The looter-shooter genre of games and its combination with the live service mantra the industry seems to be latching on to with every title it decides to spawn this generation is quickly becoming the norm for gamers everywhere. We can moan and groan all we want but if we keep buying these games, publishers will continue to think this is what we want to play. Now granted, we still have companies out there that are content to deliver us full packages with minimal downloadable content offerings that are worth it, but others are content to keep us playing their game for the long haul...and there is no other developer that fits that latter model better other than Ubisoft. Ubisoft has even transformed their Assassin’s Creed series into somewhat of a live service model, offering end game experiences within their single player games to ensure that your purchase continues to sit in your system of choice.
Looter shooters are now coming out in a wide variety, looking for a piece of the pie that was initially carved with Bungie's great experiment in Destiny. Anthem recently tried to take that seat and slipped into a state of abysmal disappointment beyond belief and shows little to no sign of fixing that problem. Ubisoft also threw their hat into the ring with the original Division entry, but the plan they had initially put into that series was not one that worked. It took almost a full year before The Division offered a remotely rewarding experience, bogged down by a poor end game that didn’t offer much incentive to deal with the bullet sponge enemies and unrewarding loot system. After the Underground and Survival expansions that offered different things to do for end game loot, The Division began to shape into something that worked and was fun and rewarding. By that time most of the community had jumped ship and forgotten about the game but a few stuck around keeping the game afloat and still top of mind in gamers eyes. After numerous updates and eventually just making all the DLC completely free, The Division saw a resurgence of popularity as people stepped back in to check it out and discovered that another looter shooter had done it right. The Division 2 was then announced, and before almost releasing, a lot of gamers dived back in to refresh their minds on just what the series was about. Even my own Destiny clan is back on the original Division, plunking away at the original content offerings as we consider fully investing in the sequel.
I’ve of course dived full-on in to The Division 2 after trying out the open beta earlier and liking what I played. After completing the campaign and diving into a bit of the endgame experience provided in this sequel, I’m happy (and surprised) to say that Ubisoft has learned from its missteps and delivered what is sure to be one of the best looter-shooter experiences this generation.
In my Anthem review, I noted that I found it surprising that it launched in the state it did because it felt like EA and Bioware just didn’t pay attention to what the other games had implemented. My chief complaint was that it didn’t take steps to essentially do what the other ones didn’t do. The Division 2 showcases that Ubisoft did the best thing it could do when it comes to the industry: It paid attention and heeded the warnings on what fans expected from this type of game. The Division 2 sticks its landing whereas others have failed to launch and offers a plethora of content within its game that should keep players invested even after they’ve completed the main campaign and hit the level cap of 30.
The original Division had complaints of lack of endgame activities and enemies being too spongy and I’m happy to report that this has completely changed. Combat is a lot better, and the enemies aren’t as spongy. The time needed to kill basic enemies has been reduced, and the larger enemies and mission bosses and world bosses all have armor that needs to be chipped off before you can do damage. The crazed rushers are back, and this time they’re hopped up on some sort of adrenaline stimulant as they charge at you, which is a nice touch to explain why they take slightly more shots than regular enemies. The A. I. isn’t the greatest during some fights, but when it does work it creates tense action set-pieces as you dive from cover to cover, drop a turret or deploy a drone to get some breathing room. It works so well and comes very close to rivaling some of the best third-person shooter action out there. The combat and gun play feel very smooth despite some fickle cover mechanics, a weak melee attack and the grenade throwing mechanic being a lot harder than it should be.
The biggest star of The Division 2 is Washington D.C. The first game took place in Manhattan and showcased how New York City handled the Green Poison. Factions broke out vying for control and The Division stepped in to put an end to the mess and uncover the source of the virus that has brought so much catastrophe to the city. We know now that the virus has spread and the fall of government has reached beyond NYC, and now we get to see how D.C. fights back. It makes for a compelling narrative, but unfortunately this is one area the game doesn’t improve upon. Much of the lore and story in The Division 2 is still told through found footage and audio drops that are digitally reconstructed into things called “echoes” that you can view as you explore the world and through NPC dialogue. It’s never worked into the main plot in a cohesive way and feels like background dressing more than anything, a carryover complaint from the first game. It’s a minor letdown since we still have it all in-game and there is some sense of an overarching story line, but it’s just not as well told as it should be.
To make up for this, the game maintains a steady play loop that serves well to keep players invested. There are tons of skills, weapons and armor that are doled out in a steady drip as you min max your stats and load-out. As you complete the main story missions, your base of operations (the White House of all things!) also upgrades alongside you. Settlements also open to offer safe points as you traverse the city and seeing this upgrade and fill with survivors is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game. It serves to showcase a real sense of progression not just in your character, but in that you are literally saving the city. The upgrading of the settlements also plays into the gear system in a clever way. As you acquire better gear, you can donate old gear to the settlements which in turn gives you blueprints for things like weapon attachments. Donating can also net you a new bounty to chase as well as a boatload of experience points so tying it into the leveling grind is smart and lets the player truly feel like they are working towards something.
That “something,” is seeing a world evolve before your eyes. Seeing the hope return to the NPCs and children at play in the safe areas works incredibly well to showcase a narrative that what you are doing matters. It’s rare when a game shows the impact of your actions as you play through it, and The Division 2 delivers it in spades. It’s why when you beat the campaign and hit the level cap, the gigantic curveball it hits you with is so jaw-dropping and shocking I’m considering giving it the accolade for Best Moment in Gaming 2019. I cannot talk about the end game without delivering this spoiler, so you’re free to stop reading this review now and skipping ahead to the end of the spoiler warning.
*BEGINNING OF THE END GAME SPOILER WARNING*
Upon completing the main storyline and hitting the level 30 cap, a faction known as The Black Tusk reveals themselves as the main big bad of the game. Not content to show up and just say, “Hello, we are the bad guys,” they go one step further and retake several buildings and much of your hard work is for naught. It’s so soul crushing not just to you as the player but even the NPCs react to this end game change. That sense of hope feels lost and their faith is shattered. It’s such a testament to how well games deliver their message that when The Black Tusk reveals themselves, I had my jaw open the entire time, and that was suddenly followed by a steeled resolve to do what any hero would do in this situation, fight back and fight back harder than ever.
The game wisely changes up the mission replays with new objectives and these new enemies provide some of the most difficult and challenging encounters in the game. Taking down a Black Tusk enforcer is satisfying and rewarding as they offer high-end gear so that you can fine tune your load outs and retake back the zones they’ve stolen from you. Not just content to end their, you also open three new specialization skill trees to master, new projects and main missions to tackle, more side missions and daily and weekly assignments all which come together to maximize your Gear Score which is the real leveling grind the game has. After about 45-50 hours put in I’ve only mastered my Sniper end game skill and still have the other two to work through on top of finding gear loadouts that properly support them. To say that this endgame is meaty enough is an understatement, and still the game isn’t content to end there.
The infamous Dark Zone is back, a Player versus Player versus Enemy (PvPvE) area where the gear is better, the enemies are much harder, and players can turn on you in an instant. The original Division’s Dark Zone was an area of huge debate. Some felt it was worth the hassle to go through and attempt the gear chase in here and some just did not enjoy how overpowered players would just run up to you and kill you and steal your loot. Thankfully this time around, the Dark Zone implements a weapon normalization, so everyone is on an even playing field and has three different Dark Zones for various Gear Score levels to partake in. It goes a long way to evening the odds and makes Player vs Player encounters a bit rare to experience, which for solo players like myself is a joy to behold. I can go into a Dark Zone and take on the challenging enemies, grab my loot and escape with minimal fear that I’ll lose it to N00bKiller69. For players looking to show off their hard-earned weapons and gear there are versus modes for true PvP fans but these feel more like throw ins rather than a full experience so I chose to ignore them.
*END OF THE END GAME SPOILER WARNING*
Live service looter-shooters don’t always launch perfectly, and The Division 2 does have some issues. While the weapon scaling is recalibrated to put players in the Dark Zone on an even level, the armor however is not, leading to a lot of one-shot kills should you run into an enemy or a player that is at a higher “level” than you. There is also a skill bug in the game that causes your turrets and drones to explode upon activation and resets the cooldown which can be annoying during some intense firefights. It’s rare when it happens, but annoying nonetheless.
Minor technical issues and the story shortcomings aside, The Division 2 is a looter-shooter done right. It’s rewarding and engaging with plenty to do for the end game which is amazing considering that we still haven’t been delivered the game’s upcoming 8-player Raid. All in all, my only true complaint is lacking the time to really focus on the grind considering that I’m still chomping down my personal gaming backlog and am all-in on Destiny 2. However, for a live service game to get so much right out the gate says a lot and I am genuinely impressed The Division 2 delivers on all fronts. Definitely give this one your undivided attention.