Ubisoft’s second foray into the realm of persistent online games tops “The Division” by leaps and bounds — standing as a true pinnacle of its genre, adding numerous quality-of-life improvements, a living world and another hyper-realistic city to the first game’s promising formula.
After logging 100 plus hours into Tom Clancy’s “The Division,” I can see ourselves spending more than twice that amount in “The Division 2.” The most exciting aspect of that praise is that it’s based solely on the game’s base content, which is significantly better than the first even after its three years of improvements.
Following a rough release period hampered by a lack of content and a disappointing end game without engaging activities, the first Division slowly regained its footing after years of patching and loot economy improvements pushed by Massive Entertainment. Patch 1.8 — which overhauled loot in the first game to become more unique and plentiful — serves as the base for “Division 2.”
By the end of the first game’s lifetime, it had a respected end game with a bountiful amount of diverse activities for engaged fans to keep coming back to. Now, “Division 2” has that abundance of content at launch.
Players run through a remarkable 20-to-25-hour campaign, featuring an amazing array of set pieces that make the repetitive loop of wiping waves of enemies and gathering more powerful gear constantly engaging and visually interesting.
The ‘Strategic Homeland Division’ has been activated in a last-ditch effort to save the United States from a recently released smallpox pandemic and looming societal collapse. There aren’t zombies or aliens in the “Division” franchise — it’s people being each other’s worst enemies, a major component of why the cities are so amazingly believable and realistic.
Set in Washington, D.C. in the near future, “Division 2” swaps out the snowy and atmospheric streets of a post-pandemic New York — the setting for the first game — for a summertime post-apocalypse in America’s capital. This fictional D.C. is one of the most hyper-detailed and believable worlds to have ever graced the medium.
Whether agents are fighting through a makeshift missile factory in The Air and Space Museum or establishing a control point at a crashed Air Force One in front of an invaded Capitol Building, D.C. acts as a remarkable setting for Tom Clancy’s post-apocalypse.
Ubisoft’s forging of the ‘Snowdrop’ engine for the first game allowed New York to be graphically rendered in a fidelity that brought its realistic rendition of the city into the spotlight. With marked improvements to reflection quality, volumetric lighting and vegetation quality, the engine makes a return in “Division 2,” allowing D.C. to be a believable setting with accurate graphical and physics effects.
Now that Division agents are wearing short sleeves instead of winter parkas, the world opens up into a less claustrophobic, beautiful city, ripe with engaging activities and a fleshed-out world. New York’s windswept streets in “The Division” never lent themselves to providing a game space that felt alive and breathing, on top of an often problematic gameplay foundation.
The Division franchise’s gameplay revolves around replayable activities that grant loot drops from bosses and other enemies. Outfitting an agent with gear that has different stat bonuses and buffs is the face of customization. Essentially, players are constantly working to optimize agents with better gear and armor, which allow different loadouts to ‘build’ a character to be adept in a certain skill set or playstyle.
As agents explore the huge map of D.C., civilian settlements, control points and random encounters fill the overgrown streets. Where the first game had roaming enemy patrols and a few side missions, “Division 2” implements a groundbreaking level of world-player interaction for its genre, where the games are stereotypically vacant of anything engaging in the environment.
When leveling characters to prepare for the end game, players will be establishing safe houses, liberating strategic control points and defending friendly resource convoys to make D.C. a safer city. All of these activities reward players with XP and valuable loot while also providing hubs to which you can fast travel and reap weekly rewards for keeping them safe.
By engaging with them, the sheer amount of the various activities that litter the map make the world feel like it’s alive, with characters interacting with the enemies and each other, even when you’re away. Even though I just hit level 30, the agent’s map is still littered with heaps of different activities yet to be completed.
Feeding resources to these characters and their settlements forces the player to venture into side missions and back alleys to support citizens of D.C. at agents’ base of operations — the White House.
Massive’s countless trips to D.C. to accurately map the city and recording sessions of thousands of firearms ensure that D.C. and its sound design are as believable as possible. Wearing headphones and experiencing the game’s expansive soundscape in a 1:1 scale D.C. all come from the Swedish developer’s dedication.
Apart from the gorgeously realized and lived-in world, “Division 2” maintains its core appeals of cover-based shooting and an often brutal difficulty. Players have an advanced arsenal of weaponry and technology to supplement the loot economy and fill out the lone-sheriff character of being a Division agent, manifesting as skills and specializations in the game.
Throughout the campaign, agents are given access to high-tech skills like multi-purpose drones, a seeking bomb and echo-locating pulse that reveals enemy positions. These skills are put on cool-downs that can be decreased by investing into ‘skill power’ which allows players to use the skills and specializations more often, which is determined by the gear you loot and wear.
After the campaign, agents get to choose one of three specializations: a grenade launcher, powerful sniper rifle or silent crossbow, giving agents a further sense of class purpose and individuality.
The inclusion of specializations later in the game and splitting up the Dark Zones — lawless quarantined regions of the city where agents can face each other — presents serious new draws to the franchise. Players have access to a wider pool of loot and activities, allowing agents to be more customized and unique.
When entering the most destroyed sections of D.C., the Dark Zones, agents should be ready to face off against other players. It’s one of the areas, in addition to a dedicated PVP mode called Conflict, where players can face off against other agents over the most powerful loot in the game. The unforgiving battle arena builds off the first game’s Dark Zones by creating distinct atmospheres — such as one being composed of confined corridors instead of expansive courtyards and city streets.
After the long campaign and grind up to max level 30, D.C. is invaded by the “Black Tusk,” a mysterious and highly advanced new faction of enemies that systematically take over the capitol. Before you’ve started to dissect the true end game of raiding Dark Zones, Massive has extended play time by another 20 to 30 hours with challenging, tactical gameplay introduced by the faction.
The ‘Black Tusk’ will seep into every aspect of the world, retaking previously-liberated control points and using new tactics to challenge agents. Robot attack drones, elaborate flanking maneuvers and more aggressive encounter behaviors are all characteristics of enemies in the ‘Black Tusk’ — in complete contrast to the more simplistic factions seen during the campaign.
Building off of the successful parts of the first game, “Division 2” strikes all of the right chords for dedicated fans and new gamers looking for a challenging and rewarding game. Players looking for a perfectly-realized world and a perfected looter-shooter should pick up the title and reward Massive Entertainment’s dedication to the franchise and masterpiece in the genre.
Bungie’s first and second “Destiny,” “Anthem” and Massive’s “The Division” released poorly. None of the games, at their launch, had rewarding loot economies or enough content for their end game and lacked any semblance of a strong story, something “Division 2” sweeps past.
I’m only 25 hours into the title, though far from finished with this expansive game. Fixing the loot economy to be more unique and creating a vibrant array of activities has cemented “Division 2” as what MMORPGs should look towards with optimism.
Five years after “Destiny” and mere weeks after Bioware’s “Anthem,” the gaming community now know that this genre of games doesn’t have to release in a poor state or wallow in a content drought — the most remarkable message proclaimed by “The Division 2’s” release.