Ubisoft’s looter shooter heads back to the concrete jungles of New York- how does it fare on its return to the Big Apple?
The trajectory that The Division 2 has followed over the course of its life so far has been almost the opposite of its predecessor’s. While The Division was criticized by critics and audiences alike at launch for its lack of content and activities that could keep players engaged with its solid mechanics, it was able to turn things around over the next couple of years, adding more and more new compelling content that, put together, was able to fix the base game’s mistakes and properly realize its potential.
The Division 2, on the other hand, launched in an excellent state, bursting to the seams with content, though boasting not only quantity, but quality as well. It was well-positioned to become the definitive looter shooter on the market, but that hinged on how well Massive would support it post-launch. Much to the surprise of many, The Division 2 sort of fizzled out after its release, thanks in large part to underwhelming post-launch content and some controversial patches and updates that did not sit well with the game’s diminishing community.
"If you enjoyed the base game, you’re definitely going to enjoy this expansion."
After having delivered a year’s worth of additional content, as The Division 2 enters its second year, developers Massive Entertainment are looking to change things up for how they approach new content drops. Not only does that mean a change in the structure of upcoming seasons, those seasons are also being preceded by a single, larger, paid expansion- Warlords of New York, which attempts to inject a new dose of life into Ubisoft’s open world loot shooter.
How successful is it in doing that? The long and short of it is that if you enjoyed the base game, you’re definitely going to enjoy this expansion. Warlords of New York continues to build on The Division 2’s greatest strengths, delivering more of what made its campaign so surprisingly engaging. On top of that, it hones and tweaks progression and gear mechanics, which means those who’re in it for more than just the campaign and plan on sticking around for a while will have plenty of stuff to sink their teeth into. It’s not all smooth sailing – there are a couple of issues that hold the expansion back from true greatness – but by and large, this is a solid chunk of tightly designed content.
The biggest change Warlords of New York introduces to the game is the map itself. As its name suggests, the expansion sees players leaving behind the American capital, with the fight to take back the city having wrapped up (at least for now), and takes us back to where it all started- New York City. And it really commits to that setting for the duration of its campaign- once you enter Lower Manhattan, you’re locked out of D.C., and you’re not allowed to go back until the threat in New York is dealt with. It’s a bit of a strange decision, and not being able to return to the base game’s content can sting a little, especially if you’ve got friends playing The Division 2 who haven’t dived into the expansion. The fact that getting to the ending of the new campaign – which can last 8-10 hours – takes a bit of grinding (especially toward the end) exacerbates the issue further.
"It’s not all smooth sailing – there are a couple of issues that hold the expansion back from true greatness – but by and large, this is a solid chunk of tightly designed content."
Thankfully, New York itself is more than capable of holding your attention for that duration. Returning to the first game’s setting is a simultaneously fresh and familiar experience. The wintery environments of New York’s concrete jungle have been replaced with ramshackle ruins, overgrown foliage, flooded streets, and crumbling skyscrapers. Every corner of the map is jam-packed with a level of detail that has become the standard for The Division, and on a visual level, the setting is brought to life with great aplomb once again.
Structurally, Warlords of New York does something interesting as well- though your ultimate goal is to get to the returning big bad, Aaron Keener, you can only learn his location once you’ve defeated his four top cronies, each of whom takes up residence in one of the four big chunks the map is divided into. While in and of itself that isn’t a new idea by any means, Warlords of New York puts an interesting spin on it by building dramatic and tense boss encounters around each of these titular warlords, employing unique mechanics and challenges every time. Better still, as you defeat each boss, you claim their trademark combat ability as your own, and can then unleash it in firefights yourself.
The level design excels on a smaller scale as well, just like the base game itself. The Division 2’s main campaign was as surprisingly good as it was because of the variety of locations it took us to. While its missions would, on paper, always be shooting galleries, the indoor and outdoor environments that served as the backdrops for those missions always kept things fun and varied, delivering some truly outstanding combat scenarios- and that’s very much true here as well. Warlords of New York’s setting is as well-built on the inside as it is on the outside.
"Every corner of the map is jam-packed with a level of detail that has become the standard for The Division, and on a visual level, the setting is brought to life with great aplomb once again."
It helps that the combat continues to be a rush as well, retaining all the strengths of The Division 2’s base experience. Weapons feel punchy and impactful, and refinements across the board help each different weapon type feel even more unique. Of course, if you fall in the camp that takes issue with the game’s fondness for bullet sponge enemies – and there is merit to anyone making those arguments, even though I personally never had these issues myself – you’re still going to have a problem with Warlords of New York’s combat. That said, aggressive AI, plenty of variety in enemy types, and a much better balance to difficulty than the base game’s launch all do work together to make sure that even though enemies have inordinate amounts of health, firefights still feel tactical and kinetic.
Massive Entertainment have also made some neat refinements to some of the game’s core mechanics. The level cap has been raised to 40, after which you can continuously keep progressing your agent even further with SHD point investments- and, of course, there’s crafting, modding, and always being on the hunt for the perfect gear for your character. Suffice it to say, those looking to sink hours more into the game in their quest to build the perfect character will find plenty of ways to do so here.
Of course, given that we’re back in New York, there’s plenty of connective tissue with the first game’s narrative here as well. Running into returning characters promises to paint an interesting picture of how things have changed since The Division’s events. I say “promises” because much like the base game itself, though Warlords of New York hints at some captivating narrative stuff, it fails to capitalize on it. As the new campaign kicks off, the seeds are sown for some genuinely intriguing developments, from a growing mistrust for Division agents amidst the civilian survivors to shades of complexity to some of the bad guys, who hint at being grey rather than all-black.
"Aggressive AI, plenty of variety in enemy types, and a much better balance to difficulty than the base game’s launch all do work together to make sure that even though enemies have inordinate amounts of health, firefights still feel tactical and kinetic."
Those seeds, however, never bloom. That mistrust rarely amounts to anything more than by-the-numbers conversations that end with something along the lines of “once your work is done, I want you out of here”, while the bad guys end up being just that- caricaturized villains who have very little depth. There are some interesting bits and pieces of lore scattered throughout the map that will interest veteran fans, but while the story isn’t a total failure, it’s not exactly very good either.
Warlords of New York is, on the whole, not a radical evolution of The Division 2– but then again, The Division 2 never really needed a radical evolution. This was never a “Destiny turning things around with The Taken King” situation. What The Division 2 needed was some solid new content to entice elapsed and new players, and refinements to its core mechanics to please those who have stuck with it- and Warlords of New York delivers on both fronts. Locking players out of D.C. for nearly 10 hours is a baffling choice, and the story once again takes an interesting premise and turns it into a drab, skeletal framework. But an enjoyable and meaty campaign, an excellent map, upgraded progression, and refined gear systems make it a must-buy for fans of the base game regardless.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Campaign's length is a solid 8-10 hours; New York is (once again) excellently realized and teeming with detail; Thrilling combat scenarios and missions; Improved progression, thanks to important refinements.
Locks you out of D.C. for the duration of the campaign; One-dimensional characters; The narrative falls flat and squanders the potential of an interesting premise.
What The Division 2 needed was some solid new content to entice elapsed and new players, and refinements to its core mechanics to please those who have stuck with it- and Warlords of New York delivers on both fronts.