Review by UnknownMercenary
A smartly designed and engaging loot shooter wrapped in the usual Clancy drivel
Like other recent releases under the Ubisoft label, the developers of Tom Clancy's The Division 2 have taken great pains to tell the press that their game is not political. A game about secret undercover government agents with extrajudicial powers "doing what's necessary" to defend America. Like all of Tom Clancy's fiction, the premise is a right wing fever dream; the game itself a virtual playground where interaction starts and ends with the barrel of a gun. Set in a post-apocalyptic Washington DC that has been rendered with an amazing amount of detail only allowed by the kind of resources Ubisoft has at its disposable, you play as an unnamed secret agent of the eponymous Division. After a quick introductory cutscene you are whisked off to a bombed out White House, which serves as your base of operations as you retake DC from a handful of warring enemy factions. Thankfully, The Division 2 keeps the narrative in the background; its characters are little more than thinly sketched action movie stock figures. Similar to many other open world games, you will find audio logs scattered about the world that also serve a story telling purpose but outside of a handful of short cutscenes and mission voice overs the narrative is kept to a minimum.
While it has some light RPG elements, at its core The Division 2 is an action focused third person shooter. The shooting is fairly satisfying, though input can be sluggish because it is an always online service game - even when you are in a solo session you must remain connected to Ubisoft's servers, and an internet connection hiccup can result in input latency or even kick you out to the main menu if it gets bad enough. Even with though it retains real world aesthetics that extend to the game's vast arsenal, gun damage is determined by the dice roll of the item drop and the brisk pace of leveling up combined with the game's generous drops means you'll always find something new to play with. Thankfully since it is more shooter than RPG, your chances to hit are merely determined by the gun's accuracy stat and your ability to draw a bead on your opponents. To keep things fresh, as you reach the endgame levels, loot items start to drop with special skills called "talents" that help further differentiate between otherwise identical pieces of gear. For example, you may find a rifle that has the ability to refresh your player skill cooldowns, or a shotgun that grants bonus critical hit damage when your armour is low. This extends to armor pieces as well; for example your body armour may grant you the ability to regenerate grenades upon a successful kill with explosives.
As part of its RPG lean, however, enemies will be beefier than those of your standard shooter. Whereas in a game like Call of Duty or Far Cry it may take only 3 or 4 hits to drop an enemy, it can sometimes take a full magazine from an assault rifle depending on the enemy tier and type. Enemies come in 3 tiers - standard, veteran and elite - which mainly dictate how much extra punishment they can take, as well as several types. A support gunner enemy will likely be more heavily armoured than a basic foot soldier, and if the enemy spawns as an elite variant then expect a rather protracted firefight. The AI is fairly aggressive at flanking and pushing players out of cover, and the player can equip a variety of skills to help counter this. You can choose from a variety of different drones and turrets to deploy, as well as a portable ballistic shield, a chemical grenade launcher and a pulse ability that lets you scan an area for enemies. In practice, only a handful of these are useful. The cooldown timer on many of the game's skills is too long for practical use and players will find it more practical to rely on firearms and the skills that focus on player revival and healing. Once you hit the level 30 cap and finish the main round of story missions, you can choose to further specialize along three branches that can be swapped freely at any time. There is the Demolitionist, which focuses on explosives and crowd control; Survivalist on group support and healing, and Sharpshooter on ranged combat and single target elimination.
The bulk of the game consists of story driven missions that take you all around various DC landmarks with set pieces that are generally entertaining. Though the game has a tendency to spawn enemies close to players or right behind them, fights are for the most part fair. The Division 2 has fairly seamless coop that allows players to drop in and out at a moment's notice. Enemy numbers, health and damage will scale for group size. Playing missions solo is no walk in the park, and a full 4 player group at the endgame is an extremely hectic affair of explosions and status effects. Instead of having players worry about mission progress between various members of a group, the game simply follows the progress of the lobby leader and allows you to replay any missions you've already done as well as carry over any extra progress from a multiplayer session back to a solo one. Heck, even if you are dropped offline while in multiplayer, simply logging back in will seamlessly drop you back into your group with little progress lost. Aside from a rather nasty bug that can hit with endgame progression, The Division 2 has largely solved cooperative progression issues that have existed for a while now.
Aside from its missions, you can engage in the usual Ubisoft open world fare of capturing enemy control points on the world map, as well as a variety of activities largely focused on disrupting enemy operations, such as rescuing hostages, attacking enemy patrols and convoys, or taking on bounties to eliminate faction leaders. In an interesting twist, once you hit the endgame the entirety of the DC map becomes a perpetual war zone as any control points you may have captured become re-occupied. The AI will be in a constant tug of war taking and re-taking points, with or without your input. Participating in this new, never-ending turf war is part of the endgame and will aid in your loot drops, though it is not strictly necessary. Also returning from the first Division is the Dark Zone, which is the series' spin on PVP. Specific parts of the map are walled off for PVPVE, where players can engage with the AI as well as each other for potentially better loot drops. As someone who has largely outgrown competitive multiplayer I appreciate that the developers did not hide anything significant behind it.
To top it all off, The Division 2 is both visually and aurally impressive. Aside from the previously mentioned impressive rendition of DC, the game itself sports a high amount of visual fidelity. Most impressive are the weather effects - rain and fog, even on the lowest settings, are still rendered with verisimilitude and can impede your combat performance significantly. Another cool detail is how the volume of gunfire and explosions changes depending on whether you are indoors or outdoors. Enemy and weapon types are easily distinguishable through their distinct sound effects and battle chatter, though it can easily get lost in the din of combat. Voice acting is not The Division 2's strong suit, with flat or comical delivery, but given the lack of narrative focus, this is a good thing. The soundtrack, while sparse, is catchy sci-fi tinged electronic music. It will occasionally pop up during firefights but you'll hear most of it in the main menu.
As of the time of writing, the final tier of the endgame has not dropped yet, but considering Ubisoft's general pivot to a long tail "games as services" model and the extended support that the first Division received, one can expect continuous updates for at least a couple of years. If you can dig past the Tom Clancy baggage, The Division 2 is well worth your time if you enjoy shooters, loot games or cooperative experiences.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Tom Clancy's The Division 2 (US, 03/15/19)
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