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Stumbling down a dark alley, you dive for cover behind a dumpster as tight spirals of supersonic lead shred the humid air above your head. Rats scurry away through tumbleweeds of newspaper and plastic as a fetid wind kicks up from the mass grave you passed earlier. Your RPK is empty, but your reload is practiced and confident as you huddle behind the green, dented container that barely obscures you from the angry storm of focused metal.
You rack the action of your classic Soviet-era light machine gun. Leaning out just enough, you unleash 45 rounds of controlled hate at the Hyenas pursuing you. It takes three seconds. You shatter one; wound another. The barrel of your RPK smokes with the exertion. She’s hungry for more of the precious ammo, but you’ve fed her your last mag.
A Hyena screams in the distance, enters the alley and charges you. His ASP baton points skyward like a lightning rod, but the thunder is yet to come. Another yell splits the darkness as he is joined by an armored shadow shouldering a Benelli Super 90.
The Declaration of Independence is rolled up in the bag over your shoulder. It is the most seminal document ever crafted by man. These savages will not take it from you. Instead, you will show them what savagery truly is. You draw your Colt pistol. Eight rounds of jacketed lead stand between narcotic-fueled barbarians and the document that established the greatest civilization the world has ever known.
You lean out from cover, slowly exhale, sight in and squeeze the trigger…
There is no government. Gangs run amok. No one is going to answer your call. Federal holiday in the nation’s capital? No. It’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 — a tactical, third-person action RPG, or “looter-shooter,” set in near-future Washington D.C. It’s the latest installment in Ubisoft’s AAA franchise and a massive improvement over its predecessor.
In the original game, the world was brought to its knees by the deadly “Dollar Flu,” a global pandemic unleashed by a Russian virologist — talk about Russian interference! Players attempted to restore order on the mean streets of New York City with an arsenal of weapons and gadgets. In this iteration, Washington D.C. serves as the story’s backdrop and is rendered in stunning fashion as a battle-worn and lawless capital ravaged by months of social decay.
The country is in ruins. The government is down and out. Rival factions rule the streets. Mayhem ensues. Suit up, Agent. It’s time to do the Lord’s work.
Despite things looking grim across the Fruited Plains, a glimmer of your tax dollars still exists in the form of the SHD, or Strategic Homeland Division. (No, these are not the guys led by Nick Fury. Those are different guys.) These are the guys trained and ready for what preppers ominously refer to as WROL: Without Rule of Law; otherwise known as anarchy. As a lone but heavily-armed Division Agent, it’s up to you to re-introduce a little Executive Privilege via hot lead and cold vengeance to the streets of D.C.!
Speaking of those streets, they are gorgeously rendered in splendidly deconstructed detail. The entire environment is rich and interactive. Orange safety cones fall over realistically as you dive for cover. Deer sprint away from danger through overgrown parks. Plastic bags blow like tumbleweeds through the streets. One can get lost exploring alleys and monuments alike while soaking in the seemingly limitless dystopian trappings of post-outbreak Washington D.C. Loot, supplies, gangs, and guns wait around every corner so get ready to do some serious inventory management.
Did someone say “guns?”
You’re going to need more than a Continuing Resolution to get D.C. back on its feet. You’re going to need guns. Lots of them. Fortunately, The Division 2 has you covered and then some. Playing through the first twelve levels of character progression left me giddy like a schoolboy with dad’s Playboy as I collected an array of gats that included classic RPK’s, Super 90’s, SCAR-Ls, Dragunov sniper rifles, and a healthy assortment of belt-fed, gas-operated, air-cooled monsters like the M249 and MG5.
You can mod virtually every weapon in the game to improve attributes like accuracy and optimal range. This makes the myriad side missions incredibly rewarding as they offer the blueprints needed to craft up all the tacti-cool goodies your little justice-pump desires. As if that’s not enough, players can also collect blueprints to produce their own custom-made firearms complete with stat bonuses.
The Division 2 has everything you need to carry your customized loadouts across the urban jungle. Not only does the game feature a prepper’s wish-list of holsters, backpacks, and plate carriers, but it does so with officially licensed products from 5.11. Not only are you improving your mission capabilities, but you’ll look badass to boot. Much like getting lost in the meta-game of modifying weapons, you can easily kill hours shopping in the game’s store or looting out in the world for awesome clothing and gear.
Clothing items change your appearance so you can have a different outfit for every day of your apocalyptic week. The kit items, however, offer bonuses to your all-mighty stat sheet. If that’s not enough for you, sporting complete sets of gear from a given manufacturer nets you multiple stacked bonuses that ratchet up stats like damage, health, or accuracy, to name but a few.
Need a breather from placing militants on permanent furlough? Kit items can also be crafted as yet another facet of the meta-game.
The Division 2 allows for an Agent to slowly roll back the ruthless hordes of D.C. through various missions. In your travels, you’ll encounter settlements that are in desperate need of your particular set of skills. By taking on missions from the settlements, you help them expand and grow into thriving, albeit post-apocalyptic, communities.
The game does a wonderful job of visually memorializing your successes as settlements go from dilapidated clusters of shanties to colorful and vibrant permanent living spaces complete with power, daycare services and hydroponics. This is incredibly rewarding for the player as you feel a sense of attachment to these little vestibules of civilization in the otherwise predatory wilds of a city overrun by death and disease.
You’ll also encounter several SHD Safe Houses in your travels. These out-of-the-way havens allow you access to various amenities, storage, communications, and the like.
This author’s only gripe is the missed opportunity to offer the player a customizable safe house all his own. It would have been an epic inclusion to select a secure spot, fortify it, and then improve it over time with amenities and decorations. Granted, the Safe Houses serve this function to an extent, but they lack both the customization and personalization players come to expect in RPG’s of this flavor.
However, I would settle for an unlockable Dr. Ben Carson in full riot-gear sporting a belt-fed machine gun instead.
If you wear Peltors all the time like I do you’ll want to crank them up to enjoy the immersive sounds. From bugs to bullets to a faltering work light sizzling out on a dark street, one should definitely play The Division 2 with headphones to get the most from its incredible auditory ambience.
The sound design is extensive and meticulously detailed. An AK sounds like an AK. Operating a bolt-action rifle gives you the crisp and rewarding aural sensation of manually stripping another round from the magazine and sending it home as you line up your next target. It’s obvious a great deal went into overall sound design and it pays dividends throughout the player’s post-government experience.
The Division 2 offers up robust PVP action in the guise of Dark Zones. These are areas that unlock on the map as the player progresses on his journey of rebuilding civilization. Agents can enter these zones and bang it out amongst themselves in ad-hoc or coordinated teams to see just who it is that runs Barter Town.
PVP content is easy to jump into for the beginning player. The game “normalizes” players to an extent so that combat isn’t exclusively decided by who has the most elite kit. This shifts some of the emphasis back to working together as an effective team in order to prevail.
Join a clan? Go solo? However you prefer to play, I thoroughly enjoyed my first 25 hours with The Division 2. Initially, I was reluctant to give it a whirl. I’m highly selective about the games I play due to constraints on my free-time. My career as a full-time security professional, duties as a husband, father, and part-time writer demand most of the hours from my days. So, if I’m going to sit down in front of a game, it had better be worth the time I’m taking away from my other pursuits.
When dad needs a little break, The Division 2 is a rewarding diversion worth that precious time. The game offers even more content than I was able to touch on here. There’s also quite a bit of lore built into the game’s story if you want to go deeper than just the loot ‘n shoot. So, if this game at all piques your curiosity, grab it. You won’t regret the purchase.
Now I need to hurry and finish this review so I can get back onto the streets of D.C. and show those enemies, foreign and domestic, that our banner yet waves!
For reviews of five more survival-oriented video games, keep an eye out for our “Virtual Survival” buyer's guide in Issue 32 of RECOIL OFFGRID (on sale 6/11/19).
Mel Ward is a husband, father, and combat veteran. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq with 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Over the last 14 years he has worked as a close protective agent and security contractor. He is an advocate of preparedness and believes self-reliance is not an option, but a duty.