The “games as service” genre is one that is getting incredibly bloated. Destiny, Anthem, Warframe, and many others have tried to tackle it, some succeeding more than others, but Ubisoft’s The Division 2 is the first to stand triumphantly above the rest.
The Division was already a great foundation for something great and was a good game but that’s all it was: good, not great. It needed refinement, more content, and more ways to engage the player. The Division 2 does that tenfold, making every other game in this genre look like a joke.
Anthem? Looks like a college student made this for his game development class in comparison to this holy grail. Destiny? You tried, you didn’t quite get there, maybe next time. The Division 2 is an utter masterclass in making a well-rounded experience that doesn’t make you go “This is ok but let’s hope it gets better with more updates”. The Division 2 is already incredible, you don’t need to wait for more. What Ubisoft has given us will satisfy you, what’s coming down the line (free of charge, as well) is merely desert after enjoying this meaty main course.
Hell, you might not even have time to finish this main course before the DLC rolls around because it’s so loaded. It’s like an endless buffet of content. Let me break it all down for you.
The Main Campaign
So, The Division as a series actually has a really interesting premise. A virus broke out on Black Friday and was spread through money, infecting and killing millions across the country. The world fell into chaos, entire cities are put on quarantine, and then the government calls upon sleeper agents in the country known as The Division to help bring order back.
The first game set us deep in New York City but now, players take control of a new agent in Washington D.C. Things have really fallen apart with several factions taking over the city, the President is missing and presumed dead, and the Division is on its last legs with limited resources and their network is down.
The story isn’t engaging, all the story is delivered through people talking in your ear while you’re playing or walking into rooms and hearing people talk with very average performances. Interesting stuff happens but the way it happens kills a lot of the momentum and drive of the story but luckily, you can mostly ignore it by just playing and enjoying the gameplay.
The levels themselves are very diverse and fun, becoming a huge highlight of the game. You go from storming the White House and fending off an attack to going to space museums and fighting guys on an exhibit of Mars amongst many other diverse locations filled with detail. You can visit the Newseum (a museum for journalism) which has tons of different newspapers chronicling events in U.S. history scattered throughout the level for you to find, you can see the Washington Monument, and much more.
Are the events taking place inside these levels particularly interesting? Maybe not, it’s usually go here, kill for a bit, defend a person or location, destroy something, then bounce. When playing Anthem or Destiny, sometimes this gets really boring and old very quickly but The Division never ever felt that way.
I actively enjoyed doing the missions both by myself and with a squad. I’ve always found Anthem and Destiny to be quite mindless, you only bring a team because it makes everything go smoother and faster. In The Division 2, you really rely on teamwork.
Enemies are very smart. Since this is a cover shooter, they’ll be doing a lot of different things to ensure you do not stay cowering behind waist-high walls and boxes. This ranges from tossing grenades at you like Tom Brady himself, sending weak but fearless enemies with batons to rush you and smack you out of cover, and just having enemies flank you from a number of positions.
The AI is top notch and this can sometimes be a fault. When playing by yourself, it can get overwhelming and unfair. It’s easy to say “Well, maybe you just suck!” but you’ll get mixed up with so many enemies who don’t flinch at the sight of bullets who will rush you and take you down.
Your character feels far weaker than the first game, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just very noticeable. You’ll spend less time running and gunning and more time taking it slow, being methodical by planning routes and attacks. The same strategy won’t always work as the enemy types are quite varied.
Some enemies have weapons that shoot foam that hardens around you, locking you in place, some have heavy armor, some have turrets, and the list goes on. You’ll never feel unchallenged by combat which is incredibly reassuring given the fact that’s all there is to do in this game.
Aside from the cooperative elements, The Division 2 adds a whole new multiplayer layer. The Dark Zone is still in play and it’s more or less what you remember from the first game with small new additions but there’s another new PVP element, Conflict. Conflict is a far more traditional PVP experience with two teams placed in small maps and fighting over objectives.
Across both The Dark Zone and Conflict, weapons are “normalized” meaning all the fancy stats you have in the main game are taken away in favor of a more balanced experience. It’s not about who has the most powerful gun but who is the most skilled with the weapons they bring to battle, something that makes PVP far more enjoyable.
I’m not sure how much Conflict will catch on with the player base but it’s quite fun bringing the things you learn in the main game and applying it against real players. The biggest problem with PVP is that the characters feel a bit stiff and not as mobile/flexible as they should be for this kind of gameplay.
It works better in The Dark Zone since you’re still in a very large play space but when you’re dropped into Call of Duty-sized maps and asked to play with a faster playstyle, you begin to feel the clunkiness of it all.
Ubisoft has put a significant emphasis on the endgame of The Division 2 with large facets of the game not unlocking until you hit level 30 and/or finish the campaign. It’s quite possibly the most impactful endgame content I’ve seen in one of these games, completely extending the game’s life long after you’ve “finished” it.
An entire new enemy faction comes in and starts making DC even more of a living hell by attacking the settlements you’ve captured, causing all kinds of tension and chaos in the streets of the city, and more. Players who seek the more brutal Dark Zone experience of the first game can also go to “Occupied” Dark Zones which eliminate the normalized weapons and makes everything fair game.
On top of the skills you acquire as you play the game, once you hit the endgame you’ll be able to pick a specialization class which gives you a host of new ability trees and gear such as a grenade launcher, .50 cal rifle, or a crossbow. All this helps to ensure that progression doesn’t just grind to a halt because you completed the main course, the endgame feels like a second helping of that main course and not a small dessert to keep you around.
You keep building your character in a satisfying way with Gear Score which makes you stronger and better. You can use crafting to not only create new items but enhance the gear you already own to improve your Gear Score and make the endgame content easier to tackle. You can even share items with your friends to help them progress a bit faster so they can come help you with endgame content like strongholds.
The World of Washington D.C.
One of the best things about The Division 2 besides its robust amount of content is its overwhelmingly detailed world. Everything from rats and deer scurrying through streets, people scavenging for supplies, and a sense of identity to each part of the city helps bring this post-apocalyptic city alive.
Ubisoft didn’t cut any corners here, even your guns have little clouds of smoke that billow out of the barrel and linger in the air after you fire. It’s absolutely remarkable craftsmanship from a studio who decided to take so much on for this sequel, the fact they pumped this thing out so fast and managed for everything to feel so polished is astonishing.
What Ubisoft has done with The Division 2 is something every developer should aspire to do. Not only did they address major complaints from the last game but they made substantial innovations in the form of progression, structure, content, gameplay, and more.
While the story sometimes leaves a lot to be desired in its presentation, Ubisoft fails to fall short anywhere else. Ubisoft didn’t create a game that makes you go “Well… I hope the DLC adds more value to this.” They created a game that’s worth the price of admission and makes you eager to see what they have planned because you’re excited for more, not because you felt like you didn’t get what was promised in the base game.
Without a doubt, The Division 2 is the ultimate sequel anyone could ask for, full stop.