Ah, the humble sequel – a mixed bag of joy and awfully turgid affairs. For every Empire Strikes Back there is a Speed 2: Cruise Control, and in terms of games, the same principle applies; for the excellence of the GTA franchise, we get a Duke Nukem Forever. So when I was presented with playing The Division 2 I was a little apprehensive about what was in store, mainly as I had an absolute blast playing around with the original game in a post-apocalypse New York. Would I be engaged in the same way again with this strategy shooter, or would I be left wanting to turn the guns on myself after the first mission?
I’ll be honest, and from the off, if you want a review of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 on Xbox One that talks about the feel of each type of gun, recoil speeds or a bullet’s aerodynamic texture speeds, then I think you may be reading the wrong article. Turn away friend for you have trodden the wrong path. Instead I want to talk more about the fun I’ve been having with The Division 2 – as a gamer. You know, someone who plays games to enjoy them. Something that The Division as a franchise fully allows.
As I said above I was a big fan of the original, loving the seamless co-op play, the exploration of a broken world and the rewarding yet addictive collection of loot. There were problems with it – of course there were – and the endgame was a bit disappointing, but there was also the Dark Zone and the thrill of a Mexican standoff at the extraction point. So the first thing to say about the sequel is that if you hated the first game, there hasn’t been enough of a change in tone, gameplay, or mechanics to make you fall in love with this new venture. If you liked the first one and want some more though, then welcome friend, for you are certainly in the right place.
We start The Division 2 in a new location, that place being Washington DC. This is a nice change as I feel that I know every nook and cranny through playing countless games in New York. But Washington is a place I don’t know at all, so it feels very fresh and new. This story involves you creating a character from scratch – a Division agent – called in from the suburbs to help The Division in their fight against warring factions, groups like The Hyenas and The Outcasts. There is a story here, one that is no doubt based massively on the entire Tom Clancy universe, but for myself, it quickly fades into insignificance. Just tell us where to go, what to get, who needs shooting, and who needs a rescue and I’m a happy Division agent.
Things kick off with you working out of a base of operations – The White House – where you might find a store to buy and sell weapons, or a quartermaster to provide you with new skills to take on your adventures. Later on, you gain the ability to recruit extras who will help with specific features, like a Dark Zone officer or someone to hold station with the crafting side of things. But wait, let me get back to the basics.
The Division 2 sees you presented with a map of Washington, separated into sections with a recommended level cap for each zone. In that subdivision, there is normally a safe house, where you can wave at other real-time players with emotes, and also take on the most important missions which are available. And by golly there are a ton of missions: main missions which take you through the central story, and side missions which add another texture to the narrative and world building. There are also control points to capture, areas in which you’ll need to try and stop people from being executed in, or a variety of propaganda posts to try to take down.
The gameplay mechanics that you’ll need to contend with haven’t changed that much from the first offering. It still comes with a brilliant run, gun and cover mechanic that feels so natural the moment you start playing. You can’t jump though – probably because of the weight of the kit bogging you down – but you can roll out of danger and climb over objects. You can also swap between the arsenal of weapons you have mid-battle, and how you go about tackling bad guys will depend on your preferred combo of choice. For me, it is always about a rifle and a shotgun, with a pistol as a third option, which, as always, I have never bothered to use even the once. Switching out to lob a grenade works great too.
Then you have the skills, and these are hugely important to the whole experience.
You gain skills by taking part in missions and leveling up, and these can be used in the heat of battle, ranging from employing a drone to protect you from bullets, or utilising a turret to take out your enemies in a glorious firestorm. There are a huge combination of uses and when playing cooperatively, it’s great to get a good balance of skills in your team. It must be said that sometimes those skills don’t do what you want them to do, which is obviously annoying, but when they do work it’s great and they come in extremely handy.
You can also gain perks as you progress through the game, allowing you to get more experience when delivering headshots or a bigger inventory on your travels so you can collect more of that lovely loot. And we all know that a huge part of The Division is collecting glorious loot.
For all the good, and it is good, the story comes across as the weakest element of The Division 2, and it doesn’t really move on the dramatic narrative from the previous game. Once you start piling the hours into this sequel, it’s easy to lose track of it completely. But you know what, it doesn’t ever really matter as the strongest elements more than outweigh it.
This comes from the sheer amount of stuff to do. There is around 40 hours of content in the main game and you can probably throw another 15 hours of endgame stuff in as well. Throughout that time, the mission structure is excellent and the environments you travel through are so varied, nuanced and detailed that you will never get bored, even though you are essentially doing the same set up again and again – picking up loot and regularly fighting your way through a boss battle. A big mention goes out to the museum section, battling through exhibitions whilst in the shadow of a huge steam train is a wonderful experience.
For all of it to work, we need the AI of the enemies to be on point, and for the most part they are very intelligent; sometimes you will find yourself surrounded by them on all sides as they try to flank you. This is obviously pretty simple to counteract in co-op (the best way to play the game), but in single player, you just end up running away, hoping not to die. Traveling around the zones from place to place can be a tad annoying as well because you will consistently find yourself happening upon patrols; dragging them into a mission with you is an absolute nightmare at times.
Exploration and taking down missions is all well and good, but there are many other things to do too, like heading to control points to capture, before holding onto them by giving your allies resources you gather in order to hold onto these points. There are clans to join with your friends too, with challenges to be completed on a daily and weekly basis, to see who can become the Kings and Queens of Washington. And there is even a Projects Officer who will happily provide you with certain goals to trade, in exchange for exp or items. These goals might be something along the lines of trading in a number of kneepads or resources, or finding certain items in the area. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, collecting loot is still as addictive as ever.
So, that’s the basics, but what about the multiplayer? Well, the Dark Zone is back, just in a slightly different format.
It has more of a story to it this time, and there are certainly more objectives and things to do in its three different areas of Washington. I have found it interesting still, especially at the extraction point when you are left to wonder whether you’re going to have all your hard earned loot stolen in a blink of an eye. There is also the option to go rogue for more rewards, but this will see everyone try to hunt you down, so personally speaking, it’s not worth the hassle.
Nicely there is the inclusion of a 4vs4 mode and this is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s very much in the ‘Gears of War” style of multiplayer, requiring good old fashioned team play and a lot of tactics.
So, I think we’ve concluded that The Division 2 on Xbox One is pretty damn solid, but what does it all look like? Well, Washington in the daylight looks great with some lovely lighting and level designs going on. The same goes for a whole bunch of the interiors with decaying government buildings and little extra visual surprises the developers have sprinkled across the many zones. The night time work is less impressive though and hard to work through. The cut-scenes also are no more than average, with some so so facial animation and weird texture pop-ups. The soundtrack is good though, the audio effects great and the voice over work is of a very high standard. I really like the random shouts of the enemies in a battle. “Oh No!” is a personal favourite, before watching them fly through the air thanks to a grenade.
Overall though and The Division 2 is very much like the first game of the franchise. The gameplay feels familiar, but there are noticeable tweaks and additions to all the modes on offer, all of which are for the best. I’ve had a blast playing through it all in co-op with a friend, but it’s certainly different playing on your own; far from terrible but you’ll need lots of willpower.
It’s not perfect though and as I said at the beginning of this piece there will be many out there who find they aren’t happy with the finest of fine details. But for me, I don’t care about all that rubbish and am instead hugely excited to keep spending time in this rundown American capital. With the promise of new free content further down the line, the future looks even brighter for The Division 2 than it is even now.