The Division 2 Gameplay Review, Multiplayer Impressions and Speedrunning Tips

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2019

Ubisoft

The Division 2 sets out among a sea of great expectations and attempts to stand on its own, both as a sequel and a leader in the looter-shooter genre suddenly increasing in size and contenders. 

Shifting the realistic, grounded narrative and cover-based action from New York to Washington, D.C., developer Massive Entertainment had a suitably massive task of taking the goodwill earned with its continued improvements to the first game—and the failures of those in the genre around them—and expanding upon those without misstep. 

Viewed through this lens, The Division 2 is a gargantuan success. Those improvements found throughout the prior game's lifecycle are here, but so are many refinementsplayer-requested and otherwise. 

Outside of that lens, The Division 2 is a genre-best effort with a rock-solid foundation that Massive Entertainment can only build up from here in the looter-shooter genre. 

Graphics and Gameplay

The Division 2 offers one of the most immersive settings in gaming. 

Washington, D.C., despite the museums and statues, is still just a city and thus some gamers may not find it to bet the most interesting locale for a game, especially in a genre of vast universes featured in games such as Destiny 2 and Anthem. Yet, the landscape exceeds expectations simply due to the presentation and is a great fit for the narrative of the series. 

A player's first step into the game throws this realization right to the forefront. Leaving the White House, which serves as a base of operations, players trot down a street. There are newspaper scraps flying about, travel bags assembled in the chaos cast aside and heaps of garbage piles scattered throughout. It's a believable take on the apparent end of humanity. Clapping sounds on the sidewalk behind the player, which sound ominous at best, reveal a deer trotting on the pavement and skirting around a corner, one of many examples of wildlife appearing in the game.

As mother nature reclaims her territory, overgrown items are abound, such as water over a dip in the crumbling road sheening in the moonlight. Unlike Red Dead Redemption 2, which seemed to boast about how much wildlife was present before release, The Division 2 also has a huge number of wild animals throughout. Eagles soar overhead, raccoons scatter back underneath overturned cars and the player will also spot foxes, deer and rats throughout the game's world.

Dynamic weather appears on the table as well, with one instance of vision-impairing mist leading to fast-moving clouds and rain. 

An alarming amount of fidelity and detail multiplies on the experience. Legible plans are scribbled on a random whiteboard, for instance, where other games would blur them out. The bumper stickers on the back of an overturned school bus have readable slogans.  

And to top it all off, everything in The Division 2 sounds amazing. It's an immersive, dynamic auditory treat just to roam around the city and hear firefights off in the distance, birds chirping in the morning or bugs letting loose at night.

Gunplay is also an auditory highlight. The guns are distinctive and sound like some of the best in gaming. Firing off some rounds outside and hearing them echo up the skyscrapers, only to step inside momentarily and fire off some more to hear much louder enclosed shots is a treat and a testament to the design. 

Those firefights have serious weight to them. It isn't enough to say they're realistic; weighty is the best way to describe them. Guns feel heavy and have serious stopping power. With the right weapon, the gamer will stop charging enemies and even send them reeling back. Armor shreds, gas canisters break and hurt the enemy, grenades fall from hands onto the floor. Shoot a leg, it reacts naturally and so does the enemy. It's barbaric and fun in a way few games get right. 

But it's strategic too. Everything is lethal in all directions. An ignored red-bar enemy is going to slaughter the player's agent quickly if ignored. On-the-fly decisions are often the difference between success and having to start over. 

The environments in which players will duke it out vary greatly despite the setting, though the gameplay loop is the same—move from cover to cover, outmaneuvering enemies, using a vast arsenal of heavily modifiable guns and deploy gadgets to assist. 

Ubisoft's work with the Tom Clancy series shines through when the player is up against the A.I. in battle. They push while the player is reloading, work to find new cover and flank. They call out when they need cover, or when the player is healing. But they'll lose sight of the player if, for example, the agent moves under windows outside the line of sight. 

The enemies themselves (like the loot, which is touched on later) aren't overly interesting, though. Grounded in reality, the heavies, snipers, engineers and suicidal, drugged-up rushers mix up the flow of combat but aren't terribly interesting. Their callouts and behavior are at least, as the guy rushing in trying to take the player out is breathing heavy and muttering to himself in fear. 

One of the biggest drawbacks about the first game is addressed in emphatic fashion. It does a good job of navigating around bullet-sponge complaints. Encounters with enemies or bosses in the first game that would have suffered from these issues now have tactical weak points that players can figure out and exploit.

Yes, some armored enemies still take too long to get past at times, but it isn't the same as the first game, where a guy in a hoodie with a pistol could tank two full clips from an automatic rifle.

As far as actual drawbacks go in these areas, cover is clunky at times. Sounds vague, but in the heat of the moment when everything is going wrong, the agent tends to stick to the wrong surface or head off in the wrong direction. There are some bugs as far as drones and other gadgets the game needs to work through as well, but they aren't game-breaking by any means. 

And as immersive as the setting is, it won't be for everyone. These are humans ripping at each other for control of a city after a catastrophe. It's grounded in reality and the grays of the setting in the overworld can start to blend together. The game has a much-needed option to change the color of objective markers, at least, because the default orange one is impossibly difficult to find at times. 

Compared to its contemporaries, The Division 2 has no major problems here. 

Story, Loot and More

The Division 2 isn't going to blow anyone away from a story perspective. Players had to know this going in, though. The player takes the role of an agent in the nation's capital seven months after the virus outbreak in New York from the first game. The player likely won't be surprised by the story beats that unfold, just like a movie goer wouldn't be surprised about what might happen in a movie called White House Down.

It's easy to get drawn into the plights of the civilians in the game, especially given some of the horrors and straight-up war crimes a setting like this can create. And the pendulum swings in all directions—this is a video game, and some of the silly things players can wear outright spoils the seriousness of cutscenes or events at times. This isn't new to the genre, but the clash is here nonetheless. Pair this with the fact the overarching narrative is easy to forget and the story, while lengthy, won't be winning any awards. 

Keep in mind another drawback—it's silent protagonist time again. It's a drawback game creators haven't worked around and probably won't, so if it frustrates a player in other games, it will in this one too.

Also suffering from the gameness of the game is the cohesiveness of the narrative. A player will stumble upon a touching cutscene and feel the desire to go get revenge or something similar, only to pop up the map and see the mission to make it happen is too difficult. Another small complaint, but it illustrates the issues these types of games have with weaving in a compelling narrative in the first place. 

The story does lend itself to some incredible setpieces, both against bosses and simply in terms of setting. The samey feel of the overworld city doesn't mean the interiors all have to be the same too, which is all we'll say here. Ditto for how the narrative and world changes in the endgame, where new factions and player class specilizations open up.

Washington, D.C. as a host, end of the world or not, is a treat. Seemingly hearing the complaints of other looter-shooters, it isn't just a pretty setting. Players who run off to explore and stumble upon unmapped activities to do or areas to explore are usually rewarded for that curiosity. 

Open-world public events are dynamic and fresh within the confines of the world. One tasks the agent with stopping a public execution. Other nefarious deeds generated as the player progresses through the map will pop up and need addressed. Side quests are bigger affairs and aren't mundane. If anything, it's hard to differentiate them from story quests as it is. Some of them, without spoiling too much, go in some really interesting directions with scenes players won't ever forget. 

Loot. This is a looter-shooter of sorts, after all. 

At face value, the loot system is as simple as "equip the higher level gear and go." And players who don't want to dive deep into the systems can do so and enjoy the time. 

Those who want to dive deeper can, too. Rarity tiers are here, with exotics the most sought after. And the inclusion of weapon mods to tweak stats plays a big role in a gun's effective range. Multiple copies of the same gun that drop can come with different intrinsic perks too, so it isn't a loot-and-shard grind as the player would benefit from examining the gear in full. 

Loot talk aside, TD2 does suffer from its setting—these are modern-day weapons. We've done this before plenty of times in games. It's only so exciting to see another uzi or something drop, regardless of perks or rarity. The limiting factor of the universe does hurt a bit, whereas even non-Destiny players have likely heard of little guns like Thorn or Gjallarhorn before. 

This isn't to say there isn't a sense of progression. Mission completions feel rewarding and drop loot throughout. The rare exotic or two will pop off normal enemies during the course of the campaign, too. Perhaps the biggest avenue of progression is simply becoming more powerful by not just getting loot, but modding it to start outfitting preferred builds. 

There is an RPG-esque versatility to the builds in a solo run, but especially in co-op multiplayer, should players choose to dole out roles. Healing unlocks are available to all and between spurts of cover fire, the designated healer could disperse a gas canister that heals teammate's armor. 

Which leads into the multiplayer talk. Matchmaking for co-op is simple and easy, either from the menus, terminals or even calling for help while tackling an objective. Stuck in a mission? It's as simple as punching "call for backup" in the respawn screen and the game will start matchmaking, dropping players into the session. Undoubtedly there will be players more than happy to hang out in the open world until a call for help comes in from another player, which is a great feature to say the least. 

Typical team deathmatch and PvP modes under the "Conflict" umbrella lets players level up there. Dark Zone returns as well, though this time separated into three unique areas. One is an anything-goes affair where hardcorest of hardcore PvP players figure to flock. The other two are normalized, meaning a supposed level playing field for all who enter. The cat-and-mouse extraction game returns and going rogue to enable PvP is a nice option for players who want to use it. 

The Division 2 is simply bragging and flexing with its quality-of-life features. Remember the outcry for a shooting range in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds? There's an extensive one here. And while the menu overlays seem intimidating at first, familiarization with them eventually leads to the realization they are industry-best stuff from a usability and understanding perspective. Same goes for the map, a visually pleasing and interactive affair that more companies should look to mimic. 

There isn't a lack of stats for players, either. Numbers on builds can be examined in depth. Perhaps best of all, not only can players compare items, there is a handy graph on weapons displaying damage falloff rates, which is as incredible a feature as it sounds. The tap of a button can provide a look at those normalized numbers for Dark Zones, too. 

A player's time is always respected, too. The game runs well on console and PC, and load times are minimal after initially logging in to the game world, which includes fast travel and respawning. 

Speedrunning Tips

Given that this is the most extensive campaign in this sort of genre in a long time, it will naturally lead to some speedrunning.  

For those runs, the typical suggestions work. Players can skip cutscenes. Fast travel is on the table too, so prioritizing unlocking settlements and safe houses throughout the many areas on the gigantic map will be key to a quick run. 

From a skill perspective, grabbing additional grenade and armor quantity slots will be key to long-term playtimes and sheer survival. Bonus experience for headshots, multikills and more should get unlocked early on as well to speed up progression. 

Unless highly efficient at landing critical hits, runners will want to mostly prioritize automatic weapons. Having a shotgun on standby in the second slot when getting rushed works well. This isn't to say other weapons are bad, but a third-person shooter with a cover mechanic can make single-fire shots deadly, especially as the A.I. flanks. 

Abilities will be key toward running through the game in the early stages. The standard drone is incredibly useful in this regard. Sending it off to pester a covered enemy above the battleground enables the player to push hard at enemies on the same level. Opening an encounter with it targeting an unaware enemy while the player guns down another creates an advantage, too. The turret is the next most useful in the early stages, as plopping it down and letting it go to work lets the player break line of sight and win the positioning game. Both are useful against bosses, too. 

When in battle, it is critical to listen to enemy callouts. As mentioned, they'll yell to each other, feeding each other—and more importantly the player—information. Using this to push when an enemy is reloading, being cognizant of flanks and even directional audio cues will decide fights.

Also keep in mind item preservation, meaning if it looks like there are only a few enemies left in an encounter, try to play it smart and save those armor rechargers for a tougher encounter later in the level. Along those same lines, players are free to manually destruct their abilities, which shaves the cooldown until it is available again. 

Generally, running from point A to point B in the overworld isn't too difficult and players can ignore almost everything they come across. But in a pinch if needing some experience to level up, side missions seem normalized to a player's level at all times, whereas campaign missions appear to only come down two levels to the player's level, if applicable. This last point can be exploited in runs, too. 

      

Conclusion

The Division 2 is so packed to the seams with content it's nearly impossible to address it all—but not in the overwhelming way every game that seems to shove an open world into it these days can feel. For example, there are little gadgets players can find in the open world that create holograms that recreate past events in the area. 

It's the little things that truly enhance the experience.

Those little things don't seem to happen often in this sort of game anymore, either. The Division 2 has none of the drawbacks of the other giants in the genre. There is no wait and see on how it might get fleshed out or fixed, no laundry list of complaints as if this were the team behind its first time making such a game. 

The Division 2 is an example of sequels done right. It's deep but not off-putting, complex but doesn't feel like work to enjoy. The game is simply functional and a blast to play. More impressively, The Division 2 understands the looter-shooter genre and nailed it to the wall with surgical precision.

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