|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Massive Entertainment|
|Release: March 15, 2019|
|Players: 1-8 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Strong Language, Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence|
by Lucas White
Ubisoft’s The Division is the company’s take on the “loot shooter” genre, the epicenter of the “Games as a Service” model that sees players banding together to fight waves of enemies and walk away with powerful, new equipment. The first game generated a ton of interest, but didn’t land without technical issues. A sequel has emerged and goes down that list of issues on a clipboard, checking each one off as “improved.” However, while The Division 2 has a big focus on the endgame, giving players more things to do once they’ve completed the story, the story itself combined with some bone-dry gameplay loops makes that journey to the end an insurmountable chore.
I enjoyed my time with The Division for the most part. There was something appealing about exploring a barren, snowy New York City, shooting bad guys, and working to uncover the mystery of “The Dollar Flu.” It was a Tom Clancy story for all intents and purposes, but it did feel a little more sci-fi than usual. If you took a magnifying glass to the story, things got uncomfortable though. It essentially endorsed police violence against looters during a state of emergency. Luckily for everyone who wasn’t down with that vibe, The Division 2 doubles down on that in a way that makes the whole experience feel like violent right wing survivalist porn.
The game opens, and I am not exaggerating here, on a dramatic mid-range shot of a holiday paper coffee cup ala the “controversial” Starbucks holiday drama. The narration, which assumes you played the first game and doesn’t bother to explain what anything is, opts to instead play out like a deranged NRA advertisement. It almost feels like a parody, especially when the game drags modern society for caring more about coffee and free wi-fi than this vague idea of things that matter more? It points to the first game’s pseudo-apocalyptic disaster briefly, before cutting to “Did You Own a Gun? Did Your Neighbor?” and suggesting the collapse of society brought on by a literal mad scientist who poisoned money during Black Friday was somehow the fault of normal people for not being paranoid doomsday preppers.
Since everything is destroyed and survival is the focus now, as the text of The Division 2 notes, humanity can thrive. It only wants what it needs. Of course, people are still losers for not stockpiling ammunition, which is where the events of the game come in. These superco Division members who can do whatever they want, including opening fire on civilians for stealing food during the literal apocalypse, are the gosh-darn heroes. Now, it’s time for them to take back Washington D.C.
While the first game’s goofy story was about figuring out what the heck was going on in a big picture way and re-establishing things like medicine and communication systems, The Division 2 is about re-establishing order. The virus has spread to Washington D.C. and several months after the event in New York City, the people are beginning to form factions and self-govern. There are gangs like the Hyenas, who are just big ol’ jerks, other factions with various agendas, and then settlements of people just trying to survive. It’s basically a civil war-style, Good Cops against the Bad Guys survival fantasy that makes all the statements about this game being non-political a joke.
After the intro, The Division 2 turns into a loot shooter, and the writing goes from corny and bad to extremely dull. The player is sent to various locations by barely developed NPCs in order to find things to bring back to the White House. In this way you get to traverse D.C. much like New York City in the first game, chasing orange lines to enemy strongholds, “dungeons,” and other points of interest in order to complete missions and find loot, all on your way to the endgame, the part of the game that actually matters. If only it wasn’t so boring!
The biggest problem with The Division 2 is its awful pace. This game moves at a clip that saw me realizing I spent several hours playing, but had no perception of making meaningful progress. I would target a mission, run to it on foot, shoot a bunch of bullet sponge enemies, maybe use a skill or two, then find, if I was lucky, one piece of loot that was good enough to equip. Unlike almost every other loot-based game I have played, I found myself going though mission after mission without finding a single piece of equipment that was exciting to find. I spent more time dismantling junk loot than equipping new loot or comparing stats for hours and hours. The icing on the cake was at one point, after being cheesed to death by some bizarre enemy spawning, the game actually scolded me for having obsolete weapons. To which I thought, “Maybe I would use some better weapons if you would give me some, you colossal bully!”
It doesn’t help that the environmental design isn’t very interesting. The actual rendering of Washington D.C. is very impressive. It’s less distinct than the snowy New York City of the first game, since it’s just kind of bright and sunny outside (although there are some slick weather variations that kick in as well). But what’s really offensive is what happens when you’re indoors. The whole aesthetic of The Division 2 is “stuff everywhere.” As you make your way through corridors, you’ll be weaving around piles of junk and garbage, beating home the point that looters have been looting and they are very bad. It makes everything extremely noisy, and it’s hard to discern one room or one location from another. Unless you’re staring at a new monument, of course. Because everything is so bland and cluttered, things you actually care about have to glow orange in order to draw your attention.
There is fun to be had with the basic gameplay of The Division 2. The shooting feels fast and impactful, and since the combat has that RPG DNA, you can’t just pop people in the head and move on. You have to aim, maintain your damage despite recoil, and also be aware of your position. This can especially make single-player play intense, as you won’t have buddies to watch your blind spots and can often be victim to enemies appearing behind you out of nowhere. That can be frustrating, especially since The Division as a series wants you to hug cover spots in perpetuity, but it wants you to play with other people as much as you can.
One huge pain point is again related to this game’s awful sense of pacing. Everything takes forever. While complaints about it being too easy to die in the first game led to extra layers of armor, it’s still easy to get caught off guard and chewed up by even basic mobs. You have skills and an upgradable med kit stash to work with, but both of these things take so long to access and there’s no discernable reason why. Using a medkit feels like it takes ten years of holding the dpad button, and the cooldowns on skills are enormous. Upgrades can be earned, but again we’re talking hours and hours of play before things even start to get better.
In terms of content, The Division 2 feels pretty packed. There are multiple “Dark Zones,” tons of spontaneous, Destiny-style random events cropping up on the map, and the story itself is quite long as well. Again, pacing is the biggest issue, as it takes what feels like forever to make meaningful progress. Loot trickles in at a snail’s pace, and it almost never feels like you’re doing as much damage as you should as you level up. Getting through the story is like wading through a landmine field that yells at you for not having nice enough shoes to avoid damage from stepping on them. Meanwhile, the ground is covered with shoes that aren’t any better than the ones you’re wearing. You can see better shoes off in the distance, but all the rude, judgmental landmines are in the way. Perhaps established fans of The Division are all on board, especially with all the free content updates on the way, but I can’t imagine a new player could get through the pre-endgame grind without wanting to dip out before the good stuff opens up.
The Division 2 is a loot shooter with too much junk loot, a non-political story fueled by bargain bin politics, and a lovingly rendered Washington D.C. that mostly makes you crouch behind piles of garbage inside dark buildings. It’s hard to tell what this game’s intended identity is, or if it’s just a conveyor belt designed to drag players along a set of gradually increasing numbers. I never once thought I was experiencing something exciting, unique, or creative when I played this game, yet hours of my life seem to have vanished. Loot shooters are an increasingly crowded space, and The Division 2 is fighting a losing battle for my attention.
Writing Team Lead