The Division 2 has been one of my most-anticipated games since it was first announced, and after about a dozen hours with the game over several days, I’m extremely impressed. I’m nowhere near the endgame content yet, and I’m not in any hurry to get there. The single-player game has my attention thanks to an intensity and a pace that feels exceptional.
I played hundreds of hours of the original Tom Clancy’s The Division, a game that came out in 2016. In many ways, it was quite a bit ahead of its time. Ubisoft was trying to follow up on the MMO-cum-FPS model pioneered by Bungie with the original Destiny. But, with a launch plagued by bugs and raids that many felt were repetitive and dull, the bulk of its audience seemed to drift away by early 2017.
But I went back to Ubisoft’s vision of New York City over and over again, ferreting out every collectible and running down even the most obscure bits of its storyline. I spent a lot of time in there, and I’m here to tell you that The Division 2’s Washington, D.C. feels completely different.
Navigating NYC in The Division was a bit like walking through a deserted amusement park in a horror movie. The refuse of a collapsed city was all around you, piled up in layers of environmental storytelling. Every once in a while, something scary would happen involving guns. But, all too often, my only companions were orange-colored holograms, in-fiction recreations of historical events captured by a network of surveillance cameras.
Simply put, The Division was lonely. By contrast, the opening few hours with The Division 2 are teeming with life.
For one, roving bands of allied militia members are a common occurrence. My HUD informs me that they’re out on patrol or scavenging for food. Often I’m able to jump in and help them to push back armed thugs and other undesirables. But it feels like there are more enemies as well. They even seem to travel in larger packs. Even low-level engagements can be challenging, and fights are often multi-dimensional firefights that swirl around me.
In The Division 2 I’m not working a firing line and pushing down a street like I was in The Division. I’m continuously advancing and retreating, moving from cover to cover. What was a familiar cadence of aim, shoot, and move has turned into a kind of improvisational staccato on my DualShock 4, and I’m really enjoying it.
But the environments have texture to them as well, texture that goes well beyond grimy floors and piles of trash. It’s not just endless empty streets and the occasional green space, either. Unique environmental features, especially enemy strongholds, give each region of the game world its own flavor. Landmarks are often co-opted as enemy strongholds, places that these same thugs have fortified with heavy weapons and claimed as their own. To root them out, I’m able to send up a flare and my friends in the militia come running, more than capable of supporting my assault.
More problematic, however, are The Division 2’s ad hoc multiplayer features.
Just last night, in the hour between dinner and the start of my weekly Dungeons & Dragons game, I had an hour to kill. So I booted up The Division 2, picked out a side mission, and got to work.
About 20 minutes in, I hit a difficulty spike. The final boss and I were having it out again and again, and every time they were getting the better of me. So, after one particularly grating death, I tapped a button on the screen to call for backup.
Sending a backup request sends out a ping that other players in the vicinity can hear. But it’s so common, and so annoying, that one of the biggest search topics right now is figuring out how to turn it off.
So I sat there for another 30 minutes, screaming into the void and asking for help. No one came to my aid.
In addition to the complexity of the maneuvers required to take down a boss-level encounter in The Division 2 — all the sticking to cover and releasing from it, all the leaping between levels of elevation, all the aiming and hiding and running and reloading — in addition to all that, the boss encounters are really quite hard. It’s possible that the developers built some of that difficulty into these encounters in order to encourage players to team up. But, if the system that’s being used is so annoying that people switch it off, that could be upsetting the game’s balance.
Or I’m simply attempting encounters that are too challenging for my abilities.
Either way, I’d love for some changes to be made, for it to be easier and more enjoyable for me to find other players casually in the open world. I’m not interested in partying up with a group for a longer period of time. I just need a little help now and then.
But that’s small potatoes, when it comes down to it. The Division 2 feels full, both of content and non-player characters. And that’s a change for the better.