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The Division 2 Review in Progress – We've Put a Score On It

We’re in the endgame now.

I’m now at the precipice of The Division 2’s endgame –  and my progression to max level was enjoyable, if not a little ordinary. There is a clearly similar mission structure present in each of the 11 PvE zones, but new activities are introduced as you progress, and the freedom to tackle these tasks in any order you wish keeps it from feeling like a grind. The post-collapse backdrop of Washington, D.C. is astonishingly well-realized, with each nook and cranny generously littered with chests and collectibles.

When you roam into a new area you’ll be greeted by a safe house, capture points, story missions, and a host of other activities. There are elite patrols to annihilate, friendly resource convoys to protect, supply drops to be captured, and some other odds and ends. These activities are enjoyable in their own right, but they usually result in loot and show up on your map to entice you when available. I was, however, pleased to find that not everything that’s worth doing could be found on a map. You’ll find usually find a chest at the end of an otherwise pointless expedition which meant I never felt bad about indulging my curiosity when it came to exploration. An adventurous spirit is wonderful feeling to have in a world as vast and beautiful as The Division 2’s depiction of Washington, D.C.

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The villains that populate D.C. aren’t quite as interesting as the setting itself. I’m now level 30, and I haven’t been introduced to any new enemy archetypes since about level 15. Bosses, disappointingly, are still just normal baddies with more hit points. The closest thing I’ve seen to a well-crafted boss encounter came in the form of Diesel, from the District Union Arena stronghold, who briefly took control of a turret on a stationary armored car, but then just turned out to be another kevlar-clad Hyena machine gunner.

Even the predictable fights are still fun thanks to The Division 2’s well-refined combat.

There are glimpses of creative encounter design, like the onslaught of numerous suicide bombers in the Federal Bunker, but most of the time you’re faced with a predictable assortment of rushers, snipers, engineers, and gunners. Thankfully, even the predictable fights are still fun thanks to The Division 2’s well-refined combat. Gunplay is impactful with the sponginess of the original still nowhere to be found. Enemies are lethal, and the AI does a wonderful job of trying to get behind you. I’m hopeful that the endgame activities (which I’m about to dive into) will use this formula as a sturdy foundation to build upon, rather than simply repeat.

At this point I’m up to my elbows in high-end items, and as a result my honeymoon phase with The Division 2’s loot is over (at least until gear score, unique set bonuses, and exotics come into play). Rather than what’s new and exciting, I’m now strictly interested in what’s actually effective. And LMGs, assault rifles, and sniper rifles seem to have a monopoly here. I’m still hopeful that shotguns, SMGs, and DMRs will have their time to shine with the right build, but for now, choosing one of these weapons results in a significant loss in DPS.

When it’s something I can use, loot is remarkably interesting thanks to deep, well-communicated systems like talents and attributes. “To Order,” a talent that allows you to cook grenades, is extremely useful; “Frenzy,” which increases weapon damage and fire rate by 35% after reloading from an empty magazine is monstrously powerful and fun as hell to use.

Attributes are a bit less flashy but no less important: they’re randomly rolled stats that fall into one of three categories: offense, defense, and skill. And having enough offensive attributes, for example, is important as it will allow you to benefit from certain talents on your gear.

I’m eager to see how it all shakes out once powerful variables like gear score and exotics come into play.

These intricate systems exist on top of the randomly rolled base stats and set bonuses of other ARPGs. While I haven’t begun fine-tuning a build just yet, I could see all these elements keeping me invested in The Division 2’s loot for a very long time. I’m eager to see how it all shakes out once powerful variables like gear score and exotics come into play.

I didn’t really intend to, but as is often the case with day-one video game grinds during a work week I ended up playing the majority of levels 1 through 30 solo. For those who prefer this solitary style, I’m happy to report that everything worked very well on my own. No content felt off-limits. That said, I play shared-world shooters to share the world, so it’s promising then that my limited experiences with teamplay thus far have been pleasant. Skills like the “Reviver Hive,” which resurrects dead or downed allies, or the “Firestarter Chem Launcher,” which coats an area in gas that explodes when shot, feel tailor-made for multiplayer.

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It’s a welcome inclusion that matchmaking is always an option, no matter what you’re doing. You can matchmake via a terminal in safe areas, a menu in the open world, or by simply walking up to someone and hitting a few buttons. Matchmaking times were long in my experience, but time will tell whether or not this was a result of simply being ahead of the curve in terms of hours invested. Also, it’s remarkable that I have to rave about chat functionality coming out of the box in a shared-world shooter, but here we are. The Division 2’s chat is a wonderful feature.

Overall, The Division 2’s initial leveling progression has been a relatively joyful undertaking. It clears the low bar set for the genre with ease, but it’s still not an experience I’d subject myself to in a vacuum, without the promise of a deep and interesting endgame. In order to really succeed from here on out The Division 2 needs to show me that my time was well spent by providing me with the kind of unique, progression-based multiplayer PvE and PvP gameplay that I can only get in a shared-world shooter.

If I had to score it now, after 30 hours, I’d give it 8.0, which is great on our scale. To find out if the endgame justifies that score, improves upon it, or disappoints me, stay tuned to IGN – the final review is only a few days away.

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March 13

Progress Update: I’m currently level 27, and endgame is in sight! I’ve been enjoying an increase in the frequency of high-end drops and my overall impression are still positive. If anything, The Division 2 has become even more enjoyable since my last update. It’s been nice to get a few weapons that can challenge the almighty assault rifle and sniper rifle archetypes, and enemy encounter variety continues to excite. More tomorrow!

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Day One – March 12

After the first day of The Division 2 I’m sitting at level 18, which means I’m more than halfway through the initial leveling progression – but hopefully have experienced much less than half of the content this shared-world sequel has to offer, because that would be disappointing. The Division 2 has already succeeded in many areas where the original faltered, and as a result my impressions so far are largely positive. Gunplay is punchier, enemies are more mechanically diverse, loot is generous and interesting, and its wonderfully realized recreation of Washington DC is sufficiently populated with fun activities and hidden goodies. Based on what I played of the private and open beta tests, I’m still concerned that the combat may revert to its spongy state in the endgame, but for now, The Division 2 feels very good.

The tale of Division 2’s revised gunplay is as follows: pronounced recoil, faster time-to-kill, more of the easy-to-kill “red bar” enemies, and immediately visible effects from firing your weapon (like destroyed armor plates or staggered enemy steps). There’s also a lot more creative variety in terms of enemy archetypes, especially in the Mad Max-esque “Outcasts” faction. Their suicide bombers liquify after any damage is dealt to their conspicuous explosive vests, their engineer archetype deploys saw-wielding RC cars straight out of Battlebots, and their armor-clad heavy forgoes a cliche mini-gun in favor of a chainsaw.

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Another important motif that has helped the Division 2’s combat stay enjoyable and replayable thus far is lethality. Every enemy is dangerous. Red-bar grunts may die instantaneously, but they will rip you in half if you ignore their aggressive flanking maneuvers. As a result, enemy bosses are difficult not just because of their health pool and damage output, but also because they have the effect of distracting you from lesser (but still threatening) foes.

Unfortunately, the bosses themselves are a bit of a let down so far. The yellow-barred named enemies are little more than steroided versions of their subordinates, which is disappointing. I’m still waiting for a big, bombastic, unique, and hand-crafted boss encounter. Furthermore, named versions of lightly armored archetypes, like a sniper boss, feel like enemies pulled straight out of The Division 1 in terms of inexplicable sponginess.

The Division 2’s overarching storyline has failed to really grab my attention thus far.

The Division 2’s overarching storyline has failed to really grab my attention thus far, but it has succeeded in more bite-sized storytelling. The early Jefferson Trade Center mission effectively establishes the stakes: a Division agent has been taken hostage and then executed on that premise in an unexpected way without interrupting the flow of gameplay. Similarly, a trip through a contaminated prehistoric museum – spurred on by a trail of Easter eggs – took a tragic turn when I realized that the peaceful menagerie was actually a hospice for the doomed victims of the green poison.

Like combat, progression is another area where The Division 2 has pleasantly surprised me. The rule of thumb seems to be that if you feel like something is going to reward you with great loot, than it probably is. Control points are capped off with a supply room straight out of Greed’s Domain in Diablo 3, and the Dark Zone has introduced me to both my first superior and my first high-end rarity item. Finally, there are tons of chests scattered around mission areas and the open world, which is ample incentive to stop and smell the roses. As a result of open-world activities and the aforementioned goodies, the superbly realized Washington DC feels much less barren than the original’s recreation of New York City.

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Quantity is nice, but quality is a must, and in this respect, The Division 2’s loot has proven interesting, or at least as interesting as a pair of knee pads can be. The first non-weapon that I really gave a crap about was a high-end kevlar vest called the “X-TREYME Pro Ribcage.” In addition to boasting a huge amount of armor it rolled with attributes and talents that increased my health and headshot damage by 20 percent, which is pretty insane for a mid-game item. There also seems to be a welcome correlation between aesthetic detail and mechanical strength when it comes to the stat-bearing gear. Weapons absolutely steal the show in The Division 2 as far as loot is concerned, but I’ve also discovered a troubling imbalance between weapon archetypes.

So far, a P-416 of middling rarity stands head and shoulders above every other weapon I’ve found in terms of effective DPS.

Unlike Destiny or Anthem, The Division 2 features an in-game means of measuring your damage-per-second output in the form of the Firing Range. It’s a more than welcome inclusion, but it also has the effect of shining a spotlight on exactly how balanced, or imbalanced each weapon archetype is. So far, a P-416 of middling rarity stands head and shoulders above every other weapon I’ve found in terms of effective DPS. And while there is an argument for using a sniper rifle or LMG at long -range, there seems to be no situation in which any of the shotguns I own (even those of higher rarity and level) would be preferable. I hope – and frankly expect – that this will change as I unlock more high-end and exotic gear, but currently it feels like a waste of time to use many other weapons. That’s disappointing.

At this point, I’m eager to progress through the rest of The Division 2’s critical story path, and am absolutely looking forward to what the endgame has in store. I need further examine specializations, endgame PvE content, the Dark Zone, and organized PvP before reaching a verdict. And it’s possible that elements that I have enjoyed thus far could stagnate, or new problems could present themselves, but for now I’m optimistic and have enjoyed my time with The Division 2 thus far.

Day 0 – March 11

My review of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is underway, after this morning’s surprise launch of the PC version, and I’m currently working my way through the critical story path at a brisk pace to reach its endgame content. I’ll be looking for The Division 2 to introduce interesting new loot and enemy mechanics at a steady pace to keep the initial grind from feeling like a grind, and I’m hoping to see it give me ample reason to group up with other players. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on whether or not the realistic setting leads to relatively limited mechanics; I’m expecting spectacular boss encounters and meaningful gear choices. Reality is no excuse to be boring.

So far, a few things stand out after just a few hours. The Division 2’s arsenal of real-world firearms feels punchy and effective when compared that of its predecessor. There is enough recoil on mouse and keyboard to warrant compensation, and enemies react to being shot much faster than in the original, which is a small but crucial detail when it comes to making gunplay feel satisfying. Another factor in that is the time-to-kill, which I’m reluctant to comment on just yet, as I imagine it will become longer as I progress. I need to be sold on the illusion that my guns are effective the whole way through the story and into the endgame, which is a tenuous balance to achieve when human enemies can absorb hundreds of rounds before keeling over. So far, The Division 2’s best idea in this respect is that it uses visual indicators like bulky-armor that can be chipped away to communicate enemy resilience, but this trick seems to be specific to the “heavy” enemy archetype and there were plenty of spongy bosses in the beta that were missing this destructible armor.

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Loot is interesting so far, but that isn’t saying much. Finding my first AK-M was fun enough, but the true test of whether or not the Division 2 will succeed as an RPG will be determined by whether or not I’m excited to pick up my hundredth version of that same rifle. By endgame, I’ll be looking for my loot to inform and alter my playstyle rather than just increase my damage and toughness stats by another small increment.

I’m interested to see what the sequel fills this impressively filthy post-pandemic world with in terms of unique gameplay.

From what I’ve seen, The Division 2’s near one-to-one recreation of Washington DC is as intricately assembled as the original’s evocation of New York City, which was one of its strongest features. But I’m more interested to see what the sequel fills this impressively filthy post-pandemic world with in terms of unique gameplay opportunities. So far the activities that stick out are open-world events like control points that offer up a challenging onslaught of enemies, capped off by a fun boss fight and access to a generous loot-filled room upon completion.

The last thing I want to discuss at this very early juncture is the Dark Zone, a dynamic open-world space where difficult enemies abound and players can turn on one another at any time. It’s what I’ve been looking forward to most in The Division 2, but my experiences with it in the beta were not promising because of all the red tape around combat. In order to damage another player you need to first flag yourself as rogue, which can be done by performing a number of actions including holding down a button – an important detail that wasn’t explained in the beta’s introductory Dark Zone mission. PvP in a high-stakes environment should be intuitive and understandable. To its credit, two of the three Dark Zones in the sequel are normalized, meaning player level and gear shouldn’t matter in a fight, and that should lead to less confusing stat-driven fights with other players. But in the beta I still ran into plenty of “why aren’t you dead?” moments that I couldn’t help but feel would have ended differently if all things were actually equal. I’m hopeful that as I invest more time into the new Dark Zones that situation will be resolved and allow its merits will shine through.

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This is just the absolute tip of the iceberg, of course – I’ll be bringing you frequent updates to this review in progress until the final scored review is posted. That’ll happen after I experience everything The Division 2 has to offer, so I don’t currently know exactly how long it’ll be, but we’ll find that out together. Hit me up with questions in the comments or on Twitter at ThuggnDuggn.

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