The great thing about a pandemic that brings civilization to the brink of collapse is that there’s so much potential for sequels. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 takes place seven months after its predecessor, where the action has moved away from the snow-covered ruins of New York to the more temperate ruins of Washington DC after receiving a distress call. War is ongoing between bands of survivors and gangs of marauders, leaving the country in a state of violent anarchy. After setting up shop in the White House, the player can then travel out into the destroyed city and start trying to restore order and eliminate those pesky bandits.
There’s a great deal of potential with the story that’s sadly never reached. The premise of The Division 2 is an interesting one that doesn’t ever present itself in an interesting way. The game begins with what seems like a campaign ad, talking about free wi-fi, coffee and guns, but doesn’t seem to serve much narrative purpose. The setting would be a great opportunity to delve into political and sociological themes regarding survival in a post-cataclysmic setting, but the story progression is about as basic as can be and simply exists to provide some context to go on the next mission to shoot people and collect loot. There isn’t much in the way of explaining the backstory so familiarity with Tom Clancy’s The Division is essential to really understand what’s going on.
Fortunately for this medium, solid gameplay is suitable compensation for a lacking story and this is a saving grace for The Division 2. There is no shortage of activities to complete in this massive game and it’s easy to get caught up in the “one more mission” mentality with the quest for better loot. The game is filled with content and is essentially divided into two parts. The player can expect the main campaign to take between thirty and forty hours to complete which then opens up the Endgame. The entirety of Washington DC is transformed during the Endgame when the Black Tusk faction invades, bringing in the most elite and technologically-advanced units. Difficulty is increased for other factions, but new missions and activities also open up.
What is strange about this design is that it seems that is was primarily focused on the Endgame. The main campaign is fun and long enough where no one would feel cheated, but opening up the Endgame is the real reward for getting through the campaign. The story may be lackluster, but the excitement in completing missions and doing all the side activities make up for this. The Endgame content opens up the world with a new breed of powerful enemies, turning the game into a playground on taking on the increased challenges with invading strongholds and occupied Dark Zones, along with PvP modes such as Conflict. With such an emphasis on loot hunting throughout the main game, this only continues into the Endgame.
The Division 2 requires a constant online connection, and while it is possible to enjoy the title as a solo experience, it’s easier and more enjoyable with an actual squad. The player needs to make regular use of cover in order to survive, but even with strategic use of one’s surroundings, the enemy will find a way to sneak into the blind spot. Having a team helps prevent this from happening, assuming your teammates don’t secretly want you to die, and the missions are just more fun with a group. The Division 2 seems like it has been designed to be a multiplayer experience and that is the way it should be played to get the most enjoyment out of the title. Players will have the option to join clans that are composed of other players, with both solo and cooperative play generating clan experience points to make this inclusive of all play styles.
While cooperative play is the best way to experience the campaign and Endgame, people do like battling with each other and there are some enjoyable PvP options in The Division 2. Like the main game, strategic use of your squad and good communication play a major role in your effectiveness, but going against an actual team of other players adds an extra layer of intensity. Some of the PvP modes include Skirmish, which is a more traditional death match and domination, where players fight for control of a given area.
There’s a fair amount of RPG-style character customization in The Division 2. Players will be able to get specific weapon talents based on their chosen Specialization along with other perks that are unlocked when they gain levels. The Division introduces skill mods that generally exist in two forms: a mod that will offer a stat bonus to the particular skill and a mod that will change the visual representation of the skill when used. The gear players equip will matter since there are several different levels of quality that factor into how well the gear functions. Players who end up favoring a specific brand of gear can get bonuses with multiple pieces of gear from the same brand, so having some coordination pays off. This system does give players a lot of options to customize their characters to fit their playstyle, which can further be tweaked on a loadout such as being more of a marksman or taking on more of a support role in the squad. The more ways a player can individualize their character in a multiplayer setting the better.
The Dark Zones have returned in this sequel, but have been tweaked and improved. Once the Dark Zones are unlocked after completing the intro missions, players can go in here to get all kinds of cool loot. A complaint about the Dark Zones in the first game was that they were not accessible to newcomers at all, but The Division 2 has changed this by adding a normalization feature where everyone in the Dark Zone is set to the same strength, making it a more fair playing field. Within the Dark Zone players can acquire regular loot and special contaminated loot, which is typically rare and more powerful items. The contaminated loot needs to be extracted, and during this extradition there will be opposition to prevent the players from acquiring it.
For a game that requires an active internet connection, stability is a major concern. During the review process the playing experience was generally smooth, save for the occasional connectivity or framerate hiccup. There weren’t any times where my character was killed (which was frequent) where I could legitimately make the claim that lag was to blame. The downside to the required connection, aside from the obvious inability to play if your internet provider or the servers are having issues, is you can’t put the system to sleep and expect to return later to your current objective in progress. The game controls are responsive and the sound is of the quality one would expect from an AAA title. The graphics are impressive on a technical standpoint with the artistic direction doing an admirable job of creating the wreckage of Washington DC on the outside. Inside of the buildings there does seem to be a general theme of playing in a post-apocalyptic episode of Hoarders.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is good overall with some shortcomings. The story seems as though they could have gone much deeper and made it into a complex political sci-fi opus, but instead has just enough of a plot to explain what is happening. Getting through the main campaign to unlock the end game can get to be grindfest, but things can get interesting when the Black Turk faction does invade. It really depends on what the player is looking to get out of this game. Some who want a deeply-engaging story for a memorable solo gaming experience may feel let down, but someone who wants competitive and team-based gun battles could easily get several dozen or maybe even hundreds of hours of enjoyment from this title. The RPG elements allow players to make their characters truly their own and allows the freedom to build within their preferred playstyle.