In the first game, a chemical terrorist attack spread via paper currency led to chaotic unrest in New York. These events prompted the activation of a top-secret domestic sleeper cell known as the Division, charged with tamping down the violence in the streets. The sequel picks up seven months later with the nation’s government in tatters. The Capitol building is occupied by the True Sons, a heavily armed group of warlords, and the streets of D.C. are occupied by other gangs like the criminally-minded Hyenas and the Outcasts, disaffected people who resent their time living under forced quarantine. Propaganda towers are spread throughout the city and the gangs maintain several control points. Clearing out these areas nets experience points and places to fast travel from the map screen. Early in the campaign I found it useful to rush past these areas to get to places where I could initiate story missions because getting shot down in the streets necessitates having to back travel to a hospitable place on the map.
Amid this tumult are fortified civilian settlements. When you’re not shooting people you can improve living conditions in the settlements by donating supplies and completing other objectives. Though I fancy the idea of contrasting block-by-block urban combat with helping different communities to flourish, the benevolent side of the game is not very engaging. I quickly grew tired of hearing the same conversation played on a very short loop, which reinforced the feeling that was I was standing in a Potemkin village. (Oh, the number of times I heard a woman, bantering with someone else on the radio, utter her signature line, “Your brain is bananas!”)
“The Division 2” is structured like an RPG. Therefore, when you’re not shooting, you’ll likely be in the menus trying to level up your stats. Brand loyalty is encouraged — equipping different items from one of the game’s weapons or armor manufacturers adds bonus skills, such as health or armor. My friend and I logged almost two actual days getting characters from level one to thirty. The developers have said that they designed “The Division 2’s” endgame first so we felt obligated to liberate the Capitol building from The True Sons to see what the endgame had in store. Once the True Sons are pushed out, a superiorly armed group, the Black Tusk, rolls into town and takes over key points in the city. Thus, one can begin again the cycle of reclaiming major landmarks such as the Grand Washington Hotel, which is based on The Grand Hyatt.
Viewed simply as a shooter “The Division 2” checks the right boxes. The enemy is A.I. clever and will pretty much always try to outflank you (though why enemies are programmed to call out when they’re out of ammo or about to attempt a flanking maneuver is beyond me). I found the game most enjoyable when tackling story missions with three other players, making the firefights flow nicely. My friend and I found the tempo much more agreeable with two other players since a larger team allows for a greater range of tactics to be deployed, and the game felt a bit less grindy.
During my playthrough I came across a few bugs that were mostly negligible. Sometimes, the gun in my avatar’s hands would disappear until I unequipped it and re-equipped it in the menus, and on a couple of occasions I ran into quest bugs that required me to restart the offending mission. Still, given the size of the world and the fact that the game hasn’t been out for long, I counted these hiccups as par for the course.
As someone who grew up in D.C., I was struck by “The Division 2’s” re-creation of the city. Battling through MLK Library, or around the Federal Triangle area was surreal because I’ve never seen such a vivid depiction of D.C. in a video game. (I even found myself reading the displays in museums.) For me, “The Division 2” is little more than a cornucopia of hyper-detailed shooting galleries. I doubt I’ll keep up with it as it’s updated with new content since I inevitably grow bored of open-ended shooters with weak narrative hooks. I guess you could say I liked it as a tourist experience but it’s not a game in which I want to live.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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