Massive Entertainment’s follow-up to The Division, a game that was ultimately satisfying despite taking a few patches to find its legs, hits the ground running this time around, delivering a complete experience that entertains from start to finish, and beyond.
Visually, The Division 2 is outstanding, and the rendering of Washington, D.C., is a gift that keeps on giving. Landmarks like the Washington Monument and the White House make their obligatory appearances, projecting gravitas as American symbols now overrun by Mother Nature and used for less noble purposes than the founders had intended. Icons like the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian also play host to firefights and skirmishes that bring the realism and grit of the post-apocalyptic city to life. The day/night cycles and weather effects can go unnoticed, but do deliver chills when lightning illuminates the silhouette of an enemy-controlled Capitol Building, under which your protagonist is (now much more dramatically) taking down bad guys during a rainstorm.
Even without a stormy light show, the gunplay delivers strong sensory feedback, even on a mouse and keyboard, and the satisfying *foomp* of sticking a target with an explosive crossbow bolt never gets old. The process of acquiring new weapons is also satisfying. Loot upgrades are doled out at a less impactful but more frequent rate that encourages experimentation. Weapon choice primarily dictates your play style, but variations in mods and talents are what let you make builds truly yours. Through the 30 pre-endgame levels, there is plenty of time to tinker with your loadout, but it can certainly feel overwhelming if, like me, you live in constant, paralyzing fear of the boogeyman under your bed that is suboptimal min-maxing.
Enemy AI also feels, well, intelligent. Urban looter shooters often rely on tropes like fighting your way up a street or other linear space, shooting enemies whose rhythmic pop-up-from-behind-cover mechanics feel like they should be taking your money at a state fair as opposed to earnestly attempting to dodge your bullets. In The Division 2, enemies and map layouts work hand-in-hand to create foes that feel more real because they flank, chase, and adapt like a human player in the hybrid-PVP Dark Zones might. The heightened threat forces you to think on your feet about how to tackle each target on a case-by-case basis, even for the same enemy type, no matter how stacked your loadout might be.
The intelligent programming behind the game’s enemies also makes the game’s repeatable missions, such as control points, fresh at every iteration despite the fact that you’re really just putting out the same fire over and over again. But that’s the thing — it’s not just a fire. It’s a living, breathing blaze that learns your weaknesses and will occasionally throw murderous RC cars at you. Reclaiming a control point feels rewarding every time, because the faction you’re retaking it from shows just why they controlled it in the first place. They’ll make you earn it back.
Once the Hyenas, Outcasts, and True Sons are subdued in the main campaign, the much more brutal, technologically superior Black Tusk invade the map, toting arsenals that include armed drones and robot dogs. As in the game’s predecessor, progression here goes through World Tiers, the highest being World Tier 4 currently. Your strength benchmark becomes gear score as opposed to level, and you advance through three predefined specs that each come with their own trademark weapon: the grenade launcher for the Demolitionist, the explosive crossbow for Survivalist, and the sniper for Sharpshooter. The specs can be freely swapped into without backing out of missions.
The story that drives The Division 2 is its weakest trait, but it doesn’t ruin the player experience, largely because it doesn’t try to insert itself where it doesn’t belong. Cardinal sins of some looter shooters (sorry, Anthem) are momentum-killing cutscenes and missions that are narrative-driven to the point that they feel forced, neither of which appear in Division 2. Plotwise, the game is exactly what comes to mind when you think post-apocalypse Tom Clancy military-themed shooter, so the handling of that plot comes as a welcome touch of self-awareness by Massive.
The Division 2 delivers a robust game that doesn’t really break new ground or shatter any expectations, but at the same time comes chock-full of well-crafted content that has both novelty and staying power.