Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Review: Something Truly Enjoyable, But Not Head Turning
Tom Clancy's The Division 2
It’s been roughly two weeks since the release of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 and I think that’s plenty of time for me to have sat down and developed my thoughts on it. Let me just say three things to start this off; if you didn’t enjoy The Division at all, there isn’t enough of a change here to bring you into the fold. If you initially didn’t enjoy The Division but came to like it later after the subsequent updates, you’ll have a blast here. If you loved The Division from the start, then just get in here already!
First, I want to talk cosmetics, audio, overall appearance, and story development. Visually the game is absolutely stunning. Having the backdrop of D.C., especially a one for one recreation as stated by Massive, is absolutely beautiful. It’s pretty cool to walk around knowing you’ll run into a specific monument or landmark you would find in the real D.C. step by step. As someone who has been there many times, I think they did an amazing job of getting it right. The greenery is absolutely beautiful and the overgrown environment lends itself well to an apocalyptic story of the system collapsing under the Dollar Flu, even as humanity fights against it. It very much has a “nature versus civilization” vibe to it that I thoroughly enjoyed. Throughout locations large and small, the game truly is a beauty.
The ambient sound of birds chirping, wildlife scavenging, wind howling, and rain falling right next to gunfire and explosions in the distance really makes you feel like it’s good versus bad as nature reclaims its rightful place. That’s where sound and visuals really come together to create an awesome backdrop. It really makes you feel like you and your team are struggling to piece society back together against the darkest parts of humanity, as nature pushes back into the city with no regard for who is running things.
Every once in a blue moon small auditory issues appear that break the immersion a tiny bit. This may come in the form of the sound of rain missing, enemies failing to express verbal cues as they fight you, or even the sound of mag changes completely disappearing. Visual issues are not absent either and small issues crop up here and there. This may happen during fights when you’re shooting and no gun appears, or you try to run through an invisible wall and go nowhere, totally unsure of what is happening for a moment. As a result of those invisible walls you’ll go a different direction or move the camera around and see a piece of clearly mistaken geometry sticking out that prevents you from moving forward. This might be a five-foot-long invisible ceiling in the middle of a flight of stairs, or a k-rail that extends invisibly beyond it’s final limit.
Additionally, I had minor issues with shade tech caches where it would be in a parking garage, underground, or locked behind a gate. I’d hunt around for access and either find an obvious route I hadn’t noticed before but it was not highlighted, or I’d have to give up entirely from frustration and try another day. While not game breaking or a major issue, it was still something that irked me.
However I want to make it very clear that theses auditory and visual issues are not that common and hardly affected my game play. That being said, they were still noticeable enough to mention as there were a handful of moments where they added some noticeable frustration for me.
The story is likely one of the least memorable things for anyone who plays The Division and I highly doubt anyone comes to it specifically for that. That’s doubly so here as characters and the background story of the Dollar Flu are easily forgettable once you accept any of the missions that advance the main story. You’re so drawn in by the gun play, cover mechanics, skills, and level advancement that story feels like a afterthought. You could honesty skip every single cut scene and dialogue action, and still be pretty well immersed.
However, they did a good job of providing some sort of realistic reason for the apocalyptic world you exist in rather than just throwing you in and letting you run free. Beyond the basic character interaction with main and side missions, you can collect voicemail messages, activate “Echo” locations, and listen to radio chatter and conversations to further fill out the story of the collapse around D.C. and the world beyond. You are even clued in to important artifacts such as art, a president’s teddy bear, and more that seem to have been collected by looters and are being returned to their rightful locations by you.
Moving on, it’s almost immediately clear they’ve really locked into and double down on more of what made the first installment great with gun play, team tactics, and skills. More importantly, they’ve made it a little clearer what gear and their modifications will do for you. Gone are the days of what felt like comprehensive mathematics modifications to determine which set of gear and guns will be best for you. Instead you can sit down, parse though some basic pieces of information based on your play style, and really develop and outfit some setups that let you melt enemies like ice in the oven. I never felt overwhelmed or confused by the information on screen when it came to setting up gear that suited my play style, and was presented with an in depth and detailed set of data if I really desired to get that deep into it. My only genuine gripe here was the lack of an overall DPS indicator.
You can utilize the shooting range to determine what it would be based on rounds on target, but having the information in my gear panel would have been nice. The most notable detail here though is the fact that I often found myself changing out gear quickly and on the fly in a way that made me better acclimated to higher level enemies in both PVE and PVP environments. I think that speaks well to how clear and simple the information provided is, with the ability to go truly in depth if you want to go that route. That being said, reaching end game changes this just a tad when you now have to contend with maintaining a high gear score.
Often when I wanted to change something on the fly, I’d compare my currently quipped gear with new gear, hovering over it to see how it would affect my attributes and simply switch over if I liked what I saw. You can’t do this in combat, but just prior to entering a major offensive action I could do it immediately without much of a concern for changing things so much it would ruin game play for me, which happened often in The Division. Upgrading and advancing the Base of Operations, as well as the newly introduced concept of settlements, still revolves around the completion of missions. Each settlement has projects that can be completed which grant the player experience points, unique gear, or gear modifications.
Completing missions and tasks at settlements will eventually grant you access to personnel who will be relocated from that settlement, to the White House Base of Operations. Two important personnel will provide you with a crafting station as well as a re-calibration station, both of which can be used for gear crafting and rolling attributes into other pieces of favored gear. Other personnel provide access to DZ perks, a shooting range, bounty missions, and more all of which have the potential to provide you with powerful gear. Control points are a new concept to The Division 2 and are locations throughout the map that are occupied by enemy forces and require you to liberate them. Each time you approach a point, simply engage the enemy, fire a flare into the air, and begin the takeover. If you die in the process you can choose a local spawn point and, as long as friendlies are still engaging the control point hostiles, you can continue the take over from where you left off. Taking it over provides access to a locked room with loot and specialized gear that in the early stages of the campaign can prove extremely useful. Providing needed materials to the control point officer can grant you access to experience points, local bounties for bosses, and additional perks that may be time limited.
Reaching level thirty introduces the Black Tusk, who can take over control points in a back and forth manner, meaning you may have to go back to take them over and gain access to different gear. A bit more on that below. Gear modifications are pretty simple, and there are certain modifiers that don’t even require you to have the entire brand set to make use of some awesome advantages. One of my favorite examples is the “Iguana Hauberk Gila Guard” chest armor. Having seven or more armor modifications of a specific type across all pieces of gear beyond just my chest armor, allowed me to make use of additional armor stacks at a twenty percent bonus for twenty seconds, for each enemy armor depleted.Making use of this, and many other advantages, without having to possess the entire brand set made things far more manageable for me when it came to head on fights, especially when playing solo. Gear can be further modified using the Base of Operations re-calibration station mentioned above.
What I really enjoyed though was the fact that weapon attachments are no longer locked to a weapon when in use. Each optic, muzzle device, magazine, or anything else that you unlock can be attached to any number of weapons at the same time. This makes things far simpler when deciding which weapon attachment to use instead of having to worry about which of your two equipped weapons it would be better suited on. Instead you can worry about which two weapons you’d really like to equip, and mod them any way you like.
More useful than that, you can modify a whole series of weapons with any attachment and use any of those guns by changing them out on the fly instead of having to do the balancing act every single time. It seems like a small change at first glance, but you quickly realize it ends up making things a lot simpler and quicker in the long run
You’ll still have to make some choices about balance when deciding your play style. Personally, I tanked my way through most of the campaign solo or with teammates. I found it wonderfully enjoyable to simply be able to take hit after hit and just melt enemies while popping out of cover. Even without a teammate to heal me I was still doing pretty well. The balance felt just right as no matter how much of a tank I was, I was till forced to use cover, heal myself, and make sure I was able to fire and maneuver on my enemies, especially against Elite and Named enemies. Further, you can build different load outs in order to change play styles on the fly instead of reading detailed information each time you choose to change it up. Pretty close to the end game process I began experimenting with different play styles and found it relatively simply to engage enemies an entirely different way without too much of a learning curve based on my new setup. It still required a bit of adjusting to my new skills and abilities, but it added a layer of joy I wasn’t expecting when I was able to take down enemies in a very different manner using my skills, grenades, and healing abilities when playing with teammates.
Taking down enemies is far more enjoyable and much more reasonable than it was in the first installment as well. Bullet sponginess is still there, and getting rid of it for this style of game isn’t going to happen. However rather than simply sitting there, dumping rounds into an enemy, and biding my time until they were down, things felt a lot more fluid and genuinely engaging. Weak points such as gas canisters, ammo packs, and more still exist and are vital to downing enemies quickly to make things manageable. Those weak points are persistent throughout the fight as well, so downing that specific enemy means that weak point can now be used as a trap for enemies who run past it.
That being said, the AI is a place where The Division 2 really shines through in a pretty spectacular way. Enemies do their best to work in separate teams, flank you, and create extremely challenging zones of fire that really require you to plan ahead and be ready to adjust on the fly. Assaulting a location, succeeding, and then quickly realizing someone is sneaking up on you lends itself well to some intense and challenging firefights.
You'll have to pay really close attention to your mini-map in order to determine where enemies are coming from and, initially, that can be a little challenging with the map in the far left corner. It took me a moment but I noticed the HUD was configurable in a manner that allowed me to resize items, and even move them. I moved my mini-map to the lower center of the screen, behind my character, and absolutely loved it. Little tweaks like this make engagements and the game overall much more enjoyable than I had anticipated.
When Elites and Named enemies step out though, chipping away at what is essentially armor plating on them reveals a much softer underside. Attacking that underside brings their health down far quicker than ever before. Chipping away at that armor is still a challenge, but not an unreasonable one. This is especially true when you realize there are multiple portions of armor plating all over the enemy forcing you to work on fields of fire with teammates or focus enemy attention to one direction when solo so you can expose the soft side you’ve just unveiled. Never once did I feel like it was taking too long or that it was entirely unreasonable. It made The Division 2’s cover mechanics feel very fluid, enjoyable, and extremely necessary. It was everything I wanted in The Division 1 but had never got and, in my opinion, they really nailed it this time around. Overall this makes gun play, move and fire tactics, teamwork, and overall enemy engagements feel just the way it should have felt years ago.
Movement around D.C. is still done entirely on foot as it was before. But with the increase in fast travel points between control points, safe houses, and settlements it feels like less of a chore than before. Reaching endgame provides you access to one of three specializations, each which can be switched to at any time from the Base of Operations.
Each specialization has different attributes and unlocks that can be worked toward and, based on the build of your team or your capabilities going it alone, will steer where you focus your time. Although, I’m glad to see they’ve allowed you to change the specialization as you see fit depending on the circumstances, instead of making this a point of contention where you’d end up making three or more builds to make use of each depending on the upcoming raid or activity.
Additionally, endgame will introduce the Black Tusk, a powerful new adversary who will take over key locations throughout D.C. therefore tasking you with recapturing those areas now held by them. While some of these missions will move at a much faster pace, the challenge is greatly increased and the stronghold missions they grant access to are locked behind specific gear scores. Access to the Dark Zone is granted early on and provides new comers with a fairly straight forward and simple tutorial on what to expect.
However, my absolute favorite thing about the DZ is the fact that not every piece of gear collected has to be extracted now. Plenty of gear, right up to high end stuff, can be collected and used immediately. This changes from area to area depending on DZ east, south, etc. but overall access to gear in the DZ is no longer an absolute impossibility like it was before. There is also a “normalized statistics” aspect to the DZ which essentially buffs a lower player’s score to the high so that all players in the DZ are closer in competition to each other. This levels the playing field in such a way that gives high end players a challenge, and low end players a fighting chance. That’s not to say that if you encounter someone who knows what they’re doing, and has the right gear, you won’t get worked. Because you likely will. However, you still have the fighting chance if you use the mechanics correctly and exploit them to your advantage. However, I plan to do an entirely separate look into the DZ at a later date after I’ve have some more time with it.
Overall, The Division 2 gets things just right for fans of the series and newcomers alike. If you’re vehemently against the series after playing The Division, then it is very likely nothing here will sway you. It will genuinely feel like more of the same but tweaked for improvements. Its likely that you just don’t enjoy this style of game which is just fine. And to be honest, if you got burned out on The Division 1, there’s a strong change the burn out will happen pretty quick here. But for fans of the first one, whether you were all in from the start or got in later, this installment nails it.
From the modified “bullet sponginess”, to clearer gear modifications, DZ changes, endgame support, and much more, Massive has done an amazing job here. It’s especially clear they’ve learned from previous mistakes as a full year worth of content releases, raids, and end-game content is inbound over the next few months.
The game is by no means perfect, and I don’t see it turning any heads, but it is definitely an enjoyable experience and well worth the time invested. I think it speaks volumes that I can enjoy this game with both friends and strangers, as well as solo. That was something I never felt with The Division 1. Going in solo felt like a disaster and not worth my time. Here, I feel like I can come home from work, hop on for an hour, and accomplish a hell of a lot all by myself while still feeling very successful at it.
I think Ubisoft and Massive really got it right here and I look forward to the year ahead!