By Edmond Tran
Initially, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was only available to play for those who purchased the Gold and Ultimate editions of the game. However, as of Friday, March 15, all players can now access the game. We are currently playing and experiencing concurrently with the larger community, ahead of publishing our full review.
Below you’ll find some day-one impressions from me, who’ll be writing the final review. I plan to have a scored review-in-progress once I’ve completed the campaign and a final review once I’ve seen a substantial amount of what The Division 2 has to offer with its endgame content, including specializations, invaded missions, PvP, and the Dark Zones. We appreciate your patience as we dig deep into this huge game.
I’ve only been to Washington DC once in my life, and it was a short visit. I spent the better part of the day wandering the National Mall before calling it a night and moving on the next day. I’ve now spent about the same amount of time in Massive Entertainment’s version of Washington DC, spending most of the first full day of The Division 2’s life getting my bearings on the world and steadily plugging away at the game’s campaign and side activities. But in both cases, my feelings about the place is the same: I really want to spend more time there.
The Division 2 goes like this: Months after the events of the first Division, chaos and disorder still plague what is left of the US, especially in the nation’s capital. Important personnel and agencies have withdrawn as the city is upturned by armed groups with malicious intent, while remaining civilians band together and struggle to survive and establish self-sufficiency. As a secret sleeper agent of the Strategic Homeland Division, you’ve been tasked with aiding Washington’s civilian militia to regain a hold on law, order, and society.
It’s all a bit overwhelming at first, even for someone who played a lot of The Division. Several smaller things have been added to the sequel, which translates to a barrage of mission and tutorial popups for the first few hours. It’s also tough to initially get your head around the convoluted UI. But once you get a handle on the flow of progression, it doesn’t take long to get completely sucked in.
What strikes me most about The Division 2 is how much its world feels like a thoroughly cohesive, living place. Settlements, the hubs where you craft, shop, and track your progression, are believably buzzing with activity. After establishing your own base of operations at the White House, the first settlement you unlock is a multi-leveled community built around the rooftop of Washington’s National Theatre and its surrounding buildings. At first, it’s a little frustrating trying to make your way around it and track down the services you need–there’s a lot of seemingly unimportant spaces you have to traverse. But those spaces go a long way in pushing this settlement into seeming like something that could feasibly work in real life, player convenience be damned. There are dedicated areas for the logistics of the settlement, NPCs seemingly doing a variety of chores, and generally a messy, makeshift nature to it all that feels genuinely thrown together and at risk of falling into disarray at the slightest breeze. It’s charming.
After completing roughly a third of the story missions, the plot of the game so far seems to be a relatively straightforward goal of increasing the militia’s capacity to fight back against aggressors by rescuing key personnel and property. You’ll do this by going into various Washington landmarks and gunning down a lot of people in main and side missions, helping individuals out in open-world activities, and gathering resources, all of which contribute to various settlement “projects” aimed at upgrading civilian operations.
Mechanically, this means you can craft better gear and get access to more kinds of vendors, but narratively, it means you get to see civilian settlements like the theatre gradually grow and become more livable, vibrant places. This could be in the form of more lights at night so it’s not so gloomy. The empty spaces might turn into gardens and rec areas where you can see people growing and serving food for others. The kids running around might get a dedicated place to play board and video games (they really love For Honor, apparently), all because you went out into the world, scavenged a bunch of materials, and brought them back for this specific purpose. The majority of these small improvements are ultimately superficial and non-functional, but the focus on them is a big factor in your own personal sense of growth, progress, and motivation.
Out in the open world, enemy gangs can be found wandering the streets, getting into scrapes, looting places, and generally trying to survive in their own right. Friendly NPC patrols also roam the streets and have real objectives of their own, which you can follow and assist them in. They’re optional vectors to help you engage in the world, but their ability to act of their own accord helps make the world intriguing.
The Division 2 also seamlessly integrates mission areas in the open-world map, regularly requiring you to traverse the streets to get to them. The game typically dumps a ton of missions on you at one time, encouraging you to spend more time in the world and return to settlements only when you’ve achieved a significant amount. Safe havens, the city streets, and the game’s activities are contiguous, which emphasizes the feeling of a sprawling world and a prolonged passage of time, and makes returning to settlements all the more pleasant. The Washington DC of The Division 2 feels like a very material one so far, one that I’m eager to explore.
Of course, The Division 2 isn’t just about building communities, it’s a game about shooting a lot of people with a lot of different guns. The game’s combat continues to revolve around RPG-style traits and damage numbers when calculating the result of a bullet hitting an enemy, but it’s notable that the time to take down a human enemy doesn’t feel as far-fetched as it did in the original Division. It can still take a couple of headshots to take down an unarmored opponent, but unless I’m using a weapon whose power level is unsuitable to the mission, enemies don’t feel like they can withstand an unreasonable amount of damage so far.
Instead, The Division 2 creates more difficult challenges with more elaborately armored opponents. There are certain enemy types who are visibly more protected than most, and these archetypes can definitely soak up a lot of damage. But there are new combat options implemented to help you deal with them, which demand that you be strategic: Focusing fire on a particular segment of an enemy’s armor will eventually break it, opening up a weak spot for higher levels of damage. That means even if you’re up against a heavily protected elite enemy, you can crack open their helmet with some diligence, and they can then go down with a few well-placed headshots.
Even after roughly ten hours, I’m still enjoying going up against the variety of enemy archetypes, which, combined with The Division’s focus on relentless gunfire and cover-based shooting, makes the game’s conflicts tense. There are a good mix of opponents to really keep you focused on what’s happening–each faction has soldiers dedicated to rushing your position, keeping you suppressed with sniper fire and flushing you out of cover, among other things. Soldiers will frequently attempt to flank you while your attention is diverted, and you can do the same to them.
Combat skills also add a fantastic vector of strategy to things–there are eight major skills in total, each with a few interesting variants in function and behavior. You’ll eventually be able to unlock everything, so experimentation and being flexible enough to balance your loadouts between skills and the types of guns you’re carrying is encouraged. As to the guns themselves, I’ve already come across an impressive variety of different weapons with distinct feels in the way they handle. I typically have a favored style of character build, but I’m encouraged to try out new weapons and skills as I come across them, and I think about how they might be used in tandem with everything else.
“Encouraging” is generally how I feel about The Division 2 at this point in time. It’s got a fantastic sense of place and progression, and the combat scenarios and skills continue to be interesting. There’s a lot of love, especially among the minor improvements–the small design decisions that make the act of finding and equipping loot so snappy and convenient, or the smart integration of per-mission multiplayer matchmaking that even lets you call upon other players in the middle of a mission. I haven’t personally hit any server issues or major bugs, just some humorous oddities, like a floating iPad entertaining two excited children.
But it’s only been a day, and I’ve only played for about ten hours. I’ve finished 27% of the primary missions and my character is level 12 out of a possible 30. A lot of my observations here might not be particularly groundbreaking if you spent a large amount of time with the original The Division or The Division 2 beta, but there’s still a lot of the campaign left to see, and an allegedly enormous endgame. It’s important that I take the time to get to that point and see everything for myself, and I’m eager to see whether The Division 2 will still have the chops to keep me hooked when I hit the level cap and stop having a story to chase. Back to sightseeing, for now.