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Tom Clancy's The Division 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: March 15, 2019


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In-Depth Xbox One Review - 'Tom Clancy's The Division 2'

by Adam Pavlacka on May 6, 2019 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 is a shooter RPG with campaign, co-op, and PvP modes that offers more variety in missions and challenges, new progression systems with twists and surprises, and fresh innovations that offer new ways to play.

Buy Tom Clancy's The Division 2

The week The Division 2 was released, I ran into one of Ubisoft's PR team members on the street. We chatted briefly, and he encouraged me to dig deep into the game before writing it up. Thinking about it, it made sense. Most outlets were rushing to post reviews right away. That's a necessity in this field, which is why Cody authored our PlayStation 4 review of the game shortly after launch. But The Division 2 is a server-based game that has ongoing events and updates, so how it plays after a month or so is equally important as to how it plays during the launch window.

During launch week, I ran into a handful of server issues (including a login queue at one point), but after the initial bout of server instability, Ubisoft and Massive smoothed things over. From a technical perspective, the fact that The Division 2 is connecting online whenever you play is conveniently hidden from the player after the initial game load. This makes the multiplayer elements feel seamlessly blended with the single-player elements, allowing you to move from one play style to the other without any obstruction.

As for the core gameplay experience, The Division 2 almost feels like two games in one. There is the main game that runs from level 1 to 30 and encapsulates the bulk of story mode. This is the content that covers the liberation of Washington, D.C., and the backstory of the green poison. Some of the story is told via in-game conversations, but the meat of it is revealed via side stories, audio recordings, and data records that you pick up by wandering off the beaten path — and The Division 2 encourages you to go off the beaten path.

If there's one thing that Ubisoft and its studios have mastered, it is creating massive, open worlds that encourage player exploration. When you first jump in and start The Division 2, the game has you on a pretty rigid set of rails, although those restrictions quickly fade away after the first story mission. At that point, you're given the freedom to explore, and the game begins to show the level of depth it offers.

For many games of this nature, you would spend the bulk of your time outdoors. While that may be true here from a pure numbers perspective, The Division 2 also includes a large amount of indoor areas to explore. As you make your way through the city, you'll find various buildings that can be entered on a whim. Some of these are present for dedicated missions, while others are just there because they make sense. Some are both. This doesn't mean that every building has an interior. Simply banging on doors is more likely than not to be a dead end, but there are enough sections that have interiors to make this version of the District feel like more than just a facade.

Adding another layer of exploration to the game is the underground sewer system. Beyond a few missions, these tunnels can generally be ignored, but to do so would be to miss out on another chunk of the game. There are full sections of the city to explore, along with goodies to find. Once the main story has been completed, it is the search for those goods (AKA better gear) that drives the gameplay loop.

Ubisoft PR claims it takes about 15 hours to complete the main story, but it took me around double that before I was ready to face off against the "final" story mission. Some of this had to do with my desire to explore all of the side missions, but some of it simply had to do with leveling up to make sure I was ready for the challenge. Gear is an important aspect of the game throughout, not only because of better overall stats (more armor and health), but also because of the perks provided by certain pieces of gear.

You can get lucky and find a piece that you like, or you can break down existing gear and craft your own. Still, there is a randomness to the elements (and a limitation in the crafting system, which prevents attributes from moving from one item to another at full power) that acts as a limiting factor. You often have to give up a favored item to progress, especially in the endgame, where your existing gear determines the level of new gear that's available in random drops. I'm a player who prefers to min/max specific stats, versus going with what the game says is a higher level, and that's not really a viable option until you've hit the max gear score in the endgame.

Despite that limitation, The Division 2 still provides plenty of opportunity for players to play in a way that fits their own style. I found myself quickly settling on the combination of a marksman rifle (sniper rifle) and light machine gun as my weapons of choice. Even with the endgame specializations unlocked, I tended to keep coming back to these two, using the endgame specialization more for perks and named boss fights than anything else.

Once you find a weapon combination that works for you, the combat loop in The Division 2 works well. One of the big differences between The Division 2 and other games is how aggressively the enemy AI uses cover and flanking. You cannot just sit around in one spot, or you'll get boxed in and killed in the crossfire. The computer is constantly forcing you to keep moving.

This plays out nicely in the open-world areas, especially when reinforcements are called in, but it can break down in close quarters due to the fact that The Division 2 uses hidden "spawn closets" to drop enemies into the world, and they'll spawn there, regardless of your proximity. More than once, I was assaulting a control point, only to have a reinforcement wave of enemies overwhelm me. I was watching my surroundings, but they were suddenly flowing out of a door that was an otherwise inaccessible part of the background that previously couldn't be opened. Instances like this are one of the few points when The Division 2 can feel unfair.

Another element of the game that took me a while to get used to (and I'm still not quite 100% with it), is how The Division 2 uses cover. Cover is an absolute necessity. If you don't use cover, you're going to get ripped to shreds. Running from cover point to cover point via the cover system is perfectly doable while under fire. Trying to free run the same thing will get you killed in short order. My issue is with how the sticky cover system works.

Since it's a deliberate choice to enter cover, you can't just squat behind something and think you're in cover. No, you have to press a button to enter cover. Moving from here means pointing your cursor to another cover point and holding it, or moving out of cover by pressing the same button. This is simple enough during normal navigation, but it fails when under heavy fire. There is no way to target the backside of something you want to run to (in the case of falling back). For example, if I'm under fire and want to dive behind something, I can't do that with the cover system unless I'm in the perfect line of sight. More often than not, I have to cover run toward an exposed side, exit the cover stance, jump over it, and re-enter cover. All of this takes extra time, during which time you are exposed.

Attempting to exit cover in tight spaces can also mean inadvertently re-entering cover in an exposed position. This is not so much an issue when in a firefight, but when you're trying to roll out of the way of burning flames or avoiding an incoming grenade attack. It's not enough to break the game mechanics, but it does feel cheap when it happens, much like when hordes of enemies suddenly appear out of a locked door behind you.

When the cover mechanics work, it's a glorious feeling, and it's obvious what the designers were going for. If a future patch could work out the edge cases where it fails, that would be a welcome improvement.

One other element that would be nice to see in a future patch would be the ability for the player to go prone. The AI can do it, but the player character cannot, which is an odd oversight. Being prone isn't the same as being in cover, but it does reduce your profile and could be useful when sniping distant enemies.

It's obvious that combat and the cover system were designed around co-op play. While you can play The Division 2 solo, it is really meant to be played with a team of two to four players. When you're grouped up, the challenge seems to ramp up a bit, but so does the fun, especially if your team is working together. Just as the enemy AI tries to outflank you, doing the same to the AI is rewarding. Moving forward as a coordinated fire team is a great feeling, doubly so when the game throws multiple suicide bombers your way. When you're playing with a team, the enemies and armored elites go from being mildly annoying to just another set of opponents. One of the limitations of solo play is that you are almost always the primary threat, even with friendly AI NPCs helping. In a co-op game, all human players are a threat, so one can tank/distract, while the others go in for the kill.

That's not to say the enemy AI in The Division 2 only targets the players. While human players are the biggest threat once noticed, the different AI factions will fight each other if they don't see human players around. While playing, I've run across different enemy factions fighting each other, like these two elites. I've seen friendly control points get taken over on my map, but I've also seen the reverse. Enemy control points have been taken over (in real time) by friendly AI, even when I'm across town and nowhere near the actual control point. This type of interaction helps provide the illusion of a living world that you're exploring, versus a scripted environment.

Co-op multiplayer is obviously going to be a focus for Ubisoft and The Division 2 team, as one of the promised additions in the next major title update is the addition of an eight-player raid.

Players who want a different kind of challenge can explore PvP multiplayer in the game's Dark Zones. These regions are designed to be more challenging and offer greater rewards. The challenge comes from both "landmark" challenges, which have high-level elite enemies and rogue human players who simply want to kill you and steal your loot. This works for the most part, but the downside of going rogue and killing other players is limited, and it seems to lend itself more to ganking than actual combat. The biggest issue is that it isn't terribly difficult to switch between normal SHD agent status and rogue/marked status. If killing another player meant you stayed marked for a longer time, with no ability to easily switch back to a standard SHD agent status, the Dark Zone experience would feel more balanced. In its current state, you're best off exploring the Dark Zone with a team that you trust.

Playing The Division 2 over an extended amount of time has not been entirely seamless. Some of the technical issues I saw on the Xbox One X have been improved since the launch week, while others have persisted. For the first few weeks, asset streaming was on the slower side, which resulted in a lot of pop-in and blurry textures that would suddenly get replaced by higher-resolution versions a few seconds later. This still occurs now, though it isn't quite as bad as it used to be. With that said, aggressive item rendering is a thing, and you can find examples if you look for them, such as the two empty planters in the top middle of this video clip. These are performance trade-offs, so it makes sense that they happen, but it's still a little jarring to see them in action.

A major issue that has yet to be resolved is a bug with one of the side missions, "Worksite Community," which prevents the mission from triggering. I've checked the side mission after every patch update, and nothing has changed yet. I'll get the audio talking about the mission goals, but no enemies spawn, and there is no way to progress. It doesn't stop me from enjoying the overall game — while the bug breaks the side mission, it doesn't break or block the game — but it is mildly annoying to not be able to get 100% clearance on the side mission progression. My inner OCD is screaming here. Perhaps in the next patch.

Aside from these, the only other real technical issue that I encountered was some random game crashes. That only happened twice across nearly 100 hours of logged play time, so we'll call it pretty rare. (Make that three times. It happened once more as I was re-reading this review.)

In addition to the gameplay, The Division 2 also stands out in its audio-visual presentation. Quite simply, this game both looks and sounds great, especially when playing in HDR on the Xbox One X and with a good set of headphones over your ears. The Division 2 makes heavy use of positional audio, which is an absolute necessity when moving around during a firefight. You'll hear bullets flying by, enemies shouting to each other, and environmental effects, all helping put the virtual world into perspective. Yes, there is an enemy activity indicator on-screen, but hearing footsteps approaching via your rear is much more immediate than noticing the flashing red bar in the corner.

Adding to this are the environmental effects like wildlife and the weather, which helped set the stage. Having a firefight in the street on a sunny day is one thing, but it's a lot more intense (and fun) when a rainstorm is raging, the wind is howling, and visibility is limited. Seriously, if you are playing (or planning on playing) The Division 2, either get yourself a good pair of headphones, or make sure you have properly calibrated surround sound.

The visuals are just as impressive as the audio, with The Division 2 managing to make the District look both lush and foreboding at the same time. Sure, there are occasional visual glitches (like these randomly floating paint cans), but those are the exception, rather than the norm. Exploring the world is just as much taking in the sights, as it is shooting enemies, and The Division 2 has that in spades. The downside has more to do with the photo mode than the game visuals.

Because The Division 2 is a server-based game, even when playing solo, you can't ever pause it. This includes in photo mode. As a result, there is no option to get sweet action shots with bullets flying by your head. Entering photo mode automatically puts your player avatar into a default state, and the world continues on. You are effectively limited to environment shots and emotes. It's too bad because freezing the action in the middle of an intense firefight could make for some amazing photo shoots.

Most of my time with The Division 2 was spent playing on the Xbox One X, but I also switched over to the original Xbox One hardware for a while to see how it compared. The lack of HDR was immediately noticeable, as was the decreased resolution, but the visuals otherwise held up relative to the hardware. Playing on the Xbox One X was obviously the better experience when comparing the two side-by-side, but playing on the Xbox One never made me feel like I was missing out, even if it wasn't quite as sharp. Kudos to the development team for making sure the gameplay scaled to the hardware.

Despite having a handful of specific issues, The Division 2 is more than the sum of its parts. It provides a rewarding gameplay loop that doesn't get old, and it does a great job of keeping the player engaged. It's also a great value for the money, thanks to the content pipeline. Tidal Basin (the current top-tier mission in the game) didn't exist when The Division 2 launched, and more content is on the way. If you're on a limited budget, The Division 2 could easily be the one purchase that provides the bulk of your gaming content for the next few months. The value proposition shouldn't be overlooked.

Speaking of value, yes, there are microtransactions in The Division 2, but I barely noticed they were there. The microtransaction content is purely cosmetic, and the game never pushes them on you. In fact, if you don't actively look for the option within the menu system, they're easy to miss. As a player who both knows what it is like to game on a limited budget as well as someone who can appreciate customization options, I have no complaints about the system implemented here.

When I first sat down to preview The Division 2, I had little to no interest in the game. I had assumed it was by-the-numbers sequel to a game I had never played. After spending time with the beta and the retail game post-launch, it's amazing how off that initial assumption was.

Not only is The Division 2 a solid gaming experience, but it's also one that Ubisoft plans to continually support over time. We've already seen the beginning of that support, and there is no indication that it'll let up. Whether you are a solo player or someone ready to jump in with a squad of friends, The Division 2 is a game you don't want to miss.

Score: 9.0/10

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