Score: Unscored Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Windows PC Developer: Massive Entertainment Publisher: Ubisoft Release Date: March 15, 2019 ESRB: M
It feels like everyone’s figuring out individual pieces of the loot shooter (shlooter?) puzzle, but no one has quite managed to put them all together yet.
Bungie’s Destiny games have perhaps the most intuitive, fluid, and satisfying mechanics of any first-person shooter on the market, and the Seattle-based developer has managed to create some truly compelling endgame content that fully exploits the game’s cooperative mechanics. But key parts of Destiny’s cooperative multiplayer remain exclusionary, and its storytelling still needs work.
BioWare’s recently launched Anthem, meanwhile, gives us characters and a cause we can root for — including a (shockingly) non-mute protagonist with a winning personality — and normalizes the concept of playing with others so adroitly that even folks who usually prefer to play alone probably won’t be put off by being matched with others. Mission design, though, is awfully repetitive, and both character growth and loot are pretty dull.
Anthem review: Think Destiny, with better storytelling, worse loot and more repetition
Crackdown 3 review: Brutal justice made brutally boring
Fallout 76 review: Buggier than a wet Saskatchewan summer
Now Massive Entertainment’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 — which continues the series’ story of an America in collapse and under siege by rogue factions after an eco-terrorist attack — adds its own collection of nicely engineered ingredients to the genre’s stew. And while it’s a flavourful play, it could still do with a little refining.
The original Tom Clancy’s The Division didn’t do the trick for me. It launched in disarray, felt pretty repetitive, and failed to captivate my imagination with its New York-in-crisis story, which had few memorable characters or plot twists. But Massive put plenty of effort into it post launch, and has applied the lessons it learned to the sequel, which has arrived free of any major technical issues (odd that this should be a significant differentiator, but these days it is) and with heaps of initial content.
I’m perhaps 15 hours in and it feels like there’s an endless amount things to do, only a little of which feels like make-work tasks. Linear main missions and side quests do a great job letting us exploit the game’s fantastic Gears of War-esque cover and mantle system, giving us plenty of opportunity to strategically move around the battlefield. And tactical control points that need to be captured, defended, and stocked combine with randomly generated activities — such as saving innocent folks from public execution and reclaiming broadcast towers — and sightings of civilian patrols roaming the streets looking for food and supplies to create an organic, dynamic, constantly evolving world.
On the subject of the world, the new setting is a step up. The somewhat bland feeling urban-ness of the previous game’s New York has been swapped out for downtown Washington D.C., the Greek- and Roman-inspired architecture of which is filled with personality and meaning. Seeing a recognizable grand façade or monument in a shabby, uncared for state is much more emotionally affecting than running around between random unkempt apartment and office buildings. Individual characters inhabiting Massive’s fictional Washington are still on the forgettable side, but I’m legitimately interested in helping the city as a whole.
And the looting is good, with a real sense of progress. I get at least a little excited by almost everything I find. If it isn’t a weapon or piece of gear that instantly improves my character, then it might be a resource needed to complete a camp project — which comes with its own rewards — or a piece of technology I can use back at the White House staging area to gain a perk or augment one of my gradually unlocked tactical technologies, including drones and probes. Plus, modding weapons is blissfully simple, with differences in weapon handling and stopping power immediately noticeable. Hopefully this sense of continual growth will continue up to and into the endgame.
All of this makes me happy to keep playing, at least for the short-term. But I still see room for improvement.
Like most games in its category, The Division 2 really is better played with others. But, oddly, matchmaking is a bit of a chore and not automatic. You need to plan whether you want to tackle missions with other players. I’m a loner by nature, so I almost always just head out on my own — which can prove problematic, since some missions can be extremely demanding when tackled solo. You can put out a call for help mid-mission, but my experience suggests there’s no guarantee anyone will answer that call. I haven’t abandoned a mission out of frustration yet, but I’ve been close.
And while firefights are polished and gratifying, close combat is a bit of a mess. If an enemy draws within melee range it becomes all but impossible to properly target them with a weapon, and trying to physically bash them is nearly as hard. What’s more, I find I’m often forced out of cover when foes get too close, which turns me into easy pickings for other enemies. My best advice is simply to never allow any enemies near you. A charging foe should always be your priority target.
On the whole, though, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 has stuck its landing. Like other games of its ilk, it could do with learning a lesson or two from its competitors, but it has arrived playable, polished, and with so much stuff to do that most players probably won’t even reach its sizeable endgame — which, at this point, I’ve only read about — for weeks, if not longer.
I’m not ready to give it a numbered score, but I do feel comfortable saying this is one loot shooter you can dive into with confidence on day one.