Four score and seven headshots ago…
Even by genre standards it’s been an extremely busy 2019 for shooters with Metro Exodus, Far Cry New Dawn, Anthem and Apex Legends all releasing in the first two months. After a brief respite, Ubisoft is dropping another big-time shooter into the marketplace with Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, which, like all good sequels, looks to build on the positives of the original while addressing its shortcomings.
In a cover-based, third-person shooter, the ability to seamlessly enter and exit cover is paramount to success, and in this area The Division 2 is generally crisp. Once in cover you can manipulate the camera to highlight other cover points. That allows you to move quickly between spots with the press of a button. You can also move around objects without leaving cover. It’s a good system that’s well implemented with very few frustrating moments.
Shooting is a little more of an acquired taste. You’ll carry two primary weapons and a sidearm with unlimited rounds (ammo is plentiful for the main guns as well). No matter what gun you’re using, however, the recoil takes some getting used to as without adjustments you’ll be firing above your initial target after squeezing off a few rounds. It’s not as pronounced as the original, and your weapon’s stats make a real difference, but it’s something to be aware of.
You’ll also haul around a grenade, armour packs and two pieces of equipment — for example, an automated turret or a drone that flies around firing on enemies. It makes for a busy controller setup, but it becomes second nature quickly. The ability to have an on-screen overlay that guides you to your destination is also helpful and unobtrusive.
While the combat is good, it bears mentioning that enemy forces continue to absorb bullets at an alarming degree. No, it’s not as exaggerated as the first game, but it can still feel unfair when clean headshots on unsuspecting foes isn’t an instant kill or when enemies brazenly leave cover or charge at you only to shrug off shotgun blasts at close range.
As with its predecessor, The Division 2 runs on Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine, producing a visually impressive representation of post-outbreak Washington D.C. There are landmarks aplenty, and the design time did a solid job of incorporating cover in authentic ways — something our favourite cover-based shooter (Gears of War) struggled with, often tipping off when battles were about to commence in the process.
Your agent is fully customizable, and your look will change based on the equipment you have, which is an important factor in a game like this where loot is a huge part of the draw. Things ran smoothly throughout, even when the screen filled with enemies and explosions.
With narrative elements pushed to the back burner, voice acting is (not surprisingly) largely forgettable with one-dimensional characters left to spout a few lines of dialogue and then vanish as you spend hours on the streets. Secondary elements are solid, particularly the punch of gunfire as you trade volleys with various enemy factions.
Set after the events of the original, The Division 2 relocates the proceedings from Manhattan to the Nation’s capital and casts you as an Agent of the Strategic Homeland Division. As noted, there isn’t a lot of story to sink your teeth into, but the gist is that things have gone bad and DC is largely controlled by militant factions. It’s your job to set things right by taking back the city, one section at a time, before being sent to rescue a person of high importance.
Again, it’s not a lot, but the story sequences serve as gateways to opening up more missions and providing reasons to keep heading out into the city. The real draw here is the loot, and on that front The Division 2 might be as good as we’ve seen since Borderlands. Each encounter brings a real chance of getting some improved gear, and things are metered out at a satisfying clip so it never feels like your progression is stagnating.
Mission variety can be repetitive, however, so if the prospect of hunting down better equipment and guns doesn’t float your boat you may grow tired of the formula of heading to a location and systematically clearing rooms of enemies before meeting the boss (who tends to just be an armoured enemy or one with lots of extra health). We were born with the grinding gene, so it wasn’t an issue for us, but it’s worth mentioning.
Progression through the increasingly difficult zones of the city is similar from one to the next as well as you’ll locate a safe house, capture control points and search for hidden chests and caches of valuable items and resources. It proves to be a significant undertaking of time, and we suffered our fair share of setbacks at enemy hands along the way, though the game rarely robs you of much progress.
After completing the campaign you’ll launch into the “endgame” content, which begins when DC is overrun by a heretofore unseen adversary. Their arrival will allow you to replay previous missions with their mercenaries now serving as the foil. You’ll also gain access to better loot as you work toward your character’s specialization and signature weapons along with a number of other goodies such as a new bounty system.
In addition to teaming up with other agents, you can also do some PvP work. The traditional offering, known as Conflict, is decent but not particularly engaging (though it is a good way to bank some loot crates). The “dark zones,” which are PvEvP, were a little disappointing as the rewards found there weren’t any better that what’s dropped elsewhere. There’s plenty of potential there, though, so hopefully they’ll continue to tweak it.
With loads of content, smartly metered out progression and intense gunplay, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 offers up a lot of bang for your buck.