The original The Division launched with much promise: a beautifully crafted, atmospheric, open world to explore. Gear drops were plentiful, combat superb, yet sadly The Division’s content at launch left something to be desired. Fast forward a couple of years and the game had changed massively – developers Massive had shown the kind of love to their project that only mothers show their offspring. It was a remarkable turnaround, The Division was no longer a buggy loot shooter with a sparse endgame, but a juggernaut in the field of loot shooters. Fast forward again to present day and the sequel again promises much. Can The Division 2 learn from the mistakes of its predecessor? Does it have enough content at launch to warrant a purchase straight away? And is the game different enough to maintain the interest of faithful fans? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes.
The Division 2 is a true sequel that builds on the fundations set in the first game in almost every way. Anyone that failed to find enjoyment in the original will again be disappointed as, fundamentally, the game remains the same. Agents are once again dropped into an open, photo-realistic version of a major city and guided towards main missions and side missions dotted around the map. A base of operations acts as the central hub, which players upgrade and expand once missions are completed successfully. As you progress, missions become more challenging and enemies hit harder, with upgraded loot being your equaliser. No doubt, this sounds familiar to anyone who ever loaded into The Division’s snowy New York setting. These, however, are just the basics, with The Division 2 offering a whole host of gameplay and quality of life changes.
Taking place months after Division agents were called in to aid post-pandemic New York, the player—a lone agent—receives a distress call from Washington D.C. Once again, rival gangs have taken over the capitol, hell bent on a life of crime and misery. If Washington is to survive, Division agents will be influential in the task of returning the city to something that resembles a livable state.
Almost instantly, the various gameplay changes and improvements become apparent. Your first taste of combat on approach to the under-fire White House reveals subtle yet substantial changes to the gameplay mechanics. Combat has been improved massively, with enemies no longer feeling like the lifeless, repetitive, bullet-sponges of the original. Those aforementioned bullet-sponges have been replaced with smarter, more varied A.I. that react impressively when under attack. Stay in cover too long and you’ll be eating grenades, lose focus on an advancing bad guy and see yourself flanked with devastating consequence. Thankfully, enemy time-to-kill (TTK) has been lowered, so a few well placed headshots is normally enough to bring the lesser red-barred enemy down, with purple and yellow elites also needing less bullets/clips to finish them off. Bullet placement is also far more meaningful, with shots to different parts of the body causing enemies to stagger and bleed in ways that can help aid actual gameplay.
This new health system took some getting used to, but I definitely see it as an improvement on the original
The health bar has also changed. Gone is the instant healing from a health pack, instead replaced with armour kits which take a few seconds for your character to replace. Health isn’t the meter you want to keep an eye on when in combat, as armour will now bear the brunt of all damage taken. Unlike other games of it’s type, armour does not regenerate automatically in combat, and once that armour has been removed your agent won’t last very long. Thankfully, as well as the armour kits, numerous skills and talents allow for armour regeneration and repair. This new health system took some getting used to, but I definitely see it as an improvement on the original, especially in PvP where fights in the original could go on for an eternity.
The game world has also been improved upon. Gone is the darker, snow-ridden surroundings of New York City, instead replaced with a much brighter and more detailed recreation of Washington D.C. The city looks great for the most part, with only minor pop-in (I was playing on a standard Xbox One) detracting from what is a visually pleasing environment to explore. Loot now litters the streets, much like it did in the survival mode from the original Division. Resources for both crafting and the new Control Points (which i’ll get to later) are never difficult to find, and it’s easy to become distracted by the next loot box or backpack when traveling between locations. Thankfully, this is the kind of environment you want to explore, with iconic monuments, collectables, and secrets hidden throughout. The game lore is enjoyable too, with Echo’s making a welcome return and an overall feeling of panic you get from traversing the cluttered, dangerously violent streets being ever present.
Atmosphere and looks can only get you so far, however; a game world needs to be filled with fun and interesting things to actually take part in. Again, The Division 2 impresses in this area. As with the original, the map is divided into sections, which guide how you progress when levelling. Each section has a Safe House where agents can spawn or fast travel to, as well as a main story mission and various side activities. These side activities include the much-improved side missions, which are now smaller storied missions with blueprint rewards, a big improvement on the dull and repetitive missions in New York. The new Control Points are equally enjoyable – agents attempt to attack, secure, and defend an area on the map and are rewarded handsomely for their efforts. These Control Points put the new water, food, and component resources to use, allowing players to donate to your NPC allies for experience points, loot vision, and to help keep the point safe from enemy takeover. A base in the hands of allies provides an extra location to fast travel to, as well as a safe haven for restocks and supplies.
Other activities include Territory Control, where agents are tasked with killing gang members who are occupying a small area of the city; Rescue Operation, which unsurprisingly sees you killing enemies and rescuing a hostage; Elite Patrols, Convoys, and Supply Drops, which see you taking on groups of enemies for instant loot rewards; Public Executions, which sees two civilians needing urgent help; and finally Propaganda Broadcasts, where you have to shut down a speaker while waves of enemies attack. What I enjoyed most about these activities is they way that they all link together with the new Control Points – in the end game, by clearing side activities linked to Control Points you can raise the rank of the Control Points up to a maximum of 5. The higher the rank the more difficult the Control Point is to capture, and, of course, the greater the rewards for doing so.
Another new feature to the game are Projects. The basic premise here is that the settlements of D.C need a constant supply of different resources, and if you deliver them you get rewarded for your efforts. The resources needed to complete a Project vary greatly, some might need only for you to loot SHD tech crates and complete a set number of the activities mentioned previously, while others require you to donate armour and weapons, some with certain talents. I found these Projects to be a great source of experience points when levelling, but more of a chore late game. Having said that, certain useful blueprints can only be unlocked by completing Projects, so I always tried to keep on top of them.
Bounties—a favourite from the original—also return, and are now much improved for the sequel. There are now multiple ways to take on a Bounty, with some triggering naturally as you progress through the campaign. Others require you to complete Projects to trigger, and you can always start one from either the map screen or an NPC called Otis Sykes who’s stationed at the White House. What I liked most about taking on a Bounty was the sense of urgency – each Bounty must be reached within fifteen minutes or else it’s an instant failure. Although never difficult, it often felt like the intel I was receiving needed to be acted on right away, just like real intel.
For all the new offerings in The Division 2, I couldn’t help feel like something was still missing. Yes, this launch was far more successful that the original, and yes, the game has a large amount of high quality content compared to other loot shooters in their first weeks. What felt like it was missing wasn’t launch content, however, but some of the newer content from the original. Survival mode and the Underground, for example, were both awesome additions to the original when they released, so their omission—or the omission of suitable replacements—has been noticeable. Yes, content of this ilk will no doubt follow in the coming months, but I couldn’t help but feel a void that a couple of meaty additional modes would have filled.
Earlier on I spoke about loot, and how plentiful it is throughout the world. This is especially true when it comes to armour, weapons, and mods. Loot drops everywhere and can be found everywhere; barely five minutes goes past without a colourful ray of light appearing, beaming from the ground up. The Division 2 is a loot shooter done right. Throughout my leveling journey from level 1 to 30, I was constantly changing my items, trying out new weapons, talents, and modding my gear and abilities in different ways. Finding loot is exciting, and it continued to be throughout my playthrough and long into the endgame. The weapons themselves all feel great to use, from the staple AR’s to the under-used shotguns, everything on offer packs a unique punch and plenty of build variety.
Nearly everyone I PvP’d with used either a sniper, SMG or an AR
Build diversity was one of my personal favourite parts of the original Division, especially towards the end of the games lifespan (if you count the release of D2 to mark the end of D1). Sadly, this is an area where the sequel comes out second best. The early PvP meta consists of very few viable builds, with a large proportion of the player base opting to use marksman rifles built to one hit kill opponents. My understanding is that tankier builds—ones that stack armour and health—are useless, whilst skill power builds are little more than gimmicks. Nearly everyone I PvP’d with used either a sniper, SMG or an AR – the other weapon types may as well not exist. The release of gear-sets should, and hopefully will, change this, and I’ll update my thoughts when they drop, but for now I was left a little disappointed with how sparingly certain weapons and builds are being used.
The Division 2 also features item normalization for certain PVP activities. Essentially, the game has become more casual friendly because of it. Players can no longer gain huge outcome-determining advantages by having “better” gear. Of course, a well built character controlled by a skillful player can dominate, just not to the extent of the original. The issue with this system is that different gear is required when playing normalized PvP, as opposed to normal forms of PvP and PvE. For example, let’s say I’ve made a high crit-chance SMG build where damage comes from hitting a high amount of crits. In PvE, everything on my gear is what my agent is dealing, but when normalized, these stats get capped, not at the highest range but in the middle, so my build ends up falling short of the games crit cap, rendering my lovely build useless or suboptimal. Sure, you can grind different gear sets for both game mechanics, but then you’re faced with another issue – inventory space and resource caps.
For a game that gives you so much, having such limited space to hold it all is rather frustrating. Your agent can hold up to 100 inventory items—which include guns and armour—as well as 100 mods, and a stash box can also hold an additional 150 items. It sounds like a lot of space on paper, but in reality it isn’t. My inventory is often completely full within a couple of hours playtime, with my stash being full for days. With the normalization mentioned previously and the new re-calibration system that uses whole items for stat changes instead of random rerolls, I’ve found myself hoarding way more than in the original. At the moment, this is nothing more than a major annoyance, and once gear sets are released I can see the lack of stash space becoming a particular problem.
The Division 2 endgame has been particularly well implemented, lessons have obviously been learnt from the original and from other games of this genre. The endgame (what you do in the game after reaching max level and finishing the campaign) has been divided into world tiers, ranging from 1-5. Each world tier unlocks gear of a slightly higher level than the previous tier, with progress being locked behind a minimum gear score level for you to progress to the next tier. Essentially, you’re farming for gear to move to the next bracket and then repeating the process. As well as obtaining a minimum gear score, certain Invaded Missions have to be completed to unlock the invaded versions of the games Strongholds. On paper this sounds repetitive, but Massive has done a great job in keeping these individual world tiers relatively short—with each tier taking on average 3 -4 hours to complete—while making enough changes to the missions that you’re essentially replaying to keep them interesting. These changes come in the form of Invaded Missions and Strongholds, which use the same environments but mix up other factors such as enemy type, bosses, mission structure, and storyline. These missions never feel completely fresh for obvious reasons, but they provide enough challenge and gameplay variants that you never feel bored.
In a somewhat controversial decision, world tier 5 was locked from release up until Friday 5th April. This meant that no one had access to the real ‘endgame’ until a number of weeks after the games launch. The developers stated that they wanted to fix any issues that the game had before allowing players to move to tier 5. My feelings on this decision is that world tier was locked to give players an opportunity to catch up with the more hardcore members of the community, again catering for the casuals.
Endgame PvE isn’t the only place to spend your time, however, as The Division 2, unlike loot shooters like Anthem, has PvP options too. The Dark Zone has returned for D.C, this time in three separate areas (the original had just one DZ). Two of the three DZ’s feature normalization, of which I spoke about earlier, while the other is an occupied DZ where there is no Rogue status, but includes active friendly fire amongst other small changes. Most notably, the occupied DZ doesn’t feature any normalization, so essentially what damage you do in PvE you also do here.
The DZ has gone from a place I rarely left in the original to a place I now rarely visit
The Dark Zone was where I spent most of my time in the original Division, yet I haven’t felt the same way about it in the sequel. I’m not 100% sure why that is, but it’s most likely a combination of changes that I believe have been for the worse. Firstly, normalization again rears its ugly head. Now, I don’t have anything against balancing the game so that more casual players can still compete with the more hardcore, I just take issue with how it’s been implemented. Min/maxing gear to gain an advantage over an enemy is one of the most important factors in any loot collector, yet here it feels like that advantage is minimal. For example, I could spend hundreds of hours building my character to have very high stats, the best talents, and weapon combinations, yet still get one-shotted by a sniper build from a player with a fraction of my investment. Normalization should bridge the gap between the causal and the hardcore, but not to the extremes that I’ve witness here.
The other issue is how empty the DZ servers now feel. The player cap has been reduced to twelve per server from sixteen, and this change has had a drastic effect on the number of encounters I’ve experienced, both friendly and hostile. The DZ has gone from a place I rarely left in the original to a place I now rarely visit. I hope that this changes as the game is balanced and more features get released.
PvP can also take place in the games Conflict mode. Conflict is in fact one of the most enjoyable and rewarding ways to amass gear in the endgame, with victory awarding a number of loot caches. Normalization is again in effect here, with only certain talents gaining the full benefit of the abilities they offer. The talent “Hardened”, for example, which grants +10% armor, receives its full value, making it one of the better talents to use in PvP encounters. As enjoyable as Conflict can be, I could never find myself playing the mode for more than a couple of games at a time. The at-times clunky cover-based movement and corner turning can let you down in PvP, and this can end up being extremely costly and often frustrating compared to the more forgivable NPC’s in PvE content.
The Division 2 is, for the most part, everything that a sequel should be
The Division 2 is, for the most part, everything that a sequel should be. It’s bigger, better, and more stable than the original was at launch and puts games like Anthem to absolute shame with its launch content. My only regret is that, for all of the noticeable improvements, some areas of the game have taken a dip. The Dark Zone and item normalization both need a rework, with the former feeling far less exciting than my adventures of going rogue in New York. If you’re here judging a loot shooter on it’s loot and shooting mechanics then you’ll be more than impressed; the fantastic recreation of Washington D.C is literally littered with loot, and I enjoyed my time gearing my agent up with different weapons, builds, and abilities immensely. The combat impressed too, with notable improvements to enemy A.I. and a reduced time-to-kill from the original that meant gunplay was not only more impactful but also far more engaging. Small shortcomings such as limited inventory space and weapon balancing are sure to be improved in future updates, meaning The Division 2 will most likely edge towards being the complete package. For now, it’s close enough for me to absolutely recommend a purchase. The Division 2’s launch has been a massive success, with one of—if not the—most stable releases of a game in it’s genre. If the development of the original after release is anything to go by, fans are in for a hell of a lot of content and improvements over the coming months and years that may very well propel The Division 2 into the position of the go-to loot shooter.