|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Massive Entertainment|
|Release: March 15, 2019|
|Players: 1-8 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Strong Language, Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence|
by Jenni Lada
Ubisoft is no stranger to titles that end up becoming games as a service sorts of endeavors. The original The Division is one, as is the fighting game For Honor. Both games took some time to find a foothold, forcing audiences to be patient until they turned into the titles they expected. The Division 2, learning from these mistakes, hits the ground running. It immediately attempts to address the issues The Division had from the outset, but in so doing poses a situation where the amount of content can be overwhelming and it feels like the focus is more on giving people things to do, rather than providing a good sense of narrative motivation for it all.
The Division 2 is a militant, post-apocalyptic thriller. In the original The Division, the Green Poison plague spread via money on Black Friday. (But don't worry, it totally wasn't political.) Members of the titular tactical agent group came in to restore some semblance of order. But this was a nationwide plague that hit the entire United States, people are coming up with their own factions and means of creating some sort of structure to help themselves survive, and now it is time for everyone to regroup. The Dollar Flu hit hard, y'all.
The Division agents are heading to Washington D.C. (Still not political.) The White House is burning. (No agenda here.) The adventure kicks off by asking if you owned a gun. (No taking sides!) You see a banner as you head off to restore order that reads, “Be civil we are all American” displayed in the middle of what is essentially a civil war. (Why do people keep reading politics into this?) Your goal is to get the Division's network back online to try and bring order during a national crisis. It is all very straightforward.
The most striking thing about The Division 2's general themes and story is how hard it is attempting to be as bland as possible. It is attempting to not commit to anything, while constantly committing. One of the first things you see is the game asking if you own a gun, which suggests it is leaning toward one political mindset. Not long after that, you will be sent on a mission to help a disabled African American woman, which might seem like it is leaning toward inclusivity since she is a settlement leader who helps other survivors. Except not long after, you see that aforementioned banner about being civil.
Listen, we get this is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. We know that our avatars are special forces member using deadly force to impose their agenda. Especially since the whole game is about retaking these patriotic touchpoints. There can be some interesting personal stories you come across, with the innocent people you meet who do genuinely need protection and are caught up in the crossfire. But there's this claim that it isn't taking a definite political stand and admitting that politics are inherently important part of this whole affair, even though they very obviously are. The Division 2's story suffers as a result. It is not going to click with everyone. There is incredibly heavy-handed innuendo in place, since it talks about walls built and the swamps of D.C.. Lines are crossed, and no amount of adamant head shaking or redirecting will change that. There isn't the sort of political intrigue you might expect to further the plot. While the game features the Tom Clancy name on it, the story beats don't have the same sense of nuance and depth as a Splinter Cell or The Hunt for Red October.
But then, this might not be an issue for people coming into The Division 2. Those looking up the game know what they are opting into. This is a chance to play the big goddamn hero in a world where morality is conveyed in shades of grey. The greater concern would be exactly how you get to live out that fantasy. It is about leaping into hours of content that could keep someone satisfied for 30-100 hours. The main story missions have varying sorts of objectives. When you first get into Washington D.C., the immediate stop is the White House. You're tasked with getting there safely, as it will be your base of operations. Then, you go through a series of missions that bring you closer to getting the Division satellite network online.
These tend to gradually introduce you to gameplay elements and objectives, hopefully introducing newcomers and being diverse enough to please returning players. Getting to the Theater to meet Agent Kelso and Odessa Sawyer, the head of this settlement, teaches you, well, how to get around and survive while showing what a safe space is like. Taking the quest to save Sawyer's kidnapped daughter at the Grand Washington Hotel shows you how to infiltrate and deal with one of the opposing factions, make use of environmental hazards like barrels, and use equipment like grenades and turrets tactically. Additional missions unlock as you level and advance through main missions, and your current level determines what you are and aren't probably currently capable of doing. The subsequent side missions build upon concepts you learn and see, giving you gradually more difficult or varied versions of certain objectives. The endgame, which leads to Black Tusk missions, the Dark Zone, and lengthy Strongholds, give you a chance to perfect your skills and show off.
It is that grind that can sometimes lead to The Division 2 missions bleeding together, perhaps instilling a sense of tedium. Again, it is all about the investment people get out of it. The endless faction members roaming the streets are as pervasive as the rats or slimes you would see in a 1990s JRPG, with just as much motivation. They exist to be the bad guys and give you an excuse to play the good guy. Why are you fighting this group today? Because they don't share your exact beliefs and will drop shiny loot when you kill them. (This could be seen as lazy storytelling, since you expect human beings to have more reasons for their actions than mythical monsters, or political, since it is suggesting that people with morals and values you oppose are mindless, chaotic, and evil.) To get your levels up high enough for the endgame content, so you can properly tackle those Strongholds, Black Tusk missions, and Dark Zones.
The Division 2 can make you work for that. Make no mistake, it is a challenging game. But, challenging does not mean unforgiving. People's initial voyages offer some options. Things are all clearly laid out in the world, with big visual on-screen telling you what you need to accomplish next to unlock new features, like Clans, get more projects, or bring new staff into your operation. There are clear, orange guidelines helping you navigate the streets of Washington D.C. For story missions, you can choose from three difficulty levels and have the option of looking for a squad once you reach a destination. As someone familiar with third-person shooters, but not always adept at them, the general difficulty balance during the main campaign is more than fair and designed to get people ready for the areas that are really difficult: the Dark Zone, Stronghold, and endgame.
That balance needed to be there, for The Division 2 to be playable alone. It is possible to play the game by yourself. While manageable, at times it can feel like it was designed for groups of people. The main missions have enemy distributions and environmental arrangements where someone could see where having competent, human allies would make a huge difference. I can't imagine taking on something like a Stronghold alone and preferred to risk trusting others when heading into the Dark Zone. But the game's automatic scaling for larger groups and general progression does make a solo run seem like an option, which is appreciated.
As for loot, well, it really is up to luck. It seems like the drop rate in The Division 2 isn't all that different from The Division's or Destiny 2's. There can be times when you go through two or three missions in a row, hoping you could finally hit level 10 and maybe have a Superior rarity gun so maybe you would be better prepared for the Air and Space Museum. Except then, after encountering a named boss on a side mission that almost kills you, you only end up with a Specialized DSR-1 you won't even use because sniper rifles aren't your thing. In the early days, when you are trying to get by, you may do a lot of playing with what you are given, rather than having the luxury of building the loadout that you would find yourself using in the long run.
Also, it feels like The Division 2 isn't the sort of game where people will get unreasonably great weapons, like yellow High-End or red Exotic weapons right away. That doesn't mean the green Standard or blue Specialized items you are starting out with are trash. It just means that the game is saving the things that are of real value for the areas where you would expect to see it. In the first few hours of play, it is absolutely possible to find some really good Standard and Specialized items to help carry you through.
What would be appreciated is some additional organization. There is a lot going on in The Division 2 right from the very start. This isn't to say it is unorganized. Heading into the menus makes it very easy to go through things like your equipment, skills, cosmetic items, and missions. Just a little more would have been great. When going into the weapons, for example, better gun organization would have been appreciated. Some better social options would be great too. For example, it isn't possible on the PlayStation 4 to join a group on the character select screen, even if you know people are on. When you look at your friends list, you have to look through the whole list to see who is on. What might even help is an official companion app. A second screen with a map would be amazing, so someone could look up points of interest without constantly bringing up the map. (At the moment, MapGenie has a very helpful Unofficial Map for Division 2 Android and iOS app that is a good start.)
Once you get into the endgame, it almost feels like someone has accessed an additional game. A complaint with the original The Division is that once someone was done, it took awhile for there to be enough content there to make it worth returning to. This is not an issue with The Division 2. There is so much happening here. Early on, there are things like side missions and projects that improve settlements. Like you actually see the safe places grow as you invest in them and complete missions. Once you get into the endgame, it feels like everything changes.
For example, there are the Strongholds. These are these massive instances where you keep getting more and more to do as you try to bring down the centers of factions. There's not just one boss in a Stronghold. You aren't going through one kind of mission. Your goal keeps changing as you get through it, it takes a significant time investment to get in, and the loot and experience you get from them is substantial. Getting through the Capitol Hill Stronghold makes everything change.
After the Black Tusk get in, it feels more like everything before it was preparing you for that point. The campaign was a training exercise. You are now ready to determine what kind of role you want to play in a squad, with Demolitionist, Sharpshooter, and Survivalist specializations available. It feels like the Demolitionist is there to act as a tank or melee combatant, drawing all the attention, while the Survivalist offers supports by putting various traps on the battlefield that the Demolitionist could lead enemies to. Meanwhile, the Sharpshooter provides even more support, acting as a fierce, hopefully hidden attacker that plucks off enemies that might endanger the other two classes. Since you're at a period where you can focus on getting specific loot, it is like you have more specific builds to match them. Which is important, because Black Tusk is smarter than any other faction in The Division 2, their new takes on missions and invaded Strongholds are far tougher, and you will need that knowledge and ability to focus on one sort of job.
That is when Gear Score counts, as it becomes more about the value of the gear, and maybe not necessarily how rare it is. (Though still, Exotics tend to be the most amazing.) You then get to enter the cycle where the better your score, the better items you find, the stronger you get, and the more capable you are of surviving in the Dark Zone, which is filled with incredible gear, other players who could help or hurt you, and opponents who may be stronger than you imagine. Getting to change your World Tier, clearing the Black Tusk-invaded Stronghold by proving you are ready for a more difficult The Division 2 environment, is exhilarating.
But, speaking of World Tiers brings us to the glitches. People coming to The Division 2 from The Division will notice fewer bugs and glitches from the very start. There haven't been major server outages. Most problems seem to be patched quickly. At launch, The Division 2's drone and shield were broken and just didn't work. As a drone user, this was especially bad news for me. Later the same day I began playing, a patch was released and made it a nonissue during my playthrough. I haven't personally encountered the World Tier bug, which was letting people who were in World Tier 1 fight their way to a promotion and then keep them where they were with no chance to promote, but know people who have had that problem. But then, this is an issue Massive and Ubisoft are already aware of it, so it could be a matter of days before it is completely fixed too.
The Division 2 is a game that hit the ground running. Its story isn't the best and can be quite divisive, due to it not committing to the bit. However, the content necessary to make it a success is there. Perhaps it is the sort of title where people will just have to go through all of its many (many) missions and make their own story. Bugs are present to muck things up occasionally, and some organization would help make navigating all of these activities, allies, and equipment would be very much appreciated. Still, it is a huge adventure. Especially once you “beat” the game and realize it was all preparing you for a bigger threat and maybe even a new way of life all along.