Hot on the slightly broke, misjudged heels of Anthem comes another triple-A loot shooter looking to hoover up your every waking moment.
Ubisoft has pulled together almost every studio under its banner to help out Massive Entertainment with the behemoth that is Tom Clancy's The Division 2 (the only time we'll use its full name), and if you’re the type of person who gets hot under the collar when a new pair of purple kneepads drops from an enemy’s lifeless corpse, then you’re in for a real treat.
Moving on from Winter in New York, The Division 2 takes place in Washington DC, where once again ruthless gangs have taken over a city ravaged by a pandemic, apocalyptic flu. You, and your group of co-op buddies, have to take back the city by shooting many thousands of bad guys with many hundreds of weapons, all while ducking behind cover and asking each other ‘did anyone listen to that last cut-scene?’
The answer, of course, is no.
Loot And Shoot
The Division 2, like its predecessor, is a deceptively complex RPG masked by a very accessible core gameplay loop. Through all its missions, side missions, activities and general open world exploration, you’re going to be ducking behind cover, peeking out, and shooting a seemingly-endless supply of enemies.
The game’s real hook, though, comes from what you get after the bullets have dropped and the blood-curdling screams have died down. The Division 2 is generous with its loot and demanding with its stats. While it’s entirely possible to crash through the 30-hour or-so campaign only looking at basic damage numbers and coloured tiers, there’s so much depth in how you can build out and spec your character it's a spreadsheet nerd's’ dream come true.
Importantly, though, The Division 2 gives every activity on its map purpose - you know you’re always going to get something, and even if its not exactly what you want for your character, it can be destroyed for valuable crafting materials, donated to a settlement (a friendly encampment, essentially) or sold.
The game can be played solo, and enemy numbers scale accordingly, but The Division 2 is clearly built for coop, and even if you are amigo-less, any activity can be matchmade into so you’ll never feel truly on your own.
It’s important to understand just how repetitive this game is, though. Literally every activity boils down to low-cover, waves of enemies, and a lot of gunfire. Now, when the gunfire is as sharp, punchy and tactical as this, and when you’re laughing, shouting and swearing along with pals, then in the immortal words of Shannon Sharpe, ‘that ain’t no problem’.
And despite the lack of variety, The Division 2 does a better job than its predecessor of making the moment-to-moment fights interesting. Both enemy and player health is lower, so daring forays out of cover may make you feel like you’re Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys 2, but will more likely see you crawling across the floor like Gollum, looking for an angry partner to revive you.
Enemies flank, rush and try to outmaneuver, while the different factions utilise tactics specific to them, so there’s quite a lot of thinking going on amidst all the tracer fire and bad one liners.
A new armour system for high-tier enemies has been implemented to try and mitigate some of the ‘bullet sponge’ criticisms levelled at the first game, although you’d be hard pressed to notice in the heat of battle. It’ll be interesting to see the depths of the endgame content to truly figure out how successful this change has been.
Skills For Kills
Despite the relatively ordinary setting, The Division 2 is happy to go on flights of violent fancy with its skills and gadgets. From flame-throwing turrets to health-dropping drones, there’s all manner of wild and wacky abilities to unlock, level-up and mod. These guys are essentially Tom Clancy wizards, but everyone likes to pretend it’s all very real and proper.
Smart combinations of skills becomes increasingly important as you tackle high-level challenges and missions. The Division 2 is pretty unrelenting; this is a difficult game that requires a lot of coordination, stat management and teamwork.
Somewhat strangely, The Division 2 includes competitive multiplayer, a new addition for the series.
It’s a basic four-on-four deathmatch or domination mode, where high ground is utterly essential, and anyone who gets to it first almost guaranteed the win.
The game’s core combat is strong enough to cope with the demands of competitive play, but it all feels a little old-fashioned and unnecessary, especially when the Dark Zone offers some of the most unique and potentially thrilling PVP out there. Still, grabbing a good spot on a roof and hurling grenades at hapless foes is always a riot.
Zero Dark Thirty
Once again, The Dark Zone proves one of the most interesting takes on competitive multiplayer out there, but Massive has made significant changes to (hopefully) shorten the gap between inquisitive regular players and the vicious hardcore.
From stat normalisation to harsher penalties for becoming ‘disavowed’ (mowing down other players, essentially), The Dark Zone feels like a more profitable way to spend your time.
Yes, you can still spend thirty minutes looting and lose the lot in a brutal PVP assault, but there is also now plenty of ‘regular’ loot in here, so you rarely leave empty handed, and you can theoretically handle yourself against any level of opponent as their damage and stats are flattened.
Tom Clancy's The Division 2 verdict
If you can handle the extreme repetitiveness, The Division 2 provides a well-rounded, dense and - mercifully - functional loot-shooting experience, sprinkled with a few neat ideas you won’t find elsewhere.
Those who are looking to dedicate a good chunk of 2019 to this will find plenty to do and even more to shoot, while more casual players can still blast through the enjoyable story, experiment in the Dark Zone, and get their fill of loot before moving on.
It won’t win any awards for its storytelling, but unlike Anthem, The Division 2 fees like a game that actually understands how its players interact with it. Cut scenes are kept to a minimum, the plot is rarely more complicated than ‘kill the bad guys’, and the game does its best to get out of the way of you and your buddies having fun.
A very strong sequel.