To start with, The Division 2’s recreation of Washington D.C is without a doubt one of the greatest representations of an Urban environment I have ever seen in a video game. And I say this not simply because this game world is so incredibly beautiful and detailed, which it is, but because of the amount of thought that surely must have gone into designing every nook and cranny of this ruined city.
It’s hauntingly beautiful, and the sheer amount of objects that populate each and every street and building do wonders for the overall atmosphere. There are abandoned vehicles with broken windows, overgrown foliage that’s slowly encroaching upon the concrete sidewalks and trash bags that are piled up high against buildings that have long fallen into decay. Everything feels right at home with the game’s premise, and they tell individual stories of their own to those willing to immerse themselves in these streets.
This also translates really well into the level designs, which are one of this game’s highlights. Each of the missions in this game feel really distinct and diverse, and no two of the numerous buildings that they take place in ever feel the same. You transition effortlessly from the streets into courtyards, underground parking garages and rooftops, and apart from a few select instances, you never see a loading screen while doing so. Even side-missions are so well designed that apart from their shorter length, I had a hard time finding any concessions in the designs themselves.
That being said, and you know this was already coming, the narrative that is supposed to provide exposition for these missions falls flat. Most of my time in them was just spent running from checkpoint to checkpoint and shooting enemies, as NPCs droned on about things and happenings that evidently I was supposed to find interesting.
I’m sorry to say this, but I just didn’t care about anything that was going on with The Division 2’s story. Because while the premise itself is fascinating, just like it was in the original game, everything else around it is just mediocre at best. The characters are bland, the overall plot structure is weak, and there are just predictable instances where I knew what a character was going to say before they even said it. I don’t think players were expecting a groundbreaking plot, but it still would have been nice to be surprised.
Also, and I know some people really don’t want to hear this, but the developers utterly baffling decision to state that their game does not make any political statements, in an effort to not alienate a part of their playerbase, isn’t really fooling anyone. The Division 2 is a game that deals with inherently political themes and messages like terrorism and violence, and they actually are making statements in this game whether they intend to or not. Ubisofts decision to not take a specific stand on the subjects their game deals with only reflects poorly on them, and The Division 2’s plot suffers because of it. I’m not going to say that this is exclusively the reason why the plot is bad, but it’s definitely a part of it.
If the story isn’t really what you’re into, that you’ll be glad to know that the combat in the game is phenomenal. Cover based shooting has never ever felt this good, and that’s because the shooting mechanics themselves have been vastly improved this time around. Each of the 7 different base weapon types in the game from Marksman Rifles, Shotguns to Light Machine Guns, feel much more punchy and impactful than they ever did in the first division. You can adjust them with a number of different mods to radically alter the way they perform as well, customizing them to better suit your needs. They also sound really good. with LMGs in particular sounding realistically weighty and satisfying
Players also have access to eight different skill that they unlock as they play through the main campaign, each of which have at least three different variants. The Chem Launcher for example, can either be used to deploy area-of-effect healing, or a highly corrosive gas that eats away at an enemy’s armor. The Drone similarly can either damage enemies with automated fire, or deflect bullets. You have quite a bit of variety in the Skills you can unlock, but only two variants can be equipped at any one time.
And, as mentioned above, the game is basically a cover shooter. You move from barrier to barrier, only peeking out to shoot in short calculated bursts and using skill when necessary. You might feel inclined to employ a run and gun strategy from time to time, but the game makes it very clear that that’s not the way it’s meant to be played.
Enemy AI is very smart in this game, and they shower you with bullets with near perfect aim. You aren’t likely to survive outside of cover for long, and are constantly encouraged to switch locations. Your foes in turn also exhibit this behavior, and they take very aggressive measures in order to flank you. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in this game will teach you to keep an eye on your flank more than a suicide bomber sneaking up behind you and detonating in your face.
Each of the game’s factions and their units also behave differently, and provide some much needed enemy variety. The Outcasts for example don’t have a traditional Tank unit, with their Sledge Tank making use of a massive sledgehammer in place of a gun. This unit is very heavily armored and can sprint up to you and down you in just one or two hits. On the other hand we have the Black Tusk faction, which makes use of a quadrupedal robot called a Warhound with a turret fixed on its back. It does not need to hide behind cover, and instead rapidly makes its way towards players without any thoughts of self preservation.
And when we talk about the content present in the game itself, there’s quite a variety available to players. There are the basic missions and side missions, but on top of that there are also numerous Control Points scattered around the map. Clearing these out and reclaiming them for your side not only unlocks a safe fast travel location, but also a supply room with materials and rare loot. There are also random events that occur all over such as public executions and propaganda broadcasts that you can choose to help stop.
The true tests of your skills however, are the fantastic Strongholds, which you can attempt as you near the level cap of 30. Completing these challenges not only nets you incredibly High Tier loot, they also help to transition players into the End Game. You see, upon completing the third (Level 30) Stronghold, you essentially reach what is known as World Tier 1.
Now gear no longer has a level associated with it, and instead of that you have the Gear Score (more on that below). You also unlock Specializations, and can choose between the Demolitionist, Sharpshooter and Survivalist. Each of these not only provide you with a special powerful weapon that you have equipped on you at all times, but also a skill tree that provides new abilities and buffs.
You can now attempt the main missions all over again, but at a much higher difficulty with a new faction and different enemy placements. Completing these will unlock new gear with a higher Gear Score, and upon reaching a specific Score you can a eventually tackle the much harder Strongholds all over again in order to progress up the World Tiers. You progress up one rank for each Stronghold you beat, and can currently only reach World Tier 4, which requires a Gear Score of 450. A fourth and final Stronghold titled Tidal Basin is set to release in the near future, and will allow players to move up to World Tier 5.
I could lie and tell you that the reason this review took me so long to write is because I wanted to ensure that I was at World Tier 4 before I actually did so. But the truth is that It took so long because of how utterly engrossed I was by this game and it’s satisfying grind, that I sunk over 50 hours into it before remembering that I actually had a review to write.
Then we come to the Dark Zone, which is arguably the thing that I am the most disappointed by in The Division 2. To start with, not only are the three Dark Zone locations in the game visually less threatening and hostile than they were in the previous game, they are overall just not as fun to explore and get lost in when they’re three smaller areas instead on one big one. These areas, that provide a mix of both PvP and PvE, are where players come to find some of the best loot the game has to offer. You can find it in chests scattered all around, as drops from enemies in landmarks, or even by stealing it from other players. And if it’s contaminated, as most of the best items are, you need to extract it by helicopter, calling one of which alerts everyone in the area to your presence. That’s all fun and all, but I really dislike the lack of lasting consequences in this zone.
You can commit actions like stealing from chests, killing players and cutting off their hauls from the helicopter tethers to get your hands on loot, all of which make your character go rogue and become more visible to other players on the map. This is challenging and all initially, and you can commit enough rogue actions to unlock access to the Thieves’ Den to eliminate your rogue status and safely extract your items. But why do any of that when you can just head over to any outpost, one of which is almost always within reach due to the Dark Zone’s small sizes, and have the automated turrets kill you, at which point you can almost instantly respawn at that exact same outpost to collect your dropped loot and continue without any lasting consequences. It’s kind of ridiculous, and it takes away a lot of the fun from these areas.
Now we come to the part where we talk about bugs and other issues found in the game. My experience for the most part was almost entirely smooth, apart from two instances where fast traveling back to HQ resulted in me being stuck in place for around 30 seconds without even being able to open the menus.
Matchmaking was constantly broken on the Xbox One, with me sometimes waiting upwards of 20 minutes to try and find a group to play with to no avail, and other times finding one within 30 seconds. The problem was so persistent that I actually ended up doing most of the missions in the game, including the first two Strongholds, by myself
I tested the game on both the base Xbox One and the Xbox One X, and the One X runs it as well as you can expect. The base model however struggles , and while the framerate stays at a stable 30 FPS, texture pop-in is fairly noticeable.
In conclusion, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is the epitome of what looter shooters should be like. The grind is satisfying, the missions are well designed and the end game is so incredibly rewarding for the players willing to put in the time and effort to reach it.
The Division 2 is everything I hoped the original Division would be. It’s big and ambitious, but most importantly, it fixes the issues with repetitiveness and blandness that the original suffered with, while still introducing new mechanics. I’m currently on my second character, which I fully intend to level up completely before the fourth Stronghold finally drops. And you know what, I’m going to enjoy every minute of this as well.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is out now on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PC. It was developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Ubisoft. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review copy was provided by the publisher.
The Division 2 Review
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is better than its predecessor in a way few sequels ever manage to be.