Here we finally are, after 60 hours of gameplay, with the full The Division 2 review. Now that I’ve completed countless main missions, side missions, Control Points and other activities, as well as Dark Zone and Conflict fights, I feel that I’ve seen more than enough of the game to offer a verdict. As mentioned in my review-in-progress, it’s clear that developer Massive Entertainment has got the quantity of content absolutely nailed, but does it boast the quality to match?
The Division 2 Review | The end of the world never looked so good
Right from the get-go, The Division 2 performs like a champ on PC. Any optimization issues seen during the beta have been wiped out, and the huge list of graphics options will please all but the most hardcore config file tweakers. When you’ve altered the settings to your liking (and tested performance with the actually accurate benchmark tool), you can then dive into The Division 2’s post-apocalyptic Washington DC setting.
Taking place seven months after the events of the original game, where a terror attack left the United States broken and weak, nature has begun to reclaim the neglected cityscape, with humanity instead focusing on survival at all costs. This world looks incredible, with the Snowdrop engine powering some truly jaw-dropping vistas. Staring up at the Washington Monument with the Lincoln Memorial at your back, as a variety of weather effects impact lighting and the overall mood, genuinely makes you stop to absorb it all. It’s masterfully done, and the inclusion of a Photo Mode is the cherry on top.
The Division 2‘s score also perfectly matches the tone of each situation presented to the player, whether that is an intense gunfight against an unknown enemy, or a nighttime trip through dangerous territory. If you enjoyed what you heard during the beta, then you’ll be relieved to know that it’s just as good in the full release.
The lack of loading screens is also a breath of fresh air after recently reviewing BioWare’s loot shooter, Anthem. My PC is still running the same SSD, yet the loading times are significantly shorter, and only rarely appear. The generous number of fast travel locations also help to keep the downtime between missions impressively short.
The Division 2 Review | There is a lot to do in D.C.
On the topic of missions, the sheer number of activities that have been crammed into The Division 2’s Washington DC is staggering. There is so much to do here and the action never really stops. Once I was past the prologue missions, I actually went ahead and walked around the open world for a solid three hours, collecting well-hidden SHD Tech Caches and collectibles for additional story information (and XP), while also ranking up through the many Control Points and random encounters.
Whereas the original game was set in a lonely New York City, the sequel’s DC is bustling with energized survivors who are now looking to conquer and take control. It certainly feels like an evolution of what came before, with players always having something new to see and do.
Of course, the main attractions are the story missions, which each offer a unique environment, often set within or around a recognizable DC landmark. There is a surprising amount of variety in the battlefields here, both in decoration and the actual layout of cover. This is another major improvement over the original game.
These main missions lead up to Strongholds, which hit players with more objectives to complete, more big bosses to take down, and more loot and XP to earn. These are done well, with the story difficulty being surprisingly punishing, which encourages actual thought behind the usual run-and-gun actions. It’s highly recommended that you use the matchmaking function to fill your team. Solo play is an option, but it requires a lot of patience and careful consideration for each encounter.
With so many missions, you’re bound to get some weak objectives, and that is unfortunately the case with The Division 2. There are a few too many “capture and defend” moments, where waves of enemies attack a point that you need to stand near to. I feel like those mission types have become a bit of meme every since the original Destiny, so players will be especially critical of them in this 2019 release.
The Division 2 Review | Are we human, or are we sponges?
While The Division 2 has made massive improvements over the original when it comes to enemy health and just how spongy they are, I still feel like it’s a problem. Constantly switching to better weapons, being aware of what mods and Weapon Talents you have equipped and using them well, and ensuring that you’re making the most of your Skills, definitely help to deplete enemy armor and health more quickly, but foes can still be too tanky.
I’m not saying that we can’t have tougher enemies, as the slow heavily armored baddies make sense, and it’s terrifying when they run to close the gap with a melee weapon. However, the skinnier chaps with a ton of health make less sense, especially when you’re in endgame and trying the tougher Control Point variants. Perhaps it’s a technical limitation, but I really feel that doubling the number of enemies per wave, but then halving their health, would make for much more satisfying encounters. Being overrun due to numbers would be better than being overwhelmed by one spongy boi.
Enemy AI is also worth a mention. I’d say about 90 percent of the time the AI is pretty impressive, pushing when the player is healing, flanking effectively, and generally doing a good job. However, for that remaining 10 percent, the AI can be pretty wild. Some enemies seem obsessed with climbing up ledges, even while being shot at. Towards the end of the game, a particularly tough mission was made suddenly easier when six or seven enemies climbed up the same ledge, one after another. We sprayed them down with ease, laughing and cheering, but dying a little inside at how we cheesed it. Enemies in the street can also just sprint off down the road, away from the player. They then come back, ready to finally die. It’s all a bit odd.
I’ve also spotted a number of glitches and bugs, with enemies getting stuck behind turrets that they’ve placed, and dead bodies floating in the air. Enemies and friendly AI characters also like to float or teleport up and downstairs. These issues happen a little too frequently and do need fixing, but they aren’t game-breaking.
The Division 2 Review | These are my rifles… and shotguns… and snipers…
To keep on top of those spongy enemies, players will want to upgrade to the latest and greatest guns and gear. Loot is frequently dropped by enemies, and secret stashes can be found during missions. New gear can be immediately equipped and swapped out as you progress. Mods allow for weapons to have their stats tweaked (sometimes in bizarre ways), and Weapon Talents offer some more unique attributes that can impact how players approach gunfights. For example, I have a sniper rifle that gets a massive damage buff if I kill someone within close-range. With this in mind, I swapped out my usual high-powered scope for a red dot sight, making it effective at shorter ranges.
Overall, I was constantly excited by loot dropping, as I found myself regularly swapping to something new, discovering fresh sets of Talents that I liked, which I could then take and equip to new guns through recalibration. You are consistently earning better loot, meaning a big fight often leads to rewards that you can actually make use of.
Aside from stat changes, players are also able to swap between weapon skins, which look pretty great. Gear Dyes also allow for clothing to be personalized, helping players stand out amidst the otherwise overly black and camouflaged default materials.
Then there is the Apparel section of the customization menu, which houses the game’s microtransactions and loot boxes. Though you can earn some of these items at random in-game, and through the free loot boxes that you get gifted every few levels or so, you’re clearly expected to put down extra cash for the more exciting and ludicrous outfits. It’s disappointing to see this kind of storefront in a full-priced game, especially when you consider that it already has a season pass (and possibly subsequent passes). On the bright side, this stuff is mostly hidden from view, and will largely go ignored by the average player.
The Division 2 Review | The evolution of endgame
Character customization and progression is further expanded upon in the endgame, when the player has surpassed level 30 and completed the final Stronghold. Once this has been achieved, three Specialization trees become available. Players can switch between these at any time, but it’s wise to work on one tree and invest points to make it more powerful. Specializations offer new interesting buffs and other effects, and a fun unique weapon. I chose the sniper rifle, as I’ve had a great time with The Division 2’s bolt-action rifles, and can confirm that it is a very good time.
Endgame also introduces the Black Tusk faction, which isn’t encountered during the main campaign. This group is made up of hardcore military soldiers who make use of terrifying tech. They infect missions and Strongholds, while also policing the streets.
Invaded missions take place in the same locations, but have different objectives, and characters are given additional lines for it all to make sense. You aren’t just replaying story missions for the sake of the grind. The Black Tusk faction truly makes the endgame feel like the next level. You can tell just from looking at the map that things have changed.
Hitting level 30 changes the ranking system to Gear Score, which is a common mechanic seen in most loot shooters. The total power of your gear is averaged out, and that results in a number that steadily increases. As you complete activities, you’ll get better loot, and your Gear Score gets a boost. As you hit a certain level, Invaded Missions and Strongholds open up, allowing you to progress to the next “World Tier,” which essentially leads to more Gear Score to be earned, and more missions to complete. It’s a decent and easy-to-understand system and will please most players. However, those looking to invest their time into endgame PvP content, may be disappointed by the need to focus on PvE to progress.
The Division 2 Review | For the PvPlayers
How about that PvP, then? I’ll start with the simpler PvP mode, Conflict, which can be a good a time in objective-based modes like Domination, but is otherwise is too slow and filled with players who prefer to sit and wait, rather than rush to win. This third-person cover shooter does little to encourage players to advance when sitting back with a scope is such a viable option. I myself tried to push hard, using the Shield and Drone skills to great effect, with one blocking enemy fire and the other dishing out damage, so there is at least some opportunity to be aggressive.
In terms of longevity, I don’t think many players will be choosing Conflict to satiate their PvP hunger. It has some nice Cache rewards, but that’s about it. Perhaps daily and weekly challenges will help to keep the mode populated. In terms of gameplay and how it holds up as a competitive multiplayer experience, however, it’s nothing special, but also not notably offensive.
The game’s three Dark Zones are where things get more interesting. Starting out by completing Landmark missions with the help of other agents is where you usually get your first bit of loot. It’s an okay time, as everyone is playing nice and the loot is generally better than what you find outside.
But the main appeal of the Dark Zone, and what sets it apart from the rest of the game and other loot shooters, is the fact that you are able to stab your fellow agents in the back and “go rogue.” This is where things can get really intense, as you wait for a current ally to grab some loot, and then kill them to take it for yourself. Getting to an extraction point, while knowing that the player you betrayed is rushing to take revenge, along with other active agents, grants a terrific thrill.
However, while Dark Zone Perks and a separate Dark Zone level do help to give some feeling of progression, spending an hour or two in these PvPvE areas feels suboptimal, when committed to the Gear Score grind. It’s most definitely a place where players can kill time and have fun, but loot rewards don’t seem balanced enough or given enough priority, when compared to other activities.
Also, I know it’s been done to death, but a battle royale Dark Zone would be great to see here and actually make perfect sense in this setting. It would also make solo play more appealing.
The Division 2 | Squadmates are key
While it’s possible for solo players to complete missions, it’s no easy feat, and I think a lot of players will become frustrated when attempting to play alone. As I mentioned before, enemy AI is often good and aggressive, frequently pushing forward and attempting flanks. Unless you’re truly skilled or determined to lone wolf it all, most players will turn to matchmaking, if friends aren’t available to play with.
Matchmaking works well enough, I’ve found, quickly linking you up with players that are attempting the same mission. Though sometimes those players will suddenly change their minds and target something else, which is annoying, but is fixed with a quick push of “Leave Group.” I feel like this could all be a bit more seamless, as I currently have to play through a main mission and then leave the group after completion to ensure that my squadmates don’t talk to NPCs without me there to listen, or activate other events that I don’t yet want triggering. It’s a quick “Thanks for your work, but now I must leave!” and then back to the single-player experience I go. I became used to leaving a group as soon as a mission was over, rather than sticking with them.
In my review-in-progress I was concerned about matchmaking being unavailable for side missions and minor activities, but I’ve since learned that it is actually doable through one of the menu tabs. It’s just hidden well, and many players might not realize it’s there, instead trying to utilize the “Request Backup” function, which never really worked for me. Perhaps the lack of a clear incentive to offer backup means this feature goes ignored? Or maybe it’s just broken and not sending messages through? Either way, I didn’t find it at all useful.
On that note, I will say that I feel that The Division 2 has an awful lot of content and information hidden within its menus, and the poor organization makes a lot of it difficult to actually get to. Adding to the confusion are the vast number of damage stats and different effects that can quickly become overwhelming and tricky to decipher. Couple this with the ability to recalibrate and craft new items, as well as a variety of different materials and currencies, and there’s a lot of information and mechanics to learn, and it really isn’t made easy.
Solo play frustrations and matchmaking confusion can be completely avoided when playing with existing friends, of course, and the game’s robust clan system should help you find like-minded players to complete missions with. You also get rewards for contributing to a clan, offering further incentives.
For those still unable to find players to team up with, or who prefer the solo experience but still want a helping hand, it would have been nice to see the option for a squad of AI agents. You already get aid from other survivors, so I don’t think it’s an unreasonable suggestion.
The Division 2 | Oh yeah, the story…
Truth be told, I pretty much zoned out when it came to The Division 2‘s story about 20 hours in. I was hoping that this post-apocalyptic tale, set within the political beating heart of America, would inspire some deep and meaningful plot featuring characters who we could latch onto and care about, but no, The Division 2 fails to make an impact with its storyline.
The silent protagonist is awkward as hell, with one-way radio conversations making them seem like the most ignorant ass. I laughed when Manny (I think that’s his name) said, “I’m having problems with your comms… Audio is breaking up.” No, Manny, that’s just me being me. Your character doesn’t bother listening, so you don’t really bother listening.
I found it far easier to just zone out and shoot baddies to get XP and new gear. Those were my only motivations, and I think it’s going to be really tough to get other players to care about the various settlements and people within them.
The Division 2 | Expanding on a solid foundation
The Division 2 itself, at launch, is already worth the $60 price tag. I feel that it has enough content to justify the cost right from the get-go, and doesn’t need a roadmap or the promises of regular future expansions to trick players into adopting early. It already feels like a full game, capable of entertaining for 100+ hours. However, there is still more to come!
The new World Tier 5 is expected soon, with new Gear Sets, an increased Gear Score cap, Weekly Invasions, and the Heroic difficulty. Eight-player Raids have also been promised, which will double the current PvE player cap. In addition, there are three “episodes” planned, which will be free for all players. These will have “major content updates, with additional narratives and missions, new PvP and PvE modes, as well as three entirely new specializations.”
The number of post-launch hotfixes and patches have also been promising. Massive Entertainment has clearly been keen to make a good first impression with as stable a launch as possible, and I think it’s worked well. Though there have been a number of crashing issues halting my experience through the game, it has been good to see my specific problems get solved.
The Division 2 Review | A safe bet
Like other loot shooters before it, The Division 2 fails to impress when it comes to the story. I was hoping for real innovation in this area, but the plot is either too cliche or too forgettable, and the characters are just as poor, leading up to a conclusion that fails to satisfy. Combine this with some weaker mission types, the presence of loot boxes, an inconsistent PvP experience, less-than-perfect enemy AI and balance, as well as some clumsy menus and features that feel buried and hidden, and it’s clear that there are many areas to improve on.
However, The Division 2 succeeds where other loot shooters have failed. This game was ready to impress immediately at launch. On day one, the time when games are at their most expensive and when players are at their most interested, this title had enough content to justify that $60 price tag. It does everything that loot shooters are supposed to do in fantastic fashion, and with a visual flair that makes this DC worth exploring for tens, if not hundreds, of hours. What’s more, the endgame on offer here is the best I’ve experienced in a long, long time, and it’s clear that the developers put a lot of thought into what players would do after the story had concluded.
Ultimately, The Division 2 is a safe sequel for Massive Entertainment to have made and is a safe purchase for anyone looking to grind for loot in a well-paced, co-op experience set within a gorgeous open world. It might not push the envelope in a significant way, but it still provides a rock solid foundation at launch, and I’m excited to see what the developers add in the months and years to come.
The Division 2 review code provided by the publisher and played on a PC (Ryzen 7 1700, GTX 1070).