The Division 2 stands as yet another sequel from Ubisoft that both evolves upon the best of it predecessor, whilst also refining some of its downfalls. Much like Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, and, to a lesser extent, The Crew, The Division 2 is a game brimming with confidence, and the flexibility to continue growing and improving.
That’s not to say The Division 2 is the perfect sequel: it still often struggles under the weight of its own offerings, bombarding you with objectives, missions and open-world tidbits, continually filling the world map with new points of interest that can, at least initially, feel overbearing. Intimidation and the open-world Ubisoft game have gone hand-in-hand for years, and nothing’s changed with The Division 2.
The balancing act facing open-world games of The Division variety has always been tough: finding a middle-ground between an open, inviting game world — one that is brimming with activities and missions to undertake — and that of a world that is grounded as to incentivise.
The Division 2 doesn’t care much for being grounded: beyond the initial opening stanza, which keeps things simple enough for you in a tutorial-esque way, the world is open for the taking, and this is where The Division 2, much like its predecessors, stumbles in providing a clear, concise directive.
Maybe that’s the point: The Division 2 wants to be “hardcore” in how it amplifies and celebrates progression, often making things more difficult than they need to be. This could be put down to its UI almost exclusively: it takes a while of getting used to knowing where to look, where to go, and what to do before the many menus and options available start making any sort of sense.
That’s not to say these accessibility and UI design decisions should be seen as an overarching burden on the broader experience, but rather that sometimes, The Division 2 feels overawed by its own sense of scale and offerings.
This, at least in my experience, is a common concern with open-world games from the publisher, and was a major gripe I had with both Watch Dogs games. It’s all so convoluted to start that it’s almost tiring, feeling more like a chore, an experiment in frustration, than of anything that should, at the very least, feel like an inviting and lively game world.
Thankfully, simply interacting with and exploring the world makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit confronting tale in open-world shenanigans. The Division 2 may still falter in the UI department, but it excels in a combat, looting, crafting and progression standpoint that those initial navigational frustrations play as “pain for gain” moments.
Guns amplify a brutal sense of power that was severely lacking in The Division, bombarding enemies with broad, piercing satisfaction. Enemies break off into mini-factions during battle, forming hierarchal frontlines that give every battle, no matter how big or small, a satisfying sense of scale and explosiveness. Loot is plentiful and rewarding, but balanced enough so as to not feel like a gift, rather a reward for your progression through an area.
Those standouts really drive The Division 2, at least after a few hours. Enemies seem more diverse, structured and aggressive, but smart enough to assess and react to the nature of a battle. One particular standout for me was rampaging through flights of stairs towards a rooftop, and encountering enemies of all shapes, sizes and, erm, brutality in tight, ravaged hallways. The cover is there, but it’s not “just there”: I’ve not yet encountered a part of the world that felt forced, like it was designed with a game map in mind (if that even remotely makes sense). It feels like a world struggling to stay afloat, and almost every corner, every collapsed wall, every turned piece of furniture seems to act like a bastion of survival for whoever may come across that path.
My initial loves and concerns with The Division 2 are about what I expected: I knew I was in for a rough ride when it came to actually familiarising myself with the world, the map, and the UI. I probably shouldn’t have expected any less from a Ubisoft-published game. I also knew I was set up for a satisfying online shooter and looter, and early on, The Division 2 is the type of game you dream about.
The question is: will it stand the test of time? Even for all its misgivings, the first game stood up as a solid, albeit confused online shooter, and the foundations were set for something great, but it ultimately lost its way the further into you got. It felt repetitive, squishy, and just not all that rewarding. It’s probably not fair to directly compare The Division 2 at this point given I’ve barely scratched the surface, and because it so eloquently refines and improves upon the gameplay fundamentals of its predecessor.
But the real value will be 20-levels deep, with the Dark Zone in sight. Will I be anticipating an exotic new weapon, or will I have the same old assault rifle to look forward to for the umpteenth time? Will enemy intelligence rise with the difficulty, or will it just be an exercise in trading ammunition?
The signs are strong so far, and The Division 2 appears to have learnt a lot from the first game. So here’s hoping for a happy ending in D.C.