Within just the first three days of installing The Division 2, the game’s main menu made me aware that I had invested 20 hours already. After having played the private and public beta, I knew Ubisoft was onto a winner only as long as the servers were able to cope with the game. I still recall the prequel releasing with a plague of network issues that prevented friends from being able to party up. However, The Division 2 launched extremely smoothly on the PS4 from day one and this could very well be down to the monstrosity day one patch.
The Division 2 does almost everything right. When developers let the gamers know that they have listened to community feedback and have worked on a game that gives the players exactly what they asked for, it’s a huge gamble. However, in classic Ubisoft fashion, gamers who enjoyed Division 1 will absolutely love what the sequel has to offer. Players like me who enjoyed the prequel but eventually lost interest (primarily since I just couldn’t keep up with other gamers’ loot in the Dark Zone) will also appreciate the changes that have gone into Division 2.
As far as third-person shooters go, I can’t think of many other games on the PS4 that match up to The Division 2. I mostly stay clear away from any game that requires you to grind and loot in order to improve your character’s abilities. However with Division 2, I have made this an exception simply due to the fact that it never feels like you’re grinding. The city of Washington is far more immersive than the prequel, and it’s also an extremely fitting city given the current political climate.
It’s likely that gamers who simply did not enjoy Division 1 will probably not enjoy the sequel either. This is not a revolution in the franchise, but instead a refinement (albeit a major one). Considering how polished the visuals are, and the fact that Massive has created a brand new world with a much better variety of missions, although the gameplay feels largely the same, the experience feels completely fresh. This is largely down to Massive understanding what elements of Division were enjoyed by the public, and what areas needed changing. Similar to Rainbow Six: Siege, the Division 2 is not a game that is designed to last for just a few months. Instead, Ubisoft is committed to making this an experience that lasts for years, with annual passes that give you access to incredible content in the form of new missions and stories to experience. Typically, I’d be sceptical of a publisher making such claims, but Ubisoft have successfully proven this model with the Assassins Creed and Rainbow Six franchise.
Division 2 is only set a short period after the events of the first game. As a Division agent, you’re responsible for attempting to eradicate a virus that has spread further beyond New York. The virus has caused anarchy around the nation, and insurgent groups have taken control of various points of Washington. Your job is to help secure the state of Washington so that the balance of power shifts back into the control of the government. As far as the plot goes, there really isn’t much of a difference when compared to the prequel. You’re essentially trying to carry out the same task but in a different city. I personally am not too disheartened by this. I’d rather the story take a backseat as long as it paves the way for some highly enjoyable co-op missions, and that is exactly where Division 2 shines.
Gameplay is at the forefront of everything that Division 2 stands for. As far as third-person gameplay is concerned, the mechanics rival with some of the best third-person shooters ever to have released. Once you get used to the fact that the X button is to take cover and O is to jump over an obstacle, the control scheme is spot on and highly responsive. The cover-to-cover system (where you can easily go into cover from one object to another) is the best that any game has to offer. Not once did I feel that the gameplay glitched-out and let me down. Occasionally I would get swamped by enemies and instantly killed, however that was often down to my cocky-self believing that I could take on all of the enemies without hiding behind cover. With a quick press on the d-pad, you can whip out a grenade and throw it with extreme ease. The game will even tell you where it will land and if it will hit any enemies. Naturally, some enemies will have the ability to dodge the grenade.
There are four core components to your character: armour, health, weapon damage and skill power. The armour system works slightly different to the prequel. In Division 2, your armour is a separate bar which can also be depleted. The moment your armour bar depletes, any subsequent damage will affect your health bar. You will be killed once both bars are empty. There is no more ‘stamina’ system in the game. The four components can be modulated based on a variety of factors, and this is where Division 2 really outshines most other games in this genre. Firstly, your health and armour will be increased as you level up. However, the weapons and gear will affect your core components too. As an example, you can have a specialized weapon that will buff certain attributes of that weapon (e.g. more XP during kills, more damage for headshots, and more damage to elite enemies).
Your gear however is the true gateway into how you want to build your character. Gear comes in the form of wearables such as kneepads, holsters, backpacks. Whatever gear you’re wearing will give you a buff for at least one of the core components. The higher the level of gear, the better the buffs. However, if you’re lucky enough to get some specialist gear through loot drops, enemy drops, the vendor or even via crafting, these may provide additional buffs and perks that can boost attributes such as skill power, reduce your skill power cooldowns, extra damage etc. To take this a step further, a lot of the gear will belong to a specific ‘brand’. You get even further buffs if you own and equip gear from the same brands! As a player, you need to decide if you want to be the skiller, the one who equips gear to maximise health/armour or weapon damage. You’ll spend an incredible amount of time trying various combinations, and this is part of the joy of scavenging for loot.
The skill powers themselves have been updated since the prequel. A lot of the skills have returned such as the seeker mine, turrets and chemical launcher, however there are now new skills such as drones that can shoot enemies and even skills that can trap enemies or take out the gadgets. Each gadget has a set of skills and you can eventually have two skills active at any one point. Once each skill is used, it will have a cooldown timer. Luckily, if you like using skills, you can work towards equipping gear that will reduce the timers!
As far as weapons go, there is plenty of variety to choose from. You’ll instantly want to unlock the perk to be able to carry two weapons (and a side arm). I found myself running around with a sniper and an assault rifle or SMG. As a side arm, if you’re lucky enough, you can even get a shotgun that might only have two rounds, but is extremely helpful in situations where the enemy has ran right up to you and you need the shotgun to take off the last bit of health. Even the weapons can have perks. Just like the gear, the weapon level does not necessarily define which is better. Although a level 20 weapon might deal more damage than its level 16 counterpart, if the level 16 weapon boosts your XP upon headshots or even buffs the headshot damage, it is often worth keeping the lower level one.
The world of Division 2 is scattered with loot. You don’t even need to go looking for it – the loot will just appear on random streets and almost always as you run through buildings. Most of the loot is in the form of tech that you can use for crafting or providing supplies to friendlies, but there are also major loot boxes that drop rare gear or weapons. The best way to guarantee such rare items is by completing actual missions and objectives.
The missions are the best aspect of Division 2. Although a lot of them are based in museums, you never feel as if the levels are repeating themselves. Every single main and side mission feels entirely unique and provides a unique challenge. Each mission also has a recommended level. Most of the time you can get away with playing it as long as you’re just one level below. However anything lower and you will find yourself often dying way too quickly! Ubisoft has really also given a lot of thought to the matchmaking process. If you want to play with a random group of online gamers, you can approach any main mission and start matchmaking. If however you’re too low a level, the game will not allow you to participate in that mission with random players, since it is most likely that you’re simply looking to get carried!
Above and beyond the missions, there are also plenty of other activities to participate in. You can capture enemy control points, which not only give you an additional fast travel location, but also unlock a supply room that holds some great loot. There are also projects that can be assigned to you. Whilst they are optional, you’ll find yourself needing to do them eventually in order to continue climbing levels. These projects often require you to sacrifice gear (mostly gear that you never wanted anyways) and supplies. Some of the projects require you to complete enough tasks in a specific district and take out the enemy leader of the area. When I started doing the projects, I was pleasantly surprised with how much XP I got for completing tasks that I didn’t even know I was working on!
Once you reach Level 30, you’ve most likely completed all of the main missions, however the game doesn’t stop there. Division 2 offers a mode, ‘End Game’, which essentially allows you to replay a lot of the missions however with considerably tougher enemies that will also drop much better loot. You really cannot take these enemies on alone, you’re best off matchmaking with other people if you don’t have a full squad. The challenge that Division 2 offers is just about perfect; whenever I died, it was because I got too complacent and tried to take on the last guy by breaking cover. End Game is also where you really need to work more collectively as a team. You need to worry just as much about your teammates’ health and help them out where possible. As the seasons go on, Ubisoft has promised even tougher factions to cater for those who have levelled up enough to find even the End Game too easy. What’s better is that the new seasons will introduce not only newer factions, but also brand new raids and missions that players have never participated in before.
Division 2 represents everything that is great about the social gaming community through its matchmaking system when needing partners to play a mission. I rarely found a human player who decided to join a mission but not try to pull his/her weight. However, if Division 2 brings out the best in people, it also encourages its players to behave as disgracefully as possible, and this is where the Dark Zone comes into play. The Dark Zone is a ‘contaminated’ area where other human players (often in squads) are carrying out raids and trying to salvage the best possible loot. The catch is that other human players are also scavenging the same loot, and not everyone can have it! The moment you enter the Dark Zone, you’re instantly going to feel paranoid, afraid and protective of your loot. This is exactly what Ubisoft wanted to achieve and they have nailed it. The moment you find a stray human running around, you’re going to hunt and kill him in the hope that he is carrying something worthwhile. My only issue with the Dark Zone was that the rewards simply weren’t worth the hassle. I am sure Ubisoft will address this, but as things stand, my squad and I can hunt some high-valued NPCs and then only get a basic item drop. Was it worth fighting off other humans for it? Most likely not.
Then there is the matter of extracting the items you have in the Dark Zone. Most of the items in here are contaminated, and therefore need to be extracted. The moment you call an extraction, other nearby humans are alerted and can choose to sabotage your extraction by killing you and taking your items as their own. The problem isn’t the extraction, but the fact that I rarely had good loot to extract. I therefore found myself spending more time waiting for other humans to extract and then doing my best to stop them! What I love about the Dark Zone is that it is an area designed for humans to troll as much as they want to. I expect there to be better gear in the future, however as things stand, you’re better off staying away from the Dark Zone. Ubisoft has also added various level caps to the Dark Zone regions. This ensures that a Level 50 player will not be playing against someone who is considerably lower.
Similar to the prequel, you can also go Rogue in the Dark Zone. Here, if you end up killing a human, you and your entire squad end up going into a rogue state. All other humans in that session will be alerted and will be able to kill you for a bounty. If however, whilst in your rogue state, you still end up killing additional humans rather than running away and surviving until the timer runs out, you end up eventually initiating a map-wide manhunt. In this case, you’re going to have a lot of humans coming for your head, and you better hope that your squad and you have the gear to fight them off! If you manage to survive all of that, you’ll get some excellent gear as a reward.
The Division 2 also has micro-transactions, however they are purely for emotes and visual apparel (e.g. clothing, weapon skins). You can use real money to buy Division credits. These can be used to buy specific items, or even open up loot boxes. The game occasionally gives you keys to open up loot crates too, but it’s clear that the only way you’re getting your hands on some of that cool-looking gear is by paying real money for it. I personally have no issue with this. Thankfully you cannot pay for actual weapons, which would have been a complete showstopper for me.
As things stand, Division 2 is one of my favourite games on the PS4. I desperately needed this in my life to keep me away from battle royale and football games, which a) I wasn’t even enjoying as much and b) often made me rage too much. However, now that I have reached Level 30 and largely completed almost everything that the game has to offer, I am hoping that Ubisoft will release some new content soon so that I can sink my teeth back into it. As a third-person shooter, this is one of the finest that current-generation consoles has to offer. Division 2 is the perfect combination of fluid gameplay, stunning visuals and a multiplayer experience that actually promotes social gaming rather than solo play.