During an era where Destiny 2 still reigns supreme as the most-played looter-shooter and Anthem has face-planted after a highly anticipated debut, Ubisoft pins its hopes on The Division 2 to grab a slice of the pie.
The Division 2 continues sometime after the events of that set us on our journey in New York City in The Division. This time, the setting is Washington D.C., and we return in the role of yet another anonymous Shield agent to… well, to beat the bad guys and… stuff.
Don’t Forget; This is Washington D.C.
Massive’s team has rendered a beautiful and vibrant version of Washington D.C. for agents to run around in. The different districts are full of recognizable landmarks, even for non-locals. Throughout all this meticulous recreation, The Division 2 struggles with its core story. Sure, games in this genre aren’t particularly well known for deep storytelling, but the first time around, there seemed to be more of a cohesive narrative.
The overall pacing of missions is well done, however, and you’ll often find yourself able to progress quite quickly through the first 30 levels as you defeat bosses, liberate settlements, and upgrade them by performing yet other missions. It all works very well, and the difficulty curve is exceptionally well tuned. Whether you take on the game by yourself or team up with your friends, challenges scale well, the loot is exciting and varied, and you can share it with your squad mates. You’ll be having so much fun that you’ll completely overlook the reason for any of what you’re doing.
The Division did a great job explaining the origins of the viral outbreak and some of the deception that went on through various collectibles and flashbacks. These do exist in The Division 2, but you have to seek them out a lot more. All in all, the story seems lost. It’s not satisfying, there is no conclusion, and none of what you do seems to matter, aside from getting better gear and skills. Frankly, in a looter-shooter, that’s probably okay.
The general loot system hasn’t changed much from the first title, but many of the tweaks that Massive had applied over several years of updates have found their way into The Division 2. This means that no matter what your preferred style of play is, you’ll quickly find a way to optimize your character. Being able to share loot drops with your squad mates to better balance your overall team chemistry is something that should be a requirement for all games of this nature. Ubisoft has decided that enjoyment of loot and progression should take precedence over the grind, and games like Destiny 2 could take a note or three from this style of game design.
I’m not saying there isn’t any grind involved in The Division 2, but it’s mostly relegated to the very end of the endgame. More on that later. During the first 40 or so hours that you’ll spend exploring Washington D.C. and unlocking its vast secrets, you’ll be able to enjoy the game for what it is: a fun, loot-filled shooter with great gun and cover mechanics.
The Highs and Lows of Audio and Visuals
Graphically, The Division 2 isn’t all that different from its predecessor. The cluttered snowy streets of New York City have been replaced by a lush, green, and comically just as cluttered Washington D.C. It’s nice to see that Massive can design vibrant environments just as well as bleak ones. Day and night cycles go hand in hand with changing weather patterns, and you’ll often want to delay attacking a control point because it’s just too foggy see anything. Unless you’re in Foggy Bottom, then I assume that it’s just always like that. Oh, and there are finally more customization options for your agent. Now we don’t all look like the same guy or girl with a slightly different hair cut and different pants.
I have slightly mixed feelings about the audio department, however. There are loads of atmospheric sounds, whether it’s stray dogs rummaging through garbage, or bad guys yelling at each other one block over, so everything feels incredibly alive. However, ever since first starting the game, I’ve thought that the sound lacked a certain oomph. Sure, there are explosions when you blow stuff up, enemies scream in agony when they’ve accidentally dropped their molotov cocktail at their own feet, but it all felt a little bit thin. No matter what sound settings I chose, I was always left a little bit wanting.
The Endgame is Vast and Dangerous
Upon reaching level 30 and completing the final stronghold in The Division 2, you would be forgiven for thinking that that was it. But you’re probably only about 70% through the content. The endgame starts here, and everything you’ve known before about loot and its value means nothing.
Entirely new gameplay mechanics are introduced after completing the main story, including three new class specializations. Think of these as supers or ultimates, but with minimal ammo. Seriously, there’s gotta be more ammo for these, Massive.
Following the design pattern of “fun first, grind later,” the specializations can be switched between and reconfigured at any time. This means that you can play one character and play it the way you like to, whenever you want to, and change your mind at any time. What a novel concept!
The endgame in The Division 2 brings many new challenges, and adds daily, weekly, and other rotating tasks to perform. This is Massive’s version of the grind, and as far as grinds go, it’s not so bad. There are different things to do all the time, and for the most part, it doesn’t ever get too stale.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the gameplay after the main story is that nothing you did before matters. Is Washington D.C. a better, safer place now? Quite the opposite. Things are bad, really bad. Navigating the city becomes a challenge of avoiding constant confrontations. Yes, there is a lot to do, but sometimes I just want to get from point A to B without having to fight half the population of D.C.’s underground along the way. Maybe one day we’ll get to institute some kind of rule of law and merely enjoy a stroll along the Potomac. Perhaps.
After Many Satisfying Hours, What’s Next?
It seems greedy to look at a game that easily offers 75 hours of gameplay and ask “what’s next?” However, for a game that wants to be our constant companion, it’s a valid question. Ubisoft and Massive have outlined an entire year of free and paid updates that will try to entice us to keep playing.
I’m a little unsure if the draw will be strong enough, however. I’m quite confident that with each new DLC, especially the upcoming eight-person raid, I will jump back into The Division 2 and have fun with it. But for me, it takes more than mostly interesting loot and a need to grind for the perfectly rolled weapon to give this game my constant attention. The lack of a story with a purpose hurts The Division 2 here. I’ve never once given another thought to what could happen next to any of the… see, I don’t even know their names… characters in the game.
In closing, The Division 2 does so many things well that its competitors do not. The loot is frequent and varied. Co-op games are a ton of fun, but everything is enjoyable by one’s lonesome. There’s no doubt that Ubisoft and Massive are committed to its ongoing success. If only there were something that kept me thinking about what’s coming next. It’s missing that hook, and that’s what will keep it relegated as the best looter-shooter of the year, but not my favorite.