Ubisoft’s major new story expansion for The Division 2 returns to the setting of the first game, but should you follow it?
It came as a surprise to many to find out that The Division 2 had underperformed, not least because at one point Ubisoft were proclaiming it as the best-selling game of 2019. But while the game’s predecessor had sold incredibly well, reaction to the sequel was more mixed; although it has already improved its reputation thanks to a number of other, sizeable updates. The sequel took players to Washington DC but this expansion sees the action return to the same setting as the first game.
While The Division is returning to New York City (Lower Manhattan, this time), much has changed since it left the concrete jungle behind. For one, the snow has melted, the entire cityscape giving off an I Am Legend vibe, as greenery breaks through the paving slabs and tarmac.
But the flora and fauna can’t hide the devastating effect of the ongoing viral outbreak, as body bags line streets and alleyways, and rubbish bags adorn almost every doorway. Even the citizens that used to greet your arrival in the first game are now wary of your presence.
The attitude of the remaining populace filters through to returning characters like Paul Rhodes and Roy Benitez, the former of who is outright hostile towards The Division, while the latter plays peacemaker. How do you save those that don’t want to be saved? It’s an interesting idea, but one that the game’s campaign soon forgets about once you’ve shot a few baddies. In that regard the expansion feels like a missed opportunity, but it’s still more depth than we got in the base game’s campaign.
Over the course of the eight to 10-hour campaign you’ll uncover exactly what coloured the city’s perception of The Division, as you hunt down Aaron Keener – a rogue Division agent that was instrumental in the events of the first game. Keener isn’t the most exciting of antagonists, but it’s still nice to have a more tangible adversary.
Before you can take on Keener, you’ll need to battle his lieutenants. Each of the four offers a series of missions, culminating in a showdown. While fans may wince at the prospect of more bullet-sponge enemies (and unfortunately, they do return), these main boss battles offer some of The Division’s finest combat scenarios to date.
Highlights include a running battle through the skeletal remains of a beached tanker, against flamethrower-wielding enemies, while another sees you trying to out-snipe a rogue agent with a penchant for deploying decoys to flush you out of cover.
Each lieutenant crossed off the list brings you closer to Keener, while also unlocking fresh skills from your fallen foes. It calls to mind Mega Man games of yore, and while not all skills are created equal (the aforementioned decoys feel less useful that a damage-dealing turret), it’s always fun to experiment with them.
The campaign feels like a highlight reel of everything The Division franchise has offered since its inception in 2015. Shooting feels tighter, with differences between each weapon type more pronounced than ever, new skills promote experimentation, while cover (aside from the occasional ‘stickiness’ of certain hiding spots) feels less of a risk than it has in the past.
Of course, that won’t sway fans that haven’t been able to feel invested in the game up until now. This is, at the end of the day, still a game about solving the world’s problems by spraying bullets. And while it’s refreshing to see our gunslinger hero rebuffed by a city population torn apart, Ubisoft’s pretence that a game filled with right-wing rhetoric is somehow apolitical continues to leave a sour taste.
Then there’s the people you’re fighting. While most enemies react to being shot, mini-bosses tend to feel cheap at the best of times, shrugging off bullets as if they were cotton wool. It’s endemic of the challenge the franchise has faced since it began: a role-playing game skeleton in a ‘realistic’ tactical shooter’s skin. Thankfully, each mission location is varied enough to keep you engaged, with burning buildings and dilapidated skyscrapers the order of the day, all with secret loot caches to find.
That role-playing skeleton has received somewhat of a boost, though. The Division 2 is a loot shooter at heart, but the trademark orange user interface has often felt cluttered. Thankfully, the patch that accompanies Warlords Of New York’s release (and so is available free to everyone) makes it much easier to identify the bonuses afforded by a piece of gear.
There are still plenty of numbers and stats for hardcore fans to tweak to their heart’s content (along with a new workbench that allows you to build curated ‘god-roll’ gear from perks you’ve earned, something we’d love to see Destiny 2 steal), but it’s not quite as daunting as it has been in the past.
One of The Division’s biggest missed opportunities has always been the Dark Zone but there are welcome changes there, too. This PvE/PvP hybrid was made a little more casual in the base sequel, but Ubisoft now describes it as ‘for the wolves’ and it’s easy to see why.
All loot in the area now requires extraction (and much of it is exclusive to the Dark Zone), which takes time and draws unwanted attention. Turning rogue to betray other players can also be done much more quickly now, removing the awkward drawn-out toggling that telegraphed a heel-turn during The Division 2’s launch.
Aside from the Dark Zone, there are other endgame level activities but no new raid, although one called The Foundry is due to be released free for all players in the future. Elsewhere, legendary missions refresh base game content, while a new global difficulty setting can boost the challenge and rewards across both New York and Washington DC.
There is seasonal content to come as well, starting next week – so expect plenty of in-game events that offer high risk/high reward missions for players. You can also keep investing previously useless SHD tokens to boost your base attributes, similar in many ways to Diablo’s Paragon levelling.
The Division 2 needed a shot in the arm, and Warlords Of New York is pretty much exactly what players have been waiting for. Its campaign is a greatest hits compilation of the best the series has to offer, and despite lingering concerns over bullet sponges and the lack of a fresh raid, there really has never been a better time to visit New York City.
The Division 2 Warlords of New York review summary
In Short: A fun, fairly brief campaign that offers plenty of memorable scenarios and a suite of improvements that turn The Division 2 into a true contender for the looter shooter throne.
Pros: Exciting mission locations, varied enemy types, and plenty to seek out. Interface changes are welcome, gunplay is great…
Cons: …until you come up against a bullet-sponge enemy. No new raid (yet) and fairly generic villain. Won’t change your mind if the series hasn’t grabbed you in the past.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: 3rd March 2020
Age Rating: 18
By Lloyd Coombes
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