The Division 2 represents a new gold standard for the entire looter-shooter genre. Far from being designed as a vehicle for micro-transactions like Activision’s Destiny 2 or a manufactured trend-chasing cash-in like Apex Legends, The Division 2 is a worthy sequel that even so soon after launch looks certain to drive the franchise forward into the late stages of this gaming generation and into the next. Its practically impeccable environmental design and almost unnervingly compelling core gameplay loop definitely qualify it as a game that can bring about a serious case of “one more turn syndrome”. If soccer is a game of two relatively boring halves, then The Division 2 is a game of relentlessly entertaining fifths. At present, the base game is divided into five segments, across upwards of over fifty hours of content that more than offer value for money.
The initial leveling experience from ranks one to thirty constitutes the bulk of what the game has to offer. Players begin as a freshly activated Division agent ready to liberate Washington D.C from the various anarchic terrorist factions that seek to carve it up for their own profit and power. As with the previous game, progression across the map is governed by level-gated access to the various districts of the urban warzone that the once mighty and proud city has been reduced to. Players are tasked with liberating each district step-by-step by defeating the rogue paramilitary and mercenary factions that have carved up the city into their own personal fiefdoms. Accomplishing that objective involves completing a mission centered around the acquisition of critical intelligence, the recruitment of individuals with crucial skills, and securing control of a strategic resource or location. Each mission is compact enough to never overstay its welcome, they’re just long enough so that they feel like a significant task has actually been completed. This feeling is only enhanced by the way in which overland objectives on the city map tie into the overall mission progress in the campaign, so that even during moments of relative downtime there is always something happening. Such a combination of tightly designed main missions and variable supporting activities makes The Division 2 one of the most varied and flexible looter-shooters on the market.
Once the main story is complete and it seems that some semblance of order and stability has been returned to the city, players of The Division 2 are treated to a gameplay twist of such magnitude that it wouldn’t be out of place in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. The victory that players have worked so hard to achieve is put into perspective as only a part of a much larger conflict. No sooner has Washington been saved than it is threatened again, by yet another rogue military organization once charged to defend it. In practical terms, this opens up a tiered progression system that guides players through previous content that has been dramatically altered to mix-up the end game experience. New enemy types and mission objectives emerge to keep the experience fresh, and a constantly shifting power balance on the city map creates a sense of a game world that actively requires the player’s presence rather than asking them to just passively exist in the background. Although, of course, the core loop involves the acquisition of new loot through mission replays and the refining of character abilities to the point of statistical perfection, it is the emergent nature of the open-world gameplay that ensures no two sessions will ever be completely identical.
As with all games as a service, The Division 2 would not be complete from a corporate perspective if it didn’t include a full array of micro-transactions to further monetize the player base. As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s actually refreshing for titles like this to launch without sickeningly exploitative in-game stores. Massive Entertainment and Ubisoft seem keen, for the time being at least, to take a softly-softly approach to how they generate ongoing income through recurrent user spending. Everything available in the store is entirely cosmetic and completely optional, with absolutely zero pay-to-win necessities. Naturally, some of the cooler outfits and weapon skins are purchasable, but they can also be unlocked by acquiring cosmetic cache key components when players reach certain XP thresholds. Beyond that, the game throws so many cosmetic items at you over the course of normal play that it never feels necessary to dip into your wallet to create an appealing appearance for your character. As time goes on we’ll see how that situation changes, but for now The Division 2 has avoided being as egregiously exploitative with its micro-transactions as The Elder Scrolls: Blades. Hopefully, it will continue to offer the companies involved a sustainable revenue stream without ever sinking to the kind of blatant daylight robbery that executives over at Bethesda seem to have become comfortable with.
Whilst The Division 2 is unquestionably an improvement over its predecessor, it still doesn’t manage to avoid all of the problems common to the genre. Variations on a theme aside, there’s still a finite limit to the fun of any repetitive activity. Grinding your way towards statistically perfect gear or refining skill and weapon combinations is satisfying in its own right but eventually, you will hit a point when the risk of boredom outways the shininess of the next loot drop or mission reward. However, by being conspicuously generous with its loot drops it makes sure that even if the gear you find isn’t exactly a direct upgrade then it can at least be turned into useful components, sold for currency or kept in reserve if it has a trait worth transferring to another item at a later date. The repetitive nature of the gameplay mechanics has been a death knell for similar titles in this genre, but by providing a clear roadmap for future content updates and events as well as frequent balance patches it would appear that The Division 2 is not going to collapse under the weight of its own ambition as EA’s Anthem has recently begun to do.
I’ve always found it difficult to draw firm conclusions about games like The Division 2. There’s something about the looter-shooter genre that always seems to defy objective analysis. Unlike titles that seek to tell an enthralling story, make a particular point, or highlight topical issues there’s only so much that a looter-shooter needs to do, and that’s not a lot. That’s not to say that they don’t have to reach a certain standard – as these days the bar for even mediocre games is set quite high – but more than anything else they only have to prove one thing: that they’re fun. No matter what else I could say about The Division 2 it’s an incredible amount of fun, either as a solo experience or played co-operatively. For that reason alone it’s more than worthy of your money and your time. Not only is it fully-featured launch but it’s a game that will only continue to grow in both genre relevance and entertainment value as time goes by.