Live service games can be notoriously difficult to review. These games can drastically change over time, making an initial review potentially inaccurate as time goes by. Despite this, there are some cornerstone aspects which must underpin all live service games at launch, including a robust feature set, compelling mission designs, and immediate fun. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 delivers on all three of these aspects and more. It is more feature rich than some other live service games which have been around for longer and is chock full of intelligent mission design. I can confirm that after losing a month to The Division 2, it is just a dang good time, especially with friends, and is a shining example of how to do live service games right.
The Division 2 is set shortly after the events of the first game. The Green Virus initially released in New York City has spread to Washington DC, and it’s up to The Division to activate and fend off rival factions which have emerged from the fallout. Washington DC is an engaging environment to explore, and Massive should be proud of their art direction and technical prowess in creating a mostly seamless world running at a stable frame rate. Having a minimal number of loading screens to break up the action results in a beautiful feeling of “journey” and flow.
Particular mention must go to the endorphin-inducing audio. Foley litters the streets of DC and gives the game a gritty, lived-in feel. You’ll also be opening lots of loot crates in The Division 2 (it’s practically raining loot by the end), and the pleasurable sound of containers opening never gets old. Massive must have done some serious research into what triggers the pleasure synapses in the human brain because they keep firing when I open creates. Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it.
While there are a variety of mission types (ranging from narrative missions to securing control points), it is the level design and variety which stands out. You never quite know what you are getting yourself into when first walking into the cavernous indoor levels of The Division 2. Museums, planetariums, hotels, and even the Lincoln Memorial all turn into inspired battlegrounds for your skirmishes, with battles taking place across different elevations and rooms. Further highlighting the stellar level design is the game’s impressive AI, particularly at the higher difficulties (called World Tiers in the endgame).
Enemy factions work collaboratively in squads and actively try to flush you out with grenades and flanking. Interestingly, as enemies get more robust, they appear to become more aware of their additional HP and become more gung-ho at higher levels. While enemies retain some degree of “sponginess” as they did in the first game, Massive has implemented a modular armour system where bullets can damage individual sections of an enemy’s armour. Once that piece is broken off, the rate of damage is accelerated if you continue to hit that exposed point. I think this is an elegant and reasonable solution to overcoming criticisms about how many bullets enemies could absorb from the first game. They also have hilarious dynamic battle dialogue, which made me cackle out loud on more than several occasions. However, while such talk can be useful (for example, indicating which tactics enemies may choose to use for a particular situation), it could be better written.
Ultimately, the best litmus test of a game is how fun it is to play. I’m happy to report that The Division 2 is a very, very fun game. The foundations of the game – the shooting mechanics and gunplay – are robust and satisfying. The classes of weapons all play differently and have their quirks. I enjoy weapons with a high rate of fire (i.e. submachine guns and some assault rifles), while my teammates enjoyed long range rifles with slower firing rates and longer reload times. Specific mention must go to just how good it feels to fire the weapons – the impact and connection of the projectiles with targets feels great, with the right amount of feedback and recoil. It’s got a certain je ne sais quoi quality to it, which is fortunate because you’ll be doing a lot of shooting in The Division 2.
Crucially, The Division 2 is immediately fun, and you don’t need to wait to unlock endgame content for the game to open up. Massive has set out a roadmap for a full years’ worth of content updates. At the time of this review, the first update has already dropped and introduced a critical new endgame mission. While this did provide hours of entertainment, it remains to be seen whether Massive can keep up the fresh content for the game over the long term.
Over the last month, my social life has suffered, my diet has gotten worse, and I have spent many an hour sitting on a beanbag and yelling into my headset. When I’m not in this fictional Washington DC, I’m sure as heck thinking of it. The Division 2 is that good. The cocktail of great features, compelling mission design, and immediate fun is a potent one that leaves me wanting more every time. Massive and Ubisoft have done exceedingly well in their launch of The Division 2, though it remains to be seen whether they can support the community with exciting updates in the long run. Time will certainly tell, but at the moment, The Division 2 is a game I would unreservedly recommend.