Ubisoft listened to the feedback it received after the launch of the original The Division, and spent the following months improving an already great game. With that being the case, why not just continue polishing and adding content instead of making a sequel? Because The Division 2 offers several huge improvements that just wouldn't have been possible in the original, and the result is one of the best looter-shooters out there.
That's a very strong statement that you'd be hard-pressed to believe after the first thirty minutes or so, as the story and characters that start things off are boring at best. We'd have a tough time explaining why we were on a given mission or even remembering the name of a character who gave us instructions just two minutes after watching one of the game's overly-dramatic cutscenes. The Division 2 is all about liberating Washington D.C. but the story feels forced and the characters try to make up for it by having a "no bullshit attitude" that makes The Expendables look like Shakespeare in comparison. Fortunately, we don't care, as gameplay is king in The Division 2.
List the shortcomings of The Division in your head, and get ready to erase most of them as we explore a range of improvements and changes made in The Division 2. Let's start with the world. Manhattan was and still is very impressive with its awe-inspiring skyscrapers and sense of scale, but Washington D.C. takes everything to another level. It doesn't matter where you go in the American capital, every nook and cranny is filled with interesting details that make the city feel real and alive. As if Washington's endless selection of historical landmarks and museums weren't enough, the world's ravaged environments usually have some weird beauty or intriguing details that put your imagination into overdrive as you try to process the environmental storytelling. What happened to the little girl who drew that image of her family before leaving the house so suddenly that she left her teddy bear on the bed? Why did the truck crash into that convenience store? Some of these questions are to some degree answered in recordings or the fascinating still-frames called Echos, while others are completely left up to our imagination. 'Show but don't tell' often works very well in these cases, which makes the world feel real, and this sense of realism is reflected in the combat as well.
Do you remember those pesky enemies that apparently had bulletproof jackets in the original? They're mostly gone in The Division 2. Both you and your enemies are now far more lethal this time around. Sure, the strongest enemies will require you to empty a few magazines into them, but it feels more realistic when they are wearing what are basically blast suits and you have to shoot different parts of the armour off to reveal vulnerable areas. This, combined with weapons that really feel distinct and a wide variety of modifiable gadgets, makes every fight a thrill, and you'll get goosebumps when you do things like shoot a suicide bomber with the very last bullet in your clip and then watch as the accompanying explosion blasts their nearby allies into oblivion. Having a large variety of enemy types keeps encounters feeling fresh, especially as the dynamic world might have a thing or two in hand to change things up even further. Maybe another enemy faction will arrive, forcing both you and your original opponent to not only widen your focus but also adapt to the new enemy's tactics. Top this with a weather system and day/night cycle that will have you fighting through intense rain, extreme fog, the sunniest of days, or a lightning storm and you can be sure to never experience the same encounter twice.
The only problem is that the game is mostly encounters. Almost everything you do tasks you with you going from A to B, interacting with something, and then fighting hordes of enemies. It's not quite as bad as most other games in the genre, as The Division 2 includes puzzle-like sequences where you have to find a way to open closed doors or get inside buildings by using the environment in clever ways, but this is still not a game for those of you looking for varied gameplay around every corner. Not a particularly noteworthy problem for us, as we loved the balance between combat and doing the odd brainteaser in between.
This is true even after forty hours in the game. One of the reasons for that is how the world changes based on your actions. Ubisoft games are known for borrowing different mechanics from each other, and The Division 2 has improved Far Cry: New Dawn's settlement system in a multitude of rewarding ways. Killing all the enemies in one of the many Control Points spread around the city will leave it in the hands on your friends. That doesn't just give you a new respawn or fast travel point, you also have friendlies patrol the district, giving you a helping hand when encountering foes. It's also worth paying them a visit once in a while, as sharing resources with them will reward you with a lot of experience points and other handy things. Having a rewarding gameplay loop is essential in a game like this, and The Division 2 doesn't disappoint.