So The Division 2. Sometimes solo, sometimes co-op, sometimes multiplayer, ALWAYS ONLINE. I suspect this is going to be a common explanation for a lot of games in the future. Games like Destiny 2, Anthem, Warframe and indeed the first Division share a lot in common, and not all of it is good. With the promise of shooting and looting online with your friends, come the broken and bugged release days. With the exotic loot and green arrows pointing up, comes the heavy repetitive grind. With the Reddit community and the in-game clans, comes the sparse and boring end-game. So The Division 2, is it more of the same, or does it bring something different to the table? Let’s find out.
The Division 2
Story & Narrative
You are part of a highly undercover and highly trained unit, the titular Division. You are activated when a virus goes rampant and pandemonium strikes the USA and the world. This particular game is set in Washington DC, 6 months after the epidemic hit, and the game picks up when you (originally in New York) get a message to report at The White House, the central base of operation for the Division.
You Are Welcome Ubisoft.
I had the advantage of dabbling in The Division, a couple of years back, so I knew what was going on. A newcomer could find themselves overwhelmed and not know anything about what’s going down. That’s because The Division 2 does a terrible job of easing a player into its World, in its excitement of dropping you right into the action, it kinds of glazes over the fact on why the action is taking place in the first place. The opening cinematic is cool, but not very helpful.
What Division 2 lacks the most is a personality. Most of it is down to the fact that you are an unnamed mostly quiet agent. There is no connection, no character depth in you or the various NPCs that you will meet. A big part of The Division 2 early gameplay is building up your base and recruiting allies. But unlike Anthem, there is no option to talk to them. And unlike Destiny 2, they don’t award you special missions or take part in your missions. Hence these recruits, quickly degrade to Vendors, and Capitol Hill, a safe house.
Much like its other shooter-looter cousins, The Division 2 leans on scattered clues around the map for World-Building. There is a neat little Hints section about the World (During the loading screen), which fills in gaps on the backstory, but ultimately the story in Division 2 takes a back-seat to gameplay for the most part. Way before you reach the endgame, you will find yourself ignoring what little context comes with every main or side mission, and start judging your progress by your Gear Level.
Gameplay & Mechanics
In fact, everything in the game revolves around Gear Level. Every single mechanic in the game is focused around making that circle move in the right direction as you equip stronger backpacks, gloves, kneepads, masks, pants, shirts, and of course weapons. There is gear that you can buy through actual money but these are mostly cosmetics, and you will have to depend on the grind to upgrade yourself.
As you would expect, upgrading is at the core of Division 2. You can upgrade the aforementioned Gear Level, by equipping different weapons. Or you can choose to upgrade your perks (larger magazine, larger inventory size) using SHD tech points. Or you can upgrade different settlements that you unlock throughout the game, first by completing side Missions and then by defending the inhabitants of these settlements. Finally, once everything is available to you, you need to upgrade your end-game specialization (a choice of an exotic weapon and a unique skill tree), so that you can take on the faster, stronger and better faction of The Black Tusk.
Of course, upgrading and grinding go hand in hand in such games. And the grind is integrated well into the signature Ubisoft Open World. As you move from block to block various activities will become available to you. Open world activities range from hostage rescues, capturing control points, defending citizens to random skirmishes. There are recordings to collect, and special SHD tech boxes to unlock, all on the way to the next Main or side mission. Remember that feeling in Assassin’s Creed Unity when the fog of war lifted and you saw yourself lost in a sea of icons, its similar but this time those icons bring on a feeling of elation instead of dread.
It’s because The Division 2 rewards gracefully. While Main Missions will always unlock new skill points for you to use. Side Missions almost always level you up (to a max of 30) and all the other activities either award you with at least one gear or weapon which is better than the one you currently have equipped (at least in early game). And while green arrows pointing upwards might nudge you towards skimping on reading the small print, you should look at all the stats before you equip weapons and mods, most importantly the tradeoff between range and impact, which can have some real effects on the type of damage you will be doing in the game.
Of course, all those gameplay hooks will fail if the point to point shooting does not hold up. AND… in all honesty, it’s adequate. Shooting is much easier on the PC, but on the PS4, I felt the hit-boxes and the enemies were a little small, and sometimes too well hidden in the environment. This was most evident when I was using the shotgun, which should have been perfect for taking down charging enemies, but they were too fast for me to aim down sight and take a shot. The AI too could be cruel, especially when you are playing solo, and would regularly force you out of cover using grenades, or rushes, or just simply out-flank you.
Which brings us to the question, Should you play The Division 2 solo?
I have almost exclusively played The Division 2 in co-op. Every time I did switch to solo, I found it manageable but too difficult to be fun. With friends, especially communicating friends, Division 2 makes for a lot of sense, and there is no matching the feeling of taking a heavily armoured boss down by outflanking him on 3 fronts. It’s in co-op too, where you actually end up using all the skills as you try to compliment each other during a conflict. The Division 2 in co-op feels tactical and strategic as you comb through levels carefully. In solo, it feels tough and stagnant, as you stay copped up in the furthest cover with your turret at one end as waves and waves of enemies try to pry you out of it.
I know this might sound like that The Division 2 suffers from a balancing issue. But it doesn’t. It just encourages teamwork, something which would come into focus, even more, when you access the Dark Zone, a PvP area where all the loot you collect is not yours until you can safely extract yourself. This time around, there are not one but Dark Zones exclusive for your inner masochist. Each region comes with its own shade of diversity, both in the level of danger and in aesthetic design. Here, in these lawless lands, players can team up with other players and work together to defeat elite foes and gather contaminated loot, or, shoot your fellow agent in the back and go rogue for that sweet high-end mask he recently picked up.
PvPvE: player-versus-player-versus-environment in Dark Zones is in the front line of The Divison 2 endgame content and it delivers. The developers have also tried to balance DZ by normalizing all players’ stats to ensure they’re on an even playing field. It also explains why each zone fits in on a scale of a cakewalk to clustermuck in order to accommodate both casual and hardcore players. However, hardcore players not fond of the “balancing” should find the third DZ (devoid of any form of gear normalization) the classic Divison “grind to be the best” experience. Aside from DZ, there is also the Conflict mode (made up of Team Deathmatch and Domination) to test out your PvP skills. It can sometimes be a bit hard to find matches on those, but I’m glad that it’s there.
Graphics, Sound, & Performance
Returning players would appreciate the continuation as they would see Washington DC in a state of disarray with abandoned Christmas decorations all over the city smack in the middle of Spring/Summer (since the epidemic first struck during Christmas). Also after the chaos, Washington has a serious trash problem.
But in all honesty, while the streets of Washington are not much different than the streets of New York, it’s in the different interiors that The Division 2 scores the most points. You get to visit places like The National Art Museum, A TV Production House, The Jefferson Museum, and of course The White House. All retro-fitted as outposts and strongholds for you to conquer. It’s interesting to see these places in a new light, and they make for some very eye-catching set-pieces.
There are problems of tessellation, and texture popping from time to time, but all of them are minor when you think of the fact that unlike Destiny 2 and Anthem, The Division 2 is able to provide a seamless open world when moving from a safe place to the game world. It felt almost unnatural to me when I walked out of the gates of The White House right into a gunfight, no loading screen, no bull shit. Of course on the downside, this also means that the loading times are higher, even when Fast Traveling, but even there The Division 2 puts Anthem to shame, and is pretty even with Destiny 2.
The UI HUD and the background music double up as cues popping up whenever you are in the vicinity of enemies. Apart from when you are in combat, The Division 2 tries to keep the HUD elements to a minimal, which lets you enjoy the beautiful picture it paints thanks to the jaw-dropping light effects of the Snowdrop engine. The same goes for the background music, which is mostly absent when you are roaming around the city, patrolling from point A to B, but switches to neat little rock guitar riff as soon as you get into combat. I have long since believed that Rock music is the perfect foil for Shooter games, and after The Division 2, I stand by that.
Players from The Division, would feel right at home in The Division 2. Almost every aspect of the game has been improved. Even players who like looter-shooters would feel no discomfort when moving to The Division 2. It’s for people who like a deep involved story-driven single player campaign, that might feel left out, and yet they have at least 30 hours of content to look forward to. Ubisoft has done a good job here, you might want to try this one out.