REVIEW: Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
Our Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 review has been a long time coming, but with a game this absolutely massive and filled with things to do, there’s a lot to take in and analyze. The Division 2 is an absolute behemoth of a game. This sequel from Massive Entertainment and their retinue of supporting studios builds on the improvements already made to the first game, giving players a whole new city to explore and a number of other new additions. It’s an evolution over the original, not a revolution, but it’s well worth investing your time in.
In the first game, a chemical terrorist attack spread via paper currency led to chaotic unrest in New York. These events prompted the activation of a top-secret domestic sleeper cell known as the Division, charged with tamping down the violence in the streets. The sequel picks up seven months later with the nation’s government in tatters. The Capitol building is occupied by the True Sons, a heavily armed group of warlords, and the streets of D.C. are occupied by other gangs like the criminally-minded Hyenas and the Outcasts, disaffected people who resent their time living under forced quarantine. Propaganda towers are spread throughout the city and the gangs maintain several control points. Clearing out these areas nets experience points and places to fast travel from the map screen. Early in the campaign I found it useful to rush past these areas to get to places where I could initiate story missions because getting shot down in the streets necessitates having to back travel to a hospitable place on the map.
Overall at points, The Division 2 is a fantastic looter shooter, but at the time of writing, it has just a handful of notable issues holding it back. Ideally, a game releases with no problems whatsoever, but in this age of live services, regular content updates, and feedback-based patches, expectations have changed. Fortunately for The Division 2, it launched well. Stuffed with things to do and topped off with some quality gameplay, it’s on course to being one of the strongest titles that the genre has seen.
But again, it’s going to need a few tweaks here and there. Several major bugs have come and gone as we’ve played through the game for review, but there are still a couple of frustrations lingering over the release. The most notable right now is that co-op scaling isn’t quite working correctly. What this means is that if lower level players team up with higher level players, they can be killed by enemies incredibly quickly — before they’ve even had a chance to react. Given the game’s co-op focus, this is a bit of a disaster, but as with most of the issues that we’re going to mention in this review, developer Massive Entertainment is supposedly on the case.
The Division 2 is easy enough to describe: as a third-person cover-shooter (although you can enter first-person mode for sniping), it feels pleasingly similar to the Gears of War games. Mechanically, it is beautifully fettled: wherever you are in its huge game-world there are always countless cover options, and it has an exemplary mechanism for moving from cover to cover while keeping your head out of the line of fire. And you will have to move around, since excellent artificial intelligence (AI) dictates that enemies will always try to outflank you.
It’s a much more complex game than Gears of War, though, in common with its games-as-a-service peers, and much of that complexity feeds cleverly into its gameplay. You level-up as if you were playing a role-playing game (RPG) – which grants you ever-increasing health stats – and an excellent loot system, which is more or less identical to that of Destiny 2, brings a constant stream of new guns and armour components, most of which can be modded extensively. There’s a perks system, too, although rather annoyingly you’re likely to max it out long before hitting the magical level 30, which unlocks the end of the main storyline, followed by the endgame.
But the most important element of the armory that The Division 2 provides you with is the section entitled Skills. You can wield two of those at any time, and they range from the likes of drones and turrets that shoot enemies you designate, to a gas-deliverer which can create explosive clouds around enemies, among various shields and various delivery mechanisms that offer buffs and remote recovery to your allies. Skills operate for a finite time and have cool-downs, so you must use them intelligently.
The Division 2 makes an awful lot more sense when played with others – it has been set up for four player co-operation – and while you can work your way as a solo operator through all the story missions, side missions and the vast majority of the game’s plethora of activities, you will progress much more quickly if you avail yourself of the game’s excellent matchmaking system (you can, for example, fast-travel to a team-mate if they start a mission) or better still play through it with a bunch of mates.
The mission and environmental design are where The Division 2 shines the brightest. Each main story mission is tightly designed with firefights that feel tense and claustrophobic. It’s these moments that overshadow much of the open world and show just how well a level designed with purpose compares with filler tasks and checklists.
One of the most important aspects in any shooting game is the way it feels. The Division 2 addresses some of the problems I had with the first game by adding a bit more variety between the weapons and giving a better sense of damage dealing. Guns feel crunchier and harder to control, and enemies react as they fall over and clutch at limbs, giving a sense of realism that the first game often lacked.
The Dark Zones returns and the Division 2’s Dark Zones now normalise player gear, meaning that instead of raw power there’s a larger emphasis on gear optimisation and player skill.
To get access to the Dark Zones, you’ll need to first recruit the Dark Zone Operator, Senait Ezra. Fortunately, she’s one of the earlier members of the White House staff you can recruit and becomes available after you’ve completed three settlement missions for the Theatre.
Once recruited, she’ll make her way to the White House, where, once spoken to, she’ll guide you towards the first of the Dark Zone Recon missions. Each of the three zones requires you to complete a recon mission before entering, which helps acclimatise you to the unique mechanics of the Dark Zone—contaminated loot, extraction and so on—and the differences in landscape between each of the zones.
Of course, we’ll still have to wait and see how long this love continues to burn so brightly in players’ hearts, especially as we all start to reach higher Gear Scores and become more powerful. Still, though, right now The Division 2 is a glowing masterpiece for Massive Entertainment. A shining beacon of how they learned from their mistakes in the past and used that knowledge to create a thriving looter shooter right from the start. Now all they have to do is continue to grow and nurture this experience, making it better as they go.
The Division 2 is huge and complex, but its complexity has logic behind it. It’s a very meaty game – expect to spend 30 to 40 hours working your way through the story and up to the level 30 milestone, before the endgame kicks in. When that happens, there is one slightly annoying aspect: all your good work towards is disrupted by a new fearsome faction called the Black Tusk.
But even that makes a form of sense, since it gives The Division 2 a compelling endgame – something its predecessor sorely lacked. Ubisoft has already set out an extensive roadmap of new elements it will add to The Division 2 to keep people playing it and as far as any existing games-as-a-service are concerned, it looks like it is in at least as good a position as any when it comes to sustaining interest indefinitely.
Whatever your opinions on the merits or otherwise of games-as-a-service model that underpins The Division 2, it’s tricky to find fault with it. It looks superb – its vision of a post-pandemic, extensively wrecked Washington is chillingly believable – and it’s really absorbing and addictive to play.
It certainly feels as though it has benefited from the sort of dress rehearsal for the genre that the first game offered, and it makes the likes of Anthem feel half-formed and lacking in depth. Whether such a complex game can grab the public imagination remains to be seen, but you have to respect Ubisoft for the impressive manner in which it has honed the franchise’s vision.