Day two in the bag, pressing forward

Progress Update: I’m currently level 27, and endgame is in sight! I’ve been enjoying an increase in the frequency of high-end drops and my overall impression are still positive. If anything, The Division 2 has become even more enjoyable since my last update. It’s been nice to get a few weapons that can challenge the almighty assault rifle and sniper rifle archetypes, and enemy encounter variety continues to excite. More tomorrow!

Day One – March 12

After the first day of The Division 2 I’m sitting at level 18, which means I’m more than halfway through the initial leveling progression – but hopefully have experienced much less than half of the content this shared-world sequel has to offer, because that would be disappointing. The Division 2 has already succeeded in many areas where the original faltered, and as a result my impressions so far are largely positive. Gunplay is punchier, enemies are more mechanically diverse, loot is generous and interesting, and its wonderfully realized recreation of Washington DC is sufficiently populated with fun activities and hidden goodies. Based on what I played of the private and open beta tests, I’m still concerned that the combat may revert to its spongy state in the endgame, but for now, The Division 2 feels very good.

The tale of Division 2’s revised gunplay is as follows: pronounced recoil, faster time-to-kill, more of the easy-to-kill “red bar” enemies, and immediately visible effects from firing your weapon (like destroyed armor plates or staggered enemy steps). There’s also a lot more creative variety in terms of enemy archetypes, especially in the Mad Max-esque “Outcasts” faction. Their suicide bombers liquify after any damage is dealt to their conspicuous explosive vests, their engineer archetype deploys saw-wielding RC cars straight out of Battlebots, and their armor-clad heavy forgoes a cliche mini-gun in favor of a chainsaw.

Another important motif that has helped the Division 2’s combat stay enjoyable and replayable thus far is lethality. Every enemy is dangerous. Red-bar grunts may die instantaneously, but they will rip you in half if you ignore their aggressive flanking maneuvers. As a result, enemy bosses are difficult not just because of their health pool and damage output, but also because they have the effect of distracting you from lesser (but still threatening) foes.

Unfortunately, the bosses themselves are a bit of a let down so far. The yellow-barred named enemies are little more than steroided versions of their subordinates, which is disappointing. I’m still waiting for a big, bombastic, unique, and hand-crafted boss encounter. Furthermore, named versions of lightly armored archetypes, like a sniper boss, feel like enemies pulled straight out of The Division 1 in terms of inexplicable sponginess.

The Division 2’s overarching storyline has failed to really grab my attention thus far.

The Division 2’s overarching storyline has failed to really grab my attention thus far, but it has succeeded in more bite-sized storytelling. The early Jefferson Trade Center mission effectively establishes the stakes: a Division agent has been taken hostage and then executed on that premise in an unexpected way without interrupting the flow of gameplay. Similarly, a trip through a contaminated prehistoric museum – spurred on by a trail of Easter eggs – took a tragic turn when I realized that the peaceful menagerie was actually a hospice for the doomed victims of the green poison.

Like combat, progression is another area where The Division 2 has pleasantly surprised me. The rule of thumb seems to be that if you feel like something is going to reward you with great loot, than it probably is. Control points are capped off with a supply room straight out of Greed’s Domain in Diablo 3, and the Dark Zone has introduced me to both my first superior and my first high-end rarity item. Finally, there are tons of chests scattered around mission areas and the open world, which is ample incentive to stop and smell the roses. As a result of open-world activities and the aforementioned goodies, the superbly realized Washington DC feels much less barren than the original’s recreation of New York City.

Quantity is nice, but quality is a must, and in this respect, The Division 2’s loot has proven interesting, or at least as interesting as a pair of knee pads can be. The first non-weapon that I really gave a crap about was a high-end kevlar vest called the “X-TREYME Pro Ribcage.” In addition to boasting a huge amount of armor it rolled with attributes and talents that increased my health and headshot damage by 20 percent, which is pretty insane for a mid-game item. There also seems to be a welcome correlation between aesthetic detail and mechanical strength when it comes to the stat-bearing gear. Weapons absolutely steal the show in The Division 2 as far as loot is concerned, but I’ve also discovered a troubling imbalance between weapon archetypes.

So far, a P-416 of middling rarity stands head and shoulders above every other weapon I’ve found in terms of effective DPS.

Unlike Destiny or Anthem, The Division 2 features an in-game means of measuring your damage-per-second output in the form of the Firing Range. It’s a more than welcome inclusion, but it also has the effect of shining a spotlight on exactly how balanced, or imbalanced each weapon archetype is. So far, a P-416 of middling rarity stands head and shoulders above every other weapon I’ve found in terms of effective DPS. And while there is an argument for using a sniper rifle or LMG at long -range, there seems to be no situation in which any of the shotguns I own (even those of higher rarity and level) would be preferable. I hope – and frankly expect – that this will change as I unlock more high-end and exotic gear, but currently it feels like a waste of time to use many other weapons. That’s disappointing.

At this point, I’m eager to progress through the rest of The Division 2’s critical story path, and am absolutely looking forward to what the endgame has in store. I need further examine specializations, endgame PvE content, the Dark Zone, and organized PvP before reaching a verdict. And it’s possible that elements that I have enjoyed thus far could stagnate, or new problems could present themselves, but for now I’m optimistic and have enjoyed my time with The Division 2 thus far.

Day 0 – March 11

My review of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is underway, after this morning’s surprise launch of the PC version, and I’m currently working my way through the critical story path at a brisk pace to reach its endgame content. I’ll be looking for The Division 2 to introduce interesting new loot and enemy mechanics at a steady pace to keep the initial grind from feeling like a grind, and I’m hoping to see it give me ample reason to group up with other players. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on whether or not the realistic setting leads to relatively limited mechanics; I’m expecting spectacular boss encounters and meaningful gear choices. Reality is no excuse to be boring.

So far, a few things stand out after just a few hours. The Division 2’s arsenal of real-world firearms feels punchy and effective when compared that of its predecessor. There is enough recoil on mouse and keyboard to warrant compensation, and enemies react to being shot much faster than in the original, which is a small but crucial detail when it comes to making gunplay feel satisfying. Another factor in that is the time-to-kill, which I’m reluctant to comment on just yet, as I imagine it will become longer as I progress. I need to be sold on the illusion that my guns are effective the whole way through the story and into the endgame, which is a tenuous balance to achieve when human enemies can absorb hundreds of rounds before keeling over. So far, The Division 2’s best idea in this respect is that it uses visual indicators like bulky-armor that can be chipped away to communicate enemy resilience, but this trick seems to be specific to the “heavy” enemy archetype and there were plenty of spongy bosses in the beta that were missing this destructible armor.

Loot is interesting so far, but that isn’t saying much. Finding my first AK-M was fun enough, but the true test of whether or not the Division 2 will succeed as an RPG will be determined by whether or not I’m excited to pick up my hundredth version of that same rifle. By endgame, I’ll be looking for my loot to inform and alter my playstyle rather than just increase my damage and toughness stats by another small increment.

I’m interested to see what the sequel fills this impressively filthy post-pandemic world with in terms of unique gameplay.

From what I’ve seen, The Division 2’s near one-to-one recreation of Washington DC is as intricately assembled as the original’s evocation of New York City, which was one of its strongest features. But I’m more interested to see what the sequel fills this impressively filthy post-pandemic world with in terms of unique gameplay opportunities. So far the activities that stick out are open-world events like control points that offer up a challenging onslaught of enemies, capped off by a fun boss fight and access to a generous loot-filled room upon completion.

The last thing I want to discuss at this very early juncture is the Dark Zone, a dynamic open-world space where difficult enemies abound and players can turn on one another at any time. It’s what I’ve been looking forward to most in The Division 2, but my experiences with it in the beta were not promising because of all the red tape around combat. In order to damage another player you need to first flag yourself as rogue, which can be done by performing a number of actions including holding down a button – an important detail that wasn’t explained in the beta’s introductory Dark Zone mission. PvP in a high-stakes environment should be intuitive and understandable. To its credit, two of the three Dark Zones in the sequel are normalized, meaning player level and gear shouldn’t matter in a fight, and that should lead to less confusing stat-driven fights with other players. But in the beta I still ran into plenty of “why aren’t you dead?” moments that I couldn’t help but feel would have ended differently if all things were actually equal. I’m hopeful that as I invest more time into the new Dark Zones that situation will be resolved and allow its merits will shine through.

This is just the absolute tip of the iceberg, of course – I’ll be bringing you frequent updates to this review in progress until the final scored review is posted. That’ll happen after I experience everything The Division 2 has to offer, so I don’t currently know exactly how long it’ll be, but we’ll find that out together. Hit me up with questions in the comments or on Twitter at ThuggnDuggn.

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