When The Division launched in 2016 as a competitor to Destiny, which easily my most-played game of that year following 2015’s “The Taken King” expansion breathing new life into it. I thought that Destiny had the online looter-shooter formula down to a science, that it was as good as it gets. With The Division, I found myself captured by its New York setting and 3rd-person gameplay style, both of which were new twists on familiar elements in video games. When it released, I sunk my time into it and blasted through its story, excited for the endgame grind that makes or breaks games in this genre. As it is well known, this is where the first Division game faltered. Content in the endgame was almost non-existent at launch, a problem that plagues many online looter-shooters. I found myself reinvesting in Destiny and moving on, but always wondering what The Division might have really been.
It’s funny how things have a way of coming full circle.
I’ll start by being clear that this is not a review of The Division 2. That’s because I’m not even close to finishing it; after 30 or so hours, I am still just over halfway to the game’s level cap, nevermind all the endgame content. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier about it.
The Division 2 is a staggeringly massive game. Its Washington, DC setting holds a bit less interest for me than the first game’s snowy, eerie New York City, but there’s no denying that the environments are much more sprawling and significantly less claustrophobic. With spring in the air, all of the environments pop and this massive world actually feels believable in portraying how cities would look after a global collapse. Nature has taken over large sections of the map, though some remains almost untouched. It makes the map’s many sectors feel different, and not just like another series of skyscrapers punctuated by landmarks. The amount of these sectors is almost too much to take in, and at time of writing I still have only just over half of them. It’s a giant map that somehow never manages to feel overly large, especially considering all your travel is on foot. I really think it works, for me at least.
The size of this game also extends to the content, which is here by the truckload. Main missions are meaty and challenging, often pulling you out of your comfort zone to present a new obstacle. Side missions are plentiful and offer quicker diversions from the set-piece heavy main ones. There are collectibles, random skirmishes, and public events to tackle as well. And all of that is before the PvP content, which adds even more to this already densely populated game. Dark Zones, the game’s PvPvE areas, make a return from the first game and still offer plenty of thrills, betrayals, and sweet, sweet loot. Not satisfied with this, the game also has a dedicated set of PvP playlists to add more variety to an already well-spread selection. There is a lot to do in The Division 2, and there’s plenty more coming with its planned free (!) content drops throughout the year and beyond.
None of this would matter, of course, if the game wasn’t fun to play. It becomes very clear, very quickly that this is not an issue, however. The gunplay is kinetic and has real weight to it. The weapons you hold feel powerful, and they dole out destruction accordingly. It also cannot be overstated how much of a cut above this game’s enemy AI is compared to all other looter-shooters on the market right now. Enemies are frequently unpredictable and adaptable, meaning that if you do not pay attention you’ll like get killed quickly and often. It makes the moment-to-moment gameplay feel light years above its predecessor and it’s what keeps me playing despite my constant frustration. Very rarely do deaths feel cheap, which is a rarity in gaming now.
But let’s circle back to that Destiny/Division parable I was telling earlier. Destiny 2 launched in 2017 as almost a complete leap backwards from all the progress the first game had made in its lifespan. There was zero endgame content, subclass and equipment customization had been neutered, and plenty of changes people asked for throughout the first game’s run were still unaddressed in the sequel. As a huge fan of the series, it was a massive letdown after the initial hype wore off. But then the cycle repeated, with 2018’s “Forsaken” expansion completely reinvigorating the game and drawing me among many others back. It was a good time to be a Destiny fan, despite the bitter taste of another $30 expansion fixing the game left in my mouth.
Leading up to The Division 2’s launch (a month ago at time of writing), I wasn’t particularly excited for it. Sure, I loved the first game, but I wasn’t sure if I needed it considering how much Destiny 2 seemed to have it all figured out. See the pattern here?
Once I decided to buy and play The Division 2 one day while I found myself bored of another Destiny 2 weekly reset, I went in with open eyes and almost no expectations… and I was still blown away. From the beginning, The Division 2 felt complete in a way few games at launch have, especially in this genre (look to this year’s Anthem for another prime example). It feels almost wrong to be celebrating a game that launches complete; you’d think that would be the baseline by now. Maybe that says something about the state of the industry right now, but that’s for another time. From where I’m standing, The Division 2 is a huge achievement in scope, content, and gameplay, and how those things combined can make a package feel completely satisfying.
But who knows? Maybe by the time I actually finish the game I’ll feel differently about the whole experience. Maybe the grind gets too tedious, or maybe I get too frustrated by the game’s noticeable lack of a narrative. Maybe my outlook will just change… but I bet I won’t. Even at 30 hours and a smidge over halfway there, I don’t feel any fatigue. In fact, I feel it getting better, and that’s really exciting.
So here’s to you, The Division 2. You are the new gold standard for this online looter-shooter genre. You aren’t perfect, but you represent the highs that the genre can reach, the experiences it can give. You are a truly fun and exciting game, and I can’t wait to get to know you better.
Developer: Massive Entertainment