The Division 2: Warlords of New York and the Issues With Seasonal Looter Shooters

Many problems with progression, both story and reward-wise, loom ominously over the title’s future.

Posted By | On 14th, Feb. 2020 Under Article, Editorials

It’s official: The Division 2 is going to have season passes. This is following the announcement of the new expansion, Warlords of New York, where players revisit The Division‘s Lower Manhattan to hunt down Aaron Keener. Season 1 will go live one week after the expansion launches but what exactly does it offer?

The season involves a Manhunt or taking down a major target by completing various challenges and eliminating other threats across New York City and Washington D.C (which is why the new seasons require the expansion). Complete a Seasonal Manhunt and you’ll be rewarded with a new skill mod. If this looks and sounds exactly like the missions to hunt down each Warlord in the expansion, that’s because it is. Key emphasis should be placed on the words “skill mod,” which implies that you won’t necessarily get a whole new skill like Shock Traps but a modification for a current skill.

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Ubisoft is also seemingly doing away with Classified Assignments and focusing more on implementing narrative devices within the seasonal Manhunts (which makes sense because they can no longer be monetized since the Year 1 Pass model of early access to new story episodes is going away). Classified Assignments may make “occasional appearances” but don’t expect them to be the norm. Activity-wise, there will be Leagues for more competitive grinding, Apparel Events and the return of Global Events which add modifiers to all content and spice up the gameplay.

Of course, when seasons were announced, everyone immediately thought of battle passes and lo and behold, there are battle passes. 100 Season Levels can be earned in a free track with Premium track that can also be purchased. Along with named weapons and gear, there will be Gear Caches for season-specific sets. The requisite cosmetics are also included like seasonal apparel, apparel keys, crafting materials, the works. Massive has also stated that rewards can be earned by playing normally and that any additional gear in the Premium track will be random rolls. Nothing is curated so best-in-slot gear is still best obtained in the most difficult activities especially with Directives and Legendary difficulty Strongholds incoming.

Some interesting things to note when reading between the lines though: Massive said, “Further down the line we will communicate how players can attain the unique mods of previous Seasons.” This seems to indicate that skill mods unique to a season won’t be available after the season ends, which leads me to believe that the seasonal content – activities, gear etc – will be gone once the season is done. We’ll come back to this in a bit, but keep that in mind.

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Then there’s the fact that seasons can only be accessed by purchasing the Warlords of New York expansion. It’s not the biggest ask, especially since the base game is $3 for a limited time and the expansion is “only” $30. However, seasonal content like Global Events and Apparel Events, the former being free in The Division 1 and the latter free to base game owners of The Division 2, are only accessible to expansion owners. Oh and if you wanted to continue playing The Division 2 like normal and earning your Field Proficiency Caches, that’s being replaced with the new SHD System which is for expansion owners only.

While Massive will release its usual quality of life changes and improvements to all players, including Gear 2.0, Dark Zone improvements and Recalibration changes, it’s weird to see some content that used to be free – either in the current game or its predecessor – suddenly being tied to an expansion purchase. The one thing that Destiny 2 got right when it went free-to-play is to disconnect its seasons from the expansions like Shadowkeep but that’s one positive point in a sea of other issues with that game.

In general, this particular seasonal of The Division 2 reflects the problems that arise when a looter shooter tries to adapt battle passes. It’s obviously trying to appeal to players who are more interested in collecting everything and having constantly rewarding feedback loops while providing a limited amount of time to do so. The implication that seasonal content will be gone from the game, even if it’s something like skill mods, further pushes for playing to get “everything.” Massive has promised that levels can be gained relatively easily, that too without XP modifiers, but does it matter when you’re only playing to unlock rewards you already paid for as opposed to earning them?

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There’s also that worrying issue of limited-time seasonal activities. One could argue that the content itself will be so simple that it doesn’t matter if it’s gone. This can lead to activities that are interchangeable and fairly inconsequential, much like in Destiny 2 post-Shadowkeep.

But hey, players don’t have to worry about dropping money on new seasonal content so what’s the problem? The problem is how the overall narrative will play out. Look at Destiny 2 and how all over the place its story-telling has been since the introduction of seasons (so essentially since the launch of Forsaken). Dozens of story threads started and stopped; important characters left as vendors to “linger” after the season ends like ghosts.

Even if The Division 2 doesn’t have that great of a story, Warlords of New York is trying to rope in those who enjoyed the story set up in The Division 1. These are probably players who liked (or disliked) the post-launch story-episodes of The Division 2 while expecting more. So what’s next after Keener is dead, like the story seems to imply is going to happen? Is there going to be just another laundry list of seasonal threats until the next big bad emerges in expansion 2 or The Division 3?

These problems likely won’t affect players who just want things to shoot and stuff to grind. But the seasonal approach in looter shooters thus far has been an exercise in pushing limited-time content while stagnating long term story-telling. Though the SHD System will be the main long-term progression loop, I have a bit more faith in the introduction of new, unique loot especially since there are tough activities to use them for. Whether players will still be interested in the same Legendary Strongholds six months after the expansion launches remains to be seen though.

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Real, engaging story-telling in addition to compelling lore isn’t something that the seasonal looter shooter favours. The latter is more about keeping players engaged as opposed to actually moving the narrative forward. It’s about busywork for those small hits of dopamine. This isn’t to say the approach is deplorable – Destiny 2 reportedly made $300 million from digital revenue by August 2019 and the year up to that point was primarily focused on seasonal content and cash shop updates. I can see why Massive – and Ubisoft as a whole – would want their slice of that pie.

It’s just that as someone who’s played looters for years, constantly grinding away, the loops and grinding are starting to become all the more obvious and tiresome, especially with the battle pass model. I’m hoping Massive proves me wrong and addresses the numerous concerns that have already arose regarding this new approach to content.

Then again, more competition emerging overtime with titles like Godfall and Outriders and the advent of next-gen consoles (which The Division 2 apparently won’t launch on) may make all of this a moot point. Perhaps Ubisoft is already planning for its next big live services on next gen consoles and letting The Division 2 ride out for as long as possible. Then the cycle will begin anew, keeping in mind all the current trends for success of course. As always, time will tell. And there isn’t that much time left for this generation.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.

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