Ubisoft are known for releasing crippled games and then fixing them over time. Massive Entertainment's The Division was no exception, but the sequel, The Division 2 may just be as it offers everything the original didn't have at release.
The Division 2 is often called an RPG by Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment staff, just like its predecessor, but players prefer to look at it as a looter-shooter, along the lines of Borderlands, Destiny and now Anthem.
An RPG game is normally accompanied by RNG, immersion, at least a decent storyline, a somewhat relatable character and progression for said character with the inevitable need for endgame content. Character progression and endgame are shared traits of online RPGs and looter-shooters so that should clear up where the different branding comes from.
Well, Massive Entertainment ticked all of those boxes as RNG is persistent through critical hits and randomised loot, although the darker side of RNG called loot boxes popped one of its heads already, but more on monetisation later.
The very beginning of the journey is a character creation segment, which allows for some customisation and roleplay by extension if one is so inclined. Ubisoft went an extra mile here by not referring to characters as male or female, as the character creation simply states "change body type" which might be a bit more appealing to some players.
Character creation itself is a bit different from the first game which just offered some barebones basics. The Division 2 introduced facial feature sliders as well as more hairstyle and facial hair options. The feminine character presets had some odd shapes but it is an improvement over the first game overall.
The Divsion 2 is more immersive than the original as NPC characters actually behave and talk like they are either in combat situations or are aware that you are, where focus and concise conversation are necessary. While some fans may have enjoyed or even made memes about a double helix prom dress or the people of New York thanking agents, it grew tiresome after the 50th time those lines were uttered.
It is refreshing to hear agent Kelso or Manny Ortega give you precise instructions as opposed to Jessica Kandel or Roy Benitez's monologue that makes the game sound like a bad '90s action flick filled to the brim with not-so-witty one-liners.
The storyline itself is passable, but don't expect the quality of other titles more focused on narrative. Since the story is not the centrepiece here, it is often relegated to audio logs, ECHOs and even cutscenes you can play from the menu, but there is no real interaction with the game's characters, other than an occasional cutscene in a settlement or base of operations.
It is still interesting enough to keep track of rogue agent Keener's exploits over the course of several months after the virus outbreak and to see Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) tackling hostile factions in the war-torn Washington D.C.
When I say war-torn Washington, it is not hyperbole as the devs nailed the ambience marvellously. While still beautiful and dense with overgrowth, the city is definitely the venue of a civil war and The Division 2 is not shy about showing it - public executions, firefights over resources and even chemical attacks on civilians are on display.
The sheer amount of content is where Massive Entertainment live up to their name. Levelling and going through the storyline alone takes around 30 hours. It can be shortened by power-levelling to the endgame, but the volume of the story alone would justify the purchase for a more casual player.
Since it's a Ubisoft game, you might be already expecting a huge world filled with chores all over the place. Technically, there is filler content, but it's either well obfuscated as not to feel like a grind or simply made inconsequential to the story mode in a broader sense.
On top of that, The Division 2 doesn't force players into just one type of grindy content. Massive Entertainment made sure that exploration is rewarded as well. Wanderlust is encouraged with loot at every corner along with bits of lore on the state of affairs in Washington prior to the agent's arrival.
In short, progression is truly a joy in The Division 2, just like it was in the first game. Since this is the case, you might expect the endgame to suffer, much like in its predecessor. Well, you would be wrong.
Upon reaching level 30, you are presented with a completely new, more challenging enemy faction, fighting through strongholds for better loot and World Tier progression, optimising your build and specialisation while preparing for the next bit of content to be released.
At the time of writing, the gear score cap was 450 and players who rushed through content already managed to find a few optimal builds, while others are still getting there.
Finding those optimal builds presents a clear advantage for both PvE and PvP, offering a sense of pride and accomplishment with no loot boxes involved. Each World Tier bumped the gear score limit by 50 so far and once World Tier 5 kicks in along with the Dark Hours raid, it is expected to move it up to 500 providing another challenge.
PvP is actually quite satisfying. Gone are the days of chicken dancing in an Immunizer lunchbox radius with a pile of burst healing options at the ready. When two agents start fighting, one of them is leaving in a coffin less than a minute later or sometimes in mere seconds.
Time to kill is much lower now and weapon classes have their own strengths which allow for a wider variety of viable builds. Running a light machine gun in The Division was the equivalent of griefing the teammates for the most part and everyone was first rushing to get a Kriss Vector in the early days of the game or Lightweight M4 in its twilight.
The Division 2 allows you to be competitive with shotguns, assault rifles, SMGs - you name it. Naturally, there are some weapons that excel, but so far nothing is too egregious. One shot sniper builds are annoying at times but the recent fix of the drone ability should provide a decent counter.
It is worth mentioning once again that no microtransaction nor loot box can increase an agent's effectiveness or that of their weapon. The only weapon-related microtransactions are skins that can also be found in free loot boxes. Most importantly, those weapons feel satisfying to fire, regardless of whether you are shooting other players or enemy NPCs.
That satisfaction diminishes somewhat when fighting NPCs at higher difficulties and while in groups as you can feel your armament becoming less powerful and enemies more spongy. This is a scaling workaround that helps the game keep up with firepower wielded by additional agents in your group. While a questionable solution, it is not uncommon in the looter-shooter genre.
What fans didn't like with the original The Division is the need to shoot a random guy in a hoodie 50 times in the head before he dies. This has been mostly worked around in The Division 2 as enemies that have powerful armour have a visual representation of such, which has to be destroyed first before allowing fire at the juicy bits inside.
An approach like this allowed the game to keep some semblance of immersion in gunfights while also retaining the necessary bullet sponges. The guns feel and sound great, which was also the case with the original The Division, but I still needed to repeat this as the sequel features new weapons and all those that appeared in the original have been reworked in one way or another.
Since I've already mentioned loot boxes several times so far, so let's get down to The Division 2's monetisation. There are two major recurring revenue plans for Ubisoft for the moment - sales of cosmetic items and season passes. Cosmetics can be purchased directly from the store, with prices going up to ~$3 for apparel and up to ~$7,50 for emotes, which are the most expensive items in the store.
Keep in mind that there is that one-time offering of a welcome package that holds $20 worth of virtual currency with an emote at a fraction of the price and it should be more than enough to satisfy your fashionista needs.
Loot boxes are present and accounted for, but they offer only the aforementioned cosmetic items and couldn't be bought with real-life currency at the time of writing.
The Division 2 has been surprisingly smooth and even more surprisingly - stable. Crashes and lag have been associated with Ubisoft servers for a long time, even spawning memes along the way.
As far as crashes go, The Division 2 did it only twice in the time it took me to test it out and the only server downtime I experienced was when the developers were applying updates that kept fixing issues on a daily basis. The latest update caused a downtime of a grand total of 15 minutes.
There was a lot of talk about The Division series bearing Tom Clancy's name and the game's inherent political impact that Ubisoft initially denied, but were more open to in the months leading up to the release. The game functions just fine as it is, and explicit political statements are not a must-have, no matter what city the game is located in.
I play a looter shooter so I can, well, loot and shoot. I don't play it so a developer or publisher can force their political views down my throat, regardless whether their views align with mine or not. With great satisfaction, I found myself in a game focused on being just that, rather than an agenda-driven affair.
The Division 2 is a well-rounded looter shooter experience. If you are into the genre, dive right in, as the game will offer many hours of entertainment packed in a box bulging with content. Some aspects of the game are a little rough around the edges but Ubisoft's studios are working daily on putting out fixes and quality of life upgrades.
We usually don't rate games on a scale but we have to make an exception for The Division 2. Since we can't pet any dogs, it is absolutely unplayable - 1/10. This totally serious rating will remain until we get to pet the doggos. Someone call PETA.
In all seriousness though - The Division 2 is likely to quench your thirst even if you are not a looter shooter fan. The game has so much content that comes in different packages, each designed to cater to a different taste which provides a satisfying experience for players with various expectations. It is held back only by a tug of war between immersion and PvE balance but the developers also managed to mitigate that part as well, not letting it choke The Division 2 like it did the original.
At the end of the day, The Division 2 is an absolute upgrade of the original game - 9/10.