When The Division launched, it represented a unique take on the shooter looter. Here was a title grounded in reality; from the recreation of areas of New York City, to the weaponry, to the portrayal of the potential for a mass disaster. And yet upon playing, some players were surprised to find that enemies often took several to tens of shots to take down. This caused some initial consternation among the playerbase as some argued that it detracted from the realism the game otherwise presented. The reason for this of course, is that while the setting and gunplay dynamics were aimed at realism, the game at its heart was an action role-playing game through and through. In fact, after continual development by the team at Massive Entertainment over the past three years, I’d argue it’s one of the premiere ARPGs playable today. The Division 2 then, has big expectations to meet.
Fortunately for fans, it seems as though The Division 2 will not only meet expectations, but potentially blow them away. My early time spent with the title has left me both impressed and itching for more. Let me clear, if you didn’t enjoy The Division, don’t expect the sequel to change your mind. However, for those who loved the first, you are in for a treat.
The Next Fight
The Division 2 takes place in Washington D.C. seven months after the events of the first title, with agents working to maintain control of the capital. As with the original title, Massive has gone to great lengths to recreate the real-life environment of the setting. In this case, they went a few steps farther and have developed a near 1:1 recreation of Washington D.C. Veterans of the first title will immediately notice the setting change as you’re greeted with broader spaces, more vegetation, and thus a more “natural” feeling environment than the New York based, concrete jungle of The Division. This leads to broader angles of conflict which opens up new strategies on how to tackle battles, particularly in the squad dynamic. Further adding to the realism is dynamic weather which brings heavy rain and storms passing through on occasion as well.
Agents returning to the franchise will settle in near immediately. At the outset you are tasked with repelling an insurgence at the White House which in-turn becomes your base of operations. From there you will modify your skills, trade and craft items and weaponry, and progress through missions and tasks. As you would expect, The Division 2 offers several new wrinkles in this area though, with additional activities to undertake and systems to progress through.
In addition to safe houses scattered around the city, you will now assist settlements where survivors of the outbreak have gathered together to rebuild. Survivors within these settlements will both call upon your aid and even aid you at times when exploring the city as well. This approach adds further weight to the story, gives the player more varied tasks to complete, and broadens NPC interactions. It also adds a sense of gravity to how society has been impacted by the virus; something that was lacking at times in The Division.
Unlockable skills return in the sequel with favorites like the turret and seeker mine being represented with additional, unlockable traits. A few new pieces of equipment join the fray as well and make an immediate impact on the way you approach enemy engagements. In particular, I quickly became fond of the drone and chemical launcher. The drone has a trait that can not only replenish your armor, but keep it intact mid-battle. Meanwhile the chemical launcher can assist in a variety of ways; my favorite being covering the enemies in a gas cloud that ignites when they begin shooting thus rendering them useless for several seconds. As avid, late game Agents know, eliminating enemy fire, even for a few seconds, can make the difference between life and death.
But let’s move on to what I consider the meat and potatoes of The Division 2 and why I believe it has the potential to be an all-time great ARPG; the loot, character building, and end game activities. Let’s begin with my favorite aspect, the loot. As the original game was refined and expanded, the loot design became more and more advanced. In its current state, there are a substantial amount of options for load outs and build variety for players to pursue near endlessly.
The Division 2 aims to broaden it further in several notable ways beginning with some quality of life updates. The most notable is that gun modifications such as scopes and magazines no longer drop as loot. Remember all those times you saw a yellow drop only to realize it was a sight that didn’t work with your main gun? Those days are over. Instead of dropping from enemies or chests, attachments are now unlocked through progression and then crafted with rolled statistics. As long as you have the materials, you can craft as many as you want at any time. That way, you can works towards crafting your most needed attachments, with the bonuses you need, at will. But more importantly, it opens the drops in-game to being more meaningful.
One of my favorite changes I’ve seen to date however, has to be the addition of low level gear sets. Armor pieces even in “common” green form can be branded and come with bonus traits which can be matched with others from that brand. As early as level 3, I was already mixing and matching gear pieces to optimize my build and gain specific bonuses to core statistics like critical hit rate. One of the biggest mistakes developers typically make with loot based games is to leave all of the min/maxing and theorycrafting for the end-game. Massive has instead developed a foundation that will allow players to not only get excited about mere “common” drops, but also allow them to experiment with builds through the entire campaign. While this sounds like a small change, for players such as myself who live for these sorts of games, it’s very exciting. But even for less experienced ARPG players, it invests them into skill building early which will benefit them should they reach the extensive late game Massive has planned.
The Endless Battle
The Division suffered at launch from a lack of end-game content. Massive was very transparent with their fanbase and as I noted earlier, over the course of the past 3 years, have updated The Division admirably. When developing the sequel, Massive knew they had to develop the title around the end-game as that is the content that keeps players coming back repeatedly. They’ve done this in a few promising ways.
First, as you may have experienced in the beta, once you reach max level you are able to choose a specialization. There are three available at launch, with three more due by the end of 2019. At launch, you can choose from Sharpshooter, Demolitionist, and Survivalist. Each has a unique, high-end weapon that serves a specific function. However, the specialization you select also impacts several important statistics for your Agent and thus allows you to further customize your end-game build.
Enabling endless build variety is meaningless unless you give players something to use them on and fortunately, Massive is doing that in spades. After you complete the main story, the world undergoes an evolution and an entirely new threat arrives in the form of The Black Tusk; a end-game enemy faction. Every mission in the game can be played at upwards of 4 difficulties with the top requiring a truly coordinated squad and new co-op missions are added after the main story concludes. Clans have been added as well allowing you and your friends to work together towards Clan specific goals and objectives (and leaderboards of course). And raids return but this time they are a larger, more varied experience and for the first time, the series will feature 8 player raids which sound truly extraordinary. And keep in mind, Massive has a full year-one roadmap with additional content already in development.
Of course, for many of us, the “end-game” of The Division is synonymous with the Dark Zone. Don’t worry, Massive hasn’t forgotten us either.
Step into the Dark
The Dark Zone returns in The Division 2 with more features than ever, but its the aesthetics and environmental design that will jump out to you initially. The new D.C. setting has allowed Massive to highlight the level of contamination on the environment with haunting detail. Overgrowth and vegetation cover nearly everything, cawing crows echo off the structures, and there’s a level of eerieness that is almost movie like. Unlike the first game in which the DZ just felt like more of the same just with PvP added, there’s a distinctly different feel here and it further adds to the ambiance experienced in the title.
There are a few changes to the DZ this time around. First, there are three DZ zones at launch (East, West, and South) and each represents a slightly different gameplay experience. For example, the South is centered around close quarters combat with a smaller, more intimate feel. While the East has large, open areas and D.C. landmarks for long-distance engagements. Also, you are introduced to each of the DZ zones by missions during the main campaign. This allows players to traverse the terrain and initially explore without the threat of other real-life players interrupting. Also, this time around not every piece of gear has to be extracted. You’ll be able to upgrade in real-time with only the most rare pieces of gear requiring a risky helicopter extraction.
Perhaps the largest change however, is gear normalization. Unlike The Division where the DZ was ruled by squads with specific top-end builds, this time around everyone will be on a level playing field no matter your gear score. Your stats page will show the adjusted, normalized stats alongside your standard build and thus if you always wanted to experience the DZ but were griefed near immediately too often, you’ll now be able to compete. However, for those players itching for a ruthless PvP experience, fret not as Massive has you covered as well. Every so often, one of the DZs will go into an “Occupied State” and during this time, normalization is off, squads are off, and friendly fire is on. Thus, it’s a pure “every man for himself” mode.
Ready for Greatness
The Division 2 has a tremendous amount going for it. It’s building upon an extremely popular game that got better with time. It’s backed by a avid fanbase. And it’s being developed by a company that has learned from its mistakes and overwhelmingly earned the community’s trust. From what I’ve seen so far, The Division 2 is set to be the biggest game of the year so far in 2019, and likely will be near the top of the charts when the year ends. Are you ready Agents?