The Division 2 is a good, solid looter shooter. At points, it's a fantastic looter shooter, but at the time of writing, it has just a handful of notable issues holding it back. Ideally, a game releases with no problems whatsoever, but in this age of live services, regular content updates, and feedback-based patches, expectations have changed. Fortunately for The Division 2, it launched well. Stuffed with things to do and topped off with some quality gameplay, it's on course to being one of the strongest titles that the genre has seen.
But again, it's going to need a few tweaks here and there. Several major bugs have come and gone as we've played through the game for review, but there are still a couple of frustrations lingering over the release. The most notable right now is that co-op scaling isn't quite working correctly. What this means is that if lower level players team up with higher level players, they can be killed by enemies incredibly quickly -- before they've even had a chance to react. Given the game's co-op focus, this is a bit of a disaster, but as with most of the issues that we're going to mention in this review, developer Massive Entertainment is supposedly on the case.
Let's rewind before we go any deeper into the details, though. The Division 2 is the sequel to 2016's The Division, and it's better than its predecessor in every way that matters. A bigger map, more things to do, more loot, better mission design -- the lot. Massive has done an excellent job of building and improving upon what came before, and the result is game of huge scale that feels like it's had everything, including kitchen sink, thrown at it.
The key is that most of it sticks. This is a devilishly compelling cover-based adventure, and that's largely down to the way that the game's world is structured. You can't go 50 yards without stumbling across something of interest, whether it's a secret loot stash hidden down a grubby alleyway or a chaotic firefight that's erupted between warring factions. As a setting, Washington, D.C. is intricate, exciting, and visually interesting. Everything's just a bit overgrown and there's clutter all over the place -- it's one of the most effective urban jungles that we've explored on PS4.
Indeed, exploration is something that The Division 2 does so much better than its competitors. You're consistently rewarded for straying from main roads and streets, and that forms the basis for the game's stellar loot system. While realistic gloves, knee pads, and backpacks aren't the most exciting forms of equipment that you'll find in video games, The Division 2 loves throwing new gear at you. This is the closest that a current-gen looter shooter has got to the addictive brilliance of Diablo III.
It's very, very easy to get hooked, and it helps that the sequel paces itself much more effectively than The Division. As mentioned, the mission design in The Division 2 -- particularly during the main story run -- is superb. This is largely thanks to memorable environments; it's museums, galleries, and other detailed public spaces that you'll be shooting your way through, and every mission feels like it's exactly the right length. There's just something about conquering several floors of an abandoned office building that's oddly satisfying.
The tight environmental design gives way to intense tactical combat, and more than anything, it's the shooting itself that defines The Division 2. This isn't the power trip that you'll find in Destiny or ANTHEM -- this is all about strategic positioning, timing the use of your skills correctly, and identifying the biggest threat on each battlefield. Unless you want to get shredded in a matter of seconds, you need to to utilise cover, and in tougher scenarios, team coordination goes a heck of a long way.
At times combat is slow and methodical, but the tension can ramp up in the blink of an eye. One wrong move and everything shifts -- suddenly you're being flanked and there's another bloody enemy on the mounted gun. The Division 2 teaches you to think tactically, and approach each situation with efficiency in mind. You pull a plan off correctly and you feel like a hero. The game's at its undeniable best when you and three other agents are matching the enemy move for move, blow for blow -- it's these intense and often unforgiving battles that elevate the entire experience.
But there are times when it feels like the game is trying to undermine itself. Some opponents are, quite frankly, a colossal pain in the arse to deal with, and they do have a nasty habit of stripping some combat encounters of their tactical tension. We are, of course, referring to enemies such as the sledgehammer-wielding brutes that soak up bullets like a new pair of white trainers soak up grime. The design idea behind melee enemies is that they force you to get out of cover so that you're torn to pieces by projectiles, but this only works when they can actually be stopped before they reach your position.
When they're charging through grenades and smashing turrets for fun, tactics go out of the window -- you either eject yourself from cover or you get clobbered. The bottom line is that running from foes that take an eternity to kill isn't very fun, and it goes against everything that The Division 2's combat gets absolutely right.
And this feeds into what many might say is the game's biggest problem right now, especially once you've beaten the main story and you're progressing through the endgame. You see, you hit a point where damage output is everything -- and when we say that, we mean everything. If you're faced with elite level enemies within the title's hardest missions and you can't chew through their armour before they flank you, you're probably dead. Once again, one of the game's greatest assets -- its tactical combat -- is pushed to one side in favour of mindlessly emptying clips into anyone or anything that gets too close.
This also means that skills -- deployable drones, turrets, shields, and other snazzy tech -- are mostly sidelined. In turn, diverse character builds are also shunned because if you want to wrestle with the biggest baddies, you've got no real choice but to go all-in on damage-per-second. It's a huge shame, because in theory, there are so many ways that you can evolve your character with a combination of skills, weapons, and equipment perks.
The hope is that Massive will balance things out as it gathers more and more player data, but one area that likely won't be improved is the plot. There's not much to say other than it's virtually nonexistent. Outside of a few dedicated cutscenes, you just listen to people feed you information over your earpiece, and the narrative's just about as generic as it can get. The world of The Division is interesting -- Western civilisation brought to its knees by a biological weapon -- but the story does close to nothing with it. There are bad guys all over D.C. and you're gonna have to kill them.
But hey, in all honesty, we'd rather just be getting on with the looting and the shooting, so in a way, we can appreciate the fact that there's no in-depth narrative. Besides, the dismal quality of the dialogue that is present in The Division 2 doesn't exactly make you wish that there was more of it.
You're never looking for that story spark to keep you playing because the game's already so adept at rewarding your efforts. No matter how you decide to play, there's something to chase. Even if you're a lone wolf, everything's doable thanks to the way that enemy numbers are scaled down to accommodate for less players, and when it does come to joining a group for super tough co-op missions, matchmaking is always an option.
And outside of all of this, the Dark Zone returns, giving players an opportunity to prove their survival skills in an everyone-versus-everyone environment. This time it's split into three different areas, and trekking through them alone or with a couple of friends can be gripping, but they do seem a tad empty at the time of writing. Maybe more players will flock to these arenas in the future -- supposedly when they're done with the lengthy campaign -- but currently, you'll be hard pressed to find consistent competition.
Right now, The Division 2 stands strong as an addictive, well designed, and complete looter shooter. For how dynamic and intricate it is, its open world sets the bar for the genre, and its tense, tactical combat is, for the most part, a real joy. Unlike its competitors, this cover-based outing rarely feels like it's wasting your time -- there's always something worthwhile to work towards. However, the experience does stumble every now and then, usually due to a notable bug or gameplay balancing issue -- but these aren't unsolvable problems. Even before they're fixed, The Division 2 earns a recommendation, but with a few key adjustments, Massive Entertainment is onto something special with this sequel.