It didn’t take long for players to realize the hidden potential upon the original Division’s release. Released in the heart of #downgradegate plaguing Ubisoft’s reputation, The Division released with half the features promised in the original preview demonstrated at E3 2013. With that being said, The Division made a solid comeback that established the formula for modern day Ubisoft launches: Release an incomplete product, receive massive backlash from the community, reform and refine the road map, establish a loyal fan base. What became clear with the support The Division received is that Massive and Ubisoft refused to see their product fail, and thus, establishing the reputation as a competent game as a service company.
Fast forward to 2019 and The Division II is here. Yet, unlike its predecessor its launch came with little fanfare. This could be because of its direct competitor Anthem releasing just weeks prior (with massive failure likely sucking the energy out of the looter/shooter genre). More than likely, however, is The Division was just outright disappointing for many fans. Getting them onboard for a sequel is an enormous task, yet Massive seems up for the challenge. And with 20+ hours already sunk into the game’s campaign with many more to come, I’m inclined to believe that fans won’t misplace their faith in The Division this time around.
The Division II was reviewed on the PlayStation Pro console and installed on an external Solid State Drive. The game is now available for Xbox One, PS4, and the Epic Store. Due to the expansive nature of the genre, this review will only cover content up until the Endgame experience. Once we comfortably explore the endgame of The Division II we will release a follow-up review touching solely on the games endgame experience.
When first booting up the game, the player is given a default avatar to begin customizing to their liking. The character creator isn’t groundbreaking but there are enough options for healthy variety among the player base. Not every agent you encounter will look like a close relative. That’s a plus in my book.
Once the campaign begins, it introduces players to a slew of cut-scenes that string together the events of both games. Seven months have passed since the Green Virus outbreak and we now go from Manhattan to Washington DC, the nation’s capital. This radical change in setting reinvigorates a game with familiar mechanics. However, this is no mere palette swap, unlike our time in Manhattan, the entire world feels alive in DC.
Civilians scavenge the lands looking for equipment that will help them survive another day. Enemy factions vying for territorial supremacy over rival gangs to claim their domination on the local populace. Players need not to engage with these conflicts, but the world will see change all the same.
Speaking of change, hardly anything remains to stagnate throughout the player’s journey through the 30+ hour main campaign. A chief example of the fluidity of the world is your staging area, the White House. This new hub is symbolic to the theme of the game and also Massive’s growth since the original game’s original launch.
Walking through the tattered halls of the White House almost parallels the franchise, but just a fragment of what it should have been. Yet, as the player progresses through the campaign the White House undergoes radical improvements. By the end of the main story, the players have experienced a game that has improved its systems over its predecessor, thus coinciding with the rebuild of the White House itself. While the symbolism may be subtle, the improvements are anything but not.
Pertaining to the story itself in The Division II the masterful craftsmanship found in all other areas of the game is amiss. The Division II struggles to tell a compelling tale, unlike its predecessor. The only source that’s worthy of such praise is the environments and collectible recordings themselves. In my 20+ hours with the game, I’d be hard pressed to explain what is going on. The only thing clear is you are here to kill countless enemies, with only a few of them rising among the faceless.
The Division II’s greatest strength is its game-play and rightfully so. The looter/shooter genre lives and dies on how engaging its mechanics are. Without spoiling the essence of discovering these systems on your own I’ll say this. I’m unequivocally addicted to The Division II. Players drown in oceans of varied loot and just when you think you’ve figured out the rhythm of the game, it throws a new mechanic at you adding even more depth to your experience. If you are a veteran Division fan, you’ll be happy to know that the time to kill has been cut down substantially, with tanky enemies providing context clues to why they’d be able to take punishment. Don’t expect a full-blown Ghost Recon experience here, this is still an RPG at its core, however, there are seldom any mobs whose only protection are hoodies who can take multiple magazines before dying. Finally, The Division II dons the Tom Clancy branding well, as this is a tactical experience.
This includes PVP elements of the game. Massive took a big risk in changing how player vs player combat works in the game and I believe it has paid off. You MUST use the cover system to survive as the Time to Kill (TTK) in PVE has also translated to both PVP battlegrounds now. This largely is possible because of the shift to the normalization of combat, scaling all players and their equipment no matter the level. The normalization of the gear translates into Conflict (Skirmish and Domination) and most Dark Zone areas. This revamped PVP is a gamechanger. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had this much fun in PVP. In my eyes, The Division II becomes the new champion of PVP in loot based shooters, taking the crown from Destiny I & II, where it long resided.
The new normalization mechanic levels the playing field by a huge margin, making PVP more about skill and tactics rather than who spend more hours grinding for sets. That isn’t to say those who min-max their gear will be fruitless, in fact, there still is a clear advantage to those who strategize their builds.
For those players who still aren’t on board with the new normalization system, worry not. As there are now what’s called “occupied dark zones” where players can go head to head. These Dark Zone arenas function much similar to the original game in that normalization does not apply here. It’s all about top gear going head to head. Players are in for a world of pain if they expect to go here without properly optimizing their builds.
*bugs* Expect many bugs – This is an Ubisoft game, after all. Some more frustrating than others. I encountered nothing that was game breaking per se, however, some were rage inducing. In Massive’s defense, there have been world resets and emergency maintenance periods that are addressing these concerns rapidly.
Aside from the sound of the dynamic weather system and the gunplay, The Division II’s audio is mostly forgettable. The voice acting is mediocre at best, with many lines that are incredibly cringe-worthy. Perhaps what was most disappointing was how infrequent ANY music from the soundtrack would play. Occasionally during missions would players hear it kick in, with exhilarating rock music amplifying the battle. I understand it wouldn’t make sense to play a soundtrack in a post-apocalyptic world but when it’s done right, it’s enthralling. The composition adds to the experience when it’s there, nonetheless. Hell, even the Safe Zones would play tunes on the radio that kept me around longer than they should have. I only wish these moments weren’t few and far between.
If you are on the fence about getting into The Division II ask yourself, did you absolutely hate the original game? If the answer no, then I believe it’s worth giving this game a shot, even if you didn’t love it either. This is the definitive looter shooter experience and I’d venture to even say it’s the Diablo of its genre. If Anthem disappointed you don’t let its failure dissuade you from these types of games entirely. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find an experience that echos the sentiment often used to describe Sid Meier’s Civilization games… Just one more mission.
|+ Mountains of Content to Experience.||– Voice Acting is Subpar.|
|+ Bullet Sponge Enemies are Scarce.||– The Soundtrack is Underutilized.|
|+ The PVP is Stellar and Insanely Fun.||– Pop-In Textures are far too Frequent.|
|+ Washington DC Feels Alive.||– The Bugs are Rage-Inducing.|
|+ The Mission Variety is Superb.|
|+ Loot. Loot. And More LOOT!|
|+ Tactical Gameplay and Challenging A.I.|