The Division 2 in its entirety is a technical masterpiece, a game that's tactics shine the longer you stay without the usual genre contaminations.
Tom Clancy's The Division 2 is a great game. Ubisoft's followup effort to a rocky but ambitious looter shooter has probably yielded the best in the genre when it comes to sheer technical prowess. That much is evident from the first few hours players spend in Washington, D.C., and continues throughout their journey. Where The Division 2 becomes its most entertaining, however, is much deeper than even the first twenty-odd hours players will spend with it. If that's what you're interested in - or the base of the mechanics Agents have at their disposal - then check out our Division 2 review-in-progress first.
In short, that hands-on experience was colored by being impressed with the enemy design, gunplay, loot, and environment-building in The Division 2. That hasn't changed as the game has progressed; unfortunately, neither has the game's major flaw, which is its narrative, and it has picked up a few more along the way. More than anything, though? The Division 2 is a technical masterpiece of a game, and even with the hiccups in play that Agents will inevitably experience, it sticks out as one of the best in its class once players get enough time with it.
The Division 2 is a third-person cooperative shooter that looks to capitalize on the good will its predecessor had earned after Ubisoft spent years modifying it post-release to make it more palatable. In the same vein as other looter shooters, The Division 2 offers a solo experience to those less inclined to team with friends, although it's also one of the more punishing to those who don't want to use a buddy system. Most of this review is from the perspective of someone who pushed through much of the content in randomly-made groups, and tackling the content solo can be a more frustrating exercise that requires a level of precision that many people just don't want out of a 50-hour plus shooting game, so be warned.
After churning through The Division 2's lengthy story content, it becomes apparent that the bulk of what makes the game truly great actually awaits Agents at the end of the line. Once you hit the The Division 2's endgame, it really opens up. Players can select between specializations, and then assemble teams out of other players who have reached the end of the story to take on a super gang called the Black Tusk. The specializations, a bomber called the Demolitonist, a jack-of-all-trades called the Survivalist, and a sniper called the Sharpshooter, all play out in unique ways, although the Demolitionist was our primary focus. Using the grenade launcher as a disruptive tool rather than a powerful end-game powerhouse ended up being more frequent in practice, and it's that subtle shift in expectation that really marks what makes the endgame so great.
It's not that the endgame is wholly unique to the genre. It's that it doesn't hold your hand or simply stack you up against bullet sponges. Sure, The Division 2's idea of a powerful endgame enemy still typically amounts to a dude wearing a lot of padding and a helmet. But getting to that boss is a whole different story. Tactics are vital for any group, and The Division 2 is the first looter shooter that really captured the MMORPG vibe in that sense. Preparation. Getting familiar with The Division 2's crafting system and choosing the right weapons. Map awareness. Familiarity with enemies and the environment around them. Precision and teamwork. All of these factors can mean life or death in endgame Invaded missions, and it's thrilling every time.
The big draw to The Division 2 in general, and especially the sensation of that life-or-death endgame, is the way that combat is deliberate and challenging. That begins well before a player ever enters the fray. The customization options in The Division 2 transcend what we've come to expect from looter shooters in the past. Instead of simply accumulating a large enough gear score to sufficiently end the lives of the most seasoned enemies, The Division 2 also tasks players with really thinking about what they want to accomplish with their characters. Agents can't just cram their gun full of every mod in existence and call it a day - mods carry negative consequences with them too, and you'll have to decide which things you're willing to give up in order to get what you want. It's not revolutionary, but it's fascinating to see just how much that addition brings to the title's endgame content.
That wouldn't be possible without the slick, brilliant combat that defines The Division 2. The game is built around its cover system, and will punish players looking to get too rowdy with a swift death at the hands of some bemused enemies. Finding the right place to take cover is a dance in its own right, but the skirmishes involving multiple teammates and enemies becomes a complex waltz between different debris, each side looking for the right angle to take down their opponents. The enemy AI is refreshingly fun to play against, too. One of the most memorable early moments can be found in running up to a sniper, who will immediately panic and scramble to run away. It's the details that matter, and Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment have done a wonderful job of prioritizing them.
The PvP areas, the Dark Zones, add additional ways to find the thrill of combat, and they're also extremely useful in improving loot. The reduction of the grind - and just the sheer ubiquity of loot, which should be a staple of looter shooters but isn't always - is a welcome addition to a game that can be pretty bulky. Likewise, playing against other people, who behave drastically different from the admittedly quite good AI, can be a nice change of pace for those who have gotten weary of progressing through the main campaign beating up on robots. The Dark Zones remain fairly simplistic after launch at the moment, though, and it's clear that they'll end up being one of the main focus points of The Division 2's future content additions. Right now, they're fun. Later, they'll be fun and important. It's a good progression and thanks to the abundance of good gear to be had, Dark Zones remain relevant even now.
If there's a major complaint to be had with the way The Division 2 is laid out, it's that so much of this is buried at the end of the line. The entire story feels patchwork, and can be rough to sift through at the best of times. It's a shame, because the NPCs are alive and wander the streets in a way that it's easy to find them worth protecting. The same can't really be said about the characters that you'll be exposed to as major players in the narrative. It's a small issue, but it's one that's so persistent within the genre that it would be nice to see someone finally crack the code and create a story people actually care about. It's especially disappointing because the game's open world, which allows players to chip away at side missions and events at their own pace while exploring a beautifully-rendered Washington, is so vibrant and full of life even as the world has decayed. The animals that are roaming throughout the world, coupled with a mixture of ally and enemy characters looking to accomplish their own ends, breathe life into a setting that's main story feels wooden and rehearsed by comparison.
The other issue with the way progression is laid out is that it takes forty to fifty hours to get to the specialized Agent characteristics, which are what vastly alter the course of the game's combat and make tactics even more important. Burying it at the end of a long campaign feels egregious, and although it gives players something to play towards, in a game this well-designed, that doesn't feel necessary. Pushing through the early elements of the game might lead people to believe The Division 2 is far more simplistic than it is, and even twenty hours in, there are still new enemies, playstyles, and challenges awaiting Agents deeper in.
That's the most frustrating part. The other is that The Division 2 is just slow - in every aspect of its design. The story takes a long time, sure, but so does combat. A few too many times, open world missions suddenly became slogs through waves of bullet-sponge enemies that were clearly designed to make the event simply take more time. That was a mistake The Division 1 made and, while it's infrequent here, that it's even present at all can be disheartening and eat into the precious hours players will need to simply reach the endgame.
Overall, though? The negatives are vastly outweighed by all the brilliance The Division 2 brings to the table. There's a genuine argument to be made for the game's main campaign as being worth it on its own, far before the endgame gets its hooks in you. That's a genre first. There's still room for improvement - in a game this vast, that only makes sense - but The Division 2 is definitely the best looter shooter we've ever had the pleasure of playing, and is a must-own for anyone interested in a blend between good FPS gameplay and the MMORPG genre's more alluring, addictive qualities.
The Division 2 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. A digital code for PS4 was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.