Ubisoft has talked a lot about how much better the endgame will be in The Division 2, and we can understand why after trying it out for a couple of hours. What we don't understand is why the developer hasn't talked more about some of the other brilliant changes they've made to the game in general. Maybe it's because they want to surprise us, because we definitely were when we went to Paris to play the first three hours of the campaign and a couple of hours of endgame content.
We've already shared our impressions after playing with others in The Division 2's interesting new take on Dark Zones and Conflict modes, but one of the most common questions we hear is people asking whether it's possible to have fun playing alone. That's why we decided to go against the developer's suggestion to team up and instead we started the campaign solo. It was a choice we never once regretted.
One of the main reasons for this is how much more alive and believable Washington DC is when compared to Manhattan. Our thoughts went straight to I Am Legend when we saw a few deer enjoying the calm as they wandered around eating the stubs of grass that had pushed their way through the cracked pavement. It didn't last long though, as a group of survivors came looking for food and resources. Having these realistic-looking animals go about their day while seeing that we weren't the only ones able to take care of ourselves or have needs might not sound impressive, but the world is filled with smaller details that make a really big difference. The Division 2 doesn't feel like a video game - it feels like a realistic depiction of what it would actually be like trying to survive after such an event, which makes exploring a lot more fun.
Sure, we only played the first three hours of the campaign, but that short introduction made it clear that there's a lot more variety to the world this time around. You won't come across the same two baddies having a hostage on its knees or scavenging a body over and over again. Taking control of broadcast towers, clearing areas from one of the four different hostile factions, encountering enemies with widely different agendas, and gathering resources to upgrade your bases are just a few of the activities we spent a lot of our time doing in-between missions and marvelling at how the world kept going without our involvement.
Then it was time to really get involved. With this being the start of the game, most of the story missions tasked us with finding missing agents and activating stuff that would help us survive. You've heard it before, but what you might not expect is the variety. The first few missions didn't just introduce us to new enemy types like the robot dog with a turret on its back, the suicide bombers we met back in December, and enemies with grenade launchers that kept flushing us out of cover, but both also offer very diverse environments and pacing. One of the best examples of this is an endgame mission that took us to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Those of you who've been there probably understand how this is a mission where diversity is at its maximum. Running and fighting our way through a recreation of the moon, an auditorium, giant halls filled with space shuttles, and the outside area was fascinating because it offered diversity both in terms of visuals and gameplay.
This is why we're also somewhat disappointed to see that story and characters still don't seem to be anything to talk about in The Division 2, having a mute protagonist and B-movie-worthy characters that are as shallow as they come and only serve to explain what you're tasked to do in the next story mission. Most of the cinematic sequences we saw generally went something like this: our character enters a room, a person with distinguishing scars, sunglasses, or similar "please remember me" details gives us an explanation and reasoning for a mission that they apparently got from a single tweet, our character says nothing, and the other person says "go get them, tiger", "now go and save our city", or another motivating sentence. Three hours with this, and we still can't remember a single person's name or imagine what they do to relax. The good news is that the gameplay after the campaign more than makes up for it.
Reaching level 30 - the maximum at launch - will unlock what's called specialisations. These are basically three classes with their own signature weapon and skills. The Survivalist is the healer that has a special crossbow that can shoot different kinds of bolts, including ones that are effectively proximity mines. The Sharpshooter is, as you probably guessed, the class with a very powerful .50 caliber sniper rifle that can do some insane damage from a distance. Our choice fell on the Demolitionist as we loved the sound of the multi-use chem launcher. It allowed us to force enemies out of cover by lobbing grenades behind them, encapsulate the minigun-wielding biggies in immobilising foam, and many other things suitable for different scenarios. Our team included two Demolitionists, a Sharpshooter, and a Survivalist, which might be the reason why we completed a mission in a federal emergency bunker at record speed. Seeing one enemy drop to the ground when we shot her in the foot with our double-barrelled shotgun, or a minigun-wielding giant burst into flames along with their nearby friends when we shot his ammunition belt, made us feel like a force to be reckoned with, and the different enemies force you to approach different scenarios in different ways.
The latter is especially important in the much-improved endgame. That's not to say it was easy, though. Combining our different abilities and weapons seemed to be the key to our success, as one of the other teams had a straggler and barely managed to complete the mission 20 minutes after us. The good news is that you'll not only get some of the best loot in the game no matter how many times you die in these endgame missions, but there are also many other ways to get great loot.
Most of the endgame missions are meant for two or more players (eight for the Raids that will be coming a few weeks after the initial release), so Ubisoft has included some activities that are easier to complete alone for better loot as well. One of our favourites was Control Points; faction-held strongholds where you're tasked with killing most of the 8+ enemies. Then a new horde lead by one or two elite enemies arrives, making things really challenging. We died several times trying to take the first Control Point, but we never gave up and it was definitely worth our perseverance. Clearing the area for enemies allows other survivors to take control of it and open an otherwise closed area filled with loot chests. One of these also refills after a while, so consider it your never-ending reward for making Washington DC a better place.
Our only noteworthy concern so far in terms of gameplay is that most activities and missions are all about killing hordes of enemies. The new enemy types make it way more entertaining than in the original, but we would still love to see more puzzle-like challenges or something similar to Far Cry 5's Prepper Stashes. We're told that the Raids might include sequences that require coordination between players and Destiny-like head-scratching challenges, so we hope this is true and that they might find their way to other parts of the game as well.
Walking around Washington DC while nature, wildlife, and our fellow citizens help the world feel real and alive makes for a truly immersive experience. Both the animations and sound-design have been taken to another level since the events in Manhattan too. That applies to the combat as well; the controls are responsive and the weapons feel great. Introducing the Black Tusks faction, harder missions with better loot, raids, and a few other game-changing mechanics almost makes us want to rush through the seemingly insignificant story to enjoy everything the game has to offer. We just have to help those survivors hunt down that bounty, clear a Control Point, shoot some deer just for funsies, search for mysterious collectibles, chase every faction out of the city, upgrade our bases, take a few beautiful pictures in Photo Mode, and upgrade some of our gear and abilities first...