Review In Progress
A few weeks ago, I began what for me was once unthinkable: I was going to finally clear Skyrim out of my games backlog, and I was going to finally watch the Lord of the Rings movies. So, after 40 hours in Skyrim and thoroughly enjoying myself, and having finished and loved the second of the Lord of the Rings movies The Two Towers, I was nervous when the opportunity to review The Division 2 came my way. Being one who is frequently distracted by what he wants to do over what he has to do, I was concerned that I would find myself exploring The Division’s post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., yet tugged away in body and mind by my desire to get back to Skyrim and Middle Earth.
Now, 10 hours and 10 levels into The Division 2, I can decisively tell those two that they spent all this time on my “to do” list, they can now wait a bit longer. The Division 2 is firmly holding my attention, my entertainment, and my happiness in its very capable hands. Sorry Frodo, I’ll have to figure out your jewelry obsession later.
After the long-running, sometimes warm, sometimes lukewarm reception of Destiny 2 (I never made it more than half a dozen hours or so) and the far more recent consumer disappointment in Anthem, The Division 2 found itself in both a state of opportunity and trepidation. Loot shooter enthusiasts are hungry for the next generation of games, but are also weary of dropping triple-A cash on another game that either stumbles out of the gate or limps to the finish line over its expected long-running lifespan. I am happy to report that thus far in my experience, The Division 2 lives up to every expectation.
The Division 2 takes place 7 months later and 225 miles further southwest from The Division. The Green Flu that devastated New York City, killing millions, throwing the city into chaos, and triggering mass evacuations, has become a global pandemic. The Division is an organization of seemingly ordinary people who were activated to prevent the downfall of society, strengthening and restructuring governments at every level, to help preserve the way of life.
I could go on about the plot, but really, it’s unnecessary. The Division 2 is not all that concerned with a storyline. You start out battling Hyenas, who are organized street thugs, then move on to fighting True Sons, who could ex-IRS employees, I’m not sure, and then a third faction will eventually enter the mix. I honestly don’t know much about who is who, and outside of loading screen tips, The Division 2 doesn’t really seem to care much either. You play the team with the orange circles who want to make D.C. great again, you protect and fight with the guys with green health bars with the extra-cheesy dialog, and you shoot at the guys with the red health bars who swear a lot and seem extra happy to cause human suffering.
While the plot junkie and story enthusiast in me weeps at the lackadaisical way a potentially engrossing plot is handled, this is honestly the right way to handle a loot shooter. Anthem has taken much flak for shoehorning story into a game where the majority of its target audience truthfully couldn’t care less. Sure, my first playthrough of a story mission, I’d like to know more about who I’m trying to take this TV station away from, what their side of the story is, and the emotional motivating factors driving level end boss Captain firstname lastname to beat me to death with the butt of his rifle, but in the overall scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter, and the Division 2 is neither going to force me to care nor make not knowing punishable. And even if I do care the first time, am I going to care the 10th time playing this mission as I grind toward higher gear?
Yes, the Division 2 knows that its longevity of enjoyment depends on players enjoying the grind, constantly getting better weapons and gear, then having at each other in the Player vs. Player vs. Environment Dark Zone, and it does so exceptionally well. Washington D.C. in the summer is a fun playground not unlike New York City of The Division, with a beautiful disaster of sights and sounds and activities. The city is populated with a base of operations for Division agents, various settlements around with their own projects, priorities, and people, plenty of landmarks to visit and explore, side missions to complete, loot of various importance and usefulness to discover and use, safe houses to unlock, and control points that need conquering and maintaining to upkeep. Even apart from all that, simply wandering the streets provides plenty of opportunities for engagement, as it’s common to find roving groups of enemies or allies out looking for supplies or on patrol. Frequently, you’ll stumble upon these groups engaged with one another, and can carefully sneak up on the group and finish off their remaining health before they even know what hit them. These engagements aren’t even limited to allies vs. enemies, and opposing enemy groups will also fight amongst themselves, allowing you to pick off the wounded remainder. D.C. is a living, breathing organism, with a day/night cycle and weather system that offers rainy nights and foggy mornings that make the same street feel very different when approached from a different angle at a different time.
Not having many friends myself, I’ve taken to trying out the matchmaking feature available in every safe room and base. This usually puts me in mid-mission with a group of random players with muted microphones. We fight together to the end of the mission, gather the loot, then stand around awkwardly as we silently try to decide what to do next, until one by one we all drop out of the group. This is a reasonably fun way to take on missions that are quite difficult to tackle solo, and gives the single player crowd like me a no-commitment approach to the teamwork gameplay that is so important in a loot shooter. But The Division 2 is truly at its best when played with friends. The heyday of couch co-op may be long behind us, but playing alongside people you know and sharing a mission with them is still the best way to experience The Division 2.
There are garden variety problems with The Division 2, of course. I’ve encountered my share of bugs that cause me to sprint full speed in place as my left pinky toe is caught on some invisible 2-inch high barrier. Matchmaking with random groups will sometimes spawn you several hundred yards away from the group, surrounded by higher-level enemies who are very quick to bash your head before you even get your bearings. The ambient dialog is badly written and almost unbearable to listen to. And for all its beauty and detail, I can’t help but wonder if Washington D.C. is just too similar of a location to New York City from the first game. As I pass through yet another trash-filled alley or ruined, flooded, wrecked basement, I can’t help but wonder if I’d know it if the scene were just lifted The Division. If the series continues, I would like to see Ubisoft tackle something more foreign and distinct, like a Hong Kong, Tokyo, São Paulo, or Mexico City, and really let a new ruined world shine through.
This is all fairly nitpicky, of course, and does little to distract from the fact that, at this point in my time, The Division 2 is a fantastic game. I’m looking forward to spending some time in the Dark Zone, progressing through the main story missions to reach the endgame, and seeing all the little missions and iconic locations along the way. For those who have felt let down by loot shooters in the past year, The Division 2 will mend your broken heart and fill your hours with lots of loot, engaging combat, plenty of upgrade options, and fun to be had in every step of the grind.
This review will be updated.