The Division 2 is nearing release, and with little over a month to go, I’ve been revisiting The Division. It’s been a long time since I played Ubisoft’s pseudo-MMO shooter, and much like when it first launched, I mostly like it. But despite its good shooting mechanics and satisfying gameplay loop that manages to keep me plugged in, it’s far from perfect. There are dozens of small issues that frustrate me, and keep me from ever playing until the end, despite assertions from friends that it’s all much better now than at launch. I want to play The Division 2 with friends, and have it be a game I can keep returning to, but it carries over issues from the first game then I won’t be playing The Division 2 for long.
The Division‘s environment is a huge sticking point. Of course, it’s an incredibly realistic replication of New York, and it’s stunning in its attention to detail. It’s just a pain to navigate. Every alleyway, street, and car could be the exact same as the other dozens that I’ve passed. In so many open-world games you start as a stranger, but familiar locations and landmarks help you build a mental map. Without waypoints in The Division, it would be too easy to get lost because everywhere just looks the same. It’s the same thugs, on the same streets, next to the same buildings, over and over.
Without the in-game map, it would be hard to tell where anything is, which is a small miracle because the map is a bit of a mess. Yes, it has the typical Ubisoft open-world clutter, but the minimalist design of the UI is ultimately harmful in these situations. It makes it difficult to judge what missions are where, and there’s no clear path of progression as it places higher level missions suspiciously close to lower level side quests.
And the progression is another problem of its own. Playing from the beginning recently, it was a big struggle to locate missions suitable for my level, and it wasn’t long before I had to grind out side missions (or replay older missions) in order to progress further. Having to focus on side content while not being invested in it is common in MMOs, but the side content there is usually far more interesting than gunning down thugs on the street. And the conversation on the ethics of shooting rioters as some sort of makeshift military police force should be left for another day because it is a whole other problematic can of worms.
Now, I love playing with friends and adore when games give me the option to do so. And you can play in a party of four in The Division, which is great because there’s room for everyone. But some of the larger multiplayer missions are always balanced for four players, and that’s unfair. I can’t always get the whole party on board, and it’s unrealistic for anyone to expect my usual multiplayer party to all buy the same game. The Division does offer a quick matchmaking option so you can get random players on board, but as of right now, players were difficult to find. It’ll be fine at The Division 2‘s launch, definitely, but if I can’t reasonably find a party to play early missions within a couple of years, my purchase doesn’t seem too worthwhile.
No go solo
All that adds up to a game that’s not too fun to play solo, either. It’s an MMO — that much is abundantly clear — but even Destiny offers a satisfying gameplay loop for players going alone. But with The Division‘s focus on partying up, it rules out playing alone for long stretches of time. And sometimes I just want to be alone. Give me my space.
It is easy to complain about The Division a lot, but the gunplay is good. The cover mechanics work well. And it’s fun to play with friends, most of the time. I want to be excited for The Division 2, but then I also don’t want to feel stung by playing a game that’s just more of the same. I don’t want more of The Division; I want the platform that The Division built but with the kinks ironed out. And we can’t yet judge whether these problems will return in force or not.
Ultimately, I’ll only be jumping into The Division 2 if it feels like a fresher, newer experience, and all of my friends are going to join me. Because that’s what it ultimately boils down to. Can The Division 2 convince me, and everyone I play online with, to buy into it? Can it be fun in solo play, have an uncluttered map, a better UI, and stronger side missions? Time will tell but unfortunately, with stellar games like Apex Legends available for free, I’m not sure Ubisoft can convince me, or my party, to buy into The Division 2 unless it’s damn good and more than just the same game with minimal improvements.