight. Washington, D.C. is constantly populated with random activities like turf battles between the factions and survivors, propaganda broadcasts to disrupt, or public executions to prevent, just to name a few.
Sectors of the city can be pacified by retaking control points from the enemy. Stockpiles of food, water, and building materials are spread throughout the city. Distributing those resources to friendly control points grants bonuses for detecting opponents and scavenging materials needed for crafting. When a zone is pacified, the player is rewarded with supply drops. There is always something to do and a good reason for doing it.
Dark Zones that are fair to new players
The core mechanics of finding “contaminated” loot that has to be airlifted out of the Dark Zone before being added to players’ inventory, and the ability to kill other players and steal their gear, are still the heart of the Dark Zone in The Division 2.
Where having the correct gear and abilities to stand toe-to-toe with accomplished player killers was a barrier to enjoying the Dark Zone in The Division, Massive has created three Dark Zones for The Division 2, that rotate between having “normalized” stats to balance players out and make for fair competition, or keeping level and gear advantages enabled for more brutal PvP experience. While weapon and gear abilities remain intact in a Dark Zone where normalization is active, hypothetically a lower-level character could beat a level-capped player when normalization is active in a Dark Zone.
An amazing map space
Once again, Massive has created a huge chunk of a major American city and have done a fantastic job of it. Anyone that’s spent a decent amount of time in Washington, D.C. will recognize the architecture and major landmarks. In a mission that takes place in one of the city’s museums, a friend described an exhibit in the real-life museum they hoped to see in the game. We turned a corner and ran into said exhibit, laid out almost precisely as they remembered.
It almost pains to think of the detail that Massive put into building some of the amazing set-pieces in The Division 2, like Roosevelt Island. A single mission brings players to the island. Even if that mission gets repeated many times in the search for gear, I don’t know if players will ever stop and investigate all the island’s tiny details to really appreciate the craftsmanship that went into constructing it.
The eclectic nature of the music score sometimes wanders into silliness and certainly doesn’t lack character. It’s populated with tracks that sound like 1980s pop songs, next to movements that could have hailed from a John Carpenter horror movie during his heyday, followed by bass-heavy electronica that punctuates some of the game’s best fights.
I appreciated that upon entering the player’s main base in The Division 2, I was greeted with the same music as when I returned to base in The Division. It was a nice, small touch that helped bridge the games together.
Once the Division agents have cut the heads off the Hyenas, True Sons, and Outcasts, the Black Tusk — think Blackwater with a drone army in support — enters the fray and a map that may have previously turned green with secured control points and supply dumps flips back to red. Black Tusk forces roam the streets, getting into battles with the first three factions as well as survivor militias.
Access to settlements can be lost. The number of turf battles across the map rises precipitously. I’m not sure that it’s possible to entirely-pacify the map again as liberated control points I didn’t actively defend could flip back to enemy control.
World Tiers, another late-game addition to The Division, enter the endgame scenario in The Division 2, as does the Gear Score mechanic, a sum measurement of the total quality of an agent’s gear. The higher your Gear Score, the higher World Tier you can activate, and the more challenging combat becomes. At this point, team play becomes a must. The map is familiar but the level of challenge is very different.
The Dark Zone provided endgame content in The Division, but everyone else had to wait. There’s a ton of endgame content for everyone who plays The Division 2, however, even if they’re not willing to brave the Dark Zones, which become even more difficult when they are sometimes invaded by the Black Tusk.
Ease of finding allies, and Clan support
Whenever a player is killed in the open world or on a mission they can put out a call for backup before they respawn. Other players can choose to be alerted when backup calls go out in their immediate area and if they choose to answer the call be seamlessly added into the other player’s group. This could prove to be a nice community-building feature in the long term and serve The Division 2’s native Clan support, a brand-new feature for the series, complete with bonuses to unlock as Clans advance in level.
What You Won’t Like
Honestly, not much if you’re a fan of the series
There are a few lingering audio bugs, like characters who get set on fire and keep yelling in pain for a minute after they’re no longer burning, or dead, and phantom sounds of boxes opening or closing as you enter or exit an area. I’ve discovered one invisible wall. These are the worst bugs I’ve found and the effect on the quality of the overall experience is negligible.
Whatever frustrations and let-downs fans of The Division suffered, their patience has been more than repaid with The Division 2. With new, free content scheduled for release throughout 2019, and considering Ubisoft’s recent track record with keeping releases like Rainbow Six Siege and Ghost Recon Wildlands fresh for years with new content, I wouldn’t bet against The Division 2 being a thousand-hour game for dedicated players.
The Division 2 is surely the game that fans of The Division wanted to play and that Massive Entertainment wanted to deliver the first time around. Good things come to Division agents who wait.
The Division 2 was released on March 15, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a digital Xbox One code for purposes of this review.