The original Tom Clancy's the division was often criticised for not really having much of a story in the traditional sense of video games I certainly cannot disagree with this sentiment however I did actually enjoy the way the original game told the story of the inhabitants of New York and revealed this story at the pace you chose as you learnt more about the citizens of the city and the effect the dollar flu had on them in little snippets as you explored the map and discovered various recorded messages that were left behind, I found the way the ECHO portions of the storytelling particularly enjoyable.
For the most part though the game dropped you in post disaster New York and charged you with as a division agent with taking out the gangs ravaging the city and preventing total anarchy from setting in and that was it. If one of your biggest complaints with the original game was the lack of narrative then I can emphatically say you will have the same complaints with the new instalment on the other hand though if your complaints with original game revolved around lack of things to do once the main campaign had been completed then I can safely say any fears of the same happening in the Division 2 can be laid to rest, this game is packed with so much content that there is always something to do, not only that but a lot of the content is dynamic and always changing in nature. To put it simply The Division 2 is a different beast from its older brother, its grown fangs and it bites!
Tom Clancy's The Division 2 leaves the frosty desolate streets of New York behind and travels to the nation's capital Washington DC. The backdrop this time has diversified itself slightly, while there are the same rubble strewn City streets that served as the background for the first instalment there are also many areas covered with lush vegetation which adds a lot of variety to the games graphically stunning backdrop, the city streets are also a lot more varied now, and the game seems much more alive whether it be from the gunshots ringing out in the distance to the various friendly and enemy patrols you encounter on a regular basis, in the Division 2 there really is an activity to do nearly every which way you turn.
The opening cinematic starts off with you in New York finishing up a mission for the division when you are suddenly summoned along with other division agents to Washington D.C. Once again, it’s your job to protect the citizens of the city and try to quash all the gang activity that's been causing chaos and stop them hoarding the resources that the citizens of DC desperately need to survive. The sequel is set in the summer and set on a timeline 7 months on from the original game and the outbreak of the Dollar Flu that caused New York to go to hell in a handbasket. The virus has now spread to Washington D.C and the government and security forces are in disarray due to three factions of gangs forming (The Outcasts, The True Sons and The Hyenas) and organising several attacks on various iconic landmarks and the Pentagon.
Criticisms in the first game were levelled at the character creation system and the lack of options available, things have improved here this time around but there still aren't as many options available as I would of liked to make your agent truly original, though I guess with a combination of your actual looks, hairstyle and clothes you can achieve an original enough look this time around if you acquire the right cosmetic gear in game, but that depends on whether RNGesus is in a good mood or whether you want to shell out real life bucks to buy clothing from the in game store.
The Division 2 plays out mostly the same as the original instalment with the first mission serving as a tutorial of sorts and guiding you to what becomes your main base of operations in the game, on this occasion it’s the iconic White House. This will serve as one of your main hubs in the game where equipment can be crafted, reconfigured and sold and also where various talent points can be distributed amongst your various skills. After checking out the White House you will be directed to various missions and side missions that appear across the map, that have you eradicating gangs and liberating settlements and safehouses, that serve as miniature bases of operations, from attacks, these will serve to advance the story and also grant you better gear along the way leaving you better equipped to face the tough task ahead of cleaning up the city. Unlike the first game where I tended to fast travel straight to the safe house closest to the mission to try to get to my goal as quickly as possible, in this instalment I found myself excited and drawn to travel on foot around the city.
The sense of scale Massive have created in their digitised version of Washington D.C is utterly astounding; the streets feel alive this time around with friendly and enemy forces wandering around gathering resources and spontaneous firefights breaking out at the drop of a hat. I often found myself getting side-tracked by the diverse amount of side activities that take place around almost every corner, there are hostage rescues, activities involving shutting down propaganda blaring from speakers, fights with enemy convoys gathering resources and also activities that involve liberating outposts, that play out like miniature versions of missions themselves, and this is just scratching the surface, there is seriously so much to do and discover in this game, Massive have created a world that just implores you to explore it.
The game mechanics in The Division 2 are very similar to the first game, and this is still very much a cover shooter, patience and strategic movement from cover to cover are required to take down squads of enemies, if you do happen to get caught out of cover it’s very easy to get melted in the blink of an eye, no matter how well equipped your agent is. As per the first instalment your agent can carry two skills with them into battle (and a special weapon later on once the main campaign is finished) and these range from various devices such as chemical launchers that can help by healing you and your team members, through to turrets and seeker mines that attack enemies, on top of this each skill can be further specialised as you progress through the game and can be further enhanced by mods that drop off enemies, skills can be swapped in and out at will, so you could effectively have one loadout used when playing solo through to others that can be used when playing through missions with other team members. Your agent also gets to equip two main weapons and a third weapon in the pistol slot, which can either be a pistol or a sawn-off shotgun.
You can choose to equip a sniper rifle as your main weapon and pick off enemies from a distance and have an assault rifle or SMG in your secondary slot to switch to when enemies rush you and get too close or you can choose to liberate the streets using an LMG and a shotgun in your secondary slot, the choices of weapons and how they relate to your playstyle are very deep and varied and it will take a bit of time for you to work out what weapons are your favourites and how you are going to choose to play through the game. The game throws new loot at you at every single opportunity and you will be constantly upgrading your gear, I found this very rewarding and this kept me wanting to play, you feel like you are constantly progressing for all the effort you are putting in. All of the gear you pick up from guns through to armour will have various random talents and stats on them and I spent a lot of time in the inventory screen testing and working out which pieces of gear and the talents that they were equipped with suited my playstyle best, if you like trying to build the perfect load out you are going to have an absolute ball with this game, if you find one piece of gear you absolutely love the stat bonuses on but find the talent on the gear underwhelming you can go to the recalibration station and take a talent from one piece of gear and place it on another, at the cost of resources and destroying the original piece of gear you are taking the talent from, this will become an important part of the game later on, so I would recommend if you find gear with talents you like but find the stats underwhelming that you keep these for later on so you can use the talents from them. Gear is branded and the more pieces of gear you wear from a brand the more offensive and defensive bonuses you will gain from wearing them.
The Division would not be The Division without the Dark Zone, and a reworked version appears of it in the second instalment, there are now three different dark zones with some of these being normalised, meaning gear score and stats don’t really matter so effectively a well geared and a lesser geared player could faceoff and the result would be based on skill rather than who has the best loot. There is also now much more PVE based content in the DZ such as clearing landmarks and completing project missions. The rogue system has also been overviewed, there are now 3 levels of rogue status rogue, disavowed and manhunt, and you not only now go rogue if you shoot fellow agents, you can become rogue through picking locks on containers, stealing other agents loot and various other activities, if you reach survive long enough as a rogue you triangulate the location of the thieves den and then gain access to this exclusive safehouse made for rogues only. The choice is yours you can go into the DZ solely for the objective of clearing PVE content or go in all guns blazing at other agents, if you prefer to work in a group the DZ now also features matchmaking so you can join up with other agents, just make sure you don’t turn your back for too long, as just because somebody is in your group it doesn’t mean they wont shoot you in the back and steal your loot at the first opportunity. These are massive improvements over the first version of the DZ and there really are a lot of opportunities for a lot of fun and frustration to be had here.
Once you have completed all of the main missions in the game, you will gain access to the strongholds for the 3 factions in the game, these serve as longer versions of the main missions, almost like mini raids though they can be cleared solo if desired, once these are all cleared a suitably patriotic cinematic plays and everyone claps and cheers and the credits roll, you could be forgiven if you thought this is what happens but it doesn’t and this is where the Division 2 flips things on its head. A new threat is identified as the end game cinematic plays, a new faction called the Black Tusk has banded together and is now invading the streets. The game map updates itself to what is labelled as “World Tier 1” and various cleared missions have now been invaded by this new faction.
Your division agent will also get to choose between 3 different specialisations, sharpshooter, demolitionist and survivalist, these specialisations also come with their own skill trees that allow you to further diversify your agent to cater to your own particular playstyle and depending on which one you choose you are granted a special weapon such as the grenade launcher, crossbow or TAC-50 sniper rifle. Replaying through these missions and defeating the new faction will help you upgrade your gear score with a certain prerequisite score being required gain access to strongholds to clear this new faction out of and thus progress the world to the next tier level, currently the highest world tier level sits at 5, so there is a lot of depth and replayability here in the quest to find the best gear for your agent and enhance their power. Replaying through all the invaded missions feels like a new experience due to the Black Tusks use of all kinds of electronic gadgets such as drones and dog-like robotic tanks, new strategies are required each time when replaying through these previously cleared locations and this makes replaying them a lot of fun.
I am absolutely amazed at the amount of content Massive have managed to cram into this game and this is not even to mention the amount of free content they plan to update the game with this year, with the first of it to be a raid dropping on the 25th of April, and will see two teams of four trying to make their way through what promises to be an utterly challenging scenario involving an airfield and is also rumoured to have mechanics were the two teams of four agents must split off to achieve separate objectives before meeting up again in order to complete the mission. If you liked the original game then you are going to absolutely love The Division 2, if you were on the fence with the first game due to content issues then you won’t have the same problem here, jump in you will have an absolute ball.
The Division 2 is an utterly challenging game that while being massively rewarding for the effort you put in, can also be utterly frustrating sometimes, it will force you often to regroup and rethink your strategies after failing the same mission several times, but ultimately this just makes the challenge of completing the content just that much more rewarding. From mission design through to graphics, sound design and atmosphere Massive Entertainment has set the bar sky high in regards to the looter shooter genre and I can’t help but think every game in the same genre released over the next few years will be judged against this absolutely brilliant piece of gaming entertainment, I would even go as far as to say personally that this is the best game released in the past five years, well done Massive Entertainment.
Review copy provided by Ubisoft