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The Division 2’s best encounters happen underground, and often without warning

In the sewers beneath Washington, the game turns into a horror film

Searching the underground areas in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

I’ve been sinking a lot of my free time into the open world of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, but a few days back I had an encounter so bizarre that I swore it must be a glitch. But then it happened again. And again. Now, I’m actively seeking them out.

Each time I’ve run across them, I was deep below the streets of Washington. Each time the attack left me shaken. It’s almost as if, once underground, The Division 2 from a meaty third-person shooter into a solid little horror game. But they’re no accident. The way these encounters are go down speaks to the elegance of the entire game’s design.

It all begins with sound.

Audio plays a huge part in the experience of The Division 2. Ubisoft’s version of our nation’s capital is alive with sound, most of it ambient natural noise from birds and other animals that have started to move in. But sound also lets me know when enemies are nearby.

Most encounters in the game begin with the tiny orange computer worn on my shoulder, which sends out a ping or a stinger when enemies are nearby. Then my radar will light up with dotted lines giving me a bearing. As I move closer, I’ll begin to hear gunfire and the barks of enemies and allies engaged in combat. That’s when I can decide if I want to step in and help to turn the tide.

It’s the game’s sound that makes sure that I never feel like I’m getting ambushed. Flanking is a different story. That happens quietly and often. But I never really feel surprised by an unfolding gun battle.

Once I head underground, however, that all changes.

Two encounters with the bizarre underground faction in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.

Every so often, as I’m exploring the map, I’ll come across a yellow circle with a black arrow pointing down. That’s an indication that access to D.C.’s underground is nearby. Usually it’s a manhole cover, but sometimes it’s the entrance to a subway or a parking garage. Once I step over the threshold, The Division 2 becomes eerily quiet.

The lighting changes as well. Tripod-mounted halogen lamps are all over, blinding me as I round corners. Fluorescent fixtures have toppled from the ceilings and blue and purple emergency lighting casts weird shadows on the walls. Simple sewer tunnels are transformed into something completely foreign. Foreign ... but also terribly quiet. Often the only sound is the splashing of my own boots in the muck.

There’s always tons of loot down here, including long ruggedized boxes — the community calls them guitar cases — that hold higher-tier weapons. Sometimes they’re locked behind cyclone fencing, so I’ll pull out my sidearm to break open a few yellow U-locks. Otherwise, the work is quick and efficient. It’s easy to overlook that all the sounds of nature have faded away. Even the soundtrack is absent.

Usually I’m down and up with a few new bits of gear in just minutes. But ... sometimes I hear footsteps.

Before I know it they’re on top of me, rushing at me in ranks. Each one of them is dressed in black, with bright headlamps obscuring their faces. Many are dragging links of chain around their legs. Some lob grenades or fire shotguns, but up close all of them seem to prefer melee weapons. And, unlike virtually every other enemy in the game, each time they attack they’re perfectly silent.

If I can survive the initial wave, that’s when the nameless yellow boss rushes at me. Clad in armor made of scavenged metal plates, he’s swinging a chainsaw. It’s always a hard-won battle, with hundreds of rounds expended to knock off his plates and bring him down. He’s often carrying the best loot of all, usually a purple item or better.

I have no idea who they are or where they come from. These encounters with the bizarre underground mad men of The Division 2 appear to be totally random. Even returning to the same spot again and again, I can’t ever seem to trigger them reliably. I’m still not positive that they aren’t glitched. Once I found them standing alone in a dark corner, arranged in a circle and just staring at the walls.

But, even if they are glitched in some way, they’re fascinating.

I’ve begun hunting them, seeking out the underground areas not for the loot but for these wild, frantic encounters. Sometimes I can even hear the yellow bosses underground while walking above them on the surface, their chains rattling along in the tunnel floors below. But, when I find the entrance to the underground and make my way over, they’re not there. It’s both maddening and thrilling.

Tonight I’ll probably forego the storyline of The Division 2 in favor of more urban exploration. You can bet that I’ll be on the lookout for more entrances to the underground, more long boxes filled with loot. Maybe burning through all these caches at such a low level is a bad idea. I’m still not certain that they’ll actually spawn weapons again at higher levels. But I don’t care. I’m fascinated with this mysterious underground faction, and I’m more than a little hooked on bringing them down.

Even if they are glitched, they’re one of my favorite things about the game so far.

The next level of puzzles.

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