Three years ago, at a press event for The Division, the game’s Creative Director Magnus Jansen assured me that while the shooter had been built for co-op, it could be played solo as well. And while he was right, they certainly didn’t make it easy. But while the same is true for The Division 2 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), certain changes make this otherwise impressive sequel even less friendly (and thus less fun) for those who don’t play well with others.
For those unfamiliar with this series,
The Division 2, like the original, is an open world, third-person, cover-based shooter / role-playing game that’s set in the aftermath of a viral apocalypse. As a special ops soldier, your mission is to restore order…which you do by shooting a lot of people, taking their stuff, and occasionally hitting a switch to turn something on or off. It’s like Dead Island, except with Gears Of War 4‘s combat and perspective, and trigger-happy jerks instead of zombies and lizard people.
The difference being that while The Division was set in New York City just after society collapsed,The Division 2 takes place seven months later, and in Washington D.C. It’s this change in location that is the biggest differences between this sequel and its predecessor. While Manhattan’s streets and skyscrapers made The Division feel like a series of large corridors, D.C. has a bunch of open spaces as well, and even spots with some verticality. Similarly, some of the buildings have more open and multi-layered floor plans, giving you and your enemies more angles from which to attack.
The Division 2 also takes place in the summer, while The Division was set during the winter. And while being sunny lessens some of the post-apocalyptic vibe (though only some), it also makes for a starker contrast between daytime and nighttime, since parts of D.C. aren’t as well-lit as NYC, sometimes making things pitch black at night. The warm weather also means that we get rain, even thunderstorms, instead of light flurries.
As a result, visibility is a much bigger factor in The Division 2 than it was in the original. It’s obviously much harder to see your enemies when there’s low light or it’s pouring rain. It’s also unavoidable, since all the beds are taken, and thus you can’t choose to sleep through the night like you do in Metro Exodus and Fallout 4.
The lack of visibility in The Division 2 also comes into play when you’re fighting indoors. Not only are some buildings poorly lit, but there are times when gunfights result in clouds of dust shooting up, which makes it look like someone just set off a smoke bomb. Though, on the flipside, there are more red gas cans lying around than before, which not only gives you opportunities to light your enemies on fire (and to be lit on fire), but to have the flames illuminate the battlefield.
It’s just too bad The Division 2…
doesn’t let you use the dark to sneak up behind enemies and take them out quietly, like you can in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and other shooters with large fields of battle.
Even without the option to be sneaky, visibility still has a big effect on how the gun battles play out in The Division 2. Though not always in a good way. While fire fights in low light are engaging, and obviously different from those on sunny days, the ones when it’s pitch black can actually be annoying, in large part because you can’t see where you’re going or what you can duck behind for cover. Thankfully, banging your shins into barriers doesn’t cost you health points.
Otherwise, though, The Division 2 feels a lot like The Division. And that’s a good thing. It has the same fluid controls, equally deep upgrade and customization options, and similarly helpful futuristic weapons and tech. It also boasts a vivid open world full of missions, side quests, random encounters, and tons of abandoned luggage you can loot for supplies, armor, and weapons.
The Division 2 also features the same kind of frantic firefights that were the highlight of the first game. Like midtown Manhattan, the streets of D.C. are wide enough to allow both you and your enemies plenty of opportunities to flank and be flanked, and the same is true of some buildings. Your enemies are also smart enough to duck for cover, though there are some who stupidly think they can run right at you with no consequences. They’re also tough enough to take a couple shots before going down, even if said shot is to the head, with a shotgun, and they’re only wearing a beanie.
As for playing The Division 2 as a single-player game, well,
here’s where things get uninteresting. Like the original, the difficulty level in this sequel doesn’t adjust when you’re on own as opposed to with a partner or a full squad. As a result, playing a level 3 mission with with a level 3 character make this feel like you’re playing on “hard” not “normal.” And that goes double when you face a boss, since they’re disproportionately overpowered compared to their minions.
Now, in The Division, you could get around this by, say, doing level 3 missions when you were level 4 or higher. And for the most part, you can do that here as well. Just not when you do a designated side mission, since their difficulty matches that of your character. The level 3 side mission I struggled with as a level 3 character wasn’t any easier when I tried again at level 5 because it had been upgraded to a level 5 as well.
Even when you get to a higher level than the area you’re in, the difficulty of the side missions matches yours accordingly. While the “Downtown East” neighborhood is designated “level: 2-7,” its side missions went up to level 8, 9, and so on as I leveled up as well.
And no, this isn’t a bug; I asked.
Admittedly, this won’t bother someone who plays The Division 2 co-op, or anyone who would’ve played this on “hard” had that been an option. Which it isn’t; this doesn’t have any way to adjust the overall difficulty. But for those of us who’d rather play this game on our own, and would like to feel like a bad ass soldier while we do, upscaling the difficulty of side missions makes them more punishing than challenging.
this is not the only issue with The Division 2 if you go it alone. As with most co-op games, you can’t pause the game when need be, nor does it pause when you open the map or a menu. Which means that yes, you can be shot and killed while checking out that sweet new gun you just found. Also, while missions have checkpoints, you only go back to them if you die but keep playing, not if you take a break and come back later.
There are also issues with The Division 2 that will affect people who play with friends as much as those who go it alone. And, annoyingly, many are ones that were in the first game, too. For starters, your guns still have a real kick, and your aim assist isn’t all that effective, two things you’d think would work better for a highly trained special ops soldier. The same can be said for your melee attacks, which are basically useless. This is especially annoying given how often enemies will rush right at you like they’re Ganz from 48 Hours.
Other issues that have carried over from The Division to The Division 2 include how your main gun always has to be reloaded when you leave a safe space after restarting; how the glow of plunderable boxes and backpacks is so slight that it doesn’t make them easier to find; how the GPS line that directs you to your next objective is so thin that it’s also hard to see some of the time; and how the game doesn’t indicate if you’ve already watched one of the VR reconstructions of past events you sometimes find in the streets.
The Division 2 also has an issue so common that I just cut and paste this paragraph into every relevant game review: the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading the menus, mission messages, and other bits of on-screen text. Which is more annoying here than it is in most games since this has an option to increase the size of the captions, but it doesn’t affect all of the text, and some of that unaffected text is super tiny.
Even with all these issues,
The Division 2 still manages to be as compelling and as effortlessly fun as the original. And that’s as true if you play solo as it is if you do it co-op. It boasts some of the best shooting action around, with intuitive controls and harried firefights that put it on par with the Destiny series and the better Call Of Duty games. The new setting also makes this feel different from the first one, with the verticality and visibility bringing some variety and difficulty to the proceedings. It’s just too bad the good people at Massive didn’t make this a little less frustrating for those who’d prefer to save the world on our own.