The Division 2’s phenomenally well-realized recreation
More than any freshly launched shared-world shooter to date, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 presents a polished, well-thought-out initial progression path with at least some gas left in the tank after the fact. Its great gunplay, worthwhile loot, and beautiful world brimming with reasons to explore it kept me engrossed for the vast majority of my 60 hours of playtime.
After all that momentum, it was a bit of a shock to the system to discover that the difficult endgame content that I had been looking forward to in World Tier 4 didn’t produce any worthwhile rewards or meaningful new mechanical challenges. The Dark Zone, too, was far less interesting that I had hoped it would be. But the good news is that these late-game shortcomings don’t take away from the great journey that I underwent to reach them. The Division 2 gets so much more right than it does wrong.
Things in The Division 2 seem to pick up right where the original post-pandemic story left off in terms of both plotline and cover-based shooting, but it quickly becomes clear that many aspects of the gameplay have improved in meaningful ways.
Gunplay is impactful enemies react to being shot sooner and die faster, and the world is teeming with enticing reasons to explore it. There are chests and collectibles around every corner, and this generous distribution of loot goes a long way in the context of The Division 2’s phenomenally well-realized recreation of Washington D.C.
The capital is painstakingly populated with a fanatical amount of detail and boasts much more in the way of environmental variance than the first game’s depiction of New York City. The series’ familiar and predictable urban grid gives way to lush, open vistas and iconic monuments overtaken by vines. It all comes together to provide a space that makes it okay to stop and smell the roses, I never regretted indulging my inner explorer.
The freedom to tackle your laundry list of tasks in any order you wish keeps it from feeling like an obligatory grind.
There is a clearly similar progression structure to each of the 11 PvE zones as you’re leveling up: you’ll find a safe house or settlement, scour the landscape for Strategic Homeland Defense (S.H.D.) caches, run missions, and capture the handful of control points.
However, new activities, like battling roaming patrols of elite enemies, are introduced as you progress and the freedom to tackle your laundry list of tasks in any order you wish keeps it from feeling like an obligatory grind. The missions themselves are well crafted, and many succeed in delivering a bitesize storyline.
The Jefferson Trade Center mission, for example, effectively establishes the stakes: a Division agent has been taken hostage, and then it executes on that premise. Some missions, like the Federal Bunker or Lincoln Memorial, even introduce welcome new mission-specific mechanics like shooting a valve to douse flames, or tracing a power cord to a destructible circuit in order to open a door. It’s a pity that these unique elements aren’t incorporated into The Division 2’s lackluster boss fights because they certainly could have used the variety.
All main-mission and stronghold bosses, on all difficulty levels, just seem to be normal enemy archetypes with more health. This deprives the PvE encounters of sorely needed stand-out moments and mechanical intricacy. The only one who (barely) breaks this rule is Diesel, from the District Union Arena, who briefly takes control of a turret on a stationary armored car but then just turns out to be another armor-clad Hyena machine gunner. Bespoke boss mechanics are a staple of the shared-world shooter and action RPG genres, so I was expecting to see some more elaborate encounters, especially in The Division 2’s strongholds, but came up empty. The good news is that enemy variety elsewhere is significantly better than the first game.
The expected assortment enemy archetypes, like rushers, snipers, and engineers are all here, but some factions like the Mad Max-esque “Outcasts” take some entertaining creative liberties with these roles. Their rusher is a suicide bomber, their engineer controls a Battle Bot, and their heavy tries to crush your skull with a giant hammer. Most adversaries can spawn as more a difficult version of their basic role, and get a correspondingly colored health bar to indicate who can take a few more hits.
A sneaky improvement over the first game is that harder content doesn’t strictly mean more high-health enemies, even challenge-difficulty strongholds provide you with plenty of “red bar” fodder to cut your teeth on. These lowly grunts may melt quickly, but they pack a punch and can spell trouble if they get behind you. As a result of these factors, combat remained demanding and fun, if a little predictable, throughout my 60 hours with The Division 2.
There were a handful of times when encounters felt a little spongy, but this was usually a result of attempting content I wasn’t quite ready for in terms of gear score, which is the primary measurement that The Division 2 uses to determine your power after level 30. For the most part, I found even bosses died reasonably quickly and that time-to-kill was a non-issue, which again, is an achievement for a stat-based shooter.
The handful of baddies that can take a beating are generally covered in bulky, hard-to-miss kevlar that breaks off as you shoot it, making their superhuman durability more believable. It’s easy to wince at the idea of an intentionally spongy foe in The Division 2, but these tanky brutes move at a snail’s pace and always added a welcome bit of variety.
I found that even bosses died reasonably quickly and that, for the most part, time-to-kill was a non-issue.
Combat also benefits from a massive selection of firearms, and while many are variants of one another I’m still finding entirely new additions to my arsenal even after looting almost 2,000 items. One recent highlight is the old-timey, lever-action 1886 rifle, which stands out among other near-future firearms even if it isn’t particularly effective.
The Division 2 does a wonderful job of making one gun feel unique from another by way of recoil patterns, rate of fire, and sound, the latter of which is particularly well done. Weapons and gear can drop with beneficial modifiers called talents that take the loot from serviceable to genuinely interesting.
The First Blood talent on a sniper rifle causes the first bullet fired from a new magazine to deal headshot damage anywhere on the body, while the Unhinged talent adds a whopping 25% increased weapon damage but causes your gun to kick like a mule.
You can even transfer your favorite talents to new gear by recalibrating, which comes at the cost of destroying the old item in the process.es the genre has seen yet.