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A deserted downtown Manhattan street following a viral outbreak that ravaged the city the preceding winter

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The Division 2’s Warlords of New York: Is it worth going back to hunt Aaron Keener?

Agents return to Manhattan, but the more things change ...

Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 got its first premium expansion, Warlords of New York, earlier this week. Players go back to the Big Apple, scene of 2016’s original The Division, to hunt down rogue agent Aaron Keener, going through four of his lieutenants first. Polygon’s Charlie Hall and I are several hours into it, each, and we both agree that Warlords feels very familiar for those with a lot of time sunk into the game.

I’m inclined to view that as a positive reminder; Charlie is a bit more restless, however. Neither of us are really sure that Keener will actually get got, as this is the type of franchise that needs an uber-malevolence driving the bigger picture, always throwing some new crisis for the heroes to handle.

So will a chase that has now spanned four years and two games ever reach a conclusion? Charlie and I pondered this and other questions in hashing out our initial reactions to Warlords of New York.

Owen: I consider myself a Division 2 apostate — not because I dislike the game, but mostly because I got myself to World Tier 2 around the time I was getting super-involved in other long-playing video games. I find Warlords of New York is a nice refresher and reintroduction to the reasons I was willing to sink 150-plus hours into The Division 2 last spring and summer (plus its predecessor the winter before).

Problem is, going back into The Division 2 after so long away, I’m kind of craving what I left behind in D.C., and there’s no returning to Washington until you finish the campaign up in the Big Apple. Everyone who owns the Warlords expansion gets to boost their character, or even create a new one and boost them, to World Tier 5, bypassing all of the advanced endgame grind that otherwise gates the trip north. I chose to boost the only character I’ve fought with, yet now I’m kind of jonesing for the Dark Zone and some other things I skipped over or left behind in D.C. Was that a dumb decision? What did you do, Charlie?

Charlie: Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that we didn’t all make a mistake here, Owen. I talked to Faye Lau last night. Roy Benitez was there too. They both look so tired. Each of them just sorta wandered into the frame to pinch out a few expletives before the camera moved on. There’s another virus, I think, and this one’s real bad now, and we gotta fix it so we can go back and work on the first one again. I think.

How did we even get here? I logged in for the first time in a few months to be greeted by a laundry list of announcements and alerts. I opened packages. I cleared orange check marks from my menus, and then ... I just sorta wandered around the White House like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. I actually had to Google “how to get to New York City” because I thought I had missed a step.

There was a bit of preview content that came out featuring Coney Island. Turns out you don’t need to go there at all. You just need to finish the main game, advance to World Tier 5, and talk to a pilot sitting like William T. Riker backward on a chair, and off you go. I’m still terribly confused as to why I can’t go back to D.C., but here we are. We’re here now.

Are you having a nice time now, Owen, with all the dogs?

promotional image showing the four menacing-looking bad guys of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Warlords of New York
The titular Warlords of New York, from left: James Dragov, Theo Parnell, Aaron Keener, Vivian Conley, and Javier Kajika.
Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

Owen: Well, I went through the same “OK, where I did I leave off here” onboarding, or reboarding, but I’m a little more sanguine about Warlords of New York and how it reconnects me to the things I’ve enjoyed most about this franchise. I’m continually awed by how detailed the world and the interior levels are, even if procedurally it’s more of the same stuff: Go check this area out, kill all these people, take on the level boss, call in help if necessary, and sort out your loot.

More concretely, Warlords of New York hits a difficulty sweet spot that the base game took a few months to achieve. The first two big fights I’ve gone through have felt solo-able — but just barely. There were even early side missions in launch-day Division 2 (thinking about the MLK Library) that were enormously difficult to solo, and anything with a heavy unit absolutely demanded cooperative help. Something happened to the game in the late spring of 2019, though. Heavies’ weak points got a lot easier to hit, and even the Bank Headquarters mission was now manageable by myself. The game simply felt too easy, and that’s around the time I put it down.

Warlords of New York probably owes its appealing blend of challenge and feasibility to being designed with all of the tweaking and rebalancing that has been done in The Division 2’s updates over the past year. This may be something that pops out to me because I insist on solo play so much. Has partying up with randos helped the expansion’s appeal for you, or is that, too, more of the same?

Charlie: Since the launch of The Division 2, I’ve been absolutely floored at its technical aspects. When the original game launched, you couldn’t get into a party for a story mission if you tried, and even the daily missions themselves stopped working correctly for a time. Multiplayer in The Division 2 has worked almost perfectly since launch, and the same holds true in Warlords of New York.

I took on the first miniboss that I encountered with the help of a random player. That’s how I made it through the main campaign and all the way up to World Tier 5, and I’m happy to say that it is just as functional now as it was then.

I’m just not vibing with the narrative elements, Owen. Or at least, not the main narrative element, which is “go murder Aaron Keener, the big-bad you should have murdered in the first game.”

I’m a solo player as well, and at first blush I was very much excited at the new “fog of war” feature. Once I set down in Manhattan, the game removed almost all of ISAC’s pathfinding, making me feel alone and vulnerable for the first time in a long while. But it feels like the map fills out very quickly, and the narrative content itself has been pretty sparse. It’s also a bit effortless. I’m stumbling over audio logs that seem to be dropped at my feet, but they just don’t amount to all that much. The most interesting plot thread so far has been the backstory for Theo Parnell, the son of a former senator and now one of Keener’s right-hand men. Parnell gets written off in the flavor text as a conspiracy theorist almost immediately ... but he sounds like he’s definitely got a point? And an interesting story to tell?

I killed him, though. So that’s over. I feel now like I want to get to the end of the narrative as quickly as possible, so I can go back to searching the environment and getting lost underground and scaring myself with new Hunters. It all feels a bit like a wasted opportunity at closure, but we’ll see how it pays off.

Who have you killed recently, Owen? And with what surplus implements of war?

Faye Lau, a wounded Division commander wearing an eyepatch, instructs a Division agent by pointing at a map of lower Manhattan
Faye Lau returns to her duties from the first The Division, which is apparently to swear gratuitously while giving mission voice-overs.
Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

Owen: I likewise killed Theo. In the expository dialogue throughout that mission, I thought we might get some kind of sympathetic angle on the rogue agents being forsaken. But nah, he was your basic patsy henchman for the sociopathic big-bad at the top of the pyramid. Still, Parnell’s new gadget — the holographic decoy — was kind of useful. In the follow-up mission at One Police Plaza, the decoy can be used to turn the heavy’s back to you. It’s a much better option than my turret, which a heavy still stomps immediately.

Mostly I’ve been taking the map sequentially, as I have in the rest of my time with this series. I think I went after Parnell first because the other locations (a quarantined high-rise and the Brooklyn Bridge) sounded more dangerous or technical. But from what I can tell, there is no Dark Zone here (Lower Manhattan was a Dark Zone, in the story). I always made trips to the Dark Zone as a kind of mess-around chaser experience after clearing a bunch of items off my PvE to-do list. In Warlords of New York, my chaser is going right back out for some collection jobs or thwarting yet another public execution. And the gear I’m getting isn’t as exciting as what’s around the corner in a Dark Zone.

Structurally, I’ve enjoyed a great deal of what The Division 2 has offered, so I see no problem with simply delivering more of that. But I can tell that this is an expansion developed with completely new players in mind, too, such that things that would seem novel to them (or those coming back from a long layoff) might lack oomph for those who have a longer tenure. It’s a good reason to return to The Division 2, but it’s not a remade game, nor an “it’s never been better” feeling.

Charlie: Agreed. I showed up for the Ubisoft version of Destiny’s The Taken King — a major revision to the franchise that made it feel both polished and fresh. I’m getting a strong whiff of polish so far, but that’s about it.