Today we’re taking a look at Ubisoft’s eagerly anticipated city based open-world online cover shooter, The Division 2. Having enjoyed the snowy New York setting of the original, a change of scenery and weather in Washington DC sets the tone of the sequel. The Secure Homeland Division reigns supreme again and this time players face a new threat to humanity in the wake of a global viral outbreak. The Division 2 is very much a tale of the survival of the fittest. However, with plenty in common with its predecessor, does it sink its hooks in just as well?
Right out of the gate The Division 2 sweeps away any ambiguity with regards to how it plays. Yes, it’s the same cover shooting of the original, yet at the same time offers a refined playing experience. Possibly the most engaging aspect of playing after 40 hours or more is how every part feels like a section of a larger picture. Players aren’t just moving from skirmish to skirmish but rather building up a series of communities for normal people to live their lives. Unlike the first game, player actions count towards providing hope and improvement over a wider net, and this manifests itself with plentiful visual cues along the way. Whilst perhaps only a cosmetic feature at heart, it does give the player a sense of community involvement rather than just the gun-for-hire character.
From the offset, players choose a male or female avatar with at least some customization options this time. Whilst not extensive, it’s enough to turn the default horror story looking characters into something less shocking. Without delving too deeply into why Ubisoft opted for some of the most ugly looking default characters, at least the option to tinker (and really you should) presents itself. Other than changing hair and tattoos later in the game, players can’t adjust their character’s physical features. So it’s better to get the looks right before you start investing the hours.
It terms of in-play customization it’s the same here although more user friendly. You find items in the field, you equip them or you spend earned points on chests to unlock additional gear or spend real money on cosmetic niceties. Sadly, despite offering some neat looking threads for your manly geezer bird, or goon male character the armor and other bits cover it up which is a bit of a shame. The Division 2 tries to place itself into realism but some things should just give, unfortunately this isn’t one of them.
Annoyances aside, the acquisition of new gear is the main gameplay hook outside of completing story missions, side missions, random world events and location set pieces. Worth mentioning here, the side missions play better this time and offer interesting scenarios in unique locations. Feeling more like mini main missions. So a big thumbs-up to the design team there.
Players spend a lot of time collecting loot, looking at stats and swapping gear pieces or getting rid of junk. Luckily, this is a fairly quick process, but the game really does throw a ton of stuff your way whether you want it or not. It’s pretty much a looter’s whet dream offering plentiful choices in terms of weapon sets translating to how you want to approach the game. Players choose to side with one role or create class sets depending on the scenario. It’s all here from shotgun wielding CQC expert, to sneaky ranged sharpshooter or a mixture of both. This is what The Division 2 does well by its design, allowing free-form play and a change of roles on the fly. Players never become too overpowered despite a bit of depth to the customization of gear parts for those who take note. Enemy level scales with the player and to the number of players in a squad. The jury is out on whether this is a great or tiring system because you can’t go back and kick some serious tail against former opposition.
A massive part of the gameplay hook needing a mention here is the wonderful AI based on distinct enemy types. Various factions inhabit the city alongside friendlies and come at you in distinct ways. The AI comes into its own or puts on its best performance when playing solo. You’ll see flanking maneuvers, rushing, bombardment, camping the works and it’s simply great fun to engage with. Yes, some moments feel cheap especially with regards to the tank like classes, but with persistence and a change in strategy or skill-set offers a welcoming sense of accomplishment when defeated. The Division 2 is very much a co-op game where players drop in and out of each other’s experiences, or call for assistance. Yet, the solo game is up there too and feels great and ultimately fun to play. Perhaps some of the latter missions require a fully functioning team but for the majority, solo play is a feasible or a recommended option throughout.
Gameplay aside, props to the designers who created a down-trodden vision of one of America’s most iconic cities. Whilst some sections feel somewhat familiar or repeated even, the sheer level of chaos left behind paints a bleak but wonderful picture. Showcasing the fall and survival of humanity in adversity. Every inch of the map looks well-crafted to evoke a feeling of despair with your agent character at its heart. The visuals just work despite familiar elements with the New York setting of the previous game. Overall, the visuals look great despite some stiff NPCs and especially pleasant at max settings in 4K with HDR enabled.
Audio also fills the void with a plethora of sound effects and ambient features. Music also provides a wonderful backdrop to the action sequences. The voice acting offers typical performances, but no real reason to complain here given the breadth of the aural pallet when taken as a whole. Crank up the volume to become engulfed by the sounds of a troubled city. Awesome!
Looking at the game’s longevity, player mileage will vary depending on how invested in the story one becomes. How hooked on gaining new gear and whether you enjoy taking the game at your own pace. The main story and any distractions might net up to 30 hours or more play time, and then a host of post-story content over level 30 presents itself. The Division 2 offers no shortage of enemies to kill, areas to retake and the Black Tusk faction entering the mix to spice things up post story completion. As with the first game, season based content is a big part of The Division, so players can expect more scenarios further down the road.
The Division 2 is a fantastic city based cover shooter which simply works as intended without deviating from its original vision. Some visual variety outside of the urban looks might provide some variety at a later date, but as it stands the tarnished city playground suits the purpose. The overall gameplay experience feels refined over its predecessor but does become repetitive over prolonged play sessions. That said, if loot is your thing, or a world that doesn’t feature zombies, aliens or any kind of sci-fi then you have an experience that stands out as a result. The cover shooting is thrilling and intense in equal measure, making for a cracking game to sink your teeth into and while away many enjoyable combat hours.