Four of us were dropped into a mission: Air Force One has crashed, because of The Division 2’s whole ‘end of the world as we know it’ thing (but it’s not political), and we had to go there to… I don’t know, get intel? Grab a satchel full of sandwiches? Something like that. What it amounted to was an assault on a control point where the four of us would run in and kill everyone. That’s the mission; the details matter little.
There are now three specialities available to players after they reach level 30, meaning there’s now something to play for in The Division 2. Said specialities are sharpshooter, demolitionist, or survivalist – there might be more (it really wouldn’t surprise anyone if there were), but these were the ones in the version I played. Your sharpshooter carries a massive sniper rifle, so can both pick off foes from a distance as well as being a coward. The survivalist uses a crossbow, because crossbows are hilarious. And the demolitionist, which I played as, has a massive grenade launcher and so is the best class to play as.
There are gadgets too – traps, drones, that sort of thing – adding in another layer of tactical thought as you play. It’s not just run and shoot and grenade; these little tweaks keep you on your toes and make you consider doing something else. Options: they’re great to have. Anyway, we run straight into a brief encounter – meeting a new enemy who shoots what looks like insulation foam at you and can slow you down/completely stop you from moving. He is a twat. Shoot him in the back and he gets covered in his own sticky gunk, oo-er. Beyond that it’s pretty much business as usual – hide in cover and shoot everyone until they are dead.
It’s not 'til our second, main encounter that things ramp up sufficiently to be both interesting and fun. Moving towards the control point and seeing enemies in the distance, we’re advised to hold fire until the whole squad is in suitable positions – we’re not told where they are, the game doesn’t say HEY YOU STAND THERE – this is just a pure strategic consideration for the team to discuss.
We do. We decide we’re set up, and we go – I fire off a volley of grenades into a group of enemies, the cowardly sniper does what their kind does and shoots people from dishonourable distances, and the other two run in, drones a-buzzing and machine guns a-machine gunning. Chaos quickly takes over. See, The Division 2 isn’t letting up from where the original left off; it’s a game where you will get your backside neatly packaged up and handed back to you should you go into a firefight without thinking, or at the very least using cover. Soon enough our allies are down, and we have to make our way into the fray to rescue them.
Covering fire, moving from one safe spot to the next, we’re approaching our buddies. All fine, all straightforward – except suddenly I realise we’ve been flanked. The AI has us surrounded. Armour down and not replenishing, not enough time to use a medikit which would restore said armour (and health), we both go down along with our teammates. Respawn, try again, and realise the computer is capable of more than just standing in cover directly in your line of sight. This is interesting. Gripping. We’ve called in AI-controlled allies to help us, and this soon works to our advantage – not because they’re good at taking out the enemy, but because they’re good at distracting the enemy so we can shoot them in the face/neck/dick.
A bullet sponge boss pops up not once but twice, and we’re introduced to another new enemy in the shape of a medic – sod your red cross, mate, you’re target number one. Can’t have hostile units being brought back to life now, can we? It’s engaging, exciting, genuinely a lot of fun, and just challenging enough that once we’re used to it we know we can do it. But if any of us nadger up we’re all liable to get iced. I’m a fan of that.
The Division 2 could well be great, frankly. But… well, I enjoyed what I played of the original Division, to a point. I found the base game compelling in the way only a game where you point at things and press a button to make numbers pop out of said thing until you’re rewarded with a shiny thing can be. And the Dark Zone, which has to be capitalised like that, was actually really good. Naturally, just like anything else where it’s a series of simple, compelling, repetitive actions over and over again that demands you play with others (alright not demands, but it’s much better in a group), I gave up after not very long. There wasn’t enough about it to keep me going, and while I’m happy to spend 500 hours on Football Manager or Stardew Valley, when it’s shooty-bang until the man drops a +1 purple kneepad, I struggle to maintain enthusiasm.
So maybe The Division 2 won’t be for me in the long run, because it does look like the sequel isn’t changing things up very much. The focus on giving players something to actually play towards, though, might actually melt my frozen exterior – it tackles one of the big complaints aimed towards the original in actually having some kind of endgame content. However it turns out, a single mission with a group of strangers has given me pause: if the four of us can learn to actually bother healing each other, maybe society still has a chance. I mean, it doesn’t. We’re all still terrible and deserve everything bad we get. But a cry of “I need a heal!” being answered is as close as we’re going to get to heaven on earth, so it’s good enough for me.