Washington DC looks a tad bit different to what the travel brochure advertised. I mean sure, all the landmarks are there, from the Jaeger-sized Abraham Lincoln who awaits the day when the Union returns to unleash their Southern Kaiju in a new Civil War to the towering erection that immortalises former president Bill Clinton’s infidelity that is known as the Washington Monument.
It’s a scenic tour of a city that happens to have seen better days. Roving gangs of heavily armed lunatics stalk the streets looking for Capitol gains, private militias seek to carve out their own kingdom where they never have to worry about being betrayed by their government ever again and a weary populace find themselves caught in the middle of ideologies gone rogue.
The Division 2 has the potential to say a lot about the current American landscape, but its silence on taking a stand on any side is absolutely deafening, save for some jingoism here and there. It’s a good thing then that its gameplay doesn’t just fill that silence, it makes it an afterthought as this sequel from Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment checks every box on what a follow-up should be and then some.
First up, that political elephant in the room.
If you were looking for The Division 2 to have something to say about the US, their ideology of exceptionalism and their violent culture of guns having an impact on society, you’re bang out of luck. Instead, The Division 2 is Ubisoft’s most neutral game yet. Sure, there’s a tale there about saving the political heartland of a nation and reuniting the scattered communities of Washington DC into an organised collective of hard-working flag-wavers, all wrapped up in typical Tom Clancy ideas.
Namely that of you being a near-future super-soldier who rattles off technical military lingo while fighting America’s real enemies, like bandits armed with flamethrowers and socialism. And you know what? I’m kind of glad. Ubisoft made no bones about The Division 2 being a game set in the middle of today’s ideological divide and it’s all the better for it. If you can’t please any one side, you might as well cater to none of them.
Instead, The Division 2 focuses its attention on its gameplay, which may look similar to the original game at first glance, but is miles ahead of its predecessor. Here is a sequel that has added some serious muscle mass to its bones, taking everything that it learnt from the original game and applying them a more feature-packed beast.
The primary drive of The Division 2 is still one of you crouching behind a conveniently erected barricade, firing off rounds and watching enemy heads erupt in a geyser of numbers, but it’s the fine art of how you get to that advantageous position that makes all the difference. Instead of crouching behind a single box, The Division 2 encourages you to keep moving, to keep an eye on your surroundings and to use your various tech to your advantage.
You’ll need to stay agile as well, because the various enemy factions are packing plenty of heat on their side, gear that is designed to push you out of the safety of your position and set you up for a quick death. It’s wonderfully silly stuff as well, because while you might be able to pop a turret to defend you or send a tennis ball of death hurtling towards a grunt, they’ve managed to jerry-rig flamethrowers together or even remote control cars armed with explosive buzzsaws that look like they were stolen from the set of Robot Wars.
That all makes for an exceptional core that keeps players on their toes. In a genre where the journey towards loot is just as important as the acquisition of said loot, The Division 2 is a mean machine that feels worth the dozens and dozens of hours required to invest in it. Upgradeable skills makes the search for SHD-tech caches to plug more points into your various patriotic weaponry makes for some exhilarating skills, while the various guns and gear reflect Massive’s aim to make your character one a soldier who can specialise in any field to the detriment of the other.
Want to make your drones and riot control foam guns more powerful? You can mod said gear with buffs at the cost of your overall bullet-sponginess, while focusing on your physical attributes locks off many of the better skill mods. That quid pro quo is a subtle but important distinction, one that is expertly balanced with the gear on offer and Ubisoft’s key strengths in open-world building.
Washington DC is an amazing city to explore, one that is overgrown with vegetation, refuse and graffiti. It’s a city that Mother Nature has slowly begun to reclaim, but still capable of hiding plenty of its own secrets. The streets can be quiet for a moment, and erupt into a cavalcade of chaos as rival factions duke it out at the drop of a hat.
There’s so much to do at any given time in The Division 2, and at the start of the game it can feel absolutely overwhelming. A few hours in, and I’m already in a flow. I’m helping out control points that I’ve liberated, I’m bolstering my supply routes with more JTF recruits and reclaiming Washington DC block by block across bloody turf wars while upgrading my weapons so that they always out-math the opposition harder and faster than the last time they faced me.
That groove is magnificent stuff, and one that will easily devour hours of my time beyond the end of the main campaign thanks to The Division 2 having a proper endgame. Even with missions that feel well worth a replay, The Division 2’s endgame feels like the culmination of every criticism levied at the original game and its lacklustre drive once the end credits had rolled.
In fact, the entirety of The Division 2 feels like a lengthy training scenario in retrospect, one that is designed to prepare you for the proper challenge ahead. Beyond that, there’s even more action to be had in the Dark Zones, titles which are not just an apt description of my mental space whenever I see sports on TV.
Whereas the original dog eat dog world of back-stabbing and hastily-forged partnerships was a hellhole of griefers running rampant, The Division 2’s Dark Zone feels so much better in comparison thanks to the consequences of your actions inside. Player vs Player vs Enemy combat feels more rewarding thanks to a balanced playing field, that occasionally gives way to free for all brouhahas when certain events occur within.
Alliances are tenuous at best thanks to the drive to not only get the best loot in the game, but to make certain that you get your pals goods as well in a Shakespearian betrayal at the eleventh hour and going rogue may be tough but the benefits for being a bastard makes the very idea an intriguing possibility.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some criticisms to lob at The Division 2. It may be as pretty as can be (On Xbox One X where I played it), but the gorgeous vistas and lighting can come undone by some shadows and blacked out areas that hinder your vision tremendously. It may tie into the crumbling society facade of The Division 2, but walking into a dim corridor and not seeing anything at all in front of you can be frustrating in a game where such an inconvenience doesn’t have to exist for the sake of authenticity when I’m being attacked by bionic helldogs unleashed by Black Tusk soldiers.
There’s also something to be said for The Division 2’s cosmetic side, which feels thriftier than the previous game and makes a massive noise out of your multiple deaths rewarding you with a pair of cheap Oakley sunglasses. Sure, you can find gear randomly by searching every discarded backpack in Washington and you can earn keys to unlock another box of wondrous random clothing, but loot crates in 2019 feels like backward game design at this point.
Flaws aside, The Division 2 is a masterpiece of investment. Every level feels like a corridor shootout that would make John Woo proud, the drive to be better is surprisingly addictive and even without a solid story to become attached to, Washington DC is hands down one of the most interesting environments to explore in video games today.
Last Updated: March 25, 2019