I can’t count the hours I spent playing the original Tom Clancy The Division game that released back in 2016, but Uplay isn’t shy about embarrassing me with a tally – 589 hours logged over 2+ years, and while this might sound like a lot, I’ve already logged over 120 hours playing The Division 2 over the past four weeks. Hopefully, the tardiness of my review will be balanced with its thoroughness, as I have played and completed the story content, and dived deep into the Dark Zone and Endgame content. It has also provided Ubisoft the chance to patch and repair several issues with the core game and the Endgame content that were holding this thrilling sequel from near-perfection status.
Personally, I am all about the multiplayer experience when it comes to gaming; not with randos, but rather my own handpicked crew of trained lethal soldiers that know how to work together as a tactically proficient team. The Division 2 is perfectly suited to that experience, even more so than the original, which was admittedly fairly easy to complete the core story content by yourself. The overall difficulty of The Division 2 has been noticeably balanced to favor (and encourage) team play; even if only a team of two. Attempting any of the primary or side missions alone is usually a frustrating exercise in suicide; even with the assistance of a drone, turret or nearby local allies. It’s difficult to even muscle your way through the game, as all of the non-mission content auto-scales the difficulty to your current level. Truth be told, there just isn’t that much content targeted for the lone wolf operative with the exception of collecting SHD boxes and the occasional random activities noted by the numerous pop-up “?” scattered about the map.Fortunately, The Division 2 has been carefully crafted around the multiplayer experience with superior matchmaking, in-game communication, and a robust clan system for those wanting to assemble a likeminded pool of fellow agents to play with and accomplish clan-specific goals and objectives for bonus gear and XP. Matchmaking can begin as early as the Uplay menu where your friends and their status are listed, and you can click Join from there and the game will launch and take you into their instance.
Whether playing alone or with a team, veterans of the franchise will notice and appreciate the greatly improved enemy AI that reacts better than most humans you might encounter in PVP matches. Most encounters have you at two or three to one odds from the beginning with a high chance of attracting nearby enemies that will eagerly join the fight. These guys all have a wide and varying set of skills ranging from the brute who will charge your position to the sneaky ones who will flank your position or even circle entire buildings to come in from behind you. There are guys who setup turrets or pilot deadly RC cars, and always watch for the glint of a sniper scope putting you in the crosshairs.Ubisoft has learned a lot from the first game and carefully crafted the sequel to focus on the Endgame content. After all, once you complete the core story content in 40-50 hours, you need something to keep you coming back for the next 1-2 years. I was both devastated and thrilled when I completed the main story and saw all my hard work of turning the map green with friendly occupation revert to a sea of red as my map was invaded by a new and even more powerful faction, the Black Tusks. And along with stronger enemies – some of which are even robotic – come new mission types and more powerful weapons and specializations to take your agent to the next level. But before we take a deep dive into the Endgame perhaps we should explore the game from the start.
The Division 2 is a direct sequel to the events covered in the original, only this time we have moved from NYC and headed to our nation’s capital. Washington D.C. provides an incredible backdrop for both story and combat. There is something so surreal about fighting in and around famous landmarks not to mention using the White House as your base of operations. The one thing I did notice for this game is that no two missions look or feel similar. A lot of that content in NYC got pretty stale by the end, but the mission design for The Division 2 was constantly fresh and kept getting better. There was a much more balanced approach to indoor and outdoor missions with many of the larger missions moving in and out of doors or mixing up tight CQB rooms with large foyers or atriums for some major battles.There is a lot to do in The Division 2, and it’s all tracked by the Progression page in your menu. You have your main and side missions as well as community projects that require completion of specific regional activities as well as numerous donations of looted gear and resources. The level of loot in this game borders on ridiculousness; almost as if you were the first person to explore these environments. There are literally rooms with 6-8 lootable objects in them; satchels, backpacks, chest, ammo box, gun case, water barrel, etc. When the game starts off these items blend seamlessly into the meticulously detailed background clutter, making them challenging to find; at least until you make some charitable donations to your local Control Point leader, and then these loot boxes will start to glow.
Other activities are revealed by discovering numerous safe houses scattered about each district. Once there you can flip a switch to reveal all the activities for that zone include collecting SHD Caches, securing Control Points, and other secondary activities like escorting a resource caravan or attacking an enemy caravan or stopping a public execution. While missions are designed with certain agent levels in mind, all of the peripheral content in The Division 2 scales to your current level ensuring the game is always challenging. It’s also worth noting that encounters scale accordingly to the level and number of members in your team, and if there is a major difference in levels between players the game will boost lower level players to keep them productive in combat.Early on you will want to think about what kind of agent you want to play and start building to that goal, both in weapon loadouts as well as gadgets and perks. Eventually you’ll earn enough SHD tech to unlock all the gadgets and the perks, but until then you will want to specialize. The gadgets are great fun and a huge tactical advantage, especially if you can get a team together who all likes different stuff. While it might seem like a cool advantage to have your team unleash four attack drones on the enemy effectively doubling your numbers, things ultimately work out better when you mix things up. All the gadgets have numerous variations that can be unlocked, many of these balancing defense with offense, so that attack drone can just as easily become a healing drone or that long range sniper turret can be turned into a short range flamethrower. Chem Launchers, Seeker Mines, Firefly, Shields and the Hive all offer a wide assortment of tactically useful offense and defense options. One of my favorite skills from the first game, the Pulse, no longer has any combat perks and is purely for recon purposes, although the Jammer version of the Pulse acts as an EMP, perfect for disrupting enemy electronics as well as some robotic enemies encountered in the Endgame.
The progression of the game is uniquely tied to the evolution of the city. Settlements serve as secondary bases of operation and offer their own unique set of characters and missions. As you service the settlements their success fuels your own base back at the White House as the entire city becomes this evolving organism. It’s exciting to see the White House slowly rebuild as new specialists arrive and new additions like a shooting range, crafting bench, barber shop, and bounty hunter station get added. Character progression is also important, and as your character evolves you will want to tailor your arsenal to your talents. Customized loadouts allow you to swap between weapons and gear setups favorite CQB, sniping, healing, etc. Select among Vanguard, Assault, Marksman, or Support then customize your gear accordingly.A new element that factors into specialized gear is Gear Brands; not to be confused with Gear Sets. Sets require you to own a complete matching set before unlocking any bonuses whereas Brands slowly stack the bonuses as you add up to three matching branded items. These brands are optimized toward specific playstyles, perfect for integrating into those aforementioned specialty loadouts. As always, gear comes in various color-coded quality ranging from Worn, Standard, Superior, and High End, to Exotic gear coming in a future update. The same goes for weapons, which share the same quality color system and are also divided into weapon classes including; Pistols, Shotguns, Rifles, Assault Rifles, Marksman Rifles, and Light and Submachine Guns. Once you reach the Endgame and are able to choose a specialty you will gain access to three Specialty weapons; the TAC-50C Sniper, a multi-target Grenade Launcher, or an Explosive Crossbow.
There is a robust weapons modification system in place that ranges from physical attachments you collect and place on the weapons like scopes, grips, extended mags, compensators, and suppressors to Weapon Talents that are passive perks earned by doing special activities or wearing a special brand item. Mods can be discovered or crafted using a combination of blueprints and materials. Blueprints can be purchased or unlocked by completing projects while materials are scattered about in loot boxes, but some of the rarer elements such as printer filament can only be collected by deconstructing existing mods. And once you unlock the Recalibration station you will be able to alter one stat or talent per weapon.I will mention clothing briefly, as there is a fairly elaborate system in place to customize the look of your character, but it does seem to exist solely as a means for Ubisoft to sell you keys to unlock apparel crates or sell you premium in-game currency to purchase items and emotes individually. I’m sure there are people out there who care about this type of content, but I am not one of them. And once you choose your specialty for the Endgame you get your own custom outfit that supersedes any other clothing you might own.
When it comes to the Endgame you have a lot to do starting with taking back the entire map you just spent 40-50 hours gaining control over, now under control of the Black Tusks. It was demoralizing seeing all those Control Points go red and red supply convoys with their dotted lines filling the streets. These new enemies are especially powerful and bring with them some mechanical assistance in the form of robotic dogs and other mechanical enemies. Thankfully, when you hit level 30 you can choose from three specialties, each with their own varied skill tree powered by SHD tech and each with a signature weapon. Again, if you are playing as a team it helps if you mix up these specialties rather than trying to explore the Endgame with three snipers. There is easily another 20+ hours waiting for you just in the primary city map of the Endgame, and that’s not counting the Dark Zone.The Division 2 triples your pleasure when it comes to Dark Zone action. Each of the three Dark Zones must first be unlocked by completing an introductory mission before gaining access to the actual territory and the activities inside. All gameplay inside the Dark Zone is “normalized”, which basically strips away all your gear and gun modifiers and puts the focus entirely on player skill. With everyone on equal footing, the Dark Zones are pure PVP arenas with challenging combat and a fun loot system that, much like the first game, includes normal and contaminated loot that will need to be extracted from the zone by securing and holding an extraction point while NPCs and enemy agents attack and try to steal your loot.
As before, you can choose to go Rogue by performing enough rogue actions to justify alerting everyone else in the zone that you now have a price on your head. I have to admit it is pretty fun playing the Rogue angle in this new vision of the Dark Zone. Running around hijacking extractions, stealing dropped loot or accessing SHD terminals is a nice diversion to the otherwise cautious gameplay that seems to be the norm for the Dark Zone. If you are feeling particularly traitorous you can start killing other agents to go into Red Rogue status. During this time any additional kills will increase the bounty on your head and the amount of time everyone else has to kill you. If you can survive the time limit you get to keep your own bounty. Locating and visiting a Thieves Den will reset your Rogue status and secure any stolen loot. These locations are also home to other Rogue agents as well as a traveling Dark Zone vendor who might have some special items for you.Dark Zone gameplay is greatly improved in The Division 2, not only by having three zones with varied layouts that encourage specific styles of gameplay like sniping or CQB ambushes, but also with its unique progression and perks system that rewards the player with better abilities and much better loot than you will find anywhere else in D.C. Just make sure you can extract any contaminated loot or make it to a Thieves Den to add that gear to your arsenal.
Those looking for a dedicated PVP experience, look no further than the Skirmish and Domination modes. The former is basically Team Deathmatch where you try to lower the other team’s respawn count before the timer runs out, while Domination has you capturing three location points spread about the map then trying to hold them as you slowly bank points tallying toward that 750-point goal. Both of these modes also have plenty of loot boxes full of special ammo and buffs for your team.The Division 2 is currently one of the most exquisitely detailed and breathtakingly beautiful games I have ever played on the PC to date. My 1080ti card is capable of running the game at fully maxed out settings at 1080p while never dipping below 60fps and with only minor dips down to 55-57fps running at 4k; usually during large battles or scenes with lots of effects. The level of detail is almost incomprehensible, with so much litter and trash cluttering the streets and realistic vegetation seeping back into the urban landscape. The settlements are realistically portrayed with makeshift gardens, solar and wind power, vendors, kids frolicking around kicking a soccer ball, and it’s genuinely rewarding to see these places grow and prosper due to your actions within the game.
There is a day/night cycle complete with beautiful sunrises and sunsets. HDR god rays streak through the trees or diffuse through a morning mist or smoky battlefield. Thunderstorms rage with flashing lightning and ominous thunder that makes it hard to hear your teammates, and nothing can prepare you for acoustical and visual carnage of a blinding sandstorm. My only issue with the audio is that exterior sounds do not realistically carry indoors, so you can be standing just inside a door watching it rain but you cannot hear the rain until you step past some invisible line where the game now knows you are outside. The rest of the audio package is pure perfection with thrilling music – the kind of stuff you expect to hear in a Tom Clancy movie – as well as plenty of spoken dialogue from all the NPCs as well as numerous recording devices and those holographic Echo reenactments. Weapon sound effects are good and vary for each gun type but they never seem to change based on mods like suppressors or compensators. Larger guns seem to lack the appropriate punch when squeezing off a few hundred rounds. Even mounted turrets seem a bit tame. Environmental effects are spot-on with birds and crickets chirping or the random deer loudly dashing down the street or a chittering raccoon guarding a trashcan before scurrying under a car.The menus and interface are pretty much the same as the first game. The select button gives you instant access to the sprawling map of D.C. with all of its icons noting where to go and what to do while the Start button calls up the main menu with access to weapons, apparel, gear, progression tabs detailing everything you’ve done and what’s left. There are some fantastic found footage videos to be discovered in the menu system that I encourage you to seek out. These are excellent quality and buried deep in the interface with no direct means of knowing they exist – I just stumbled on them, but they add to the story and ambience. While some might prefer a mouse and keyboard for a slight boost in targeting accuracy I found an Xbox controller worked best for overall interface navigation and gameplay.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is a spectacular game and a fantastic sequel to the first game, which now seems more like a proof of concept. The Division 2 builds on everything Ubisoft learned from that game and the two years that followed. You can clearly see they were listening to the fans because there are so many quality of life improvements as well as major improvements in nearly every facet of game design, especially where it counts; the Endgame. There was not a single mission or side mission in the main game that felt like any other. There were more jaw-dropping memorable moments than I could count like the first time I entered the planetarium or having major shootouts amongst the displays at the Air and Space Museum or fighting in the tropical display of the Vietnam war memorial or mounting a major assault on the Lincoln Memorial or taking back control of the Washington Monument or defending the wreckage of Air Force One on the steps of the Capitol building. And even when the map resets and you get to do a lot of this again with new enemies and new tactics, it somehow feels just as fresh.The Division 2 is perfect for gamers of all abilities and levels of commitment, whether you simply want to play the story and get out, or invest 500+ hours ranking through the World Tiers and exploring every last ounce of content Ubisoft plans on delivering. Many of these games as service titles rely on repetitive grinding, but The Division 2 manages to stay fresh, exciting, and new even after 120 hours. A big part of that is the focus on playing with friends. It’s been a long time since there was a game that has had me connect and reconnect with so many friends. The level of camaraderie and concepts of teamwork, tactics, and communication easily transition from my real-life military career directly into this game.
Much like the game, this review is a work in progress. Even as I write this, more content and new features are imminent and there is a whole season of fresh content on the horizon. I will very likely be making additions to this review or perhaps posting entirely new content as these changes and additions happen, but until then rest assured that Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is one of the most thrilling, tactical, team-based looter-shooters available today.
The Division 2 is available in Standard, Gold, and Ultimate editions. This review was based on the Ultimate Edition which includes the Year 1 Pass with 8 Classified Assignments, 3 New Specializations, The First Responder Pack, The Battleworn Secret Service Pack, and The Elite Agent Pack.