EDIT: The full review is now published here
To say that The Division 2 is a big game would be an understatement. It is a long title packed full of content, and Ubisoft went out of their way before release to showcase the end game ahead of time. It’s an important aspect that many looter shooters have done poorly. With that in mind, I feel like rushing through the game as fast as possible simply to be the first in line with a review would be disrespectful to the game, to Ubisoft and most importantly, it is disrespectful to you, the player.
So my full review with the big fancy score is indeed a ways off. I’ve been playing for a couple of days now and I’ve hardly scratched the surface. So in the meantime, I’d like to share my thoughts with you while my review is in progress.
I don’t put a lot of stock into graphics all that often, but the visuals in The Division 2 are stellar. Even on my standard PlayStation 4 system, the most notable is the lighting, especially at night. It not only lends itself well to the immersive atmosphere of the game but affects your visibility in combat realistically. Resist the urge to pump up the brightness on your Television and just soak it in. The game features a day and night cycle.
I’ve been enjoying the little details in the world as well, a board propped up against a wall that falls over when I bump into it for example. The sheer amount of detail in the city itself is pretty stunning. It’s one of the few games where I’ve visually appreciated the size of the buildings. It feels real and in a good way.
Sadly the story so far is not that strong. Its concept is fairly average, but the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, an early line about a new sheriff being in town made me cringe with its poor delivery.
That extends to the various recordings you can pick up that are supposed to give you some insight into the events, background, and people of Washington. In some cases, the writing falters too. There are several factions you will be contending with. The earliest of which is a gang of thugs called the Hyenas.
You find several recordings of Hyena conversations that apparently exist to tell you how awful these people are. These guys and gals are cartoonishly villainous to the point of absurdity. I get that they are bad guys, but this game takes place only 7 months after society collapsed and this many psychopaths not only congregated in D.C, but work well enough together without killing each other to form one of the largest factions in the city?
They feel out of place in a real-life setting. It feels like they were pulled out of Mad Max or Borderlands.
Luckily the gameplay more than makes up for any of the failings I’ve mentioned. The controls are fluid and snappy and the gunplay feels as smooth as butter on your expensive morning bagel. The enemies are very reactionary to combat. They react, flinch, and fall down when shot. The tougher ones can have armor pieces broken off to reveal the squishy flesh beneath.
It’s a clever solution to bullet sponge complaints, you can use some strategy and focus fire on specific armored bits to damage their health bar underneath. So far it has been a good balance of enemies that die fast and ones that don’t. In some games where all enemies die in a shot or two, weapons can sometimes feel the same. This isn’t the case in The Division 2, each weapon feels like it has a specific role in combat.
Each faction has its own quirks too and the enemies have a variety of classes and tactics. Snipers, melee attackers, I’ve even had some hunker down behind cover and drive an explosive RC car at me. I’m even impressed with the AI. You won’t be staying in one piece of cover playing whack a mole with the enemy.
The enemies actively try to flank you and avoid being flanked themselves, some will flee to better cover if pressed, others will press you. You can even suppress them with sustained fire to allow a teammate to move in on their flank. The game can, of course, be played in co-op and that’s probably the best way to experience it. Though I’ve been having a lot of fun solo as well.
The reactionary nature of the combat really makes it enjoyable. There are several status effects that can be inflicted on you and your enemies. If foes are carrying grenades, you can shoot the bags on their sides to explode them, be they confusion gas or explosive in nature. I even managed to shoot a grenade in mid-air once, not to brag or anything.
Battles are often explosive, you can shoot the grenades that foes carry as well as explosive and flammable objects in the environment.
Being an RPG you also find quite a variety of loot and so far the gear has been more interesting then I expected. You have three core attributes that gear can improve, but they also can have other bonuses and be modded. Some also have set bonuses, wearing several pieces from the same set grants you additional bonuses for that set.
You also of course level up and acquire skills. I was pretty happy to find such a wide array of active abilities you can choose for your agents. There are eight platforms in particular, but each one has several variants you can unlock.
For example, you can have a placeable turret that attacks foes, a sniper version, or a flame-thrower variant. You can have a drone that magnetically deflects bullets, drops bombs, or heals allies. There is a large shield ability that protects you the most, but you can only use your sidearm or a smaller shield that lets you use a primary weapon. You have a lot of choices you can make for your load-outs, both statistically and actively.
I’ve also given the conflict mode a whirl, which is basically a drop-in, drop out PvP mode where you fight in skirmish or for control points. You take in your own loadout including skills that actually makes the gameplay feel far more unique than I was expecting. Statistics in PVP are normalized so no one has any advantage over another except through skill. You can earn rewards and take them with you to the main game which is a nice feature.
The Dark zone makes a return, but it’s one of the pools I’ve yet to stick my toes in. The game again is very content heavy.
The game’s biggest potential flaw is its setting, it’s meant to be a very long game and when it boils down to it, you’re simply having gunfights with normal gun-toting humans. The enemies’ class variety and neat ideas, such as explosive RC cars, do help change up the pace. The player’s agent skill abilities do keep it from feeling generic. I’m just concerned that it may begin to wear thin as the hours pile up.
However, I still have a long ways to go and the game could introduce more variety than I’ve experienced so far. The combat itself is stellar in design, it may be a cover shooter with just human enemies, but it’s possibly the most tightly knit one to exist in gaming so far. Everything about it is expertly designed and executed beautifully. Ubisoft has really learned a lot from the failings of other similar titles, and that of the first Division.
Anyway, that is it for my early thoughts, I gotta get back at it, D.C is calling me!