REVIEW: ‘The Division 2’ Gets The Looter-Shooter Formula Right

Ubisoft’s The Division 2 is officially here and it is exactly what I had hoped it would be as a die-hard fan of the franchise.

After having played through The Division 2 for roughly 22 hours I am not disappointed in saying that Ubisoft has been able to develop a competent gaming experience with an overwhelming amount of content to it.  Now while this may seem like backhanded praise of the highly anticipated-looter shooter I can assure you that it most certainly is not. It is undoubtedly a massive task for a developer to be able to produce an ongoing gaming experience as we’ve seen with the follies made with Bungie’s Destiny 2 and Bioware’s Anthem, but one that they weren’t scared to take up.

Following my disappointment with Destiny 2 and Anthem I would like to think that The Division 2 is a welcome breath of fresh air for me as someone who has arguably been both critical and optimistic of the looter-shooter genre. While I did partly expect for Ubisoft to make similar mistakes to Bungie and Bioware or like what they did with the initial launch of The Division I can say that I’ve yet to see those flaws shine their ugly heads.

 

Upon crafting my mustachioed, shade wearing agent and deploying him into the disease battered capitol city to shoot some NPCs I’ve found that while the game’s aesthetic is certainly generic and not overly differential from the previous game it is still strong from the mechanical perspective for the most part. Aside from a few frame-rate drops on the PC and consoles, occasional texture pop-in, and the odd floating dead guy, this is perhaps one of the smoothest launches of a game I’ve ever experienced in recent memory. You could almost say that it is near flawless considering how low the bar has been set in recent years thanks to titles like Fallout 76. 

Now obviously Ubisoft isn’t just going to take any review that says “Well, we did it. It works, guys” and retweet it on social media to get consumers to buy their games because that just doesn’t work. They are mostly a developer that follows the “show, don’t tell” approach to pitching their titles to people. However, that certainly is what The Division 2 does for me. It is a game that fully takes advantage of its open-world environment as nearly every Ubisoft title does and drops an almost overwhelming amount of missions and opportunities to get into a firefight right into your lap from the get-go. It heavily showcases it and everything hinges on it. There is still a lot of progression and skill upgrades for players to unlock so players are certain to not lose sight of where they are going or what they are trying to do as they build up their characters stats and abilities.

This is definitely something that in some ways does work as smoke-screen for some of the issues that The Division 2 does still have from a narrative standpoint. As with most Ubisoft games it does have a story, but it isn’t anything substantial just like the previous game was. It is at best, paper thin and at worse, non-existent if you really aren’t overly attentive. Like in the first Division you are an agent for a secret government agency that has been deployed to restore order to the streets of Washington D.C. following the release of a deadly virus that is set seven months after the virus first broke out in New York City. The city has been ravaged by the rogue paramilitary group the True Sons, a gang called the Hyenas, and the only way anyone can really hide from these people is by hiding in the various settlements and control points that are scattered across the map. Between the various main missions and side-missions, I couldn’t really explain the exact events of the game to you even if I was asked.

As someone who has actually been through Washington D.C. it is a perfect 1:1 rendering of the city with a few minor changes to create that “end times” sort of feeling. Some of the famous landmarks that can be found in DC such as the White House serve as the base operations of your player and are repurposed to help players as they progress through the world. There’s also a lot of environmental changes too such as rain, night time, and thick fog, which can prove fairly advantageous in a situation for players and the smarter AI enemies alike if either know what they are doing.

After being dubbed the new sheriff in town, you set out to end lawlessness in the only way a sleeper agent knows how, by killing people and rescuing others. You also take on “projects” which are various side-missions that require players to find various components and donate them to upgrade settlements in exchange for various weapon blueprints, weapon upgrades, and experience points. It is pretty straightforward and somewhat akin to the upgrade system that was present in Far Cry New Dawn, but not as easy. Some of the items required for these projects are difficult, but not impossible to find in the world due to the overwhelming amount of content that is in this game. I would definitely recommend checking every corner and hope that one of the AIs you kill drops a special key that will give you the opportunity to unlock special rooms that contain some fairly higher tier weaponry and armor.

Is it necessarily bad that The Division 2‘s story is not that great? No, it is not because that is honestly not why a lot of people play it, including me. It is a cover-based looter-shooter game that places a greater emphasis on mechanics, skills, player progression, and has quite a few unique tricks up its sleeves. Despite having to contend with “realistic” military-grade weaponry, The Division 2′s roster of weapons is overwhelmingly diverse with a few new additions like the M16A2 and the Diceros revolver. Some assault rifles are capable of firing at a much faster rate and deal more damage than others, but that power comes with a trade-off. With every upgrade you can boost a specific stat, but it will lower other things. For example, equipping a foregrip will increase my accuracy but lower my optimal range. It plays heavily into the “high risk, high reward” model that the developers consistently touted every time they were promoting The Division 2 and how it isn’t exactly like the first game. Players will have to do a little more math and do a cost-benefit analysis as they weigh what sort of play style and upgrades they want to have because these choices will affect their performance in action.

The downside to some of the upgrades and changes is that they can be somewhat annoying. For example, as a player who loves the newer abilities like the Hive ability it does irritate me that the skills have such a long cooldown that can almost go up to 200 seconds so early on into the game. Now obviously this may seem like a nitpick, considering I’ve yet to reach endgame and there likely are going to be mods that will significantly reduce the cooldown times for some of the skills, but I would hope that the developers do consider slightly dropping it down just a notch. The controls also feel a tad stiff compared to the fluid ones in The Division or Anthem, which is not really compatible for a game where a lot of the action is fast-paced and your enemies are moving up on you even faster. I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve been downed by an elite enemy or melee enemy who got close enough to me while I was reloading.

As for the level designs in the game, I’d say they’re incredibly elaborate improvements from the previous game and provide for a lot of interesting challenges where the enemy could be coming at you from every point of entry imaginable. More importantly it does more to encourage team play if you are running the missions with a squad so be sure to find a way to coordinate with them to see how you can keep the enemy down as more of them enter the room. Sure, you can play the game solo and there are plenty of people who do that, but the experience you will get from it will not be as fulfilling like rolling in a squad does. As someone who has often leaned towards co-operative games such as DC Universe Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic, I think there’s an enjoyable sense of competitiveness that comes from being able to see who can do more to complete a mission compared to some solo play leaderboard. It is why I am so excited to see what the developers do with the 8-player raids that they’re set to do with the game in the coming months.

One of the common criticisms of the first Division was that the enemies were far too bullet sponge-y, which I often agreed with. The Division 2 to some degree does change that. The weapons and melee attacks definitely pack more of a punch and you can easily feel it whether you’re getting hit or the one doing the hitting. Certain enemies that are a higher level can still take a beating, but it makes more sense because they have armor just like players do but you can find ways to figure out how to make it a lot more bearable. While you shoot at your targets you start to see varying damage numbers pop up, which act as visual clues that urge you to understand the math behind the statistics of your weapon to see what kind of gear or mods you may need to crack their armor a lot faster depending on if you hit them in a weak point. With a more diverse and reactive range of enemies, you can find a lot more ammo as well as challenges that range from dodging grenade launchers or RPGs while being chased around by a giant armored tank who is trying to incinerate you with a flamethrower.

For the most part, I would say that The Division 2 is everything that it sets out to be and isn’t overly repetitive like the first game. It is a competent and refreshing experience in a genre that is often marred by poor development choices and a scarce amount of content and near non-existent variety within the content. Is The Division 2 perfect? Absolutely not as anything made by humans isn’t, but it is the closest we’ll get to that based on how competent the mechanics are for the most part. At this point I can say that the only thing that could break this game is if Ubisoft’s long-term plans for The Division 2’s endgame do not pan out like everyone is hoping. I do sincerely doubt that though based on the amount of regular content updates that they’ve got planned for post-launch such as the aforementioned 8-player raids, free DLC episodes, additional player specializations, and so on and so forth. Would I say that The Division 2 is a safe day one purchase? Overall, I will say yes because there are a lot more positives to it than negatives, which again is a surprising thing for anyone to say considering all of the scandals surrounding the nature of AAA game development. It is the first game in a long time to adequately show that it does understand what people expect from the looter-shooter formula and gets it right the first time.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Washington D.C. is on the brink of collapse. Lawlessness and instability threaten our society, and rumours of a coup in the Capitol are only amplifying the chaos. All active Division agents are desperately needed to save the city before it’s too late.

Ubisoft’s The Division 2 is now available for purchase on the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.

What do you think of this review? Are you planning on picking up The Division 2? Let us know in the comments below!