There was a lot to like with Ubisoft/Massive’s open world loot shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division. It’s setting of a post epidemic New York coupled with a fun RPG-like third person shooter grabbed me far more convincingly than similar games released at that time. The downside though was that the loot and crafting systems were not the easiest to understand in the beginning and the there were considerable issues with a number of the post launch updates. However the developers stuck with the game and it eventually became the best it could be – anyone who came to play the game later in its life would be very satisfied. My own return to the game was a much better experience. Now three years later a sequel is here and it’s fascinating to see what was learned in that time and applied to the new game.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 sends your agent off to Washington DC which like New York has fallen into disarray not from the current state of politics but from the green poison that devastated New York. It’s not long before you establish yourself at a new base at the White House (of course) and are tasked with bringing the capital back under control. This involves completing missions across a number of regions with varying levels of difficulty… a means by which the developers can help funnel players along a path conducive to following the campaign path.
At first it seems the game is closely following its predecessor with main and side missions dotted around the map but additional scenarios have been thrown in such as control point takeovers and random events like public executions that give players incentive to stick around in regions longer and take on more enemies. Part of what helps convince me to do this is the extra work that’s been done to make it feel like there are real citizens out there who will benefit from the work you do. Not only are there communities to assist but there’s also people on the streets facing off against the gangs and it genuinely feels great to jump into a random encounter and help out. It does a lot to make the world feel alive and reinforce the notion that you’re “the new sheriff in town”.
As you gain loot from downed enemies, searching boxes and completing missions you’ll soon find yourself getting equipped with the right tools for the job. Skills are back giving you offensive and/or defensive abilities to support yourself or your team. The portable turret is back as is the seeker mine and ballistic shield. These and the other skills also have extra modes that can be unlocked by using SHD points collected from caches or completed missions. The same points are also used to unlock character perks like additional grenade slots or item storage so there is a lot of room to choose an initial path for your character to specialise in early but enough points are available over time that you’ll never feel like you’re stuck with choices made in the beginning.
The loot mechanics are for the most part straightforward with numerical scores applied to items that increase with the level of the item and the quality (colour coded). The game tries to indicate to players if there is an improvement in newly acquired items such as better armour or higher damage but the player still needs to get acquainted with what’s on offer to be able to make fair judgments. For example a rifle might offer higher damage than an assault rifle but fire fewer rounds which for players like myself who prefer close quarters combat it won’t fit well. I do have issues though with mods and skill levels. Mods allow additional tweaks to weapons and gear with higher levels and colours offering the best bonuses however the current trade offs that are part of these may not give players a lot of incentive to use them. Skill levels accumulate through finding gear with the right bonuses which then allow mods you find for your unlocked skills (turret, drone, etc) to activate. Initially it could take a LONG time to find the right items to unlock even the lowest skill mod which was discouraging but thankfully the first major patch fixed both of these.
Even with all the skills and gear at hand you’ll still find yourself relying on gunplay to get you through encounters and thankfully the game does this well. The guns themselves continue to feel good and when used you can discern the differences between the types fairly quickly from the feedback you get when firing them. The game’s RPG-like presentation with numbers flying off the characters as you hit them helps reinforce how effective you are with your weapon choices. The environments in the game are cluttered with an endless amount of obstacles for players to use as cover and the controls encourage you to move from point to point. Enemies in The Division 2 are more likely to move around to gain a better position against you so propping behind a single barrier is no longer as viable a tactic as it was in the original game.
So how does it all hold together as a game? I really think it’s in a much better position than its predecessor and perhaps a good step above it too. For a casual player like myself the game is more approachable with what feels like a better balance with the difficulty curve for both solo and co-op. Missions are still a fair challenge when going in alone but it rarely feels like any task is insurmountable. For players wanting to join in with friends the game will even the levels out so everyone is equal in terms of the damage they can dish out. The original game threw players into the deep end with no assistance at all which was great for boosting a low level player’s XP but they were often useless in combat as the enemies would match the best player. The decisions made here have made this a much more welcoming game for anyone wanting to join in regardless of their experience or time in the game.
One thing that I do wish (and this is me nitpicking) is that the controls and handling had some degree of consistency between similar titles. After playing a lot of Ghost Recon Wildlands recently the switch back to The Division 2 wasn’t as seamless thanks to differences in controls and functions. Why can’t the controls for grenades be the same? Then there’s features. For example, the lack of night vision in The Division 2 is noticeably missing on the other hand I wish that Ghost Recon Wildlands had a portable turret. The differences in environments deliberately take the option for vehicles away (too much debris in DC) but if they were available it would have been a cool addition. They are both very different games in terms of their purpose for the player (also built by different teams) but it would have been neat to have more crossover between them beyond hidden content or missions.
The post launch content (see video below) already promises some impressive set pieces for players including an eight player raid called Operation Dark Hours which I’m desperately trying to level up for. Hopefully soon I get to jump into the fray and experience it for myself soon. If this is just the beginning of the post launch support it’s off to a brilliant start. It’s not all rosy though as I have encountered a couple of bugs on the Xbox One X including some rendering issues with polygons noticeably missing (from the last patch) as well as a longstanding bug where one of the key mission givers has disappeared, impacting my progress. It’s still early for sure and fixes will continue to come regularly but I hope none of this prevents me from completing the tasks I need to get into the new DLC.
Bugs aside this has been a great experience for me so far and absorbed a great deal of my time since it was released. There was a concern that the developers may not carry over all the things learned from The Division into the sequel but from my own point of view it looks like they’ve done a good job of keeping that game’s systems in place but making them far more accessible. It plays well, has a lot for players to do and will have a lot more for players to look forward to in the future.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is out now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Played on Xbox One X.