For years, the looter shooter genre has been seeing games releasing under the guise of “live services”, a phrase that more often than not effectively ends up being an excuse for major titles to launch with a dearth of meaningful content. The likes of Destiny and even the first The Division have adopted such a philosophy in the past, and even though they managed to turn things around with meaningful post-launch content, it’s still often a good idea to take a “wait and watch” approach with such releases in their initial days and weeks on the market.
With The Division 2, however, Ubisoft and developers Massive Entertainment have delivered a rare example of a modern looter shooter that is content-rich and feature-complete right from the get go. This is a game that is already capable of offering more than enough content to keep players busy for some time to come, and depending on how well Massive handles future updates, things could get even better.
"With The Division 2, Ubisoft and developers Massive Entertainment have delivered a rare example of a modern looter shooter that is content-rich and feature-complete right from the get go."
Thankfully, though, The Division 2’s only strength isn’t the fact that it does what a game should ideally be doing and not be getting lauded for (such is the state of this genre, sadly). No, The Division 2 isn’t just teeming with content- what’s most impressive about it is just how compelling, addictive, and rewarding that content is on a consistent basis, with very few notable blips to speak of.
Take the campaign, for instance- rather than being a grind to get to the endgame, The Division 2 takes its campaign very seriously, and ends up offering a satisfying and extremely meaty experience that takes you all around Washington D.C. It is, in fact, a campaign that can be easily recommended even if you’re just looking for a solo experience (as long as you don’t mind a challenge). Throughout the course of its 30-40 hours, almost every single main mission in The Division 2’s campaign – and a vast majority of the side missions – is a memorable and gruellingly intense experience. While the objectives of these missions often boil down to “take out all the bad guys”, they hardly ever feel like cut-paste jobs.
That is down to how The Division 2 keeps changing things up in terms of the environments you find yourselves in. It constantly takes you to new and exciting locations, and frames its combat encounters in excellently designed combat arenas within such locations. From exhibits inside of museums to the remains of underground subway stations, from the wreckage of Air Force One to the insides of a planetarium- The Division 2 is constantly showing off just how inventive it can get. What helps is that it makes use of all these places in spectacular ways, using them as dramatic frameworks to place meticulously designed arenas in, with strategically placed cover locations and multiple opportunities for flanking (or being flanked).
And of course, the game leverages those expertly designed combat arenas with great effect as well- because almost every major encounter in The Division 2 is a high-stakes firefight that will push you to your limits. And while in many cases such a statement could be translated to “enemies are bullet sponges”, that isn’t really the case in The Division 2. Some enemies will need you to go through entire magazines of bullets, but most of these are of the armoured variety, which means that if you break their armour pieces by attacking weak spots, you give yourself an opening to strike harder. Enemies come down on you in large numbers, and throw everything they have at you. They will, of course, use the traditional techniques that we’re used to in cover based shooters by now, such as trying to flank you or flush you out with grenades, but they do that very effectively, and do so much more as well.
"Throughout the course of its 30-40 hours, almost every single main mission in The Division 2’s campaign – and a vast majority of the side missions – is a memorable and gruellingly intense experience."
Some enemies might send out drones that will seek you out to deal heavy damage to your armour, others will charge at you with melee weapons, while still others will bombard you with grenade launchers or try to pick you out with sniper rifles from a distance. Some will use glue guns on you to hold you down in place, and while you try to break free by mashing a button, others will take full advantage of that window of opportunity by throwing everything they have at you. The Division 2 is not lacking at all in terms of enemy variety, nor is it shy to throw multiple types at you at the same time. In scenarios where you’re being outflanked and flushed out by veritable swarms of hostiles, you constantly have to be aware of which position will be the best to take, while also dealing with the various different kinds of enemies in the unique ways that they each demand.
Staying still during combat in The Division 2 is a one-way ticket to mission failure, especially if you’re playing solo, and every firefight ends up being incredibly tactical and strategic as a result, requiring you to use everything you have at your disposal to the best of your abilities. Each faction has some exclusive enemy varieties as well, which means the game is also introducing new and more difficult threats at a steady clip. What that results in is a game that is constantly keeping you engaged and involved, as opposed to so many shooters where fights so often boil down to mindlessly shooting at your target until their health is depleted.
Thankfully, you have plenty at your disposal to counter the threats that you come across. Skills have been expanded upon quite a bit from the first game, and the game encourages you to experiment with them in the earlier hours of the campaign. Defensive, offensive, and support options usually feel equally viable in terms of what these skills offer, and provide a nice bit of variety to the proceedings. From ballistic shields that allow you to fearlessly advance on enemies, to drones that repair your armour, to seeker explosive mines, to turrets that spew streams of fire on approaching enemies, there’s plenty of stuff for you to try out. You can equip only two at any given time, and they each have sizeable cooldowns so they can’t be abused, but making proper use of skills becomes integral to how you approach combat.
Outside of the missions, the open world design is also very impressive. The Division 2’s Washington D.C. consists of environments that are very different from the wintery urban jungle of the first game, but they’re just as crammed with details as New York City was, which helps the world feel incredibly authentic. Enemy factions and the civilian militia – a faction of friendly NPCs – can often be found engaging in firefights in the world, and it’s up to you whether you choose to take part in these small skirmishes. Such moments help give the world a more dynamic feel, while exploring to find hidden loot or resources is also always fun, even if it’s not all too deep. Taking over control points to re-establish control over sections of the map also feels rewarding, not only because these control points present even more well designed and thrilling combat encounters, but also because they almost always present players with some pretty decent loot, and contribute to making you feel like you’re actually making progress in the fight to take back Washington D.C.
"Staying still during combat in The Division 2 is a one-way ticket to mission failure, especially if you’re playing solo, and every firefight ends up being incredibly tactical and strategic as a result, requiring you to use everything you have at your disposal to the best of your abilities."
As meaty as the campaign is, though, what most people will be concerned with is how much content The Division 2 offers in its endgame- fortunately, it offers quite a bit. Once you finish the campaign and hit level 30, Washington D.C. is invaded by an entirely new enemy faction, called the Black Tusk, who present more of a challenge than any of the others, with new enemy types and more aggressive combat tactics. In the endgame, this new faction invades all the main mission locations from the campaign, as well as the Strongholds of the other three factions that you’d previously cleared.
Though endgame activities largely see you going to locations you’ve already visited, the game smartly brings in enough variations to keep them from feeling like complete retreads, while the added level of challenge that the Black Tusk brings with it makes every activity that much more thrilling. As you complete endgame activities, your World Tier level (which can go up to 4 currently) increases as well. Every time the World Tier advances, the endgame resets, and all activities effectively go back to being invaded again, progressively getting more challenging (and thus offering better rewards) with each tier.
Upon hitting level 30, you also select one of three Specializations, which essentially function as classes. Each Specialization has an upgrade tree of its own, and also comes with a unique special weapon (sniper rifle, crossbow, or grenade launcher), which you can whip out at any time- so there’s meaningful progression to be made in the endgame as well, even having hit the level cap, and the fact that you can swap your Specialization whenever you want means that there’s more than enough to keep you busy. The Dark Zone returns as well, of course, with there being three Dark Zones in all this time, each with their own unique flavour and experiences. There’s also a more traditional competitive PvP component, but that is perhaps the least appealing part of The Division 2. All said and done, though, right now there’s plenty of endgame content on offer to keep you busy with an engaging lootgrind. Where it goes from here rests entirely on the quality and quantity of post-launch content Ubisoft puts out, and while you can never predict the future, I can confidently say that the developers at least have a very, very solid foundation to build off of.
More important in a looter shooter than anything else, though, is loot- of course. And at least as far as progression is concerned, it’s clear that Massive Entertainment have developed a very strong understanding of just how to pace their game. The Division 2 is generous with the XP and loot it doles out, but not so much that it starts feeling meaningless. Levelling up and getting better gear never really feels like a grind to get to the level cap, and the fact that you feel like you’re constantly making meaningful progress keeps you hooked.
"Right now there’s plenty of endgame content on offer to keep you busy with an engaging lootgrind. Where it goes from here rests entirely on the quality and quantity of post-launch content Ubisoft puts out, and while you can never predict the future, I can confidently say that the developers at least have a very, very solid foundation to build off off."
Functionally, the loot always compels you to spend more time trying to get the next best thing. That said, cosmetically, it feels wanting in a few ways. Owing to The Division 2’s more grounded and realistic setting as opposed to something like, say, Destiny or Monster Hunter World, the loot you get is, on a surface level, not too interesting. It doesn’t help that almost all the cosmetics are locked behind microtransactions, while loot boxes are handed out for free very rarely, and when they are, they hardly present anything of value. The rare cosmetic items and skins you find within the game itself aren’t terribly interesting either. If you’re looking for fantastical and outlandish pieces of gear that scream rarity and power with their very designs at first glance, you won’t find much of that here.
That is, of course, a product of the game’s setting, and as such unavoidable- and to be fair, The Division 2 does sort of make up for these shortcomings by having loot that may not be too aesthetically interesting, but is meaningfully designed. Equipping new weapons and gear may not have the sort of visual effect one might hope for, but it certainly shows its impact when it’s actually put to use in the field. Combine that with all the possible stats buffs, bonuses, weapon mods, and so many other options for meaningful customization, and it becomes really hard to fault the build diversity on offer here.
There are a couple of other flaws in The Division 2 that are not so easy to forgive though. For starters, the matchmaking is quite spotty- while finding players to play with online is, in theory, easy and quick, oftentimes the game ends up making you sit through long queues. On two occasions during my time with the game so far, these long queues lasted for minutes on end, making me give up and just do the missions solo (which I didn’t mind, to be fair). The Division 2 also sometimes cannot keep up with its technical ambitions. This is a very impressive game, visually speaking, but texture pop-ins are quite frequent, and very noticeable at that, while there were also instances during some side missions when the audio would glitch out completely and remain glitched for minutes on end.
Far more disappointing is the game’s narrative, which seems to have been consciously designed to function as a backdrop- and nothing more. The Division 2 wants you to not pay any attention to its story, and it makes no attempts to hide it. There is some interesting lore to dive into if you want, through text entries and audio and visual logs, but that lore never really comes together to form anything meaningfully engaging. Sure, the campaign is still an excellent one, thanks to its many memorable missions, but it could have been even better if The Division 2’s story didn’t squander the potential of its setting.
"Equipping new weapons and gear may not have the sort of visual effect one might hope for, but it certainly shows its impact when it’s actually put to use in the field. Combine that with all the possible stats buffs, bonuses, weapon mods, and so many other options for meaningful customization, and it becomes really hard to fault the build diversity on offer here."
But the story’s deficiencies, while undeniable, are hardly going to stop you from coming back to The Division 2 for dozens and dozens of hours. No, in the end, the reason you play these games is for the loot grind, and the build variety, for the combat, and the amount of content on offer, and on those front, The Division 2 is off to an amazing start already. It’s by far the easiest recommendation at launch this genre has had in many, many years- now to see whether or not Ubisoft and Massive continue to capitalize on this foundation in the coming months and years. Right now, The Division 2 is very well positioned to become the definitive looter shooter experience out there, so here’s hoping its post-launch support does justice to the extremely impressive foundation the game itself has laid down.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Long, enjoyable campaign that can be enjoyed solo as well; Excellent missions that constantly exhibit great environmental design; Loads of enemy variety; Smart and aggressive AI consistently makes for high-stakes combat encounters; Great open world design; Generous and rewarding progression; Meaningfully designed and varied loot that makes for impressive build diversity; Meaty endgame; Specializations and World Tier progression offer continued engagement well after the campaign has finished; Visually impressive.
Disappointing story; Loot is aesthetically uninteresting; A few bugs here and there; Noticeable texture pop-in issues; Spotty matchmaking.