Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 Review- In-Progress, Part One: The Early Game

Last Updated on July 13, 2019

As I am still playing through Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, this series will chronicle my experience with the many facets of this monster of a game. I’ve decided to break up the experience based on how the game itself is broken up: the early-game, the mid-game, and the endgame.

The early-game covers the journey from Character Level 1 through the cap of Character Level 30; the mid-game covers the post-level 30 evolution of the world map and the process of moving up through the game’s “World Tiers” (more on that later), from World Tier 1 through World Tier 4; and the endgame covers the jump to World Tier 5, the endgame loot chase, and the game’s brand new 8-player Raids.

Crash and Burn and Rise Again

In early 2016, the fledgling subgenre of “MMO-lite shared-world looter-shooters live services” really only had one mainstream title to its name: Bungie’s Destiny. Destiny launched in September 2014 to mediocre reviews, then spent an entire year improving itself until its first major expansion, The Taken King.

Bungie unfortunately failed to capitalize on the success and positive word-of-mouth earned by The Taken King in the months that followed its release, causing a drought of content in the game that left fans hungry for more things to do. By March of 2016 that hunger had become ravenous, causing scorned Destiny fans to look elsewhere in hopes of scratching their looting and shooting itch. It was onto this stage that Tom Clancy’s The Division took its first shaky steps.

Hailed by many as the latest “Destiny Killer”, The Division appeared to offer everything that Destiny could not at the time. Gamers were enraptured by the potential of meaningful min-maxing stats on gear and weapons, a large and seamless open world full of side activities, and the allure of The Division’s Dark Zone, a PvEvP proving ground where players would fight both the AI and each other for the best loot.

First impressions were exceedingly positive. The game appeared to be rich with content and it also possessed the addictive gameplay loop that Destiny lacked with its stale, seven-month-old content.

The game’s snowbound New York City setting was incredibly detailed and familiar, yet also alien in its barren bleakness. The cover-based third-person shooter gameplay was snappy and satisfying, if a bit clunky at times. It appeared as though Ubisoft and Massive had a bona fide hit on their hands, with The Division becoming the fastest-selling new IP in video game history at the time.

And then players made it to the endgame.

It didn’t take long for the seams in The Division to start showing. Once players reached the endgame, The Division’s seemingly overflowing well of content suddenly dried up, leaving players with only two activities to play: either re-run completed story missions on higher difficulty levels or grind out gear and levels in the Dark Zone. Eventually, Massive added the first of the game’s much-hyped “Incursions”, endgame-level activities capable or rewarding gear set pieces and other high-level drops.

Players hoping for Incursions to be The Division’s answer to Destiny’s raids were disappointed, though, when the first incursion was revealed to be nothing more than a single encounter against a parked APC, and wave after wave of normal enemies. Even worse, an exploit allowed savvy players to easily farm the incursion over and over for loot drops, giving players with enough time on their hands and easy path to becoming extremely overpowered in an extremely small amount of time.

The game was, for all intents and purposes, a mess. And many players abandoned it to return to Destiny (which had received new content on the same day The Division’s first Incursion went live) or for other games entirely.

But Ubisoft and Massive refused to give up on The Division. Despite a roadmap of content already planned for the first year of the game and part of a paid season pass, Ubisoft and Massive resolved to fix the game no matter how long it took, even going so far as to delay a significant portion of the season pass content to make sure that the underlying base game was as good as it could be.

Over the course of two years, the developers pushed updates and patches that steadily made the game more enjoyable, often incorporating direct feedback from players.  By the end of 2018, The Division became the game it always should have been, and many early adopters who had abandoned the game changed their minds about it entirely.

While many hoped that Ubisoft and Massive would forego the numbered sequel route and continue to build on The Division instead, the developers formally announced that a sequel was in the works. Now, in March 2019, almost exactly three years after The Division launched, The Division 2 has arrived. But is it any good?

The Setup: D.C. Has Fallen

The Division took place in New York City in the almost immediate aftermath of a viral outbreak. On Black Friday, dollar bills contaminated with a genetically-modified strain of smallpox, called the “Green Poison”, were circulated among the legions of shoppers. The city was quarantined and rendered a wintry wasteland, into which the agents of the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) were sent to try on a mission to retake Manhattan.

The Division 2 opens seven months after the events of The Division 1. In that time, Washington, D.C. also fell victim to the Green Poison. Making matters worse, an experimental antiviral known as DC-62 was sprayed over the city in an attempt to combat the virus. However, DC-62 came with its own unintended, lethal consequences.

As a result, Washington, D.C. has fallen, both the President and the Vice President are dead, and the former Speaker of the House, now the President of the United States himself, is missing. Into this chaos comes a new group of Division agents to try and retake the capital.

While The Division’s snowbound setting could be hauntingly beautiful in its own right, the sequel’s summertime setting has allowed the developers to run wild in terms of environmental detail. Vibrant shades of green shower the landscape as nature works to reclaim Washington, with grass poking up through the asphalt and gigantic vines snaking their way over office buildings.

National monuments like the Lincoln Memorial are covered in graffiti and crumbling due to both vandalism and armed combat. Overturned cars and overflowing trash litter the streets. Above all else, the primal hostility of this world conveys itself much more effectively without a blanket of snow covering everything in sight.

The level of detail present in the city is simply breathtaking to behold as well. The Division’s New York managed to replicate the feel of Manhattan, with familiar landmarks like Rockefeller Center and Madison Square Garden present and basically where they are in real life.

But the sequel’s D.C. feels far more accurate. Just one glance at the world map shows how much painstaking effort must have gone into the game’s recreation of D.C.’s unmistakable street layout. Even less-well-known landmarks, such as the USDA building, are present and accounted for.

As someone who has lived in D.C., it was eerie to walk down The Division 2’s interpretation of streets and places I had been to myself and feel like they had totally nailed the city as much as they possible could.  The setting itself would not be nearly as compelling without interesting things to do in it, however.

The Campaign and Side Activities

The centerpiece of The Division 2’s early-game is, of course, the story campaign. The game opens with a thrilling assault on the White House’s South Lawn, where the player’s agent, newly-arrived in D.C., helps to beat back a group of invading enemies. Afterwards, the player learns that the White House will serve as the Base of Operations in The Division 2, and it is from there that the story kicks off.

The actual plot of The Division 2 is treated mostly as a throwaway by the game itself. Players are asked to travel around the world map, visit the various safe houses and settlements, take on the campaign missions to upgrade the settlements, and fight against the game’s three enemy factions in the process.

No real overarching plot presents itself until near the end of the campaign missions, and even then it registers as little more than background information and workmanlike exposition meant solely to impart the barest of pretenses on the player’s actions. I always felt compelled to press onward out of both a desire to upgrade the settlements and earn better loot, but I did not always feel like my successes were feeding into the overall effort to take back D.C.

The campaign missions themselves were almost uniformly a blast to play. The missions take players to a wide variety of different locations, are on average about double the length of campaign missions from the first game, and feature tons of memorable set pieces that I won’t spoil here.

The action is knuckle-whitening at times, especially when playing solo, as the enemy AI is ruthless and aggressive. Luckily, easy matchmaking tools exist outside of every campaign mission location, allowing players to group up and take on the game’s challenges in teams of four. Having other players, even random ones who are not communicating, along for the ride makes the game much more enjoyable.

In addition to the campaign missions, the world map is littered with side activities. The Division 2’s formal side missions, usually around half as long or less as the campaign missions, are numerous and provide interesting details about the world and how the people in it are trying to survive.

A lack of matchmaking tools for specific side missions means that players will often be playing these missions solo, however, and that can make for a frustrating experience at times due to their difficulty.

The Division 2 also has dynamic world events, such as stopping propaganda broadcasts or saving hostages about to be executed, and also allows players to take back specifically marked control points from the enemy factions and staff them with friendly civilians.

Hidden collectibles like cell phone recordings return from The Division, acting like this series’ version of audio logs from both before the collapse of D.C. and the immediate aftermath. Finally, the world has immeasurable resources nodes and hidden chest that can be farmed for crafting materials and loot drops.

With so many things to do, the quality of the gameplay is paramount in keeping players having fun with the content.

Movement, Shooting, and Skills

The game play in The Division 2 feels mostly unchanged from The Division. The game still has the same deliberate movement pace, although my agent feels a bit lighter on his feet than my agent in the first game, able to change direction and turn corners a bit more smoothly.

The cover mechanics are still snappy, with players able to attach themselves with the press of a button and move from cover-to-cover by aiming and holding down the cover button.

Shooting feels better as well, although not necessarily because of any tweaks to the actual gunplay. Many people felt that gunplay was the area where The Division struggled the most, with bullet sponge enemies and squishy-feeling players. While the actual shooting remains mostly the same in the sequel as in the original, the time to kill for PVE enemies has been reduced a good deal, speeding up the pace of most engagements and making the player feel as though they are on more equal footing with the enemies they face.

The health system has also been re-tooled. Instead of instant-use medkits, players now have an armor meter, which depletes first but can be replenished with armor packs that take several seconds to apply, and a health meter underneath that recharges very slowly.

The skill system from The Division also returns, albeit with some new skills in tow. Players can equip two gadget-based skills, such as a mini-turret or a chemical launcher, which must be unlocked through gameplay and operate on cooldowns.

Players also have access to various forms of grenades, although much like in The Division 1 using grenades can be imprecise and not always effective.

While the gameplay is mostly solid, the most addicting part of The Division 2 experience are the progression systems.

Loot and Leveling

The meat of The Division 2’s early-game comes in the form of player progression, both through loot and through leveling. Everything the player does in the game awards experience points which advance the player’s Character Level from 1-30.

Leveling up provides stat boosts and allows players to tackle increasingly more challenging missions in areas of the city with higher-level enemies.

The pace of leveling can feel a bit slow at times, although there are more than enough activities to maintain game play diversity. The variety of things to do ensures that players will always be able to find some way to make progress without resorting to doing the same thing over and over.

While progressing up the Character Level system, players also obtain a currency called SHD Tech, either by earning it as a mission reward or finding it in the open world. SHD Tech can be spent back at the Base of Operations to unlock perks such as increased carrying capacity or increased experience points earned from headshot kills.

Players can also complete Projects, specific tasks at each of the game’s settlements that award experience points and other useful items like weapon attachments.

The game also showers players in loot regularly. Loot can be dropped randomly by enemies, earned as a post-mission reward, or found in random containers or chests out in the open world. Players even receive a free cache of loot every time they level up their character. During the early-game, it was hard to become attached to any specific gear piece or weapon, as I was constantly changing them out for gear with better stats.

I felt like I was constantly making gains on my character as I played the opening hours of The Division 2, whether by leveling up my character or getting a loot drop that improved my loadout, and the satisfying rush of dopamine that comes along with getting incrementally stronger kept me hooked. 

Basically, the loot system works exactly as I want it to in order to make the early-game fun and rewarding.

Early-Game Final Thoughts

As far as the early-game is concerned, The Division 2 is very, very good. At the risk of making history sound like it’s repeating itself, the process of playing through campaign missions, leveling up both your character and the various settlements, earning gear, and exploring the world are undeniably fun and compelling.

The Division’s early-game was also strong and engaging, though, so I am keeping my excitement tempered for the moment.  I can only hope that the game keeps this momentum going as I move into the mid-game next. For now, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 makes a very good first impression.

Copy link