Ubisoft’s The Division, set in the Tom Clancy-verse where a viral outbreak has all but destroyed modern civilization, was an instant hit when it launched in March 2016. With headlines at the time reporting that it was the fastest selling new IP of the current console generation. A fact that we’ve come to learn has led to The Division also becoming the number one Ubisoft game, percentage-wise, where players have finished the story campaign.
The desolate wintery location of Manhattan, New York no doubt helped on that front. The often-stunning location served as the bleak and fascinating backdrop to a third-person co-operative shooter that blended action-RPG progression with always-online MMO-style ambition. Okay, so as hyphen-happy as that sentence may be, alongside Bungie’s Destiny, The Division set out to become a shared-world shooter that players could revisit for months, perhaps even years.
As someone who put in hundreds of hours into The Division, it was a game that although had issues, lived up to that initial promise. Eventually. After the development team at Massive had the time to figure out just how a game of this nature should work. With additions like the Underground update, that added what you might call randomised dungeons, and set items with perks and bonus abilities, there was a feeling that The Division was looking more at the Diablo series than Destiny – as a source for inspiration.
A move that gradually evolved The Division’s endgame into something worth diving into and a renewed approach to rewarding players meaningfully. Where in the end, many felt that The Division left on a high-note.
"With additions like the Underground update, that added what you might call randomised dungeons, and set items with perks and bonus abilities, there was a feeling that The Division was looking more at the Diablo series than Destiny – as a source for inspiration."
Viewing a trailer or short clip of footage, The Division 2 might just look like more of the same but in the new setting of Washington, D.C. You wouldn’t be at fault for thinking that way, as The Division 2 is the sort of sequel that is more follow-up than reimagining. Where core concepts return and everything else is either tweaked or improved based on lessons learned. With one of those key lessons being that although the story-driven campaign is still a key part of The Division – it’s not the only part. Even playing through the early moments it’s clear that the world is more alive with activity and events, some of which we’ve seen before like random supply drop battles, pointing to an endgame that will begin several steps ahead of where the original game left things months after its initial debut.
Which is all based around the new theme of rebuilding. By shifting the location to Washington D.C., The Division 2 also shifts the season to summer. With the wider streets and more colonial structures of the capital offering an overgrown jungle vibe to the art direction. Cars and structures covered in grass and vines surrounding historical landmarks, where cracked sidewalks and tarmac make room for the tendrils of the underlying earth to slowly creep into the city and take over. Even the puddles and ponds and spots of water feel alive thanks to their green colour. Thematically it’s a departure to the snow-filled streets of Manhattan, even though at a glance it looks very similar the original.
With the original having the benefit of being new, the familiarity with The Division 2 does lessen potential excitement. From the perspective of what to expect. Everything from the interface to the character designs to how exploration and locations work, and the cover-based shooting – is familiar. Or, mostly the same. The original was a solid game, even at launch, so getting back into the flow of the combat and action is one-part memory as it is one-part learning what’s changed or new. On that front though the improvements are indeed welcome.
"By shifting the location to Washington D.C., The Division 2 also shifts the season to summer. With the wider streets and more colonial structures of the capital offering an overgrown jungle vibe to the art direction."
Bringing it back to the theme of rebuilding and being set after the events of the first game the overall world feels more alive this time around. Even though Division agents are still seen as saviours or what have you – there are pockets of humanity, roaming the streets and dealing with gangs. Settlements can be visited where completing side-quests and events like hostage situations and others creates stability in addition to leading to new gear, equipment, and better facilities. Control point act like little capture missions that feature great rewards in the form of loot and a reason to resupply survivors with materials you scavenge or loot in your travels. This ties into the improved crafting system that feels more integral, even in the early game, and a dynamic changing world that hints at an endgame that has the chance to be as engaging as any part of the journey leading up to it.
Where dynamic also applies to the weather. The very first control point that we decided to take-over, we did so during a storm. In the middle of the night. Where visibility was non-existent and the challenge subsequently biblical in proportion. Revisiting the same area on a bright and sunny day was like checking it out for the very first time. A technical addition to The Division, the dynamic weather can make the same locations look and feel very different – which could play into missions and events that mechanically, play out the same.
Offering up a suite of side missions, events, and a handful of story missions the Private Beta also offered a glimpse at the endgame – in the form of a single mission. Which, although presenting the same location as seen in one of the early main missions – it offered up a remix of sorts over the original’s ‘the same, but harder’ approach. Again, it all ties back to the theme of rebuilding, where one can safely assume that by the end of the main campaign Washington D.C. will be under the control and guidance of The Division and on its way to some form of recover.
The hook, and reason to keep playing comes from a new threat that enters D.C. after the credits roll – so to speak. A compelling reason to keep playing in and of itself. Which results in The Division 2’s endgame faction bringing with its new high-tech threats and tougher enemies and a feeling that you’re fighting for the survival of D.C. At least that’s the idea.
Replaying the same mission in its endgame variant, as seen in the Private Beta, opened the door to a challenge that felt in step with some of the best moments from the original. But also, a re-tread into similar territory with how the new content evolved over time. That and letting us know early that legendary shotguns are amazing.
"Although presenting the same location as seen in one of the early main missions – it offered up a remix of sorts over the original game’s ‘the same, but harder’ approach to endgame design."
On the plus side the new and improved specialty classes and roles feel more defined, with special weapons and abilities that had, well, oomph. Abilities that are more interesting and varied with turrets that can turn into artillery guns or even snipers. Drones that can go on bombing runs or heal nearby teammates. Plus, several others that remained locked. Legendary weapons also packed a punch over the early game stuff with enemies that felt less bullet-spongy than what we’ve seen before. With a more tactical approach required, no doubt The Division 2 hits the right balance between challenge and feeling like a powerful, indestructible soldier.
Where it gets exciting though is how this new threat and enemy will impact the overall world. From what we know a separate endgame state of The Division 2’s Washington D.C. will exist, one that can change and evolve over time with new missions and content able to be integrated into the existing setting as well as tacked onto the edges of the playable area. With the settlements you helped and control points set-up, and the side-missions you complete and the events you complete in the early parts of the game tied to the story – having all of that and more tied to an endgame from the get-go is exciting.
For more on The Division 2, check out our earlier preview that covers the return of the Dark Zone