Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (hereafter The Division 2, or TD2, or the game) carries with it some pedigree. This much is obvious from the name. It has added pressure to perform, too; the original Division was considered, by many, to be something of a let down in certain ways - most notable of which was what happened when you go to the “endgame” after you’d completed all of the story stuff.
This article is not, in any way, a final review of The Division 2’s endgame. It would be if I were that far through the game, but I’m not, so it would be silly of me to discuss what I think of it.
Instead, this is one of those reviews in progress in which we strive to get something up while the game is still minty fresh and also accept that completing the thing and getting all definitive on it is going to take some time (the review guide suggests I spend some 50-60 hours on it, all up, before deciding which number should forever be allocated in its direction).
So, the story so far…
The Division 2 is set in Washington DC, seven months after the outbreak of a toxic variant of smallpox that ends up wiping out the bulk of civilization. You play as an agent in the post-apocalyptic super police force that’s known as The Division. Your badassery knows no bounds and your one-woman (or man, if you’re that way inclined) force is capable of eviscerating all manner of entrenched bad guys that are using the apocalypse as an opportunity to seize power and resources wherever they can.
This pretty generic premise is incredibly well executed in a number of key ways. Firstly, the world feels incredibly run-down; the streets and buildings are littered with all manner of societal detritus as if nature had been granted free-reign to muck about with them. The level of detail is staggering to behold - there’s just so much stuff everywhere and all of it combines to sell this idea that the power to build these monuments to capitalism is gone; those that remain are squatting, hardly able to keep the place clean - let alone prevent the rampant expansion of mother nature into the once pristine concrete jungle of DC.
Secondly, the idea that a certain portion of humanity’s remainder would use the collapse of society as an opportunity to grab power for themselves is all too easy to believe. Sure enough, TD2 has several factions of deprived, easily-hated enemy factions lining up for you to take pot-shots at, and the activities they engage in are suitably designed to engender precisely the kind of holy anger society’s protector (that’s you) will need if they’re to set about protecting the fragile population that clings precipitously to the edge of what remains of civilization.
You can play the game in a very singleplayer way, and that’s largely what I’ve done so far. I did spend a while in the company of a group of random other folks, and the nature of the game does change quite substantially when you do. Instead of creeping around, trying to pick off bad guys, for example, our squad of four was somewhat more systematic and performant at rooting out even quite large packs by keeping the enemy AI occupied with multiple assailants.
That AI is good, too; the combination of intelligent action - suppressing and flanking you, sending in grenades or drones, etc. - and straight up charging or walking up to you like a gangster means you can’t take any fight for granted. Even a little street skirmish on the way to the real fight can see you dead in the gutter; walking back from a respawn point is typically a huge pain in the ass, too, so death is both hard to avoid and also something you really don’t want to have happen to you - the exact combination of incentives that will keep you focused and careful when going to work. It’s hard but here hard is good.
Now the slightly weird bit that is sure to get people concerned about “virtue signalling” and such, but really it can’t go unsaid. Christchurch changed things for me. I’ve been playing this before and after that un-namable asshole set about his evil work and I found my attitude and emotional response to the game changed by what happened on that dark day. Yes, it’s a gun game, and no, I don’t think gun games are bad; in TD2, however, you are frequently greeted with the sights and sounds of the murder of innocent people. Think corpses on the ground; stacked up in some case; used as target practice in others. People in civilian clothes. I hope, unlike me, you haven’t seen any of “the footage” that I was randomly subjected to in my social media feed; if you have, the chances are that, like me, some of the scenes in TD2 will remind you of the material in that video (I only saw a few frames before I figured out what it was and scrolled away, but I doubt I’ll ever forget it). Is it this game’s fault? No of course not. Was this material included specifically to revile and disgust? I don’t know - but possibly. Does that matter? That’s a discussion we should probably have - but this isn’t the time or place for that, so I’m leaving it there.
So. Is The Division 2 fun to play? Aside from the stuff mentioned above, which is infrequent - if not rare, hell yes it is. The gunplay is excellent, the difficulty rewarding, and levelling up to unlock better perks - let alone finding a sweet upgrade to your gear - is precisely the kind of hook that grabs me at my core. Exploring the world is fantastic, and the incidental storytelling (little radios and other bits you find help to fill in the rich narrative) rewards carefully picking through the beautiful, sad remains of Washington DC.
The game is going to have to go downhill real fast for this to not be a very, very high-scoring review when all is said and done. Stay tuned for more as I continue to explore - and please, if you’re also playing, let us know how you’re getting on in the comments.
Editor's Note: Alan has now sunk enough hours in to The Division 2 to offer his final verdict. Read it below!
I’ve had this game for ages now (I’m not slack, honest - I’ve already written about it once) and it seems fair to finally give the thing a score. Before I do that (living in my future, as you are, you could just scroll down and take a look if you want), let’s recap.
The Division 2 is the sequel to a 2016 online loot-shooter, and if you’re expecting it to be wildly different, prepare for a shock: it’s not. It’s that game but bigger, better, and set in Washington. It’s got a sizable (~30 hour) single-player campaign, lots of bad guys to shoot, and loads of multiplayer stuff - co-op and vs. - to spice things up if you’re into that.
Like I said first go-around, the game’s pretty great: it’s got amazing graphics (the lighting, in particular, is fantastic, as are the extreme weather effects), great gunplay, and loads of loot. I didn’t once get bored of it, and I’m going straight back to it after writing this.
But. There are a couple of things that are worth pointing out, as they did start to grate after a while.
First of all, the AI. It’s mostly awesome; AI characters are gun-shy, great at ducking at just the wrong moment, and almost as good as me at using cover. Unfortunately, they also do weird stuff from time to time, that shatters the illusion a bit. It’s not common, but sometimes AI characters will run right up to me, past me, and then take cover behind me - exactly the way a real person wouldn’t. They’re also stupid-good at doing vast amounts of damage with shotguns from great distances - a feat I can’t even seem to pull off from close range, which is the only range at which a shotgun should be effective.
Another oddity is the way in which I can only shoot through the scope of my sniper rifle if I’m standing up. It’s really weird to be crouched behind cover, decide to take out a dude in the distance, and then… stand up, fully exposing my entire torso and head, and take a moment to get a bead before taking my shot. It’s not just odd actually; it also means I often get shot while attempting to snipe someone, which is frustrating.
The AI also always know where you are; once you enter combat with a group, they will know where to find you - whether they could possibly have seen you or not. As you move around to try and get a better position, they’ll continue to know where you are - even if you make those moves entirely hidden behind the rich level’s copious cover.
The inventory is a bit of a pain to manage too, with lots of mucking about required once you’re deep into the game, even if you’ve spent all of your skill points expanding your bag space. It can also be hard to figure out how to do things; it took me 20+ levels to figure out how to leave a group and I still struggle to find the various parts of the game’s many strongholds that I need to finish a project or whatever (seriously, it took me 20 minutes to find something in a base I’ve been to 20+ times before).
Difficulty is still super spiky too, with later parts of the game frequently forcing you into situations where your old techniques (cover, close, pick off, repeat) no longer apply because you’re surrounded, for example. Fortunately, grouping up - which the game makes super easy to do - generally solves those problems and even shows you what the game would be like if the enemies weren’t always targeting you (because your teammates take their attention too), which is nice.
Those things probably make the game sound terrible; it’s not - they’re not that impactful, not really. The core gameplay loop (hide, shoot, loot, repeat) is brilliant and the game is just PACKED with content. Gunplay really is very well executed, with even bullet-sponge bosses being fun to tackle and one-shot kills super satisfying to pull off.
Travelling from mission to mission, you’ll frequently be sidetracked by the living world in which you’re running through. Lots of little side-missions pop up as you explore - and they constantly refresh too, you can’t clear them all - and there are so many little treasures hidden around every corner. You’ll frequently stumble across groups of survivors, some of which will even be in combat with each other. Clearing the main content unleashes a “boss” for the zone and there are numerous other bonuses to uncover; many’s the time, in fact, I’ve set out on a mission only to realise some two hours later that I haven’t actually made it there yet because of the fun I’ve been having on the way.