The Division 2 is the game The Division should have been. Massive Entertainment’s follow-up to 2016’s The Division takes the hard-earned lessons of the original and bakes them into an experience that manages to feel both familiar and fresh simultaneously. After such a disappointing streak of releases in this genre, it’s refreshing that finally, someone has gotten it right. The Division 2 is fun now, not in six months, and if you’re not playing it yet, it’s time to get activated. This is our review of The Division 2.
In the last article, we went over the basic premise, so I won’t bother repeating everything here. What you need to know is this: the world is in disarray. Following a terrorist attack, most of the population has perished or gone into hiding. Those that remain have come together in settlements, pooling resources to survive. Members of the Division, the secret military organization pretending to be normal people like you or I have come out of hiding and are now the lone force acting to save America from chaos and destruction.
The move to Washington, D.C. is, for the most part, a good one. We’re no longer trapped in the bleak, colorless winter of New York, which means that Massive was free to inject the game with a much-needed dose of color. Though many gamers don’t mind it and others get behind the idea that “it’s supposed to be bleak, there was just a terrorist attack!”, if I’m going to be spending dozens of hours in a game world, I want it to be fun. It’s really as simple as that, and Massive’s version of D.C. is, frankly, much better than post-Black Friday NYC.
Despite the fact that the game is absolutely best when you’re playing with friends, it’s entirely possible to play through the campaign on your own. In a pinch, lining up with a pick-up group is easy thanks to currently-fast matchmaking (we’ll see how that shakes out in a few months). I enjoyed the unfolding of the story and found it more engaging than the original, I think more so because I played the campaign single player. While none of the characters felt particularly deep, it was engaging enough that I was disappointed every time I had to grind side missions to get to a high enough level for the next Main Mission.
In other games, this would feel more like filler, but one of the beauties of The Division 2 is how well-integrated side missions are with the rest of the game. As you progress and unlock new settlements, the residents there will give you tasks that level up that settlement. Even though I was eager to keep up with the story, I rarely resented having to take a sideline because it continually upgraded my different bases, unlocking new facilities and changing their appearance. You’ll also unlock new skill points and perk points to upgrade your character, and probably nab a few upgrades while you’re at it too. Rather than act as an XP stop-gap, the side missions leave you feeling like you’ve accomplished something. I’ll say this, though, none of the settlements are as cool as the White House.
Sure, it’s a little comical the first time you unlock the White House, killing a few dozen enemies like a new-age Rambo while other Division agents struggle with LMGs at the gates. You’re the badass that doesn’t look at explosions here to save the day and that wide pan to the freaking White House, is your just reward. That building you were holed up in NY? Nah. You’ve leveled up son. But after a while, it’s genuinely cool to be popping in and out of such an iconic building, walking out more powerful than when you went in.
The mission design in the game is good, though you’d better enjoy the cadence of running from cover to cover. This is a game where if you stand for too long, you’re a goner. Instead, you’ll pop up and target some of the smartest looter-shooter enemies we’ve seen yet, pop a few shots off and get back down. It’s not exactly fast-paced but can be quite tense.
I loved the interplay between down and dirty gunfights and throwing down skills to augment the battle. My go-to skills were the attack drone and the healing hive, which is great for when you’re playing in a group. There are many others, such as turrets, poison hives, blast shields; exactly the kind of fare you would expect to find in a semi-futuristic Tom Clancy game. It can feel a bit simple, and perhaps we’ll find that it is as players get more time with The Division’s endgame, but as it stands now, these choices come together to form a “build” to synergize with the rest of your group. When you’re talking tactics over comms in the dead zone, the game can become riotously fun in part because it is simpler. Less time managing skills mean more time focusing on the firefight in front of you.
The core loop of the game is as fun as ever. You go out and complete missions, picking up new weapon and armor drops along the way. You equip the upgrades and sell or dismantle what you don’t need to craft or buy even more upgrades. Then, you go out and do it again and again and again. Every piece of colored armor has stats to increase your attacks or enhance your abilities, but there’s often a trade-off. I’ve found myself rejecting weapons and armor because its enhancement didn’t match my build. There’s also armor sets that give you even bigger bonuses when fully outfitted and all of it shows up on your characters. It’s the same loop we’ve come to love in other games, including the first Division, and it’s polished to a fine sheen here.
The campaign will take you about 30 hours to complete and then you’re off into the Dark Zone. In the original, I avoided this zone like the plague but Massive has made big changes that make it more accessible, richer, and more fun. There are now three DZs in the game, one of which is completely dog eat dog, warfare. The others require an opt-in to be attacked, either through flagging yourself, attacking someone else, or taking on a mission that automatically flags you. You won’t lose everything if you do happen to die, just the infected gear that needed to be airlifted out, which is less common than normal weapon and armor drops you’ll grab along the way. What’s more, the first two DZs also have gear normalization, so you won’t be destroyed simply because you picked up the game later than someone else. These small steps make this entire arm of endgame feel more accessible to me and like a place I want to be in.
That small risk of loss makes the entire space feel so thrilling, though absolutely highlights how much better it is to play with a group than by yourself. I won’t lie, at times I got absolutely destroyed playing in there solo. If you’re flagged and come across a group, good luck; you’ll need it. At the same time, playing with even randoms (assuming they have mics) has been some of the most fun I’ve had in years. The Division 2, at its best, is a thrill-ride that leaves your heart pounding and wanting to go back for more. At its worst, it can make you want to put the controller down.
But then, the latter is true for every multiplayer shooter as the smaller-scale PVP quickly reminded me. I played a number of rounds in the organized PVP modes and, while none of them are bad, they just don’t offer the same highs as the Dark Zone gameplay. Still, it’s a polished experience and offers the opportunity to earn some great gear, so it’s worth spending some time in.
The one thing I do need to mention is that most of my gameplay time was spent on Xbox One X. I did play the game on PC but suffered repeated crashes the latest patch only partially fixed. There seems to be a smattering of people across Reddit facing the same but it doesn’t seem widespread. Still, for me, it was game-breaking. Trying to play with a couple of fellow MMO writers, I crashed no less than 6 times in two hours. It’s a shame too because the game is stunning on PC and handles great with a mouse and keyboard. On our team, no one else had this issue, so take my experience as you will.
The Division 2 is the service game to watch right now. They’ve come out of the gate and done just about everything right. While titles like Anthem struggle to deliver on their promises even weeks out, The Division 2 launched launch-ready. Should that be remarkable? No, probably not. But it is. Because of that, we’re able to move past functionality and see that the team took all of the lessons from the original and put them in right from the start to create what is so far one of the best games of the year. If you’ve been on the fence, it’s time to jump down. Like all games-as-a-service, it’s only going to get better with time. Unlike most recently, it’s already a great video game which leaves me very excited for what’s to come.